Boozing with the Victorian Society in Crouch End, Hornsey and Harringay

Found in a box of books is this photocopy of a typewritten guide to a ‘pub crawl’ (walk no 41) of various late Victorian ‘gin palaces’ in North London arranged by the Victorian Society on 16th September 1966. The guides were two architects-- Roderick Gradidge and Ben Davis—both of whom had designed interiors for Ind Coope. Judging by their descriptions of the pubs they planned to visit, both were also passionate and knowledgeable fans of late Victorian architecture and design. The grand plasterwork of the ceiling cornices and Art Nouveau stained glass is pointed out as being of special interest. But the two men also emphasised the ways in which Victorian pub architects tried to make   their interiors both glamorous and homely as a way of getting their (mainly) lower middle class drinkers (mention is made of Mr Pooter’s ‘raffish’ friends) to spend hours away from their more humble abodes, much (we might add) in the way that the designers of Music Halls and northern shopping arcades  (one thinks of Frank Matcham ), and grand hotels, were doing in the same era. Here are the guides admiring the combination of grandeur and intimacy found in the Queen’s Hotel, Crouch End (below):

All the way round there were through views, glimpses of the other bars, and as a result one was able to feel that one was standing in one part of a single large space, large enough to tolerate the considerable height without become vertical. Since the space was so well subdivided…one could feel secluded in a sufficiently small and enclosed space, but since the proportion of the greater space was horizontal a feeling of repose was retained which could not have belonged to tall, restricted vertical rooms. This method of subdividing an area into small bars by means of partitions, which were half-glazed  with semi-obscured glass, and were not much above six feet high, was peculiar to Victorian pubs, and goes a long way to explaining the incomparable drinking atmosphere they provide...

© Copyright Julian Osley

Along with the praise of such period interiors and the predictable imprecations cast on alterations by designers from the 1930s onwards, there are several features of the guide that point to its mid-sixties origin. Firstly, the crawl began at ‘6.30’ and ended at closing time. So no sign of the 24 hour clock here-- presumably so as not to confuse the older topers in the Society, some of whom may have been born when these pubs were being built.-- though I seem to recall that the 24 hour clock had arrived on bus time- tables in the London area as early as 1962. Then there is the suggestion that members 'leave cars at Finsbury Park Station' .This, after perhaps four hours of solid drinking in the year before the breathalyser was brought in! It wouldn’t happen today, when no one would admit in polite company that perhaps he might risk a single pint and still drive. Thirdly, this was the decade in which anaglypta (invented in 1877) had not yet become a dirty word in interior design circles. There is plenty of admiration from our architects for the anaglypta wallpapers of these fin de siècle gin palaces.

It now turns out that the chief of the guides, Roderick Gradidge, then just 37, was one of the leading lights of the Victorian Society, a genuine expert on Victorian architecture and the Arts and Crafts movement. A physically large man, an extravert, (doubtless with a booming voice),a dandy in his dress sense and unashamedly gay, he earned a good living working on Victorian pub interiors (notably the Markham Arms in Chelsea) as well as conserving country house interiors by such big names as Lutyens, Detmar Blow and Charles Voysey. He also wrote three books, including one on Lutyens. When he died aged 71 in 2000 the Telegraph called him ‘one of the most colourful and underrated English architects of recent years’, while Private Eye’s Gavin Stamp, a personal; friend, writing in The Independent,  was also generous in his praise.

Today, despite the promotional work of the Victorian Society, the age loved by Gradidge and Davis is highly unfashionable---and likely to remain so, though the Arts and Craft movement seems somehow immune from this decline.  Back in 1966, however, enthusiasm for Victorianism was in full swing and there would have been plenty of punters on this London pub crawl. Remember all those allusions to Victorian design during the Psychedelic Sixties? Today, it’s all about the clean lines of Art Deco –a design era which surely would have had Messrs Gradidge and Davis spluttering over their pints of Courage Best. [RMH]

4 thoughts on “Boozing with the Victorian Society in Crouch End, Hornsey and Harringay

  1. Fnarf

    The first three and the last of these are still there, but sadly the Unwin Arms was demolished and the Queen's Head was shut and turned into a furniture store just in 2011.

  2. Pingback: An Extraordinary Gentleman: the Brand New Victorian Pubs of Roddy Gradidge

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