Taverns research workshop
The “Taverns Locals and Street Corners” pilot project closed with a workshop, where the project researchers gave brief talks before a wide-ranging roundtable discussion with a panel that comprised alcohol policy experts, city managers and police. It was a chance to test how historical case studies could enrich current debates about the culture and regulation of pubs and drinking, and vice versa.
The workshop was held on 28 June 2013 in the Watershed building on Bristol Harbourside. The participants were:
Antonia Layard, University of Birmingham (AL)
Jane Milling, University of Exeter (JM)
Fabrizio Nevola, University of Exeter (FN)
David Rosenthal, RA (DR)
Tim Hampson, Chair, British Guild of Beer Writers (TH)
Tom Bolton, Senior Analyst, Centre for Cities (TB)
James Nicholls, Research Manager, Alcohol Research UK (JN)
Andrew Misell, Director Alcohol Concern, Wales (AM)
David Catt, Licensing Sergeant, Avon and Somerset Police (DC)
Nick Carter, Enforcement and Regulatory Services Manager – Safer Bristol, Bristol City Council (NC)
Nicola Barranger, project audio and video producer (NB)
This introductory video, produced by Nicola Barranger, gives a broad sense of our main research themes. Following that is an edited version of the researchers’ presentations and the panel discussion.
Fabrizio Nevola (University of Exeter): Introduction
Taverns, Locals and Street Corners: Cross-Chronological Studies in Community Drinking, Regulation and Public Space is an Arts and Humanities Research Council pilot research project funded under the cross-council Connected Communities programme.
In brief, this is a comparative or cross-chronological study that looks at the physical places of drinking in cities, based on case studies of three periods and three different locations. As a pilot study, we have had a year’s funding to conduct the research, which is interdisciplinary in scope. The idea essentially was to bring together three different perspectives, that of a contemporary lawyer, Antonia Layard (University of Birmingham), a theatre historian, Jane Milling (University of Exter) and an urban/architectural historian, Fabrizio Nevola (University of Bath). Throughout we have all benefitted from the enormous effort and research “in the field” by David Rosenthal – the researcher on this project – a specialist of sixteenth century Italy who has been remarkably versatile in also working on the other parts of the project.
The three locations and periods we examined were Florence in the late Renaissance period, London in the eighteenth century and Bristol today. The most basic aim of such a variously constituted team of investigators was to see how three completely different scholalry frameworks for considering and thinking about public/private space, and behaviours, as well three different historical periods, could come together in such a way that we could all learn from each other’s expertise and offer a fresh perspective on quite a significant research topic. It’s fair to say that this was, from the outset, an experimental approach.
The idea of “cross-chronological” research sounds rather grander than it probably is! I don’t think its necessarily a comparative exercise: we have not set out to reveal particular continuities or change over a long period. Nor is the ambition to provide a grand historical narrative approach whereby you start from something at its beginnings and follow it right through to the present. Rather, the aim has been to provoke a creative collision, between historical periods, but also between academic disciplines, and perhaps more importantly between academic research and those people who have a policy or practice contemporary interest in particular issues and themes.
In relation to taverns or pubs, what we particularly identified was the potential of applying a cross-chronological approach to a particular location where a series of issues emerge, issues that are obviously about the way that different people behave in a very particular type of location. What is interesting about the tavern/pub is that its location is neither the private space of the home (an enclosed space), nor the open public space of perhaps a purely, truly public realm – this is one of the aspects that Antonia kept on reminding us to problematise. Taverns obviously sit somewhere in between these two positions.
We had in our original proposals a series of key questions that we were really wanting to ask. Loosely the idea was that we would be thinking about:
- Regulation: laws and customs of how practices and locations are limited and controlled.
- Performance: how these practices and locations are enacted, embodied and how they express community identity. So how the way people behave in these places represents different types of groups. How people can represent themselves in those different types of locations, both in a positive and in a negative way.
- Spatial dimension: the ways in which these practices, the drinking, and the locations, the taverns or pubs or whatever, are inscribed with meanings. How they are in the city, where they are and how they change the nature of those particular spaces. So how does the presence or absence of a tavern/pub change the reality of that particular piece of city.
