10 of England’s Best Post-War Pubs

More public houses were built in the years 1945-1985 than in any other period in English history, yet pubs of these years are now highly threatened.

Dr Emily Cole, Senior Investigator in the Historic Places Investigation Team, has been leading a project on post-war pubs since 2015, with the aim of increasing understanding and appreciation. Recently, she has been responsible for proposing a group of pubs for listing, and five buildings have been successfully protected.

Here, Emily selects ten of her favourite pubs from across the ‘golden age’ of post-war pub building, in date order.

1. The Festival Inn, Grundy Street, Poplar, London

Exterior of The Festival Inn, designed by Frederick Gibberd along with the market buildings of the Lansbury Estate.
The Festival Inn, designed by Frederick Gibberd along with the market buildings of the Lansbury Estate. DP170360 © Historic England

The Festival Inn was the earliest major post-war pub in England. It opened in May 1951, and formed part of the Live Architecture Exhibition of the Festival of Britain. It was also a focal point in the London County Council’s Lansbury Estate. With an exterior by Frederick Gibberd and an interior by R. W. Stoddart, architect to Truman’s Brewery, the Festival Inn survives largely unchanged and was listed grade II in 2017.

Interior image of The public bar of the Festival Inn, designed by the Truman’s Brewery architect, looking towards the darts alcove.
The public bar of the Festival Inn, designed by the Truman’s Brewery architect, looking towards the darts alcove. DP170374 © Historic England

2. The Never Turn Back, Manor Road, Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk

Exterior image of The Never Turn Back pub, a brick building with a union jack flag flying from a flag pole
The Never Turn Back, designed by Lacon’s Brewery architect A. W. Ecclestone in a form which references its seaside location and associations. © Michael Slaughter LRPS

Nestled among sand dunes in this holiday resort is the Never Turn Back, a pub named in honour of the Caister lifeboat tragedy of 1901. This claimed the lives of nine lifeboatmen, who prided themselves on ‘never turning back’ from a vessel in distress. The pub, opened in 1957 and listed grade II in 2018, was designed by Lacon’s Brewery architect A. W. Ecclestone. It has an unusual exterior, with a two-storey tower resembling a lookout or ship’s wheelhouse and decoration in local materials.

3. The Samuel Whitbread, Leicester Square, Westminster, London

Exterior image of the Samuel Whitbread Pub in 1959
A photo of 1959 showing the new and ambitious Samuel Whitbread pub, designed by Thomas P. Bennett & Son. Source: Historic England Archive – The Brewery History Society Collection.

This building sums up everything typical of post-war pubs in city centres – it was large, ambitious and lavishly fitted out, but did not last as a pub for more than 20 years. The Samuel Whitbread, opened in 1958 in London’s West End, was the ‘flagship’ pub for Whitbread’s Brewery. With a curved glass frontage, the pub had public rooms on four storeys. It closed and was converted as a Burger King restaurant in the 1980s.

The exterior of the Samuel Whitbread pub at night time. The lower floors have been converted into a Burger King
The exterior of the Samuel Whitbread as it exists today. The lower floors of the pub were converted to a Burger King in the 1980s. DP170398 © Historic England

4. The Queen Bess, Derwent Road, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire

Queen Bess - lounge bar DP197422
The 1930s-style counter and panelling of the lounge bar at the Queen Bess. DP197422 © Historic England

Constructed for Samuel Smith’s Brewery, this pub survives almost completely as built in 1959 – a fact recognised by its listing at grade II in 2018. The Queen Bess was named after a record-breaking blast furnace at the nearby Appleby-Frodingham steelworks, and this theme was continued into its interior – the pig iron emblem appears, for instance, on the public bar’s fireplace. Other rooms are the lounge, the ‘Queen’s Bar’ or concert room and the off-sales shop (no longer in use).

5. The Shakespeares Head, Arlington Way, Islington, London

The Shakespeare’s Head in Arlington Way, Islington. London.
The interior of the Shakespeares Head, looking from the former public bar towards the former lounge bar (the dividing partition has been removed). DP170435: © Historic England

This small, flat-roofed Courage & Barclay-built boozer of 1960 is one of the best surviving post-war pubs in London and a typical ‘local’ of its time. It is next to Sadler’s Wells Theatre – the pub’s two bars were originally named the Gallery Bar (public bar) and Ballerina Bar (lounge bar). These have now been opened up as a single room, but many original features remain, including bar counters and panelling.

