1871 Public house

In Victorian times, customers were generally men and many pubs became a base for cycling clubs, football and cricket  teams. Some might have I had their own dance floor,  music room or perhaps a theatre. All but the most basic had their function rooms where local clubs and groups might meet - from literary societies to trades unions. Britain's variety-act tradition was born in these smoky back rooms and subsequently moved into new 'music halls', where the pub atmosphere of tinkling pianos and raucous laughter was never wholly lost. How were pubs made attractive?

There were huge numbers of pubs in Victorian towns and cities. In Sheffield, in 1896, records show one pub for every 176 inhabitants and in Manchester the ratio was 1:168. Their clientele was drawn almost exclusively from the lower-middle and working classes. Vigorous anti-drink campaigning by the Temperance movement had pushed them out of bounds to the 'respectable' middle class, who from mid-century on increasingly preferred to socialise in cafes, hotels and restaurants. In contrast to that hushed and carpeted ambience, pubs were 'all glare, glitter and rattle', and many offered music, games and other popular entertainments. Architects of note rarely designed pubs, but lesser lights of the profession mingled styles and influences with happy disregard for convention. Few other buildings have consistently made such a varied use of materials in the way they were decorated. Exteriors would be heavily ornamented with bright lights and twinkling glass, coloured tiles and wrought-iron grilles, but this was as nothing compared with the interior, with its gleaming fittings in mahogany, brass, copper and marble. Woodwork was grained and scumbled, ceilings were covered in heavy paper that aped moulded plaster, glass was etched and engraved with intricate designs and exquisite fish-tailed lettering. The effect was of warmth, well-being and comfort, precisely the kind of atmosphere an exhausted factory worker would seek - but which might not always be found at home. There is no one 'pub style' and yet few pubs could be anything else, with the florid quality of the architecture, the over-exuberance of decoration, the vigorous faith in elaboration. It is this playfulness and generosity of spirit - executed, it must be said, for uncompromisingly commercial motives - that identifies the Victorian pub and, even today, evokes its origins in the age of gaslight, pianos and sentimental songs. Though fine buildings survive, far too many have been gutted and blandly refurbished by their owners.

1870 - Bandstand

1881 - Travelling Fair