Context 165 - August 2020

34 C O N T E X T 1 6 5 : A U G U S T 2 0 2 0 lino rubber or vitrolite. At the Vale, Daybrook, Nottingham,T Cecil Howitt made extensive use of panelling.The Smoke Room and Lounge Hall has fairly traditional light oak panelling, brought up to date by the use of inlaid bands of silver gilt. This theme is followed through to the Lounge, which was panelled with silver-gilt fibre board. With the coming of the second world war, new pub development came to a sudden end. Although some planned pre-war buildings were adapted and carried over after the wartime building freeze, the Improved Public House had lost its popularity. The requirements of brewers, customers and magistrates had changed signifi- cantly. Social changes of the late 20th century made many aims of the Improved Public House obsolete and led to their decline. The Victorian pub again regained its position. A blank canvas To the modern pub designer the pub is seen as a shell to be gutted, a blank canvas for maximising profitable space. Maximising the drinking, and more recently eating, area of a pub is a priority. With the total gutting and loss of internal partitions comes the introduction of repetitive brand standardisation, with the loss of individual character. The final irony is that so much of this heritage character being created is still Victoriana for pub interiors regardless of age. In an interior which conceptually tried so hard to rid itself of the excesses of the Victorian gin palaces, it is an anathema. Inter-war interiors were disguised under fitted carpets, carpeted bar fronts, obtrusive curtaining and period bric-a- brac. Internal refurbishment presents a greater threat to the inter-war pub than to its chrono- logical predecessors whose historic value has been more widely recognised. Even those pubs recognised as significant and listed are still threatened, initially by the financial pressure affecting the survival of all pubs and, it appears, by the failure of those involved in the planning process to properly understand the building, its history and its significance. The Vale, Daybrook, Nottingham (1937–38), designed by Cecil Howitt, pictured in 2013 Fiona Newton is operations director of the IHBC. Conversion to other uses is common even among the listed Improved Public Houses. The list description for the Five Ways, Nottingham, by AE Eberlin (1936, Grade II) states that ‘The substantially complete survival of the plan and fittings in “improved” inter-war public houses is an increasingly rare occurrence’. But the Five Ways closed as a pub in 2014 and is now used as a community centre and mosque, and little of this once-rare interior seems to survive. Not far away the Oxclose, Arnold, Nottingham, by T Cecil Howitt (1939, Grade II) is in use as a Chinese restaurant. More examples include the Dr Johnson, Barkingside, London, by H Reginald Ross (1937, Grade II), which has been con- verted to a Co-op, and the Dog and Partridge, Hall Green, Birmingham, by JP Osborn (1929, Grade II), which has been converted to a church. If the public house is generally a neglected building type, the Improved Public House has fared much worse. Its large spaces and lack of snug homeliness have made it unpopular and ripe for a new Victorianisation. For many years it was little researched and little appreci- ated, and then it was too late. The rate of major refurbishment and total loss was such that much of the historic fabric was destroyed before any assessment could be made. Around 6,000 public houses were thought to have been built, rebuilt or extensively remodelled in the inter-war years, but very many have been demolished or signifi- cantly altered. In England today fewer than 100 are listed. The addition of 19 new inter-war pubs to the list in 2015 came too late for many, including the 1921 Carlton Tavern, Kilburn, which was demolished before it could be listed. Over the past four decades especially, the pub’s survival has been constantly threatened by wholesale radical refurbishment, or by closure, conversion or demolition. Since its introduction in a blaze of glory in the 1920s and 1930s, the Improved Public House has been subsequently subjected to waves of careless neglect, substantial damage and complete destruction.