The Unicorn, Queen's Road, Brighton c.1892.
Pausing to grab a bag of pork scratchings and request his usual, Graham Spicer went off in search of Brighton's pub heritage.
The pub has remained a pillar of British social life over the years and Brighton Boozers, on at Brighton History Centre until December 17 2005, tells the story of the city’s hostelries.
Much of the research was taken from the centre’s archives, "from things like press cuttings and collections of old photographs, with a lot of help from local publicans and local people," says the history centre’s Sally Blann. "Public houses and taverns in Brighton have played a large part in Brighton’s history."
The Lord Nelson on Trafalgar Street (a 24 HM favourite...). © 24 Hour Museum.
A frieze of photographs shows the city’s pubs the way they were next to contemporary images. Some have been lost to urban development, but it is surprising how little others have changed. In several photos the main difference seemed to be the addition of lamp-posts, no-entry signs and other street furniture.
Of course, things haven’t stayed static and the pub’s development has reflected changes in society.
Brighton Boozers shows how since the Second World War the numbers of pubs has undergone a gradual decline. Cinema, television, and affordable restaurants have competed with the old lure of the local. Urban regeneration has also been the end of many a traditional alehouse.
Not everything is bad though, as Iain Loe from the Campaign for Real Ale points out: "Lots of things have improved since the Second World War. At that time pubs were male bastions, they often didn’t serve very good food, if at all, and the choice of beer was often pretty small…Generally speaking, the changes have been more good than bad, the quality of food and drink has increased and often the atmosphere has improved."
Tamplin's Brewery depot, Newhaven Street, Brighton c.1936.
While the pub may have changed, the idea of the local is still firmly implanted in the British psyche. Fictional creations like The Rover’s Return and The Queen Vic have become national institutions.
In modern town centres, however, many of the older, traditional pubs have been bought up, stripped out and re-launched with new names and a trendy image, replacing horse brasses and Victorian fittings with contemporary art, sofas, DJs, and promises of a ‘chilled out ambience’.
There is a fear that these chains of town centre bars are killing off the local. "One of the problems is that some people have started churning out similar style pubs all across the country, and using a cookie cutter approach to them," says Iain.
"However, the bulk of pubs in Britain are still the traditional local, even if they are owned by big business. The licensees, customers, and to an extent the building itself are what make a pub. The one theme about Britain’s pubs is that they are all different."
In some cases, pub culture has spilt onto the streets to more closely resemble the bar culture that is more common abroad. © 24 Hour Museum.
Highlighting the different experiences of Brighton’s pubs, the exhibition contains a jukebox style listening post, where you can hear a range of pub-related reminiscences, which help confirm the pub’s place in social history.
The exhibition also looks at more specific themes. Stories of Brighton’s haunted pubs, the temperance movement, origins of pub names and tales of ‘sex, sin and scandal’ are accompanied by accounts of badger baiting, headless prostitutes and a seven foot tall ghost called Old Strike.
Aware that there is much more information than could be contained in the exhibition, Sally adds: "Because we got so much fascinating material from people there will be a book coming out in the Spring. There are also a number of events coming up like a guided tour called Brighton’s Brighter Boozers."
Many of Brighton's pubs have retained their original features. © 24 Hour Museum.
As a whole, the exhibition is short and sweet, looking at both the good and the bad sides of Britain’s pub culture, and as Sally says: "There’s something for everyone including the teetotallers!"
It serves as an aperitif, leaving you wanting more of a substantial draught of pub history.