I’m Going Up The Dog

Great Britain

 

The pubs are open in Old London Town for the moment, and they’re very quiet – a joy for the drinker, a nightmare for the publican. Workers simply aren’t returning to their offices, and that means the central London mental health support services, of which pubs must be the biggest, don’t have their custom.

Yet it’s summer and outside drinking is the norm, so there are plenty of safe spaces to enjoy a pint. I’ve missed them all; theatre pubs, traditional pubs, readers’, writers’ and artists’ pubs, sports pubs and a thousand places where odd societies or different professions meet.

Pubs are in our language; drinkers used to share the same mug, in which the level of ale was marked with a wooden peg, hence the expression ‘to take someone down a peg’. The masons who built our churches were housed at inns, hence the Masonic connections of certain pubs, and the Knights Templar had their own inns. Back when the water of London was polluted, everyone drank beer at alehouses. Coroners and judges worked out of pubs. We meet our future partners in pubs and even find our way around by their location.

Pub names provide markers for all the historical events of England. Red Lion, White Hart, Crown & Anchor, Royal Oak, Coach & Horses, the Camel & Artichoke, The Dog, each has its own hidden meaning.

In the late Victorian era there was a pub for every hundred people in the country. We talk about inner city schools where pupils speak dozens of languages, but the greatest melting pots for all races and classes exist on almost every street corner – or at least, they did.

Pubs are where much of England’s traditional cookery survives. Not the fish and chips sold to tourists, but pubs like The Crown in North London that sells potted pork, oysters and a dozen types of cheese. English food gained a bad reputation after the war because there were few restaurants left. But now that London has become one of the most expensive cities in the world, its classic cookery has gone to the gastropubs.

After writing ‘The Victoria Vanishes’ I watched in dismay as the pubs mentioned in the book started themselves to vanish. That fine ‘Eagle’ illustrator Peter Jackson (1922-2003) drew and painted many pubs that succumbed to the property developer’s wrecking ball, but most were turned into flats.

Whether the remaining ones will once more be heaving with the beery swell of bantering blusterers is moot. It’ll take a vaccine to fully effect a return to norm – and it won’t be the norm as companies offer their employees the alternative of working at home. My publishers are only returning for a 2/3 day week, and many friends aren’t going back at all.

19 comments on “I’m Going Up The Dog”

  1. Peter T says:

    Up to 50 years ago in the Black Country, every other building was a pub on the streets followed going home from the iron works. And just about every pub had its own football and cricket teams. There were also numerous churches and chapels. Nowadays, there are retail parks. And more retail parks on the way home from the retail parks.

    The traditional pub has been going down hill for a long time: fizzy beer, cigarettes (until they were forced outside), loud piped (sort of) music, drink driving. All very sad.

  2. admin says:

    Yet there are still gems; in London, the Seven Stars, the Angel, the Racketeer, the Crown Islington, many of the river pubs…

  3. Roger says:

    Forty years ago in Liverpool there were areas where every house had been knocked down, but the pubs at terrace ends were still there and the regulars went back to them every weekend.

  4. Peter Dixon says:

    A quick tally tells that 18 pubs and working mens clubs have closed over the last 15 years in my smallish town. Most have been turned into flats, some into offices or shops. On one street we had ‘The Victoria’, ‘The Albert’ and ‘The Coburg’ – spot the connection? – and now two of them convenience stores and the other a set of flats that no-one seems to want to buy.
    However, in the last 5 years we’ve seen the arrival of of 6 or 7 micro pubs opening in vacant shops.

    The demise of pubs is mostly to do with major pub company’s charging too much to tenants for rent and products. Local council’s pile rates high on pubs against barrellage – so the more you sell, the higher the rates. But if for some reason your sales go down, you have to apply for a reduction that can take 3 years to come through, and it costs money to do it. Since most tenants start out on a 6 month starter contract they have no incentive to start a rate appeal, so they soon find that the profits don’t stack up and leave.

    Micro-pubs work because they are run by the owner/manager who can source products where they choose – not through a ‘tie’. Because none of the premises have been pubs before, they benefit from having no barrellage figures, so a council rate can’t be set on them unfairly – they have to trade for over a full tax year before a rateable value can be set.

