For many years the invention of the motor car and to some extent, the bicycle, stimulated an increase in passing trade, a benefit which was eventually dealt a severe blow by the introduction of drink-driving legislation. Recently, the repeal of the licensing restrictions on opening hours introduced during the Great War in efforts to keep munitions workers sober and at work have led to further change.
Tastes in interior design, probably stimulated by the popularity of numerous TV make-over programmes have led to the all too frequent make-over of the pub interior itself. Out go acres of polished walnut and engraved glass (unless the building is listed) and in come sofas, soft lighting and French doors. Bars which were once repositories of countless ornaments and curiosities are now studies in minimalism.
To compensate for falls in the sale of alcohol, bottled waters have supplemented stronger drinks (but not at a noticeably lower price) and the arrow-root biscuit in a jar on the bar has been superseded by a wide choice of food. If that great lover of pubs and pub food, Dr Johnson, was alive today he would probably have rejoiced at the return of the availability of the pork chop but might be puzzled by the appearance of ciabatta sandwiches on the menu!
That it is not easy to successfully run a pub has been brought into sharp focus by the recent announcement (Report: London Residential Research ) that fifty-four public houses in Southwark alone closed between 1995-2001, the highest closure rate in any London borough. Of course, many of these were in parts of the borough which have been redeveloped and some of the functions they performed when they were built in the second half of the nineteenth century have disappeared. The successful landlords are those who have the skill and adaptable premises to transform them into a wine bar or gastro-pub. Few 'traditional' pubs these days host meetings of Friendly Societies like the Foresters or the Oddfellows, nor are venues of Rotary Clubs or Masonic Lodges. The darts board has probably been replaced by a wide-screen television constantly showing football or rugby matches and the previously illegal service, which was always on hand, of putting on a bet, has been rendered obsolete by the opening of the neighbourhood betting shop.
By a curious chance, several pieces of evidence of the history of local Dulwich pubs have come to light. Thanks to Robert Adie of Holmdene Avenue a number maps and diagrams which were part of leases granted to 18th and 19th century Dulwich residents have come to light. This collection includes the plans of the enlargement of the stable yard of Greyhound Inn in 1833. The inn offered the service of a job master who would hire out horses and carriages. The ground plan of the new stable shows stalls for fifteen horses and cover for six carriages, several in secure coach houses. An additional feature in the yard, which stood on the south side of the inn, was a skittle alley.
The changing pattern of trade is not a new phenomenon and the old Greyhound Inn found the need to adapt to changing circumstances in the last quarter of the nineteenth century as the drinking habits of the middle-classes moved from frequenting inns to drinking at home or in clubs. Unable to compete with the demands made by the rising lower-middle classes of artisans and clerical workers who populated the adjacent teeming new suburb of East Dulwich it was forced to close and be demolished, eventually being built over by Aysgarth and Pickwick Roads . Diagonally opposite stood The Crown which also dated from at least the eighteenth century. This inn once attracted a different clientele to its more illustrious neighbour, being more the 'local' of the numerous agricultural workers. By the second half of the nineteenth century their customer bases had begun to converge and shortly before 1900 both inns were demolished, to be replaced by the present Crown & Greyhound Hotel.
Robert has also discovered a copy of an architectural book (Modern Buildings, their planning, construction and equipment ed. G.A.T. Middleton published ?1905). The book features the new Crown and Greyhound Hotel (then named The Crown Hotel) as one of its illustrations of inns and public houses.
Much more pretentious are the modern inns, which are replacing many of those once found in a country village and in the suburbs of the larger towns. These new buildings are often dignified by the name of hotel, though they scarcely deserve it, as this title ought to be reserved for buildings which provide mainly for persons who stay in them for the night and so use them as temporary homes. A typical example is The Crown Hotel at Dulwich, designed by Messrs Eedle& Myers. There is some slight attempt in it, though not a great one, to introduce a sense of comfort similar to that so noticeable in the old country inn, while the somewhat rare adjunct of a skittle alley is added, as well as the more modern rooms for the meetings of a Masonic Lodge. On the ground floor the bar of the public house is replaced by the saloon bar of the gin palace, the open seats and bar counter suggesting its use for drinking purposes rather than as a club or meeting place, while the coffee- room, so called, which opens out of it is intended for the service of solid refreshments, having lifts in one corner, by means of which the kitchen on the second floor can be reached directly. The impression given by the plan is that the bar would be served by barmaids and the coffee-room by waiters in evening dress. This portion of the building is carefully divided off as for the better class of customer, and out of the saloon bar the large billiard-room with its top light is immediately reached. Small bars, set apart for the lower class of customer and the jug-and-bottle trade, are controlled from the same serving counter, the planning of which is managed with great skill.
The arrangement of the Masonic rooms, now almost necessary in all buildings of this type, is noticeable, each of its two principal rooms being capable of being used for suppers, banquets, or balls, as the need may arise, as well as for purely Masonic purposes.
The staircase at the end of the building is for the use of staff and for the few persons who might utilise the house for sleeping purposes. The back of the site is given up to large public stables, consisting of one loose box, seven stalls, and a coach-house and harness room, with a large yard in front of them; while provision is made should the need arise - as it probably would do before long - for a motor garage.
One interesting fact that has emerged from researching this article is that there remains provision in some Dulwich pubs for the accommodation of B & B guests. Bearing in mind the dearth of such local accommodation, this might be the salvation of some struggling houses.