On the wagon – no longer!

IN THE CENTRE of Warwick, there is a building with superb examples of Victorian decorative terracotta work. High on its façade, in terracotta lettering are the words “coffee” and “tavern” because this edifice began its life as a coffee house back in 1880.

Designed by a Warwick architect Frederick Holyoake Moore (1848-1924), it was constructed for a local manufacturer and philanthropist Thomas Bellamy Dale (1808-1890). He was mayor of Warwick three times and:

“…was a philanthropist in every sense of the word, for his name was connected with the principal benevolent institutions of England, of which he was a generous supporter; as a public man he took a very active part in the sanitary improvements of the borough of Warwick, and in the adoption of the Free Library Act. He was a generous supporter of every useful institution in the town, and, though exceedingly charitable, was most unostentatious in all his benefactions.” (www.mirrormist.com/t_b_dale.htm)

In the 19th century, alcohol consumption was considered to be responsible for the ill-health of poor people and detrimental to their general well-being. Dale built his coffee tavern and hotel to offer an alternative to alcohol and pubs. His establishment had:

“…a bar and coffee room on the ground floor with service rooms at the rear; a bagatelle room, smoke room and committee and club room on the first floor, and rooms for hotel guests on the second floor.” (www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/coffee-tavern-warwick).

The place was designed to keep people away from alcohol, “on the wagon”.

Now, all has changed. Today, the building still offers refreshments and hotel rooms, but does something that the late Mr Dale, who encouraged people to become teetotal, would not approve. Customers at what is now named “The Old Coffee Tavern” can now enjoy not only coffee but also a full range of alcoholic drinks. He might be pleased if he knew that when we visited its pleasant lounge decorated with colourful tiled panels, we chose to sip coffee rather than drinks containing an ingredient that did not meet with his approval.

A flourishing pub in Hampstead

ONCE LONDON’S HAMPSTEAD had two pubs or taverns named ‘The Flask’. This should not come as a great surprise as Flask used to be a common name given to pubs. One of them, The Upper Flask, used to be located at the top (northern) end of East Heath Road and the other, The Lower Flask’ was (and still is) on Flask Walk, a street leading off Hampstead High Street.

The Upper Flask used to be a remarkable establishment. Once called ‘The Upper Bowling Green House’ because of its good bowling green, it was a meeting place favoured by fashionable and ‘cultured’ men (mainly) and women during the 18th century. It was a summer meeting place for The Kit Kat Club, which thrived in the early 18th century and whose members included literary figures and political personalities, who supported the Whig Party. The Upper Flask figures several times in “Clarissa”, a lengthy novel by Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), first published in 1747. The place ceased operating as a hospitality business in the 1750s, when it became a private residence (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp81-91). In 1921, it was demolished to clear the site for building the Queen Mary Maternity Hospital (https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/queenmaryhampstead.html), which has since become the site of a luxury housing complex.

The Lower Flask (in Flask Walk) is also mentioned in “Clarissa”, but unflatteringly as:

“… a place where second-rate persons are to be found often in a swinish condition,” (quoted from “Old and New London”, by Edward Walford, about 1880).

Unlike the lost Upper Flask, the formerly named Lower Flask is still in business, but much has changed since Richardson published his novel.

Located at the eastern end of the pedestrianised stretch of Flask Walk, the former Lower Flask, renamed The Flask, was rebuilt in 1874 (and extended in 1990; https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1322190). Formerly, it had been a thatched building and was a place where mineral water from Hampstead’s chalybeate springs was sold. It and Keith Fawkes’ second-hand bookshop are the only things in Flask Walk, which were in existence when I used to visit Hampstead regularly in the 1960s and 1970s. In those, now far-off, days, I remember that there used to be another second-hand bookshop and a butcher, both on the south side of the passageway. Before the 20th century, there used to be a fair held for a few days in August on the triangular open space a few yards downhill from The Flask pub. Close to The Flask, also on Flask Walk, miscreants could be found languishing in the parish stocks. Both the stocks and the fair are now but long distant memories recorded only in books published many decades ago.

Oddly, despite visiting Hampstead literally thousands of times during the last more than 65 years, it was only on Halloween 2021 that I first set foot in the Flask pub, and I am pleased that I did. The front rooms of the pub retain much of their Victorian charm and the rear rooms are spacious. Although we only stopped for a drink, I could see that the Sunday lunches being served to customers around us looked delicious. We hope to return there soon.

Trouble in the village

TOLLESBURY IS A TINY village on the estuary of the River Blackwater in the English county of Essex, famed for its oysters, nature reserve, and sailing facilities. It is not far from Colchester and the smaller Tiptree famed for its jam manufacture.  Tiny though it is, Tollesbury appears in the Domesday Book, with the name ‘Tolesberia’ and in 1218 as ‘Tolesbir’. It is possible that the ‘Toll’ part of the name refers to a person who lived many centuries ago. The Church of St Mary the Virgin that stands at one end of the central village square was built in about 1090, possibly incorporating material from an earlier Saxon Church.

