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When I began my under-age drinking in the early 1960s this rite of passage took place in pubs that were, in many respects, different from those of today. And it is not just the pubs themselves that have changed – the drinks then on offer have now, in some cases, almost vanished. My initiation, as it turned out, took place during a pivotal decade in the history of the pub.

Drinking establishments – taverns, inns, alehouses, bars – have, thankfully, been around for a very long time. The Greeks and the Romans relaxed in them, and they were liberally sprinkled throughout our medieval towns and cities. They became part of the fabric of our society and, as such, were incorporated as crucial backdrops in many great works of literature. It was from the Tabard Inn in Southwark that Chaucer’s story-telling pilgrims set off for Canterbury over 600 years ago, aided and abetted by its genial host. Falstaff ’s roisterings at the Boar’s Head in Eastcheap provide one of the enduring images of the pub, and pubs play key roles in several of Dickens’s novels.

Dr Johnson made time between writing and compiling his dictionary to enjoy the pleasures of the pub, famously declaring to Boswell, ‘There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.’ In more recent times George Orwell set down for readers of the Evening Standard a description of his idealized, imaginary pub, the Moon under Water, where perfection was embodied in ‘architecture and fittings [that] are uncompromisingly Victorian’ and where he could find ‘draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio’.

Orwell was writing in 1946 at exactly the same time that another enthusiast, Maurice Gorham (1902–75), was touring pubs in austere, post-war London. A journalist and broadcaster, Gorham had a passion for the English pub which he shared with his friend, the artist and illustrator

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About the contributor

Geoff Brandwood is an architectural historian whose interest in the Victorian and Edwardian era developed through studies of churches. He then became involved with the Campaign for Real Ale’s fight to preserve historic pub interiors. Churches and pubs? Holy buildings both, he says.

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