Art Deco Pubs in the UK, Part 2: the City Centres

This is the second of a three part survey of art deco pubs in the UK and looks at those in city and town centres. For an introduction looking at the history and development of art deco pubs please see the first article in the series Art Deco Pubs in the UK, Part 1: Beside the Sea.

Architects designing in city centres in the 1930s didn’t usually have the space for the detached, low slung streamlined style of art deco pub that became popular in the suburbs. Instead they were often forced to build on the end of or even in the middle of an existing terrace. Even new developments, especially in the bigger cities required that a pub be part of a larger mixed-use block. The exteriors though were still recognisably art deco with one or more of curved corners, Crittall metal windows and horizontal banding. Some though were added to an existing older block and relied on a frontage with art deco tiling or a frieze with art deco letting. The interiors of city art deco pubs have generally survived better than their suburban counterparts, and a few are essentially unaltered inside.

This part of the survey starts with London and works its way through cities and towns by size, finishing with a look at the town centre art deco cinemas that have been converted into pubs by Wetherspoons.

Stags Head, Fitzrovia, London

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Starting off in London’s West End with a classic art-deco office block built in 1939-40 with a curved corner, metal windows and a ship’s rail on the roof. The Stags Head is on the ground floor, and although it still has most of its original 1930s interior, it’s not art deco. The block was designed by Marshall Tweedy architects for Cranleigh Estates and it seems that when Youngers Brewery leased the pub they simply used their existing designers to create an interior in the Tudor style of their other London pubs. The walls are wood panelled and there are some unusual high tables that branch out from the bar and windowsills to encourage standing.

The pub is just along the road from the BT Tower and even closer to the BBC’s impressive Broadcasting House. Pub regulars from the BBC once included poet Dylan Thomas and novelists Olivia Manning and Julian Maclaren-Ross. Today it’s popular with local office workers and features in the Good Beer Guide.

Duke, Bloomsbury, London

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The Duke is part of a mixed-use development of offices, flats and pub built in 1938, and is one of the least altered art deco pubs in the south of England. Its wedge shaped exterior is a mix of artificial stone and red brick with original doors and metal windows. The rear of the pub moves into the flats section with its curved red brick balconies. An etched window on the left side advertises “Double Diamond”, although this probably dates from the 1960s rather than the 1930s!

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Inside, the main bar at the front still has its original pink and white linoleum floor and curved bar counter, although the wooden seating booths were added in the 1960s or 70s. They are a good copy of the original booths in the saloon bar with their stained wooden seats topped with a fluted glass screen to match the exterior windows. The saloon bar also has an original 1930s brick and wood fireplace topped with a probably more recent art deco mirror.

The pub is a bit hidden away in the back streets of Bloomsbury but it is well worth seeking out. There are between 2 and 4 cask ales.

Steps Bar, Glasgow

This pub is one of the best preserved art deco pubs, inside and out, in the UK and is a remarkable survivor. It was added to an existing 1790 block in Glasgow city centre in 1938 and has a striking exterior with a vitrolite sign, etched glass windows and a tiled base.

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Inside the pub still has its original seating, veneer panelled walls, walnut gantry (bar back) and bar counter. A pair of unusual chrome hoops on the bar counter creates a space once reserved for waiters serving drinks in the sitting room. The sitting room also has veneer panelling and a stained glass window showing the Queen Mary, launched in Glasgow in 1935, with a Spitfire flying above. There are push buttons once used to summon the waiter, which are still in working order.

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Ship & Mitre, Liverpool

The Ship & Mitre was built in 1937 as the brewery tap for Bent’s Brewery which stood just behind. It has a white stone frontage which gives the impression of tiles, and the original Crittall style metal windows on all floors. Inside the main bar area downstairs has been refurbished and nothing art deco remains, but the function room on the first floor is mostly unchanged.

It has floor to ceiling wood panelling, an original bar counter and even the remains of the push buttons used to summon service. In the toilets, tiles depict sporting events and the stairs up to the room still have the original tiling. It’s a well used function room and it hosts quite a few meetings, but you’ll be allowed to view it if it’s free.

The Ship & Mitre is one of Liverpool’s top real ale pubs and serves up to 12 cask ales.