    So the loss of pubs is because of greedy, or intransigent PubCo’s, the government tax on beer, and the local council’s rating system which typically charges a pub three to four times the tax of other businesses in the same street.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg – I can do a full 45 minute rant on the Robber Barons who have steadily reduced the number of pubs in the UK out of sheer greed.

    That said, I’m off for a pint!

  5. Martin Tolley says:

    Rural locations had pubs aplenty too. Directly outside the Royal navy dockyard gates at Portland in Dorset there were seven pubs in a row. Matelots coming ashore with money to burn often never made it to the end of the street. I think it’s only the Jolly Sailor left now. My great grandfather was a well-known publican in Weymouth and my grandmother was one of the (infamous) “seven maids” of Maiden Street.
    When I was a student working on the buses in Dorset in the 1970s we had many summer visitors who came into town and didn’t quite know where they were heading back to, but knew it was “somewhere near a pub.” On a wet afternoon, we worked out that our local bus routes around Dorset had some 670 bus stops. Only 6 were further than 300 yards from a pub or licensed premises of some sort.

  6. John Williams says:

    Remember the days when one could afford rounds? Not any more. I’m a committee member of a gentlemen’s club. We’re still closed for the time being. The committee is confident that the club will survive. In fact, the cellar is scheduled to be completely refurbished. However, a lot of pubs will not reopen. The one thing that the UK excels in are proper places where one can have proper beer, unlike the Continent, which are usually attached to snack bars, restaurants…..

    Pubs are places where one can go and play games, shake hands, cuddle, chat in close company. Until I can do that, I’m not really interested and then they’ll probably be too expensive.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    John, I’ve wondered about that rounds business. Not just the cost, but the amount. If you go out with five others that’s 6 pints which is quite a bit of beer, even spread over an evening. Still, if it’s just you and two others, well not so bad. Even the cost, well, how many do you usually have? Don’t go out with more than one less than that number. (Read it slowly and it figures alright.) That just sounds very calculating, though, so how does one avoid drinking more than one can deal with or afford? Be an early payer so no one can accuse you of being cheap when you leave early? Don’t leave early but drink really slowly?

  8. Martin Tolley says:

    Helen, there’s a sort of solution to the rounds problem in Oranges and Lemons. No spoilers.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    The price of beer has rocketed – I can clearly remember my dad lending me a fiver in the 1980’s when I went down the pub on a Saturday, and having enough for an evening with my mates. Today, that fiver wouldn’t even get me a single pint in some pubs. Criminal.

  10. Paul C says:

    I remember a trip to London in 1982 and thinking the barman in the Punch Tavern in Fleet St was having a joke by charging me a pound for a pint (the price in Newcastle was 59p). He wasn’t joking and I wouldn’t believe him. A whole pound ?!

    I read that Keith Waterhouse was a regular but sadly he wasn’t around that day……….

  11. Dave Young says:

    At one point Portsmouth had the highest density of pubs of any UK town – 277 public house and 577 beer house, one for every 100 of population. Londoners are just playing at it

  12. Lauren C says:

    I’ve seen two explanations for “take someone down a peg”. The first was from the Royal Navy. Flags were flown from various heights on the masts, depending on the importance of the honoree. So if you slipped in rank or esteem, you came down a peg. The other explanation was that the expression came from wooden water gauges that used pegs as level indicators. I’m perplexed how pegs could be used in mug to show how much someone had drunk. If the peg is outside the mug, you can’t really match it to the level inside. If the peg is inside, how do you move it down to the next level? Are there mugs with peg holes? Were such mugs wooden, metal, or ceramic? Have never heard of such a thing. Enlightenment, please!

  13. snowy says:

    Where it originally came from is largely unknown, but the phrase has been in use for a very long time.

    From: Peg

    Any of a set of pins fixed at intervals in a drinking vessel to indicate the quantity each drinker is to drink. Now historical.

    1617 F. Moryson Itinerary iii. 87 When each receiues the pot..they curiously looke upon certaine pegs or markes set within of purpose, that they may deuide the drinke by the equall ballance of Justice.

    1796 S. Pegge Anonymiana (1809) 183 The first person that drank was to empty the tankard to the first peg or pin; the second..to the next pin, etc.

