Somerset Pubs

by Andrew Swift & Kirsten Elliott

From Chard to Chewton Mendip and from Witham Friary to Withypool, Somerset Pubs is a journey into the past, with photographs of over 140 pubs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Coaching inns rub shoulders with back-street beerhouses, time-worn taverns with roadside hostelries. Although many are still open, the way of life captured in these photographs is one that has gone forever, destroyed by the onward march of time. Yet this is not just a wistful look at the past. After decades of rationalisation and standardisation, local pubs and breweries are making a comeback, while farmhouse cider is more popular than ever. Somerset Pubs celebrates a tradition that, despite all the efforts of the multinationals, never quite went away. This virtual pub crawl into the past is not so much an exercise in nostalgia as an inspiration for the future — and for journeys in seach of Somerset’s pub heritage.

Review from The Somerset Visitor:
Nostalgia is a good ingredient for a successful book; however, Somerset Pubs: Postcards from the Past offers far more than mere photo illustrations. Joint editors, Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliot, have collected postcards of over 140 old Somerset Pubs – from once proud coaching inns to village beerhouses; surprisingly over three-quarters of them are still trading, although a few have been rebuilt beyond recognition. Thankfully many Somerset pubs retain their character as outlets for real ale and have not been rebranded into clone multinational drabness.

The majority of the postcards are from the years prior to the Great War: in the text displayed adjacent to each image is a short essay updating the reader about the architecture, social history and/or interesting snippets about the pub or its past licensees. Different days, different ways; the slightly ostentatious gathering of members of the (Bathampton) Harbutt family outside “The Fox” at Midford, contrasts poignantly with the rustic staff and carrier photographed outside the now defunct “Royal Marine” at Coat, near Martock.

Where full page illustrations are included there is often an inset picture of the scene as of the present day; Lilstock and “The Limpet Shell” have two contrasting postcards from 1907 and 1932, but little evidence remains today of the harbour and buildings. Railway enthusiasts will appreciate the included images of narrow gauge locomotives on the defunct Oakhill Brewery: the friends and family of the landlord “in shot” with the newly arrived Woodbrough Railway Commercial Inn sign appear a stout hearted and sturdy group.

Although two architectural gems, in the Tudor timber-framed George Hotel of Middle Street Yeovil and the Georgian Lamb & Lark in Keynsham High Street were both demolished over thirty years ago, these postcards illustrate that in some cases the present pub buildings have been particularly well renovated.

These are far from grainy grey images, for thanks to the latest advances in digital technology the images have been sharpened and contrast adjusted; this book is very well designed with pleasing layout and is sure to prove popular as a seasonal gift. Being the first in a series featuring English pubs as they appeared one hundred years ago the joint editors have set themselves a high bench mark; a pleasure to browse and an even greater pleasure to review, it being a great challenge to decide which few pubs should be highlighted here!!!

Review from Picture Postcard Monthly:
This is the first in a series of books on English pubs as they looked a century ago. The Bath-based authors have naturally started their adventure with their adjacent county. By the nature of their choice of subject, they have plenty of illustrative material to go at, for most village of any size had a selection of pubs and hostelries, one of the big local attractions for postcard publishers. And with the Swift/Elliott names on the cover, you know you’re in for lots of fascinating background information as well. The scene is set, then, for a peep at and inside a host of hostelries from coaching inns to town-centre pubs to remote drinking holes. One such was the ‘Limpet Shell’ at Lilstock; neither the pub nor any houses of the tiny settlement survive today, but thanks to two postcards from that top Williton publisher HH Hole, we can see the pub in its original glory – though that is perhaps too strong a word. Other pubs, too, sometimes are highlighted with two views from different periods, and all have their own fascinating stories. The ‘Druid’s Arms’ at Stanton Drew, still a popular pub, has two stones from the second largest megalithic stone circle in England in the garden! Many have disappeared, like the ‘Lion’ at Wiveliscombe and the ‘White Lion’ at Woolavington, others have changed remarkably little.

Review from the Somerset County Gazette:
You don’t have to like pubs to enjoy Somerset Pubs (Postcards from thePast), just published by Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott. This journey into the past is good for anyone who enjoys the history of the county, looking back at pictures from their own towns and villages to see what things were like up to 100 years ago, and just having a bit of fun trying to recognise people – even family – you know.

There are photographs of over 140 different pubs in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, when coaching inns rubbed shoulders with backstreet beer houses, time worn taverns and roadside hostelries. Waterstone’s now occupies the old County Hotel in Taunton and opposite WH Smith’s was once the site of Bryant’s Wine and Spirit Vaults – a wonderful postcard sets the old scene when they also delivered by bike. And wine vaults often allowed customers to drink on the premises! Another remarkable photo shows the local militia firing off a volley accompanied by the regimental band watched by a large crowd outsidethe Angel Inn and the Market House in Castle Cary. The pub closed in the 1960s but the photo has true value in showing an historical event in the town.

There’s a similar story in Highbridge where a comparison between 1905 and today shows that the George Inn has survived, but on its two sides, a bacon factory and the Somerset and Dorset railway line to Burnham which crossed the road have both Changed. Ye Olde Vine Inn in East Street, Ilminster in the 1930s is now part of Boots the Chemist while the former county town of Ilchester once had a Cow Inn, now a private house.

How some politicians today would love to see the turn-out on one of two General Elections in 1910 outside the Black Swan in Shepton Mallet, where hundreds packed the streets for the result. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote the Rime of the Ancient Mariner andKubla Khan while staying in a cottage opposite Nether Stowey’ First and Last Inn in 1797-8; the cottage later becoming Moore’s Coleridge and Cottage Inn. By the early 1900s, a postcard shows the Cottage Inn had become a museum but the First and Last was renamed the Ancient Mariner and is still open.
The way of life of those times is captured in these postcards – but it is a life that has gone for ever, destroyed by the onward march of time. But the authors say that this is not just a wistful look at the past; local pubs and breweries are staging a comeback, while farmhouse cider is more popular than ever. Somerset Pubs celebrates a tradition that, despite all the efforts of the multi-nationals, never quite went away. This is not so much an exercise in nostalgia as an inspiration for the future.

Review from the Bristol Evening Post
The traditional British pub, whether in a remote hamlet or a busy town, has played a vital part in this island’s rich history.Not only do these buildings lie at the heart of the community, they are also some of the oldest.
Hospitable places, often full of local character, they provide a touchstone for visitors and local people alike, a friendly, convivial place to meet up with friends or even strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. Now a new publication, Somerset Pubs, takes a nostalgic look at a century of West County hostelries, from the 1870s to the 1960s.
As the authors, Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott, point out, this has been a period of great change. While the trade which sustained the busy coaching inns was long gone by the 1870s, finished by the coming of the railways, the village pubs continued to fulfil the role that they had played for centuries. Until cars became popular in the 1920s and 1930s, customers lived or worked within walking, or riding, distance. Then came the many takeovers by the big breweries, anxious to increase their number of outlets, and later drink-driving legislation. In the last 20 years or so, country, town and city pubs have all undergone something of a revolution. Many of those that haven’t adapted to the fashion for gastro-pubs or family eating have found that their trade has declined or dried up. Some have disappeared for good – others have been transformed or rebuilt. This book takes us on a nostalgic pub crawl around some 140 hostelries – three-quarters of which are still open and some of which, from the outside anyway, look very much as they did 100 years ago.