These spatial themes also feed into an area that I was interested in exploring through technology. How could we use geo information systems (GIS), the sort of literal plotting of places and practices, and how might this inform or reflect the way that we read and understand those spaces. The most obvious example to illustrate this sort of mapping exercise is to think of the widely-publicised crime maps that can now be accessed online and would seem to provide a remarkable degree of topographical accuracy. When you’re buying a house you can go and look and see is this a place where there’s a crime hotspot. Well, one question that arises is whether we can do that for the historical past in a similar way to how this functions for the present?
There were, from the outset, a number of things that we were not trying to deal with: this is a project which is really more about behaviours, practices and spaces and less to do with the social and medical issues associated with drinking and problems associated to it. The latter issues are ones that have attracted a great deal of research – a number of the participants at this workshop know a great deal about this and have published extensively their findings. We’re not aiming to replicate that work as there doesn’t seem to be much point in doing things that have been done already.
We have also tried to be careful not to caricature the media representations of drinking in contemporary visual culture, between the kind of image we might find in the popular press showing drinking and disorder wreaking havok in city centres, or on the other hand, an idealised vision of café-society sociability. Likewise we have been wary of facile rose-tinted caricatures between the past and the present; ones that suggest the past is bucolic, that everything that happened was wonderful, that everyone was a merry-making peasant of the sort you might see in a painting such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s, Fight Between Carnival and Lent, of 1559.
But likewise, just as we’ve got to be careful of not caricaturing past and present (that things were better in the past than they are in the present), so too we shouldn’t overly polarise. There are of course assumptions about class and values and location that are likewise played out in images that we might see as the architype of the English country village: all manicured greens, pub in the corner and cricket whites. This, of course, is a reminder that the rural and the bucolic can exist in the past as much as it can do in the present. So these aspects need to be unpicked in the representation.
Returning briefly to Bruegel the Elder’s, Fight Between Carnival and Lent, it is of course well known that this is laden with complex allegories suspended between pleasure and vice. On the left hand side is carnival, on the right hand side is Lent; you can almost divide it between the sort of church setting on the right hand side and the places of carnival behaviour on the left, be they taverns, or other types of urban setting. But the key thing that I think is significant in this particular painting is that everything that actually is happening takes place in a public space. I don’t think we need to unpack anything further than that. Public space is the place of performance of these two types of activity and encoded behaviours. And these are extreme behaviours that characterise communities at times of excess – this excess can take both the form of penance and pleasure.
As a humorous contrast we might compare Bruegel’s masterpiece with somewhat kitsch revision of it by Dick Jewell, in inkjet and varnish. What’s interesting here in terms of the visual representation is that the original has been re-envisioned through the lens of contemporary culture. The images that make up the collage and are abstracted and relocated into this re-visitation of a 16th century painting come primarily from the way that the media represents the excess of drinking in the high street today. So while the formal character of the image may be similar, the iconography that’s been transferred is really derived from a single type as opposed to the much broader range that Bruegel was playing from.
It’s this sort of bold, sometimes rather un-cautious set of comparisons that I think the cross-chronological method can propose. In today’s workshop the the idea is to open up research rather than close it down into increasingly narrow areas that specific academics define for themselves and keep for themselves.
So, returning to the question of taverns and what our research can show about then, we can say they are very good at allowing us a privileged view into understanding how people related to one another in different historical periods. This relationship of people and place – and how it can be understood and improved – is one that is of special concern in the contemporary scene of urban planning and design. It is perhaps best known through the urban design work of the planner Jan Gehl on “shared space” (e.g. Brighton New Road or to the new museum district around the Kensington Museums, Exhibition Road). The idea of shared space, is that a new relationship is established in the public realm between public space and people. Gehl speaks of a hierarchy of “first life, then space, then buildings” that undercuts the architectural primacy of built form and replaces it with the crucial role of people, then with the spaces that they inhabit and only finally with buildings.
Again, Gehl has argued that in contemporary cities, the majority of essential activity (business, shopping, information exchange etc.) takes place in private space, indoors, suggesting that contemporary public space will only thrive where it is pleasant and well-managed. He locates a major shift throught the twentieth century, with the public realm far more active in “essential activities” prior to 1900. From the point of view of urban planning the lesson is that attractive, pleasant public spaces encourage passive recreation; obviously from the point of view of the historian, such observations reminds us how important public space was in the past for all types of everyday life. Taverns are one place where we can access the kind of transactions and relationships that took place in the past, but also continue to shape the way public space is experienced in the present.
