When I lived in Hertfordshire, I was puzzled to discover that around the time Edward VII ended his long wait to become king, there was a pub in the small market town of Baldock called the Pretty Shades. It seemed highly unlikely this was some sort of pre-First World War Tiffany lamp theme pub. So what was the origin of the name?
Years later I discovered that a “shades” was originally the name given in the South of England to a basement bar. According to Words, facts, and phrases; a dictionary of curious, quaint, and out-of-the-way matters by Eliezer Edwards, published in 1882
The name originated at Brighton. In 1816 a Mr Savage, who had acquired the premises in Steine Lane formerly occupied by the Old Bank, converted them into a drinking and smoking shop. Mrs Fitzherbert [the Prince of Wales's mistress] at that time lived exactly opposite, and Savage was fearful of annoying her by placing any inscription in front of his house designating its new character. It struck him, however, that as Mrs Fitzherbert’s house, which was south of his, was so tall as to prevent the sun from shining on his premises, he would adopt the word “Shades”, which he accordingly placed over the door where the word Bank had before appeared. The name took, and a large business was secured. Numbers of other publicans in London and elsewhere adopted the name Shades, which is now fully established in the language as a synonym for wine vaults.
I’m not sure I believe that, but the Oxford English Dictionary confirms that “the Shades” was “originally, a name for wine and beer vaults with a drinking-bar, either underground or sheltered from the sun by an arcade. Hence subsequently used, both in England and in the US, as a name for a retail liquor shop, or a drinking-bar attached to a hotel.”
John Badcock’s Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit …, published 1823, revealed two establishments called The Shades in London. One was at London Bridge under Fishmongers’ Hall (“Sound wine out of the wood reasonable and tolerably good are characteristics of this establishment”), while The Shades at Spring Gardens [presumably the Old Shades, Whitehall] “is a subterranean ale shop.”
By 1949 Maurice Gorham could write, in Back to the Local, that “Shades” was “originally a generic term for cellars, now the name of one famous pub at Charing Cross [the Old Shades again] and of various London bars. When used for one bar in an ordinary pub, roughly equivalent to Dive”. So that explained half of the mystery. I’m still looking for a reason for the “Pretty” part.
The “shades” was just one of more than a dozen different types of bar that could be found in British pubs, besides the common public bar and saloon bar, many with careful, strict social gradations from one to the other, with a system of purdah and caste strict Hindus would appreciate: no woman would ever be found in the tap room, for example, nor any man coming straight from manual labour in the lounge or the public parlour, while only the landlord’s intimates or regular customers would be served in the snug.
Maurice Gorham stated perfectly the situation as it still stood just after the Second World War:
“One of the most fascinating things about the pubs is the way they are carved up by interior partitions into the most unexpected and fantastic shapes. It is often quite startling to look up at the ceiling and realise that all these compartments, varying so widely in their geography and in their social significance, are merely sketched on the ground plan of a simple rectangular space. Pull down the partitions, and instead of a complicated series of bars you would just have a medium-sized room.”
Today, of course – and the process was already beginning even in Gorham’s time – those partitions have indeed come down. Now it is instructive to go into, eg, one of the big old boozers in the East End of London and imagine them not as they are, just one room, frequently, if they’ve been hipstered up, with unplastered brick walls and big, clear windows, but as they were 50, 60, 80, 100 years ago, carved into three, four or more separate spaces by mahogany and etched glass barriers, each section with its own hermetic, exclusive group of customers, who would rather walk into the wrong lavatory than the wrong bar, and served, often, by its own separate door to the streets outside.
In 1960 The Times brought out a book called Beer In Britain which featured a “glossary of bars”, dividing it into “Southern Usage” and “Northern Usage”. It was produced just in time: the social divisions that saw every man know his place, and know whether that place was the public bar or the saloon, were crumbling. When I first started (illegally) drinking in pubs in the late 1960s, public bars and saloon bars were still, just, separate worlds, with the beer in the public bar, where the working man drank pints of mild, continuing to be 10 or even 20 per cent cheaper than the same beer in the saloon, where the working man’s white-collared boss sipped at a half of bitter. By the end of the 1970s the price differentiation was disappearing along with the social differentiation. Here’s The Times guide to bars from the year Chubby Checker released The Twist and Miles Davis recorded Sketches of Spain, when Harold Macmillan, prime minister of the UK, made his “Winds of Change” speech in South Africa, and Senator John F Kennedy won the American presidential election, with notes in square brackets by me:
Public Bar Where prices are lowest and furnishings simple.
