The Planning of Public Houses


Mr. R. L. Skinner in the Chair.

The following Paper was read and discussed :

                       THE PLANNING OF PUBLIC HOUSES.

                                                                                      By Charles Porte, M.Inst.B.E.

It will probably be agreed that the planning of public house premises has not been given enough attention in the past, or at any rate, up to a few years ago.  Perhaps the great changes brought about by the war are partly responsible for the desire for brighter and better licensed houses.  Before the war, it is no exaggeration to state that in a great number of cases these premises were a disgrace to the Country.  This was greatly through obstruction from certain quarters.  Such obstruction does not exist in anything like the same degree to-day, and brewers are being allowed to put their houses in order to quite a reasonable extent.  In fact, they are now encouraged to bring them up-to-date, even though in doing so it may require an increase in the drinking areas. This, of course, is as it should be.  What brewer, or other owner of licensed property, could be expected to raze his house to the ground and rebuild it without extra area?  Indeed, it is almost impossible with the old fashioned type of building to include all the new ideas without adding to the drinking facilities.The decrease in the drunkenness that comes with these increased areas need not be dwelt on, as it has been proved so often.  But the movement I have mentioned is gradually removing the stigma that used to be attached to the pre-war houses of refreshment.

I deplore the regrets of some people that brewers have taken over the majority of licensed premises from individual ownership.  This absorption by the brewing companies has been for the general good.  Thousands of houses, up and down the country, owe their improvement in being rebuilt or reconditioned to the companies.  The much condemned Tied House System is responsible for the splendid buildings, which are required and appreciated, being erected all over the country.  It is extremely doubtful if such structures would ever have been erected by private owners, moreover, those in possession previously would not have carried out the improvements, with such wonderful results.

One hears much talk of introducing the continental style of houses into this country.  I, for one, disagree.  Our weather conditions and the reserved temperament of the Englishman rules out the suggestion.  We would object just as much to taking our beer on the pavement of a street as we would eating our meals there.  The people who advocate open air drinking do not drink their own coffee in the open.

There is ample evidence that brewery managers are now interesting themselves in the planning of public houses.  It is well that they should, for it certainly will pay them as with their experience of the trade and with the knowledge in their possession they can be of very distinct help to an architect who has to re-model or re-build a house.  Often, I believe, the brewery instructs their architect to carry out work on certain premises, and leaves him to it. However able a man he may be, without information about the house, he cannot do justice to the plan.  He is handicapped from the beginning, especially if the house to be rebuilt is in another town.  The brewery manager has a store of information as to what trade the particular house has done in the past: he knows what class or classes of customer the house attracts; he knows the kind of beer that has sold best, what outdoor trade there is, whether singing would be of benefit, and so on.  He can estimate the probable trade in the future, and therefore state not only how big the house should be but how it should be apportioned.  The probable trade also regulates the size of the cellar and number of beer engines to be fitted.

To a certain extent the planning of house is a gamble.  The number of customers is an unknown quantity, but, the lay-out of a house can, and does influence its trade.

It is said that good ale sells itself.  That may have been so before the advent of the lighter gravity beers and before the people, owing to the high price, were compelled to drink only in certain hours.  When beer was stronger and was running continually throughout the week from cellar to counter it could almost be forgotten by those at the brewery after it had left the dray.  Not so today.  The changed conditions have made the hotel architect a far more important man, and a certain amount of engineering skill is necessary to ensure that the beer on the counter resembles, in some small measure, that which the brewer has produced.

Other factors than those of quality and condition of the ale are affecting the sales, the layout of the house being one of the most important.  Under this heading I include everything that promotes the comfort of the customer.  The licensee is another of these factors.  The natural gifts of the landlord may endear the hearts of many customers to him, or contrary-wise, be he a soulless creature who alienates the affections of prospective clients his seats and buffets may remain unoccupied.  A person playing any part in the rejuvenation of a house must study the psychology of the public.  Paying guests are fickle.  I have known the number of visitors to a good house deplorably depleted simply through the removal of a single waiter.  Such is the public we serve.  Whilst one public house has little attraction to an individual, another invites him to come again: and that, I claim, is often due to the skill of the architect.

Now it is desired to alter or build a house.  Be it a small demure one standing unostentatiously down some side street or cul-de-sac; be it a larger type that boasts a concert room, or, one of any up to the scale of the grandiose road house; be it any of these, the first thing to consider is the amount which it will be necessary to spend upon it.  If the wish to improve the premises is actuated by a desire to increase the trade and not because of some premonition caused by the magistrates having been taking an undue interest in its state of preservation and trade, then it will be necessary to ponder earnestly upon what increase is likely.  Although our first aim and desire is to favour the public by providing them with good beer, our second wish is to make a profit: and that profit only comes through getting some sort of return on capital outlay.  Some of us either over-estimate the increase accruing from the alterations or perhaps are prepared to pay heavily for additional barrelage.  I do not wish to open a debatable point by stating what I would allow per barrel for extra business secured, but most people will probably agree that it lies somewhere between £500 and £1,000.