6. The Shakespeare’s Head, Southgates, Leicester, Leicestershire

6 Shakespeares Head, Leicester - exterior
The imposing three-storey exterior of the Shakespeare’s Head, in a photo taken before recent alterations. © Michael Slaughter LRPS

The Shakespeare’s Head – opened in 1963 by Shipstone’s Brewery – is a pub of an unusual horseshoe-shaped design, facing the city ring road. It survives well externally, but its interior presents a sad though typical story among post-war pubs. Until 2016, it survived almost entirely intact, with its original fittings, but these were stripped out as part of its conversion to a restaurant.

6 Shakespeares Head, Leicester lobby bar copy
The entrance or lobby bar of the Shakespeare’s Head. These and other original fittings were removed in 2016 as part of the building’s conversion as a restaurant. © Michael Slaughter LRPS

7. The Palomino, Valley Way, Newmarket, Suffolk

7 Palomino - public bar DP171779
The themed interior of the public bar or ‘Circus Bar’ at the Palomino, with original bar counter, bar back and framed paintings. DP171779 © Historic England

The Palomino was named and designed to reflect the horse-racing associations of Newmarket. It was constructed by Tollemache & Cobbold Breweries of Ipswich, and opened on 22 November 1963 – the day of President Kennedy’s assassination. Although the pub has a conventional exterior, it is notable in being a ‘time warp’ inside, with original features including the themed decoration of the ‘Circus Bar’ (public bar). The pub’s still-functioning off-licence is an extremely rare survival.

8. The Centurion, Poolemead Road, Twerton, Bath, Somerset

8 Centurion - exterior DP181182
A night-time view of the Centurion, showing the expanse of windows lighting the main bar area (formerly the buttery bar) and the original life-size statue of a Roman centurion above. DP181182 © Historic England

A sloped site on the Twerton Estate provided a perfect opportunity for West Country Breweries to design a dramatic pub. Opened in 1965, the Centurion has huge glass windows on its main floor, and decoration ‘themed’ around Roman Bath. The pub has changed little since it was built, retaining its separate bars and fittings including counters, a fragment of Roman mosaic flooring and a statuette of Julius Caesar. It was listed grade II in 2018.

8 Centurion - interior DP181186
The unusual counter of the lounge bar at the Centurion, finished in Formica veneer with a padded rest. DP181186 © Historic England

9. The Wheatsheaf, Heather Ridge Arcade, Camberley, Surrey

9 Wheatsheaf -DP181208
The slate-hung exterior of the wheel-shaped Wheatsheaf pub, with its specially designed garden in the foreground. DP181208 © Historic England

The Wheatsheaf – recently listed grade II – is one of the most unusual pubs built in post-war England and reflects the skill of its architects, John and Sylvia Reid. Opened in 1971, the pub was constructed to a ten-sided wheel-shaped plan, with a soaring single-bar interior arranged around a central brick chimney. Whilst it was an entirely modern conception, the Reids drew their inspiration from Victorian pubs, creating as many cosy corners as possible.

9 Wheatsheaf - inerior DP181217
Detail of the interior of the Wheatsheaf pub, showing the central brick chimney and surrounding golden-brown quarry tiling. DP181217 © Historic England

10. The Crumpled Horn, Eldene Centre, Swindon, Wiltshire

10 Crumpled Horn - DP196859
The fantastical, themed exterior of the Crumpled Horn, seen from the terrace. DP196859 © Historic England

Like the Wheatsheaf, the Crumpled Horn is a fantastical design by a talented and unconventional architect – in this case, Roy Wilson-Smith – and has also been recently listed grade II. Opened in 1975, it was one of a few Watney Mann pubs inspired by the nursery rhyme ‘The House that Jack Built’, which refers to the ‘cow with the crumpled horn’. The pub’s multi-level interior is arranged like a nautilus shell, and retains its exposed brickwork and timber rafters.

10 Crumpled Horn - DP196865
The interior of the Crumpled Horn © Historic England DP196865

Further Reading: 

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