While the material we have examined for sixteenth-century Italy is discussed in greater detail by David Rosenthal, I briefly wish to comment on one example to give a sense of how different things can be, but also where we might find resonances with the past. An extraordinary nine piece panel, usually described as the Rinaldeschi altarpiece, tells a story, from 1501, of an unfortunate, hapless gambler, Antonio Rinaldeschi. In a sequence resembling a cartoon strip, you see him at the top, playing dice with some friends and drinking; you can see the outdoor benches there in a small piazza, the kind of place there would be a tavern in fifteenth-century Florence. Rinaldeschi loses a huge amount of money so he picks up some dung off the street and throws it at an image of the Virgin Mary painted on a house, at the top right. From then on it’s all over for Rinaldeschi because he gets caught, taken away by the local police, put in prison, tried, he has his last rites with the priest, and then he’s hung: and that’s that.
A painting like this tells is awful lot of things: about places where transgression occurs, taverns, playing of dice and so on. It tells us about surveillance, who’s watching here? The Virgin Mary is watching for one, but so is the rest of the city, who sees Rinaldeschi’s actions and takes him to task for them. It tells us about policing, and about what we can call performative justice, done in a public way so that everybody will spectate, will be able to see what has been done and perhaps may regulate their behaviour accordingly. It’s not too different perhaps from those images of drinking shown all over the tabloid press – we may discuss this a bit more later.
So that’s the kind of world in which the taverns of sixteenth-century Florence are operating. I will leave it to David to describe in greater detail the sort of research that we’ve conducted on the Florentine material – which has, amazingly, been largely overlooked for this period. We’ve mapped tavern locations and found out about how they were used, who frequented them, and the sort of behaviour (good and bad) that took place in and around them. Motivated by the interesting stories thrown up by these locations, we even went on to seek additional funding from the AHRC to create a pilot mobile phone app that creates an immersive audio-guide experience of the streets of Renaissance Florence.
The richness of the material, and the opportunities that have emerged from the collaborative approach we have taken to setting the research questions, and relating them to the present, have opened up new opportunities at various turns. In the next three short reports you can find out a bit more about the three case studies and you can view a short film that summarises the project’s ambitions and some of our findings. When we set out, we knew our approach was speculative and experimental, but as we near the completion of the project, I think all of us have found we have learned a great deal from one another and altered the way we think about our “own” material. As the final section of this report shows, the stimulating round-table discussion goes further to open new questions that set new directions for our own, and others’ future research.
David Rosenthal (RA): The Barfly’s Dream: Taverns in sixteenth-century Florence
I was trying to list in my mind the key differences between early modern sociability around pubs and the governance of them and pubs today. Because some of the essentials, at least in outline, in form, are quite similar.
Hubs of community? Can be. How and how much depends on which pubs and where. Often a link between alcohol and violent and other crime? Check. Competing communities? Usually drinkers versus residents? Check. I could go on.
But in early modern cities like Florence there was no Night Time Economy. And by that I mean there didn’t exist a vision of a city centre as a commodity. Which is not to say there were no commodities in the city centres, or that the city centre wasn’t understood as a place, however ill-defined, representing the civic whole. In Florence the centre was where the both the manufacturing and the retail happened – and once a year every merchant and shopowner would display their goods outside the shops so the entire centre would become a kind of fair celebrating civic wealth. What I mean is the idea of the “city centre” itself was not a commodity, presented by the town council as a imagined place that made an “offer” based on entertainment and – more specifically and importantly here – an offer driven by alcohol that was designed to attract people, to bring in money. If you look at a guide book to Florence, such as the well-known one by Francesco Bocchi in 1591, it focused on palaces, public buildings, and on artworks to be found within them. Nothing about “going out at night”.
So in terms of city space, there was no attempt to give drinking venues, taverns, osterie, any prominence. There was very little overall planning at all in fact in terms of shops (and taverns were another kind of shop), the medieval growth of cities was often pretty ad hoc. Certainly there was nothing that articulated a positive place for taverns in the life of a “city centre”.