After all concerned are agreed as to the amount to be expended on the work, the next question which arises is what kind of customer is going to use the house.  To my mind these may be divided into three grades: (1) the best people; (3) those of the labouring class and (2) those in between.  Allotting these to their respective rooms, I place (1) as lounge and good class smoke room people (the kind of smoke room one sees in the road houses, and town superhouses); (2) ordinary smoke room folk; and (3) the vaults adherents who go where the prices are lower.  The penny put on the pint in the 1931 Budget combined with the scarcity of money has sent a lot of the second type to the cheaper side, making larger vaults more necessary to-day.

Whatever kind of house is to be built, one of these classes will have to be catered for, or a combination of them, and the decision as to the probable number of each present at the busiest time will answer the question as to areas required.  Of course, in a growing district, one has to build not for the present but for the future, and in that case it will be necessary to prophesy as to what will happen in the years to come.  Sometimes, as with road houses and town super houses the best people will predominate, and for them lounges and smoke rooms will be required, and, occasionally, even dance halls may be a paying attraction.  Whether swimming pools are a good investment for a brewery I do not know; bowling greens and sometimes tennis courts add a charm that here and there is worth the expense.  So far as billiard rooms are concerned I know of few that are much used to-day.  A car park is a distinct advantage to most hotels.

As a contrast to this; in a house in a very poor district all the customers will be of the other type.  Here at weekends some may dress for the occasion and enter the smoke room with the knowledge that they must pay extra, but on the whole the vaults will be where the money will be made.  Such a house will require a large tap room and small smoke room areas.  On the other hand, in a better middle class residential district small vaults may be needed but larger smoke rooms.  “Stand up” bars at higher prices and perhaps lounge smoke rooms with better furnishings than the ordinary smoke room may be advisable.  It all depends upon the district for which the plans are being made.  In some areas all of the three types of customer may be attracted.  Houses can be made too big.  The larger the house the more expense it must face.  The ideal is reached in a layout where, while gaining the maximum barrelage obtainable, balance is procured between that and expenses.

The concert room which has come to the fore so much during the last year or two has now to be considered.  Although I do not agree with singing in the smaller houses, I think it is advisable to-day, in most reconstructions, to include one room of the required area and height and conforming to the regulations so that a music license may be obtained should your competitors in the district make it imperative for you to do so.  It is as well to put this room somewhere behind and away from the roads if possible, as the company occasionally become “musicminded,” and endeavour to blend in harmony with the paid talent.  Snatches of songs, especially those of a boisterous nature, do not sound well from the causeway.  But concert rooms are not always desirable.  The extra taxation that the trade has been called upon to bear has brought in its wake keener competition between the licensees in their legitimate wish to make a living.  This may have benefited some people, as for instance, those luckless artists and musicians, who, through the advent of American entertainment, have been pushed so tragically into the dole queues; but on the whole I think it has done little good to the small innkeeper.  In the big houses the story is different and paid artistes are perhaps to be encouraged.  A room for “ladies only” is often worth including.  I usually place this in such a position that if not a success it can be used as a smoke-room or be thrown in with the bar.

My remarks with regard to the various classes of customers show that plans cannot be standardised.  Each house must be designed separately and according to its own particular local requirements.  To enlarge on this point let one of these refreshment places adjacent to a theatre providing two variety performances nightly be considered.  Here a long bar would be required with a quick service.  Before each performance, at the intervals, after the first show, and I hope before long after the second, many people would wish to obtain refreshment quickly.  So, in one house a long bar; but in another, people wander in with different ideas and wish to sit and sip at leisure.  They are in no hurry and a small service bar for the waiters meets the case.  Setting out the rooms when planning is like a game, with saloon bars, smoke rooms, outdoor departments, private entries and lavatories as pieces.  The skill shown in the final scheme will reflect on the weekly balance sheet.  The service arrangements should be kept as central as possible, thus allowing for quick and easy service with the minimum of friction. With a central service bar many rooms can receive attention directly from it, but in a large house every room cannot make immediate contact with it, and thus some of the staff will have to journey to and fro.  If the waiters can reach the distant rooms by paths apart from those traversed by other people so much the better.  Bad planning, however nice it looks on paper, will increase the running expenses of the hotel.  It is no easy task incorporating all the new ideas in an alteration to existing buildings.  The geographical situation and the varying shapes and areas force their influences on the plans.