At the southern edge of the square, close to the northern boundary of the churchyard there stands a small wooden hut with a pyramidical tiled roof and one door with a small, barred window. It looks a bit like a garden shed but it was not built for storing tools and so on. For, this was the village lockup or ‘cage’. Built in 1700, it seems in remarkably good condition. The lockup, as its name suggests, was where local miscreants were locked up. It was a tiny prison. The reason that it is in a good state despite its age is that it has:

“…C20 waney weatherboarding, roofed with handmade red clay plain tiles and C20 hip tiles.” (www.prisonhistory.org/lockup/tollesbury-lock-up/)

Essex is home to plenty of village lockups. Apart the lockup from at Tollesbury, you can see village lockups at, for example, Great Bardfield, Thaxted, Canewdon, Great Dunmow, Orsett, Braintree, Roydon, and Steeple Bumpstead (hwww.essex.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/media/downloads/essex/about-us/museum/research/history-notebooks/66.pdf).  

These miniature jails were:

“… used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to house criminals who were apprehended on suspicion of committing petty crime … Lock-ups were only temporary forms of imprisonment, usually for one or two people, before the local authorities of the day decided how to deal with the offender. Criminals could be released or sent to the closest large town for trial.” (www.essexlive.news/news/essex-news/historic-jails-essex-you-can-3227277)

Our friend, who lives in Tollesbury, suggested that probably the lockup was often used to house people who had drunk too much and needed to sober up. This not an unreasonable idea considering that at one time the village had six pubs.

Although there is much more that could be written about Tollesbury, I hope to do this after a future visit to this charming little place.

A memorable new year’s eve

Some years ago, we were in Bangalore on a New Years Eve. Our daughter went off to an all night party and we remained at home with my recently widowed late mother-in-law.

We ordered a pizza from the local branch of a well known international pizza chain. It arrived by motorbike, looked delicious, but tasted mouldy.

At about 10 pm, we were all feeling sleepy and retired to bed. At about 3 am we were woken by a telephone call. It was our daughter wishing us a happy new year.

We had slept whilst the old year ended and the new one began. It was the most effortless and relaxing way of ‘celebrating’ a New Year that I can remember.

PS: this year we celebrated the New Year’s Eve in a part of India where the consumption of alcohol is forbidden!

Dry Martini

martini

 

The first alcoholic drink that I enjoyed in my early teens was Martini Vermouth. I liked it neat with a piece of ice.

One evening, a wealthy relative invited my parents and me to join them at London’s Savoy Hotel, where they were staying. Before dinner, we had drinks in their suite. I must have been about fourteen then. 

The room service waiter arrived, and we ordered drinks. I asked for my then usual Martini. Soon, the drinks arrived. I was handed a large glass tumbler with a thick base. It contained a clear liquid that did not look like Martini to me. Also, it did not smell like Martini, and its taste did not resemble anything I had drunk previously. Being a polite young fellow, I did not remark on it, but just sipped it slowly whilst the adults chatted.

When it was time to get up and descend to the dining room, I had an odd sensation. I stood up and looked at the floor which seemed to be undulating like the waves in the sea. Whatever I had drunk had gone straight to my head. What I had been served was not the dry Martini, which comes straight from the bottle, but the cocktail Dry Martini, which is mostly gin and only a dash of Martini. You live and learn.

 

picture source: http://www.diffordsguide.com

Stay away from the windows

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Many years ago sometime during the 1980s, I spent New Year’s Eve in Belgrade, which was then the capital of a country that no longer exists: Yugoslavia.

I was staying with my good friend Raša. He enjoyed a good party. We set out to attend one in New Belgrade, which was built after WW2 on the left bank of the River Sava, a tributary of the Danube.

The air was chilled when we left Dorčol, the old part of the city where Raša lived. There was an odour in the wintry air that I always remember: the smell of the smoke from the lignite that was burned in central heating units in the city.

As we travelled in the tram towards New Belgrade, my friend explained that many retired military personnel lived in New Belgrade. Many of these people kept guns and rifles in their flats.

Raša advised me to keep off the balcony and well away from windows as the last midnight of the year approached. The reason for this was that as the new year began, drunken people would begin firing their weapons to celebrate. There was a good chance both of being struck by poorly aimed bullets and by others that ricocheted when they struck walls and so on.

Midnight came and went, but I cannot remember hearing any gunshots. Maybe I had imbibed too much vodka and other highly alcoholic drinks such as sljivovitz and loza!

Now, Yugoslavia is only a fond memory as is my friend Raša. I last saw him in May 1990. He passed away several years later after having done much work to help refugees caught up in the civil wars that tore Yugoslavia apart.

Things go better with Coke

It was the day after the much-loved fimstar Ambareesh died. He was a hero all over the Indian state of Karnataka. To respect him, alcohol sales were forbidden in Bangalore. It was what is called a ‘dry day’. One could not order any alcoholic drink at a bar, restaurant, etc.

So, being unable to order an alcoholic drink, I ordered Coca Cola.

“Coca Cola” the waiter queried, “it’s not available. Today is dry day, sir”

“But Coca Cola is not alcoholic” I protested, adding “Coke, you know”

“Ah, Coke, sir. I can bring you that,”the waiter said, at last understanding what I was trying to order.