If anything taverns were almost hidden away, in alleyways, near some of the city’s central thoroughfares but not on them. So here is the centre of Florence as depicted in 1584, with the Baptistry on the left. The city’s main processional street, via Calzaouoli, heads down diagonally to the far corner. I’ve noted a few prominent taverns in this area, the Porco (A), Fico (B) and Bertuccie (C). Below are some images of the streets and alleys today.
So they were hidden away, and the reason for this I’ll get back to shortly. But despite all that they were very well known indeed, fixtures in a mental map of the city for men of every class. There may not have been an NTE, but there certainly was a night-time (and indeed day-time) culture around these taverns in which people, mainly men, did go out.
The title of this brief talk comes out a document I found in which a learned man addresses his friends in a literary club in Florence and tells them he has a dream – a nightmare really – in which he can’t get a drink because all the taverns in Florence are shut. So he goes from bar to bar (there were about 40 taverns in Florence) in what amounts to a virtual, ultimately fruitless, pub crawl. He paints a kind of itinerary of drinking in Florence in the late 16th century. One that spirals in from periphery and ends up in the centre, at the Fico tavern which was probably the best-known tavern in Florence. And there’s a very clear sense that this is where a night on the wine (and its wine we’re talking about here) ended up – in one of the pubs in the centre.
So they were known places, and the managers were known people. In fact we know that the places our barfly Bastiano de’ Rossi talked about going to were hubs for various kinds of urban communities. We don’t know as much about that sociability as we’d like, but we do know that taverns were in a sense agents of both an imagined and a practised community within a specific neighbourhood. So we find local artisan groups based in taverns, we find tavernkeepers as cultivated and trusted characters, mediators, sometimes even writing for their illiterate customers and neighbours.
In the centre we know that there was more of a social mix, perhaps engendering what sociologists such as Robert Putnam have called a “thin trust” sense of community – where interactions or relationships never went far beyond drinking and talking, and as I’ll return to in a second gambling. But they were hubs for all classes of men and that’s important because early modern cities were societies that were divided very sharply, socially, economically and spatially. The poorest, the non-citizens, tended to be in the outskirts near the walls – but they often worked in the centre. So in the centre men were thrown together, and taverns were a space where that proximity took on a kind of social shape, where there were established activities (drinking to begin with) and face-to-face etiquettes that went along with that. We also know they were hubs of information exchange, of city knowledge, political knowledge, and international news. I like the Venetian tavernkeeper who offers his services to the government as a spy with the words: “As a tavernkeeper I have the true way of hearing, dealing, and reporting … because every quality of people come to my place, and I can make them familiarize with me”.
City centre taverns also found themselves picked out when it came to the contests that took place around taverns and drinking, and these emerged with particular force in the sixteenth century. And here we’re getting into an area that resonates with today’s conflicts around big city-centre vertical drinking venues, though the activities and the terms of the argument are distinctly different.
Interestingly enough, early modern taverns weren’t heavily regulated and there was very little legislation about drinking per se. For Florence there are scattered references to having to buy a license if you go back through communal legislation, but little more than that. There is virtually nothing that you can point to in the 16th or 17th century. What really bothered authorities were certain kinds of activities associated with the tavern, and in particular gambling or dice. So you find a bunch of men prosecuted for gambling near the Old Market, the central food market, including a cloth merchant from Pisa, a wool cloth manufacturer, an employee of the Forced Loans office and a belt-maker. It turned out that “the cook at the neighbouring tavern” had lent them the dice. Governments repeatedly banned “all kinds of games in any tavern of the city of Florence, either on the little walls outside or on the tables of those taverns”. So the issue of frontages, the spilling out from the tavern into the street, into public space, was a key issue – because this is what generated complaints from neighbours. The centre was also dense with palaces, with richer families. And the fines were harsh, and for repeat offences you could even be sent to the galleys.