Saloon Bar A saloon was originally a spacious reception room in a private mansion, then in an inn: applied circa 1835 to the better-furnished room of a public house. [But see later.]
Lounge originally, the hotel residents’ sitting room. Now a superior saloon bar, often with waiter service and with no sale of draught beer. [ According to Maurice Gorham in 1949, the Lounge, also known as the Saloon Lounge, "is standard to the extent that many pubs have one, but it is a refinement on the Saloon Bar. It shows, therefore, that the pub possessing one has aspirations. It caters for a class of people who want something a little better even than the Saloon Bar. In pubs that have both, the Lounge implies sitting at tables, having drinks fetched by waiters, and tipping."]
Lounge Bar/Saloon Lounge Midway in status between the saloon and the lounge.
Private Bar Midway in status between public bar and saloon bar, intended for customers wishing to conduct private conversations, or for men accompanies by women: sometimes deputising for a Ladies’ Bar
Ladies’ Bar Self-explanatory
Bar Parlour An inner room, without a street entrance, reserved traditionally for regular customers or the landlord’s inmates. Now rare.
Buffet Bar A refreshment bar (1869). Modern equivalents are the Lunch Bar and the Snack Bar, of saloon bar status. [Don't know where The Times gets that date of 1869 from: the earliest example of the phrase I have found is 1888. "Of saloon bar status" means "saloon bar prices charged".]
Tap Room Originally (1807) a room where beer was tapped or drawn from a cask. Now an old-fashioned name for the public bar of an hotel or country ale house. Not found in London. [while 1807 is the earliest date in the OED for "tap room", "tap-room" occurs in a novel published in 1750 called The life and adventures of Joe Thompson by Edward Kimber, and must surely be older than that.]
Shades A basement bar. Rare.
Dive Originally an illegal drinking den located underground (United States, 1882), now usually a basement Snack Bar.
Cocktail Bar/American Bar Hotel bars now tending to spread out into public houses, sometimes taking over the place of the lounge under the name Cocktail Lounge
Bar, Public Bar As in the South
Vaults Originally a cellar for storing food or liquor; now on the ground floor – equivalent to the public bar. (Vault in Lancashire.)
Smoke Room Northern and Midland equivalent of the saloon bar. There may be two: one for men only, the other for both sexes. [The one women were allowed in would actually be called the "mixed smoke room".]
Tap Room A public bar. Sometimes a room reserved for playing games, without counter service
Lounge/Parlour/Public Parlour/Bar Parlour The best-furnished room. [in other words, "saloon bar" was very much a Southern expression, according to The Times. Comments welcome.]
Best Room/Best End Colloquial names for the lounge.
Snug/Snuggery Equivalent of the Southern bar parlour, but much more common. (Ireland only: one of a series of half-enclosed compartments within a bar.) Obsolescent. [I don't understand that last bit: if the snug was obsolescent, how was it also common?]
News Room An old-fashioned name for the tap room, dating from the period when newspapers were supplied to customers. [There are, of course, pubs today that supply newspapers for customers to read, and an excellent idea too.]
Office Bar (Midlands) An inner room without counter service, equivalent to the Southern bar parlour, generally located behind the servery or the hotel office.
Buffet Bar North-Eastern variant of the saloon bar
First Class/Second Class (Mens, Women’s, Mixed) Variants of the saloon and public bars, peculiar to the Carlisle State Management System.
PUBLIC ROOMS OTHER THAN BARS
Jug and Bottle For the purchase of drinks for consumption “off the premises”. Term now obsolescent. [Serving beer for takeaway in a jug was once common: my father used to be sent up to the pub, aged 11, in the early 1930s in Willesden, North London to fetch his grandfather porter in a jug, strictly illegally, because children weren't supposed to be served beer in an open or unsealed container. Did he have a sly sip on the way home? What do you think?]