To my mind, the main feature of the house must be its most popular room, with the result that the front of the house, under such conditions, may be all lounge with bar subdued down a side road, or, in a less affluent neighbourhood, vaults may be in the front elevation, and smoke rooms allotted to those regions at the back.

The fact that each building must be set out individually makes it difficult to give any rules as to the actual rooms to be planned.  But there are rules that I try to adhere to where possible. Firstly, the cellar must be directly under the pumps.  Secondly, a private entrance away from all public entrances, is desirable.  From the entrance hall the stairs should rise.  One door should open from this hall direct to the service and another (if this room is on the ground floor) into the kitchen.  Under this scheme the family and friends of the licensee may enter the private part of the house without contact with the public, and those serving behind the bar can communicate with their apartments without interference.  Personal property in the house is safer when the public cannot approach the stairs or kitchen.  If the way down to the cellar be immediately under these stairs, those behind the bar may speedily reach it, however full the house may be.  Thirdly, the outsales department should be what I term “blind.”  That is, the serving window therein ought to be set at such an angle that anyone entering this compartment cannot make use of it for purposes for which it was not intended.  For entry to the’ outsales department the side of the house should be chosen rather than the front, if it can be so managed.  Many people who would not care to be seen entering the local public house purchase bottled beers from an off licensed shop.  A secluded side extrance attracts these people, and a “blind” service window, hiding them from the common gaze, is regarded with favour.

My next rule for the convenience of the tenant or manager is to place the rooms and entrances so that as near perfect supervision as is possible is obtained from behind the bar.  Although an island bar solves this problem to a great degree it has its faults in some houses.  It restricts one in making use of some of the other advantageous suggestions that I have mentioned, and it has the added disadvantage of allowing those at the counter at the cheaper side to overlook those using the better part of the premises.  In good class districts this does not matter very much, but it certainly does in poorer areas.  With the “stand-up” bar becoming more popular it seems a point worthy of consideration.  I believe the “perpendicular drinker,” as he has been named, is collecting more followers daily, and he is entitled to enjoy a little privacy during his few minutes sojourn in his favourite hotel. Complete supervision cannot, of course, be secured, so long as architects insist upon using brick and other opaque materials for construction, and glass houses would be needed for all to come within the range of the landlord’s vision; but undoubtedly a little thought in this matter can give results that assist those in charge during the busy hours.

Women’s lavatories should be kept as far away from the men’s as can be, and the approaches to these places should be so designed that they can be seen from the service.  Lavatories are usually very difficult to place.  This applies more to the ladies’ toilet.  These conveniences should be not too far distant on the one hand, but as far away as possible on the other. Again, they should be where they can be seen for obvious reasons but out of sight for more obvious reasons.  With the modern sanitary equipment, inside lavatories have come to stay and the old roofless enclosure with tarred walls often inconveniently situated across an unlighted and badly paved courtyard is rightly becoming extinct.  The private lavatory is better built near the top of the stairs, bringing it as near to the service as may be.

The licensee’s living accommodation in most cases is on the upper floors, and is, in modern houses, well conceived and equipped.  In the ordinary public house four or five bedrooms are sufficient; any extra ones become lumber rooms sooner or later.  Except in the centre of towns public rooms upstairs are not looked upon with favour by the tenant or public.  Even in those that do pay it seems that the magnetic influence of a jazz band or other entertainment is necessary.  The architect, even though he has had no previous experience in the laying out of public houses, will naturally be mindful of the domestic appliances.  He will see that the hot water system gives a plentiful supply for the early morning cleaners.  He will provide good cooking and washing facilities.  He will put his larder window facing North.  Should he deal with these and many other minor details creditably, he will thereby add to the comfort of the landlord and a happy landlord is an asset to any brewery.

The cellar is without doubt the most important part of the premises.  Its position is decided by that of the beer engines, and must be directly beneath them.  This was not a matter of great moment until the slow trade came.  But the changes brought about recently have made many things in the cellar of great importance.  A correct and even temperature here is more vital to-day than ever.  The same must be said of the cleanliness of the place, and also of the piping and pumping system.

The rush of trade at the week-ends is followed by five days of tranquillity, during which barrels holding small quantities of beer are standing idle.  If the temperature is unsuitable and if many drawings are filtered and returned, nothing but trouble awaits the landlord.  For this reason I advocate having only one cellar so that the barrels partly drawn can be connected to other sets of pumps and pulled off before full ones are put into commission.  In some houses the long lengths of piping and the pumping outfits so unsuitable to modern conditions helped by the temperature of the cellar constitute an ideal incubator for bacterial growth.