The best documented case of this link between taverns and gambling is in fact the case of the unlucky gambler Antonio Rinaldeschi that Fabrizio talked about. This also turns out to have taken place in the city centre, at the Fico tavern, and that was probably part of the reason that the case became so public and exemplary. The point about this case was that the punishment was stunningly harsh for the crime committed, and there was a specific context for that. This was Florence in 1501 and it was simmering with religious zealotry – so in some quarters, including government circles, there was zero tolerance against behaviour that might prevent the city from becoming purified, of turning into a kind of New Jerusalem. So Rinaldedechi is caught up in all of this. Gambling in the tavern had led him to insult the Virgin, and the righteous city would have to make good on this vendetta with heaven. He’s turned into a symbol of civic sin, punishment, repentance and redemption.
But if Rinaldeschi was turned into an exemplary case, it speaks to the wider, ongoing tensions around taverns that were framed largely in Christian moral terms – this was a constant background hum. And it may explain why the most famous taverns in the city centre, like the Fico, are not on the main thoroughfares, which often had important processional roles. If we’re thinking about the topography of drinking in the city – and going back to both the profound differences and continuities between past and present – then in general we can say the tavern was the physical symbol of the profane place in the same way the church was above all the physical symbol of the sacred place. And this was a widespread mentality.
So taverns were seen as the site of sin and drink a gateway drug – to glulttony, avarice, lust, pride, so on. And the fears of moralists about taverns in the centre were to some extent grounded in reality. The streets around the Old Market were known for their brothels and, as Guido Ruggiero has pointed out, the taverns in the zone had pretty suggestive names : Bertuccie (Pussy), Chiassolino (Little Whorehouse), Fico (Cunt), Malvagia (Wicked Woman), Porco (Pig/Depraved). Downtown taverns were also regular venues for sodomy. Which was both seen as integral part of male culture in Florence as well as a sin of more or less apocalyptic dimensions.
So the tavern could become a very highly charged place in the identity politics of the city if you like. This waxed and waned but they were essentially transgressive places. They were in space what Carnival or carnivalesque festivities were in time … regardless of how productive of community they were.
But despite all this intense religious rhetoric around the tavern and drinking there was, again, very little governance from civic authorities. The campaigns against taverns always tended to be generated by religious authorities or groups and tended to look to control tavern-going through exhortation and self-policing.
So I want to end by briefly mentioning the single biggest campaign against taverns in early modern Florence. This was in 1588. Essentially during a period of economic decline and unemployment there was a preaching campaign specifically directed at moralising the lower classes, and because it was backed by the Grand Dukes of Florence, it resulted in almost all the lay occupational societies in Florence banning tavern-going for their members. And it was explicitly put in terms not only of class but of gender. The problem was seen – and this clearly spoke to widespread and long-held perceptions – that male tavern-going was to the detriment of these men’s wives and families. In other words they were accused of drinking their meagre resources in the tavern, putting their wives and daughters at risk. The ban was never universally endorsed, and, as these lay associations quickly found, as a self-disciplining pact it was unenforceable. It was effective for no more than a matter of months. But it does tell us something important again about perceptions of public drinking as a masculine activity, of taverns as by and large masculine spaces – this campaign was all about shaping good masculinities, good Christians and good workers.
In certain ways this looks very Victorian or Georgian in the way the “problem” of the tavern and public order is framed, though women had a far greater presence in the pubs of eighteenth-century England and clearly today. What I wonder, though, is what questions this might throw up about present debates, and representations, of city centres, concerning alcohol, regulation, and the nature of city centres and ideas about the civic itself.
Jane Milling (University of Exeter): ‘Representing gin in eighteenth-century London’
As a theatre historian it’s been great fun to have a chance to play in this project and to work with David Rosenthal. Our particular interest has been in the representation of, and the stories that we tell ourselves about, the space of drink in the eighteenth century.
As David mentioned in the video, we concentrated on the parish of St Giles in the Fields in London as the focus for what we were doing partly because it was seen as a den of iniquity, a sort of sink area in London during the first half of the eighteenth century. High Holborn and St Giles had a high proportion of incoming laborourers, and there was a phenomenal density of drinking places within the parish of St Giles.
