Art Deco Pubs in Nottingham

Art deco architecture had been developing since the early 1920s especially in the USA, but it only really took off in the UK in the early 1930s. The style favoured by British architects came not from the USA but from a simpler version developed in the Northern Europe. It began to appear in public buildings, cinemas and department stores and eventually found its way to pub design. Though it was never used widely, several pub architects across the country were brave enough to embrace the style. Their pubs were distinctive and eye-catching and even today they look modern, and very different to most licensed houses.

So what does an art deco pub look like? Most recognisable exteriors are in the streamlined ‘moderne’ style, with flat roofs, curved corners, long horizontal lines and metal windows. The other main type has a less flamboyant exterior but a distinctive art deco interior with bold geometric or streamlined shapes, and aluminium or chrome details.

The Improved Pub

There was an impetus in this period, led by the government, to improve and renew public houses and this neatly coincided with the new fashion for art deco buildings. The plan was to reduce the number of pubs overall and replace them with better and bigger licensed houses offering a wider range of facilities. Most of these new pubs were in a varied range of architectural styles such as vernacular, mock tudor and neo Georgian but quite a few were built in the art deco or moderne style. And many pub refurbishments in this period fitted art deco interiors to an existing building.

Sadly many of the art deco pubs built in the 1930s have been closed or even demolished, and most art deco interiors have disappeared. There appear to be no pubs with moderne exteriors in Leeds or Manchester. London has one or two, Glasgow and Birmingham have two each, Liverpool has one, and there are a few more in smaller towns around the country. Nottingham though, has no fewer than seven (eight until very recently) and two of these have the best preserved art deco pub interiors in the country.

Nottingham

It’s hard to be sure why Nottingham had, and still has, so many art deco pubs. More were built here than in most other towns and that is probably due to the tastes of the architects. The influential T. Cecil Howitt was a member of RIBA Council and made study tours of the USA and Sweden in the late 1920s where he saw pioneering art deco buildings. As the prominent architect in Nottingham he will have influenced his peers. One was Albert Eberlin of Bailey & Eberlin, and he was to design the most visually arresting art deco pub by a Nottingham architect, the Ship in Skegness (see below). But it was another practice, W.B. Starr and Hall, who were the first to build an art deco pub in Nottingham.

W.B. Starr & E.B.H. Hall had established themselves as the city’s main pub architects and had built or rebuilt twenty or so in the 1920s and early 1930s. As befits the ‘improved pub’ ethos, these were high quality buildings and some appear in the Pevsner guide to the city’s architecture. None had been art deco, but in 1933 they designed the Crown Hotel for Home Brewery in a striking moderne style. 

Crown Hotel

Crown, Nottingham: Pub exterior
The Crown Hotel, Wollaton, Nottingham

It has a flat roof, wide metal Crittall windows, and a central tower with carved stone ‘Home Ales’ lettering. It almost certainly had a high quality art deco interior but this been replaced entirely. It’s away from the town centre on the main A52 and close to inter-war middle class housing so it also typifies the ‘improved pub’ ideal. Today it’s a popular estate pub with a focus on dining.

Vale Hotel

In the 1920s T. Cecil Howitt was the city council’s senior architect and built the acclaimed new Council House at the end of the decade. Soon after he set up his own practice and built banks and civic buildings across the country plus art deco cinemas for Odeon. In the mid 1930s he was commissioned to a build the new Home Brewery in Daybrook north of Nottingham, and its brewery tap the Vale Hotel. The brewery, finished in 1936, is an imposing moderne building with a tall central tower.

The Vale is probably even more important, being one of the best preserved art deco pubs in the UK.  It was completed in 1937 in the moderne style with rounded wings at each end and with Crittall metal windows. Inside is a wood panelled lobby with stylish art deco detailing, and to the left is the unchanged smoke room with its original bar counter and more wood panelling. The panelling in this room has two circular HB carvings signifying Home Brewery. Howitt’s practice built several pubs in Nottingham right up to the 1960s but strangely the Vale seems to have been the only one in the art deco style. Today the pub succeeds in being both a destination dining pub and a community local.

Lord Roberts

Home Brewery had built the first two art deco pubs in Nottingham and the other major brewers in the city were keen to get in on the act. Shipstone were the first, building the Lord Roberts in the city centre in 1936-7. It was designed by W.B. Starr & Hall and, perhaps because of the smaller street corner site, was less flamboyantly art deco than the Crown. It’s another moderne pub with the distinctive flat roof and Crittall metal windows, with a modest corner tower and a glazed brick base. Unlike the Crown, there is no white-rendered exterior common in moderne buildings elsewhere, and most of Nottingham’s art deco pubs are resolutely red brick. It started life as the High Cross but was soon renamed in honour of the military hero Lord Roberts. Not much of the original interior remains, and it’s now owned by local brewery Flipside. 

