VIEWPOINTS Pubs: Icons of London Streets Rajnish Wattas
Amidst London’s eclectic mélange of streetscapes— ranging from Victorian and Edwardian edifices to gleaming modernist steel and glass skyscrapers or post modern extravaganzas— one constant is the ubiquitous, quaint pub facade.
A cruise down the Thames defines London’s skyline most visibly. Historic facades are punctuated with avant- garde creations ranging from the Tate Modern ( transformed from a dilapidated power substation in mute brick facades to a brilliant art centre by Herzog & de Meuron) or a Norman Foster designed ‘ torpedo looking’ Gherkin or the latest landmark looming large over the city: ‘ The Shard’ designed by star architect Renzo Piano. Its towering pyramidal translucent glass tower— the tallest in London— is a city landmark.
But at the street level, the city cherishes its historic pubs with their hallmark heritage facades. There’s no better place to savour the great British tradition of grabbing a pint than in some old London pubs. Pubs ( short for public places) are deeply enmeshed in the
British culture and have been age- old hubs for social rub. No wonder then that these timeless icons of the
‘ Island nation’ remain standing to this day in their pristine architecture and regalia. Over time they evolved into meeting places where the public would congregate,
gossip and discuss important community matters, and so the public house or ‘ pub’ the short name was born! They have epitomized— and as they still do— famous literary hangouts, arty interactions or just plain networking!
The most conspicuous element you notice of pub facades are their colourful signs or their interesting names. “The signs date back to 1393 and King Richard II of England, who ruled that landlords must clearly indicate that ale was sold on their premises visible to inspectors who could check the quality of their ale. “Little fact: William Shakespeare’s dad was an ale inspector”, notes a historian! Also, the intention was to appear as eye- catching, attractive and welcoming.
Some of the typical elements of their facades are mostly black granite fronts with quaint ornamental lettering in gilded fonts. Also use of ceramic tiles is common. Antique lamps, coat of arms badges and insignia of their respective breweries and hanging flower baskets are the usual adornments. They are well lit at night, with rows of lamps along their frontages to be eye- catching at night. As Mark Girouard ( 1984) puts it, they were ‘ architects who… were more likely to be found in the saloon bar than the studio’.
Contrary to the extravagant facades, the interiors are rather functional and sombre with low lights. Leather upholstered sofas and functional tables are the typical furniture. The bar is of course a picture of razzle- dazzle of bottles, glasses and mirrors. Taps oozing different types of ales and beers from kegs beneath quench the thirst of the parched and the hungry. And of course a lot of mementos boasting of their hoary past and ancestry are displayed like badges of honour and pedigree!
One notable historic pub, The Walrus and The Carpenter, is located close to the famous obelisk- like structure of
Pubs ( short for public places) are deeply enmeshed in the British culture and have been age- old hubs for social rub. No wonder then that these timeless icons of the ‘ Island nation’ remain standing to this day in their pristine architecture and regalia.
The Wellington with hallmark outdoor sitting
The Globe near Covent Gardens with beautiful hanging flower baskets