Ship and Mitre, Liverpool: Exterior
Ship & Mitre, Liverpool

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Vat & Fiddle & Lord Roberts, Nottingham

Nottingham tops the list for art deco pubs with no fewer than seven, including these two city centre pubs. Both were designed by prolific Nottingham pub architects WB Starr & Hall. They are described more fully in my earlier blog post, Art Deco Pubs in Nottingham.

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Drawing Rooms, Norwich

This pub was commissioned by Bullards Brewery and probably designed by Norwich architect John Owen Bond. It opened as the Morning Star in 1938 but has been through several name changes since then and is now the Drawing Rooms. It still has its original metal windows but the horizontal banding, window frames, and brickwork behind the sign have been painted blue. A photo from 1938 (below) shows the banding painted white and the brickwork unpainted, in the classic moderne style.

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The pub is next to the green in front of the Grade I listed St Gregory’s Church, and the 1945 City of Norwich Plan described it as “incongruous in design and out of place in this ancient street”! It is actually quite unusual to find a low slung moderne pub in a city centre. There is nothing left of the old interior although the eye-catching modern bar counter appears to made from old map cabinets complete with drawers. Cask ales are on sale but cocktails are the real draw here.

Three Pigeons, Halifax

The Three Pigeons is unusual in having a splendid art deco interior but a traditional exterior. It was designed in 1929 and opened in 1932 when moderne architecture was beginning to have an impact on cinemas and factories but had not yet reached pubs. Like many art deco pub interiors the layout is traditional and the Three Pigeons has has a classic northern drinking lobby with five rooms off it. The lobby is octagonal and has a geometric patterned terrazzo floor, oak veneer cladding, and a domed ceiling with a painting of pigeons.

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The rooms still have their fixed seating and the tap room has its original tiled fireplace. There’s a nice oak bar back with mirrors, one of them advertising Websters Green Label. Two of the doors have elegant metal signs in art deco lettering, one for the Tap Room and one for the Bar Lounge. The pub is now run by Ossett Brewery and sells most of their cask and craft ales.

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Corner House, Barnstaple

The Corner House in Barnstaple in Devon has an art deco curved frontage and an unspoilt 1930s interior. The main bar has a lovely curved wooden bar counter with a black formica top. The walls are wood panelled and there is a 1930s brick fireplace. Another bar (‘Garlands’) and a corridor are also wood panelled and there is a skittle alley with its original ball run. Three cask beers are available, usually including Draught Bass.

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Art Deco Cinemas converted to Pubs

In their early days Wetherspoons were well known for their conversions of cinemas into pubs. Many of these are still open and quite a few, built in the cinema building boom of the 1930s, are art deco. I don’t plan to cover at all of them but here’s one in Rochdale plus a list of a few others.

Regal Moon, Rochdale

This Wetherspoons pub right in the centre of Rochdale was built as the Regal Cinema in 1938, designed for ABC Cinemas by Leslie C. Norton and ABC’s architect William R. Glen. It closed in 1992 and briefly became, inevitably, a bingo hall before it was converted by Wetherspoons in 1997. It’s fair to say that in recent years Wetherspoons have been very good at retaining historic features in their conversions but this wasn’t really the case when they were in their cinema phase. Almost all of the original cinema decoration has gone and although the circle is apparently still intact, it is hidden by a false ceiling. The pub area is huge, even by Wetherspoons standards, but the furnishings and food and drink offer are very familiar.

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Regal Moon, Rochdale: Exterior
The Regal Moon, Rochdale

Here are five more art deco cinemas that are now Wetherspoon pubs that I’ve identified but not yet visited: the Savoy, Swindon, the Ritz, Lincoln, the Peter Cushing, Whitstable, the Ritz, Wallsend and the Royal Enfield, Redditch. The links take you to the Pub & Clubs section of Camra’s new website which at the time of writing is still in beta. I’ll be listing a few more converted cinemas in the next part of the survey which looks at suburban art deco pubs.

Sources

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
Pub Heritage website pubheritage.camra.org.uk/
Slaughter, Michael. Scotland’s True Heritage Pubs, Camra Books, 2007

All photos are by Dermot Kennedy except where stated. The photo of the Morning Star in Norwich is from George Plunkett’s Photographs of old Norwich

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