    1851 H. W. Longfellow Golden Legend iv. 193 Come, old fellow, drink down to your peg! But do not drink any farther, I beg!

    1866 C. Kingsley Hereward the Wake I. iv. 138 We ourselves drink here by the peg at midday.

    From: Take down a peg

    The interval between two successive positions, such as could be marked by pegs; a step, a degree. Esp. in to take (a person) down a peg (or two) and variants: to lower (a person) in his or her own, or the general, estimation; to lower a person’s view of his or her own status or ability; to humble, chasten, snub. Also to take (a person) a peg lower. Similarly occasionally to come down a peg.

    [Several other origins have been suggested (such as a connection with pins marking a level in a cup and intended to regulate drinking habits, or with the tying of naval flag ropes to pegs (a higher peg hence denoting higher status)), but none is completely convincing.]

    1589 J. Lyly Pappe with Hatchet To Father & two Sonnes. sig. A2 Now haue at you all my gaffers of the rayling religion, tis I that must take you a peg lower.

    1625 J. Mead Let. 22 Oct. in R. F. Williams Birch’s Court & Times Charles I (1848) (modernized text) I. 58 A-talking of the brave times that would be shortly..when..the Bishop of Chester, that bore himself so high, should be hoisted a peg higher to his little ease.

    1664 S. Butler Hudibras: Second Pt. ii. ii. 105 We still have worsted all your holy Tricks,..And took your Grandees down a peg.

    1707 T. Hearne Remarks & Coll. 24 Feb. (1885) I. 336 You’ll bring me down a peg lower in my Conceit.

    1781 C. Johnstone Hist. John Juniper II. 247 An opportunity for letting him down a peg or two.

    1830 J. Neal Authorship v. 45 Little as it [sc. the window] is, it was never made to open, I see; I can’t move it a peg—neither up nor down, nor sideways.

    1850 Tait’s Edinb. Mag. 17 633/2 Some folks who are so high will have to come down a peg.

    1894 Mrs. H. Ward Marcella II. iii. iv. 324 I must take that proud girl down a peg.

    1955 V. Nabokov Lolita II. iii. 46 I could never make her read any other book than the so-called comic books or stories in magazines for American females. Any literature a peg higher smacked to her of school.

    1989 Just Seventeen 20 Dec. 13/2 He thought he was really fab though, so I decided to pull him down a peg or two.

    {Quoted verbatim, any bracket related business is the work of the original lexicographers.}

    To unravel it is both complicated and hugely speculative, it is possible to fit pegs into a wooden drinking vessel, but why would anybody do so? Bar complicated ordinances that specified that beer could not be sold in measures less than a gallon. Not very likely.

    The phrase certainly becomes idiomatic, but because it is tied to the word ‘peg’ it goes through shifts in meaning as the peg it refers to varies. Pegs were used in various systems for keeping scores, having your ‘peg’ moved down was generally a bad thing. Having a designated peg on which to hang your hat and sword on entering Parliament implied status, otherwise you just hung your hat where ever you could and hoped nobody took a fancy too it. All complete speculation.

  14. Ian Luck says:

    On the subject of ‘Rounds’, the Ladybird book of ‘The Big Night Out’, by Hazeley & Morris, has this to say:
    ‘Perry has never liked a big night out. “I’m only staying for one” he always says.
    Nobody expects him to buy a round. That would not be fair.
    Perry’s friends recently worked out that he had not paid for a drink since 1993. Tonight they will be presenting him with a bill for slightly under £25,000.’

    Justified.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    {Snowy, very decorative use of the rococo parentheses.}

  16. snowy says:

    ❰ One strives to do one’s best. ❱

  17. Andrew Holme says:

    I seem to remember my home town of Kendal used to claim the most pubs per head prize. Not any more, of course.

  18. Paul C says:

    There’s a pub in South Shields called The Grotto which claims to be the only pub in Europe in a cave. The front of the pub is a building but inside the walls are the varnished bare rock of a large cave. It started as a cave used by smugglers to sell booze and gradually became legitimate. Strangest pub I’ve ever been in…………

  19. Ian Luck says:

    I think Norwich once boasted 365 pubs and 52 churches. And four families…?

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