London Pubs Group

Campaign for Real Ale

Campaign for Real Ale

The Truman Show

Want to get to know the real historic pub interiors in the capital? Really the only place to start is with a copy of London Heritage Pubs: An Inside Story. Historic Pub Interiors in the Capital. This has just been published and contains 156 entries of the most intact and interesting interiors covering the whole of Greater London. It is available from the CAMRA shop at or by phone on 01727 867201 - £14.99 or £12.99 for CAMRA members plus £1.50 postage and packing. It is also available in bookshops.

One of the things that has come out of the research for this book is the discovery of a series of really good pub interiors from Truman's pubs of the 1930s. Truman, Hanbury & Buxton brewed in Burton on Trent and also had a major London brewery in Brick Lane. Both facilities were known as Black Eagle Brewery and the eagle emblem can still be seen emblazoned on many a pub (or indeed, former pub) in many parts of London. Trumans fell victim to the great brewery consolidations of the 1960s and early 1970s. The Burton operation closed in 1973 and was promptly demolished while the London end was acquired by Grand Metropolitan Hotels in 1971 and was merged with Watney Mann Ltd in 1974. Brewing ceased in 1989.

But back to the '30s. Truman's developed a distinctive house style which made great play of wall panelling with lovely lettering advertising the company's products. They also developed distinctive red-brick fire surrounds with charming reliefs and, in the overmantel, advertising mirrors. They were also partial to spittoon troughs with pretty chequerwork patterns, and ceiling panels made from a hard shiny material called Vitrolite.

Here we take a look at some examples of attractive and distinctive Truman's pubs serving real ale that you may enjoy exploring. Golden Heart, 110 Commercial Street, Spitalfields, E1 The Golden Heart

The Golden Heart, E1 photograph by Kim Rennie

An elegant, three-sided neo-Georgian frontage. The pub was built on a corner site c.1930 and is just a few yards away from Truman's very different Ten Bells. The Golden Heart is a largely intact example of inter-war pub-fitting and has two bars either side of a central servery. A blocked doorway in the centre indicates the larger bar on the right is an amalgamation of two original rooms. This enlarged public bar is rather plainer than the other one but both have extensive panelling, brick fireplaces (note the Truman's eagle over a couple of the public bar fireplaces) and Truman's house-style lettering - the advertising inscription atop the panelling. Note the pleasing dimpled and coloured glass in the windows. None of this is showy but is typical of the careful, restrained face of much pub building between the two world wars. The one real blemish is the modern pot-shelf stuck on top of the public bar counter. A good, relaxed place to soak up the atmosphere of a typical inter-war pub. Stag's Head, 55 Orsman Road, Hoxton, N1 The Stag's Head

The Stag's Head photograph by Kim Rennie

This is one of many pubs built by Truman's between the wars. Like their Hope & Anchor, W6, it was built to serve a 1930s estate. The ground floor is faced with mottled blue and brown tiles that were then very popular for pub frontages. It is quite small and originally consisted of two narrow bars either side of a servery plus a 'Home Sales' compartment (now disused, of course). The public bar is on the right (on the street corner), the saloon on the left. In the 1950s or 1960s an extension was added on to the saloon (note that they couldn't get the tile match right).

The interior is typical of Truman's house style. Note their characteristic lettering advertising their oatmeal stout, Eagle ale etc on the woodwork, and typical brick fire-surrounds with small relief panels (the leaping stags found here also prance about in other Truman's pubs) and mirrors in the overmantels. They also repeated the chequered spittoon trough arrangements frequently. The social (and price) distinction between the two sides is mirrored in the bar counters - commonplace matchboarding for the public bar and a more elegant streamlined effort in the saloon. Happily the toilets in both halves of the pub have not experienced modern refits and the tilework still appears as it did to those answering the call of nature seventy years ago. Rose & Crown, 199 Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, N16 The Rose and Crown Exterior The Rose and Crown Interior

The Rose and Crown photographs by Kim Rennie

An ambitious Truman's pub of 1934 that sweeps elegantly round a corner. Before going in, features to note are the external lamps, a pair of fine metal inn signs and the glazed shop-window to display wares from the former off-sales compartment. You can also trace the sequence of original rooms in the metal signs over the doors: right to left - public bar, private bar, outdoor sales, saloon and lounge.