Off-Licence/Off-Sales/Outdoor Department The modern equivalent.
The “original” bar was the barrier in front of the buttery, the storeroom where the butts (casks) of ale and wine were kept in noble houses, monasteries and the like, which literally barred the unauthorised from getting too close to the drink: those in charge of the ale or wine stood one side of the bar and served it across to either the drinkers or those who carried it to the drinkers. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (1601), the servant Maria says to Sir Andrew Aguecheek:
“I pray you, bring your hand to’th Buttry barre, and let it drinke.”
Earlier than that, around 1590, the author and playwright Robert Greene (described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “England’s first celebrity author”) had written in a book called The Third and Last Part of Cony Catching, With the New-Devised Knavish Art of Fool-taking about a trick practised by Elizabethan wide-boys, or “cony catchers” (cony as in rabbit, of course) that began with the cony catcher chatting up two innocents in “a common inn”. After gaining their confidence he would order two cups of wine to drink with them and then, on the pretence that he was going to “step to the bar” to get the inn-servant to add some rose-water to his own wine, disappear out the front door with the cup, leaving the marks to both pay for all the wine and explain to the innkeeper where the other cup had gone. This is the first evidence we have that inns had bars, at least, the sorts of bars that butteries had, where people would be served.
Behind this kind of bar gradually developed the room that became known as the bar parlour in the South of England, the office bar in the Midlands and the snug in the North: the landlord’s office and storeroom, known at first simply as “the bar”. It was the innkeeper’s private refuge, into which special guests and friends might be invited for a drink. Charles Dickens, in his novel Barnaby Rudge, described the looting of the Maypole Inn (based on the King’s Head in Chigwell, Essex) during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780, where the landlord, John Willett, sits stunned while the rioters do their worst:
Yes. Here was the bar – the bar that the boldest never entered without special invitation – the sanctuary, the mystery, the hallowed ground; here it was crammed with men. clubs, sticks, torches, pistols; filled with a deafening noise, oaths, shouts, screams, hootings; changed all at once into a bear-garden, a mad-house, an infernal temple; men darting in and out by door and window, smashing the glasses, turning the taps, drinking liquor out of china punchbowls, sitting astride casks, smoking private and personal pipes … wantonly wasting, breaking, pulling down and tearing up.
Gradually “bar” spread in meaning to mean, in Britain, “any room used for the serving of drink with a counter behind which stand the servers”, and as larger establishments would have several of these rooms, serving different classes of customers, each type or grade of bar acquired a special name. But when did the names “public bar” and “saloon bar” arrive in Britain?
Earliest uses of the phrase “public bar” are either legal, to do with “pleading at the public bar” (not a desperate call to be served, although who hasn’t made one of those, but presenting one’s case in a court or before a tribunal, either actual or metaphorical), or seemingly in the sense merely of “a bar open to the public”, which is how “public bar” (more usually “public bar-room”) was used in the United States in the early 19th century.
The first use I have been able to find of the phrase apparently used in the “modern” sense comes from a book called The Itinerant, or Genuine Memoirs of an Actor by Samuel W Ryley (sic), published in 1808: “One evening, in Manchester, we were in a public bar amongst a promiscuous company where C[ooke] [the actor George Frederick Cooke] was, as usual, the life of the party.” That’s not definitely a use of the term “public bar” in the modern sense of “down-market section of a public house”: it could, again, just mean “a bar open to the public”. But the passage is definitely (a) set in England and (b) describing something that probably took place between 1793 and 1800, since it mentions the prize-fighter Isaac Perrins, who moved to Manchester in 1793 to keep a pub, the Fire Engine in what is now George Leigh Street, and who died in January 1801.