This is the parish where Henry Fielding went in 1751, when he wrote his grand tract, ‘An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers’ in which he directly links drinking to crime and an increase in crime in the area. It is St Giles he’s talking about when he is appalled at the living conditions of the poor. He describes rooming houses full of “idol persons and vagabonds who have their lodgings there for tuppence a night”, or thruppence for a double bed so you might pack in four sleepers, leading to all kinds of lasciviousness according to Fielding. Dissolute living was further aided by a ready provision of cheap drink, with gin being sold to these incoming laborourers at a penny a quart, he says. He’s overestimating the cost, in fact you could get a pint of gin for a farthing according to some sources. Nor have people learned how to drink gin, it is drunk by the pint, or sometimes multiple pints. A culture of gin drinking in small shots, in small glasses, is not yet established. So, St Giles becomes, in some ways, a touchstone for the conflict over this new drink culture, gin.
Gin has been written about by many historians, but one of the questions that we have been asking is, what is the space in which gin is represented?
When you look at mid-eighteenth century images of drinking, or read the plays and the performances that represented cultures of drinking, it becomes clear that gin does not have a place as such. Gin drinking tends to be depicted as happening on the street. Gin is a street drink, it is a culture of street vending, street drinking, with micro-distilleries in back rooms, and retailers who are not necessarily property owners. While gin shops are regularly referred to, there are very few representations of gin shops, the actual place you go to buy or drink the gin. While we know that some gin shops had a bar and perhaps tables and seats, few representations of these spaces exist.
Nor, despite the great moral outcry, are gin shops represented on stage. Only two farces during the period actually depict gin drinking. Surprisingly, these farces that comically celebrate gin, are written by Henry Fielding, later the magistrate intensely interested in legislating against gin. In his youth, Fielding, a major playwright, wrote two fabulous farces. ‘Tumble Down Dick’ depicts gin being drunk in a coffee house by the gentry, who dance in praise of gin’s valuable properties. The second farce is called ‘The Death and Deposing of Queen Gin’. In this Queen Gin tours the streets, taking a final farewell of her faithful people “a great number of raggedy men and women”. The Queen tours to a brandy shop, also called a gin shop, where, astride a barrel with pots and glasses of all sizes around her and men and women drinking, she hears the terrible news that there will be no corn harvest and thus no gin distilling.
On the stage gin is rarely depicted, and in images of the time gin is comes to be symbolically represented by the street, rather than within interior spaces. The culture of gin tends to concentrate on its effects on the bodies of drinkers, disordered bodies at that, as James Nicholls has identified. These bodies of gin drinkers are pathologised, rather in the ways that the rhetoric of today’s medicalised literature tends to represent excessive drinking.
However, it is not a simple dichotomy between gin as a street drink, and beer as a drink of the tavern. Take Hogarth’s depiction of Beer Street, his counterpoint to the national decay of Gin Lane, where beer is readily drunk on the street. So, while the rhetorical language around gin emphasises it as unregulated, street drinking, the story is more complicated.
We looked at the criminal records for London parishes during the period, and at the way in which criminal activity and prosecution for criminal activity arising from drinking and drinking places is discussed. What is marked is that despite the moralists concerns, there is little difference between the kinds of crimes and the modes of criminality found in gin shops and that in taverns and alehouses. Nor are there differences in the way in which these crimes are prosecuted, policed, or dealt with by constables or the watch, nor by the way in which witnesses describe events. Despite the concern expressed around gin as a distinct drinking culture, in fact the gin shops are regulated and policed in much the same way that other drinking establishments and other modes of drinking, are.
The local, the parish, remains the primary context for this policing and control of drinking culture. The organisation of parish life by the middling sort, who have obligations to take up roles and responsibility within their parish as church wardens, overseers of the poor, surveyors of the roads to make sure the roads or constables emphasises the force of engagement with local knowledge and space. The idea that local communities are involved in the very regulation of those spaces, and that gin shops come within this purview, paints a clear picture of the way in which drinking and gin drinking is contained. The ‘local’ as a drinking place remains an important aspect of the social regulation of drinking, particularly that idea that drinkers are looked in upon, or watched by other individuals.
So, it is interesting to notice that the way in which we represent drinking, and different drinking cultures, is quite important to our understanding of drink’s cultural value. But we should not lose sight of the way in which, on the ground, we use, control and manage those different drinking cultures. These modes of control are most successfully built on long-established traditions and mechanisms that are about the local, that are about being known, and that are about shared responsibility towards normalising social interaction in drinking areas.