Internally you can still get a good feel for the 1930s layout since the screens dividing the various rooms survive in their upper parts. Also the detailing of the counter is different in the public bar from the private bar, and, unlike the rest of the pub, the lounge has hatch-style service. Also have a look at the light-shades. Extraordinary as it may seem, these appear to be original and different parts of the pub have different shaped ones. The panelled interior is a first-class example of Truman's house style in the 1930s. Characteristics involve the advertising lettering on the panelling naming some of the brewery's offerings, the chequered spittoon trough, light-cream-coloured Vitrolite panels in the ceiling, overmantels with Truman's mirrors inserts, and doors in the bar counter to get at the beer engines. Note also some of the chairs which are not unlike the 1930s survivors at the Fox & Pheasant, SW10. The heavy-handed 'stone' flooring is clearly a product of the time when the pub was opened out. Atlas, 16 Seagrave Road, West Brompton, SW6 The Atlas

The Atlas photograph by Geoff Brandwood

A classic pub to see what Truman's were up to in their pubs in the 1930s. The building itself is Victorian but the fittings are a surprisingly complete array from the interwar refit. At that time there were two distinct rooms, the evidence of which is clearly apparent today with the public bar (named as such on the door) at the front.

The room decoration is expressed in a couple of ways. Most obvious is the remains of a screen where the glazing at the top survives. Then you will see that the bar counter is treated differently - at the front it is matchboarded and at the back (the plusher end) it has horizontal Art Deco panelling with a rounded corner. The bar-backs, however, are similar and there is also a black-and-white tiled spittoon trough (similar to the one at the Hope and Anchor, W6). Also from the 1930s are the fixed seating and three brick fire surrounds each with a small terracotta relief - a galleon, a hunting scene and a frisky stag. In the rear area is wall panelling with advertisements for Truman's wares, and a promotional mirror over one of the fireplaces. You will see that the counter fronts have doors, a feature of many a London pub in times past to allow servicing of the beer engines.

Nearby Brompton Cemetery contains the tombs of several famous people, including that of Emmeline Pankhurst. Many of the tombs and monuments are listed 'buildings' as is the cemetery chapel and the entrance gates. Duke of Edinburgh, 204 Ferndale Road, Brixton, SW9 The Duke of Edinburgh

The Duke of Edinburgh photograph by Geoff Brandwood

A beautifully crafted piece of Truman's 1930s pub architecture. It has three storeys and is faced with attractive thin red bricks which are also used for the window linings and mullions.

Inside you can now perambulate through the whole pub but still get a good sense of the way it was originally arranged. The public bar was at the front and more simply appointed than the more up-market rear areas, e.g. a matchboard counter in contrast to the panelled ones behind - note all the counters have doors for servicing the original beer engines as was usual in Truman's 1930s pubs. The light-coloured oak woodwork is typical of colouration and quality of what they put into their pubs, as is the distinctive advertising lettering in the bar-backs, the chequerwork spittoon trough in the rear area, the use of mirrors over the fireplaces, and the (now disappeared) sliding screen that would have split the rear parts. The inglenook with Tudor-arched fireplace and adjacent seating is particularly attractive (a pity about the totally inappropriate repro Victorian iron fire-surround in the middle area).

A notable feature is the extensive rear garden approached down a passage and which shows how interwar pub builders had in mind the need to encourage not just hardened drinkers but couples and families who might enjoy sitting out in good weather.

Happy Truman's -spotting!

Geoff Brandwood and Jane Jephcote.

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