A new photo book pays tribute to the life of London’s pubs

The book is part of the publisher’s Vintage Britain series, which has used archive photography to celebrate everything from picnics and holiday camps, to dog shows and the London Underground. This latest edition turns its attention to the cultural importance of the capital’s historic drinking establishments.

Spanning the last decade, the photographs reveal a rapidly changing city as war, the industrial revolution, and urban development leave their marks on London. The architecture and fashion change, yet the pubs remain largely the same; while some are noticeably antiquated, many more would not look out of place in the present day.

Top image: Bartenders at The George, London, 1962 (Getty Images); Above: The Baptist’s Head (now closed) on St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell, London, 1954 (Alamy)
Private Thomas Nugent celebrates finally returning home from a POW camp in Korea. Edmonton, 1953 (Photo Bela Zola/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

However, beyond just the buildings themselves, these photographs pay tribute to another equally important aspect of London’s pub culture – the people. From the publicans and the bartenders, to the pub-goers and their dogs, the people are undoubtedly the life and soul of these places. As Pete Brown writes in the book’s introduction: “A lifetime later, what’s changed about the London pub, apart from the solemnity and Brylcreem of the publican being replaced by beards and quiffs?”

Their laughter, games, and general merriment are what make the pub unique as a cultural institution, and the images show how this attitude and atmosphere has stood the test of time. They also show how the pub draws people from all walks of life into its warm embrace, with crowds including local labourers, American soldiers, young biker gangs, and world-renowned rock stars, to name but a few.

Outside the pub on a bank holiday. London, 1947 (Alamy)
A soldier kissing a young woman in a pub during VE Day celebrations in London, May 8, 1945 (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images)
Lunch hour session in the Globe public house at Borough Market near Southwark Cathedral. June 2, 1955 (Alamy)

Aside from simply enjoying their tipple of choice, they engage in a wide array of games and activities, from dancing and singing to playing cards, darts and dominoes.

“At its best, it remains a unique and irreplaceable social hub that adapts to fit whatever community it serves, each one subtly different from its peers,” concludes Brown.

The London Pub is published by Hoxton Mini Press; hoxtonminipress.com

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