The underground vault should be capable of containing at least double the weekly trade of the house.  The cellarer must have stillage room for a sufficiency of barrels to be ready on the gantries and not lying about the cellar.  If in doubt as to what the trade is likely to be, an extra store can be excavated adjoining and the intervening wall removed later, if required.  It is an expensive undertaking to enlarge a cellar.  The boiler for the heating apparatus is installed in the cellar.  It should be housed separately, and the piping from it lagged.  In some cases I have found the boiler used to warm the cellar, but, to my mind, the practice is wrong, as at some periods of the year control of the temperature may be lost.  A small independent heater seems to meet the case better.

The pumping and piping system now demands much attention from the architect, or all his efforts to give the brewery company a good return on their money may be nullified.  Beer engine shafts should be placed well away from walls and girders, so as to give accessibility for cleaning.  Too many pumps cause too many partly filled barrels to be left over.  It may make conditions a little better for those behind the bar during the rush hours by having an extra pump or two, but soon the quality of the beer may be such that it can only be served in tankards.

It seems to me that, even after the architect has provided efficient cellarage, and has installed correct pumping systems, someone with brewing qualifications should be appointed by the brewery to inspect the cellars and see that the ale, at all hours, particularly at opening time in the forenoon, is put into the glass with its original character and quality still preserved.  Such a man is almost as necessary as the head brewer.  Brewery companies spend tens of thousands of pounds per annum in brewing good beer, and the finished article is then handed over to a person who probably not long previously was in a totally different business.

In many houses being erected to-day it is necessary to have more than one bar.  In laying out the plan, these bars should be kept as near together as is convenient, and not appointed indiscriminately.  If grouped together over the cellar, the pipes of the barrels will be shorter, and if communication can be made between one bar and another, fewer bar tenders will be needed when the trade is slow.

This paper would be incomplete without observations on some smaller items which are sometimes treated very lightly.  It is the neglect of small matters that often affects adversely what might otherwise be a successful enterprise.

Bar Fittings.  The main centres of activity behind the service are, of course, round the beer engines, and everything generally required should be within a reasonable proximity to these points.  The cash register is visited at each sale, and its position is worthy of a little thought in planning, and a specially-made fixture should hold it.  Shelving of measured heights will take bottled beers whilst others will receive glasses.  The washing sinks should be at immediate command.  If properly carried out, fixtures previously designed with a knowledge of the requirements of the serving staff will save the attendants much time.

Seating.  Corner seats are always popular, and I advocate these fixtures being projected at intervals into the room, thus, moreover, giving more corner seats and bringing the company into groups.  A room so fitted does not look so empty during the hours of slow trade.

Slides or grids on the counters place the stocks under lock and key.  When the bar can be locked up in this manner, the electric switches should be in the private hall, and not put out of reach in the bar.  They are then accessible to cleaners in the absence of the landlord.

Ventilation.  The ideal system of ventilation has yet to be devised.  An electric fan is not popular, but when adopted, the machine should be fixed out of sight and hearing, with tubes carried to the rooms as required.  One fan can command several rooms, if a shutter is fixed at the end of each tube.  In small houses with a central stairs well, an outlet in the roof gives an upward current of air of sufficient power to clear the rooms.  But in other cases, with crowds packed into comparatively small areas at times, coupled with the fact that openings to allow air to come in will not be tolerated, the difficulties are great.  It is of no use running a fan to draw out tobacco smoke unless some opening permits air to come in.  To avoid down draughts, windows should open inwards with hinges at the bottom and sides forming hoppers.

A chute for cases of bottles into the cellar often saves much of the lorrymen’s time.  Lifts are usually too small, for unless they take a case they are useless.  The barrel chute seems of little moment, but to the one in charge of the deliveries from the brewery, who is responsible for the safe depositing of hundreds of barrels per week, down many hatches, it is a matter of importance.  The slides, erected at an angle of not too steep a gradient, are better placed behind the building, but on every plan hatches should be away from all entrances.

With regard to floor construction, tiles and terrazo are hard and cold, but easy to clean; wood-finished floors, though not ideal, are suitable in particular instances, as are carpets and linoleums.  Colour phalte gives satisfaction in the vaults, whilst rubber, if a good quality is used, seems to be proving a hard-wearing material for the other public rooms.  Attention should be directed to the laying of the sub-floor, or the nuisance of rocking tables will arise.

Lighting ought to be arranged so that dark corners are eliminated, and the control of all public lighting should be handy for the tenant, and out of reach of the public.  All the electric lights in any one public room should not be on one circuit, but split, so that should one fuse blow, light is still preserved.

Central heating has been universally adopted, and electric imitation coal fires can usefully replace the ordinary fire.

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