There is another example of the term from 12 or so years later, in a moralistic tract called The Dialogists or the Circuit of Blanco Regis by the pseudonymous “Edward Meanwell”. This, the British Library says was published “circa 1810?”, but it must be circa 1821-1822, since it mentions George IV’s coronation, which took place in 1821, and also gives “Mr T Dibdin” as manager of the Surrey Theatre, and Dibdin was manager only between 1816 and 1822. Here, I think, we do seem to have “public bar” in the modern sense, implicitly contrasting it with a more private or upmarket area to drink:
“You recollect poor Anne, that beautiful young woman of whom you was so much enamoured with; who, in open defiance and violation to common decency, called for a glass of gin at the public bar, in the presence of a crowd of persons.”
However, for the next 30 or so years the term seems to vanish, until it suddenly bursts into more regular use around 1856. Glasgow and its Clubs by John Strang, published that year, contains the passage: “champagne, hock, and hermitage, now so common, were found in few private cellars in the City, far less in the public bar of a tavern.” The same year, Dr Frederic Richard Lees wrote in An argument legal and historical for the legislative prohibition of the Liquor Trade, complaining of apparently respectable drinking places filled with prostitutes, “which can scarcely be said to come under the denomination of gin palaces, as they aim at enlisting under the banners of profligacy those who would (while sober) deem it beneath them to lounge at the public bar of a spirit shop.”
Three years later, in 1859, the report of a parliamentary inquiry into alleged corruption during an election in Huddersfield contained the following exchange:
“Now a word about having seen Jabez Wells at the Queen’s [Hotel]; where was that was it in the bar?” “In the public bar, I believe it was.”
That, I think, would pretty much underline that whatever had been going on before, by 1859 at the latest, “public bar” was a recognised expression for a particular sort or grade of room on licensed premises, something confirmed by a description from three years later of the Angel, Islington, a famous coaching inn now remembered mostly for the Tube station and the square on the British version of the game of Monopoly named after it:
The Angel Inn is certainly a most unangelic-looking place, reminding one of a dilapidated Mechanics’ Institute, which has taken to beer in later life and broken out into innumerable ‘bars’ in consequence. There is the public bar full of “bus cads” and costermongers, the private bar with boozy tipplers from the street; there is the retail and bottle entrance with a narrow door, and there is the supplementary tap-room, which is apparently all window, and of which the chief characteristics are sawdust and spittoons.
(London Society magazine, January 1863, p183. A “bus cad” was the conductor of a horse-drawn omnibus.)
A report in the Daily News from Saturday October 3, 1874 described the “great dram-shop at the foot of the Trongate in Glasgow, and contrasts the public bar with the partitioned-off private areas:
It is not easy to squeeze one’s way into the throng of drinkers in the public bar, consisting of frowsy men, slatternly women, ragged stockingless, palid-faced[sic], preternaturally quick-eyed children. This, you see, is the public drinking, the coram populo saturnalia of those who care not who sees. Yonder, behind the wainscoted partitions, are the shut-in boxes, the drinking pens of Scotland, the private niches at the counter, where “canny” folk sit and soak without being seen of men. These boxes are the haunts of “respectable married women” who would on no account be seen drinking at the public bar.
For the comfort and guidance of strangers, the different bars advertised themselves on the outside in ways, of course, that still often survive today. An American description of London pubs in 1878 (England from a Back Window by James Montgomery Bailey) said: “They invariably have two, and in many cases three entrances; and are subdivided accordingly. These compartments are indicated on the glass of the doors; viz., public bar, private (or luncheon) bar and jug (or wholesale) bar.”
“Saloon” is an interesting word: it goes back thousands of years to Proto-Indo-European, where etymologists have deduced that there was probably a word beginning “sel-” that meant “human settlement”: the Russian for “village” is still село, and the Lithuanian is sala. In Proto-Germanic the word seems to have shifted to mean “hall”: Saal is still a German word meaning “hall”. Old English had sele, and beór-sele in Old English, was “beer hall” – or “beer saloon”, if you prefer. The word appears several times in Beowulf, the epic Old English poem about a hero’s fight with a monster called Grendle and its aftermath, including the line
Gebeotedon beore druncne oret-mecgas, ðæt hie in beor-sele bidan woldon Grendles guðe
that is, “The sons of conflict, drunk on beer, promised they would wait in the beer-hall for Grendel’s attack.” It amuses me somewhat to think of Ray Winstone having a drunken fight in a saloon bar with a monstrous opponent before ripping its arm off: “who’s the daddy?” indeed.