Lord Roberts, Nottingham: Full pub exterior
The Lord Roberts, in the city centre

Vat and Fiddle

Nottingham Brewery were next to go art deco, with the Grove in 1938. It’s close to the main railway station and is known today as the Vat and Fiddle. It was also built by W.B. Starr & Hall, in a similar style to the Lord Roberts, though this time on a sharper corner giving it a distinctive wedge shape. It is now the Castle Rock brewery tap serving all of their beers, and is a Good Beer Guide regular. 

Vat & Fiddle, Nottingham: Pub exterior
The Vat & Fiddle, brewery tap of Castle Rock

Test Match

Hardy & Hansons are in Kimberley just outside Nottingham and had quite a few pubs in the city. They were the last of the major breweries to build an art deco pub and it was well worth waiting for. The Test Match in West Bridgford wins the prize for having the best art deco pub interior in England, and only the Portland Arms and the Steps Bar, both in Glasgow, stop it from being the UK’s best. The two storey entrance hall has a sweeping staircase and the lounge behind has wood panelled walls and a long bar counter with brass banding. The lounge leads to the imposing assembly room which has the feel of a 1930s cinema with its curved ceiling and uplighting. The public bar, hidden at the back, is almost entirely unaltered with its banded bar counter and patterned terrazzo floor.  

Hardy & Hansons waited a long time to get permission to build the Test Match. Local West Bridgford magistrates had been resisting public house licences for 40 years, but the quality of the proposed design eventually won them over. It was designed in 1938 by A.C. Wheeler with a Neo Georgian rather than Moderne exterior, possibly to appease the magistrates. The assembly room and lounge is now used for dining and food is served all day, along with beers from Greene King.

Wolds Hotel

Shipstone Brewery also had their struggles with the West Bridgford magistrates. In 1935 they submitted a detailed proposal with architects drawings by W.B. Starr & Hall for a pub to serve the new Wolds estate. Despite a persuasive argument detailed in the local papers at the time, they failed. They tried again a few years later, this time succeeding with a very different moderne design. It had the typical Nottingham red brick but with a cream painted central area and large matching, rounded cream bays on each side. It was the interior that impressed however, and when the Wolds Hotel opened in 1939 it received a glowing review in the West Bridgford Times & Echo for its high quality interior. The description clearly shows that it was lavishly art deco:

The entrance hall which gives access to the saloon bar, smoke room and lounge is panelled in Austrian oak, veneered horizontal with an inlay of sycamore. A modern and pleasing effect is created by the floor of patent non-crack terrazzo with jointing.

Sadly almost nothing of this interior is left and the pub is now one of Greene King’s “Hungry Horse” branded pubs. The latest refurbishment in 2017 as well as making more changes to the interior, painted the two bays dark grey, destroying the balance of the design and making the pub look very odd indeed. The regulars don’t seem to mind though, and it’s a popular community pub with pool table, darts board, sports TV, karaoke and a weekly quiz.

Wolds, Nottingham: Pub exterior
The Wolds, West Bridgford

Beechdale

The Beechdale is a suburban community pub in Nottingham built at the end of the 1930s by Hardy & Hanson’s Brewery. Like the Wolds, it is in a more flamboyant moderne style, with imposing rounded wings at each end. And also like the Wolds, it’s a busy community pub with Greene King beers.

Dale

The final art deco pub to be built in Nottingham was the Dale in Sneinton, built by Shipstones in 1939-40. Sadly the pub closed, probably for good, in 2018. This is a real shame as it had managed to hang on to at least some of its original interior. It still had its art deco doors and mosaic tiled floors at both entrances and original bench seating in the lounge.

Dale, Sneinton
The Dale in 2017. Photo courtesy of What Pub

Ship, Skegness

And finally, a mention of a pub, not in Nottingham, but designed by Nottingham architects for a Nottingham brewery. The Ship in Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast was designed by Bailey and Eberlin for Home Brewery as early as 1934. The seaside seems to have encouraged architects to lose their inhibitions and the Ship is full-on streamlined moderne, designed to resemble an ocean liner. It has curved wings and Crittall metal windows throughout, and the railing on the flat roof echoes those found on the deck of a ship. It’s much modernised inside but it still has some original panelling and a few other art deco details.

Ship, Skegness: Pub exterior
The Ship, Skegness

The Second World War put an end to most construction works and it was the mid 1950s before new pubs started to appear again. Art Deco and Moderne had gone out of fashion by then and no more pubs in the style were to be built in Nottingham, or anywhere else.

Sources

Boak, Jessica and Ray Bailey. 20th Century Pub: From Beer House to Booze Bunker, Homewood Press, 2017
Cole, Emily. The Urban and Suburban Public House in Inter-War England, 1918-1939, Historic England, 2015
Green, Oliver. Art Deco, Amberley Publishing, 2018
Harwood, Elain. Art Deco Britain: Buildings of the Interwar Years, Twentieth Century Society, 2019
Harwood, Elain. Nottingham, (Pevsner Architectural Guides), Yale University Press, 2008
Harwood, Elain. Howitt, (Thomas) Cecil (1889–1968), in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Articles from Nottingham Evening Post and West Bridgford Times & Echo

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