Victorian Pubs… London Pubs…

the continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian

After reading Christopher Fowler’s The Victoria Vanishes, I found myself wanting to read more about the history of London pubs… many of the books on pub histories are of course available in British libraries, but I was able to borrow a few :

Bruning, T. (2001). London by pub: pub walks around historic London. London: Prion.

Burke, T. (1936). Will someone lead me to a pub?: being a note upon certain of the taverns, old and new, of London… London: George Routledge & Sons.

Girouard, M. (1984). Victorian pubs. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Victorian Pubs is not so much the history of individual pubs, but an architectural history of pubs in general and featuring illustrations and examples of some specific pubs. In the 1800s most pubs had a small bar counter area with a small open area and several very small partitioned areas for more private drinking. After the Beer act which eliminated the tariffs on Beer making it much cheaper pubs sprung up all over the city. This was also because Gin Palaces were worrying folks as they thought too many poor and lower class folks were hanging out there getting way too drunk. Later many pubs refurbished their interiors when it was discovered that by having a larger counter area (usually in the form of a large island or peninsula) more drinks could be served and they could be served faster (more money for the pub) as there was more room for patrons to get to the counter.

Will someone lead me to a pub? is a charming book written in 1936 about many of London’s taverns and pubs. It doesn’t give a detailed history of any, but talks about how some got their names, the types of people who patronized them, games that were played in the pubs, and that sort of thing. It is fun to read a book that refers to “before the war” meaning WWI and in which 80s and 90s mean 1880s and 1890s.

London by pub is a travel guide, but one that can be read simply for curiosity too. This book gives several walking tours of London neighborhoods buy going from pub to pub. The walks range from 4 miles to 1.25 miles and each walking tour shows a map of the area with the pubs to be visited marked out. Unfortunately there is no overall London map that places these areas in context (you’ll have to do that yourself).

What this book does do is give a brief history of each pub listed (and provide open hours and if Real Ale is served and food etc.). Many photos are included of the fronts of most pubs, but not all. It is fascinating that in certain very well-to-do areas (Kensington, Belgravia, etc.) many of the pubs were patronized by the large servant class that outnumbered the wealthy. The original divisions in pubs served to separate the different classes of servants. There was an extreme hierarchy and a butler would not take his drink in the same area of a pub as a coachman or gardener.

These pubs also served as a contact area for tradesmen looking to sell their wares to the upper class mansions. Tradesmen selling things such as soap, pots and pans, and bed linens, would know that the various butlers and housekeepers had the spending power of the house they worked in to buy supplies. They could meet these butlers and housekeepers in certain rooms of pubs and could try to make deals.

Some pubs also served as a gathering place for a particular trade. An example is The Plumbers Arms 14 Lower Belgrave Street. In the 1800s plumbers traveling to London or this area of London would have a central area to hangout, get food and drink, and even in some cases rent tools of their trade. People looking to hire the services of a plumber would know where to go to find them. The sign of The Plumbers Arms features the arms of the plumber’s trade and illiterate or near illiterate plumbers would recognize this symbol and know where to go.


Aaah! All the wonderful things we learn from books…. Happy reading.

Also see  ( for information on traditional and historic London pubs. There are some great pictures and wonderful general history about London pubs and the Real Ale movment.

Makes me want to sit down with a great Ale, or nice lager and sip away… perhaps with a good book in hand.