However, sele dropped out of English, and “saloon” comes to the language via Italian, which picked up the Germanic word for “hall” and turned it into sala, “hall”, and then salone, “large hall”. The French then took salone and made it salon, “reception room”, and from there “salon” entered English as a word meaning originally “A large and lofty apartment serving as one of the principal reception rooms in a palace or other great house”, and then more specifically “A room, more or less elegantly furnished, used for the reception of guests; a drawing-room”. By the 1720s “salon” was also being spelt “saloon” in English, and by the 1740s “saloon” was being used to mean “A large apartment or hall, especially in a hotel or other place of public resort, adapted for assemblies, entertainments and exhibitions”.
Since drink – and food – would naturally be served in these saloons before, during or after the entertainments, it was equally natural that “saloon” drifted semantically to take in the meaning “a place where intoxicating liquors are sold and consumed; a drinking bar”. “Saloon”, in an American context to mean place serving alcohol, looks to date from at least the early 1840s. In Britain, Charles Dickens was using “saloon” to mean “place where drink is served” in a letter to a friend in 1841.
All the same, “saloon bar”, is in a British context and its British sense of the upmarket side of the pub, a little later than “public bar”: the Oxford English Dictionary only found its first mention in 1902. Google Books lets us do rather better, but considering how ubiquitous the saloon bar was in British pubs in the 20th century, finding the earliest reference to be only in the late 1880s is a surprise. Once again it’s a teetotaller who is our helpful guide: those people just don’t seem to be able to keep out of pubs. This is from an anonymously written book called Tempted London: Young Men, published in 1888:
The most harmful class of taverns are those which are made the usual resort of women of bad character. We have had many of them pointed out to us, which derive the greater part of their trade from the business resulting from these frequenters. One tavern at Islington is one of the most notorious of this class. Here there is a large saloon bar which, after 8 o’clock at night, is almost monopolized by the class of persons just mentioned. They are allowed to remain there as long as ever they like, and no man is safe from their impertinences, if he once ventures into the saloon.
Undoubtedly, however, the expression had been in use for some time before it was recorded in print. The next year The Builder magazine recorded, in its issue of November 9 1889, the results of a tender for “new billiard room, approaches, alterations, and new staircase to concert rooms, extension of saloon bar and general decorations” at the Tufnell Park Hotel, North London for Mr John Lees. The Tufnell Park Hotel was a rebuilding of the original Tufnell Park Arms (and was itself blown up by a German bomb in October 1940, to be replaced by the Tufnell Park Tavern). If the hotel’s saloon bar was being extended, it sounds as if it must have been in existence when the premises were still the Tufnell Park Arms.
While no one, I am sure, can regret the ending of the social snobbery and sexism that made it necessary for most pubs to have a multiplicity of bars, I’m nostalgic for the multi-bar pub, despite what it represented. I love what happened to the Princess Louise in High Holborn, London after it was taken over by the Yorkshire brewer Samuel Smith, around 2006. Sams restored it at some expense to just the way it would have been in the 1890s, complete with bar doors separating the open space into smaller drinking areas, and snob screens, the rows of small centrally swivelling little opaque windows along the top of the bar at head height, found in the saloon bar or snug. The snob screens were closed when patrons in the saloon did not want to be seen by hoi polloi in the public bar or taproom, who might otherwise be able to watch across the behind-bar serving space their “social superiors” drinking pints of pale ale. They could be opened, however, when it was time to attract the barmaid’s attention to order another drink.
The refurbishment won the hearts of the Camra pub design awards judges in 2008, who gave the Princess Louise joint first prize, commenting that it “reflects both its incarnation of over a century ago and the modern customer’s wish to drink and chat in a cosy, quiet and private environment.” Drink and chat, chat and drink: I’m not sure which one I’d put first among pubby pleasures. But when the literal social barriers came down, and the pub became one large room, it made the chatting, against the background of everybody else’s noise, a lot harder.