Antonia Layard (University of Birmingham): A question of ownership
I’m Antonia Layard, I’m a lawyer. Thank you so much for coming today and thank you for giving up your time to talk to us about this project.
So the focus from my part is drinking in Bristol. I have two interests here: one is this idea of drinking too much and the second is the lack of drinking spaces in certain parts of Bristol.
This project was premised on the idea that historians already unconsciously asked modern questions and that as a legal researcher I already ask historic questions, and that this project would do this more consciously. What I’m interested in as a property lawyer is public space and the argument I’d like to put to you today (and which can very much be torn down if you disagree with me), is really this isn’t about drink at all, this is all about property.
And also this is about public drinking. I have a note that three quarters of alcohol that we consume in this country is bought in the supermarket and my source for that is Andrew …
Andrew Misell (AM): Yes and I’m not going to be able to remember what my sources were but it wasn’t one of our surveys, it was someone else’s.
AL: So the amount of drinking in public is limited and of course once we take preloading into account, what we counted as purely public drinking is itself quite constructed.
But the idea is that public drinking is what we’re interested in and that this is constructed by property and we really have to understand the work that property is doing and has done in this for some time to really understand how we can address this problem of drinking too much and sometimes drinking in too few places. I’m not saying drinking too little, I’m just saying drinking in too few places.
This is a photo from “Cardiff After Dark”, a collection by a Polish guy called Maciej Dakowicz, a very, very, very beautiful set of images, but they did not go down well with the Daily Mail. Their concern was that a Polish photograph had embarrassed Britain by taking these images.
AM: He actually thinks, because I’ve spoken to him about it, he thinks his images are very positive, he’s presenting images of a really lively nightlife.
AL: He’s on record as saying there’s very little violence on the streets of Cardiff compared to other places and he’s said that the Welsh are very peaceful. So when you look at the text it’s quite different. But this is the drinking too much narrative.
And I think the problem that we really need to think about in city centres is how much of this ‘excessive drinking’ is caused by taverns or pubs and how much of it is caused by clubs and nightclubs. So I think probably, talking to David (David Catt, Licensing Sergeant, Avon and Somerset Police), I’ve come to realise that really clubs, rather than pubs, are one of the major problems here. Whether pubs or clubs, it’s still about property and the ability of the property owner to use ‘their’ property to maximise their financial gain.
So property, property is the mechanism, I’d like to suggest, through which licensing taxation and patents have long operated. So without a building there is nothing to licence, there is nothing to put a tax on, there is nothing to get a patent on. And even when we have Beer Street and Gin Lane, and I take Jane’s point that Beer Street is still in the street, you see the brick tavern. Every time a piece of legislation comes in, the Act in 965 that said one pub per village or the 1830 Act, there’s a focus on one premises at a time, a pattern repeated in the Licensing 2003 Act, one property at a time. We need a property to licence.
My sense then is that the notion that this long public debate is about beer, and about alcohol consumption, is rather missing the point. For example, when we go back to the 1989 Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the 2000 Office of Fair Trading Report, which really set out some of the problems we have with pub ownership in the country today, this was very much about a belief that the brewing industry was highly uncompetitive and involved in a complex monopoly. It was the brewing that was the problem.
And yet the reason these two reports came about was what was known as Thatcher’s Beer Orders. This was Margaret Thatcher’s intervention, through regulation, to ensure that the big six brewers sold off any pubs in excess of 2000. The concern was that the brewers had a monopoly over pubs, yet the legislative intervention was about property rather than brewing. What the brewers did was to sell these pubs not individually, or in small groups, thereby breaking up monopolies but instead as a collection to newly established property holding companies (pubcos) that have since, through often quite byzantine become new monopolies, though without any connection to the brewing trade. To lawyers, used to creating shelf companies, this was to a large extent foreseeable.
So the Beer Orders then are about property. They are called the Supply of Beer (Tied Estate) Order, the word ‘beer’ here is in many sense superfluous (although there were limited requirements to stock one ‘guest beer’). When you look at the problems with pubcos, the commercial relationship is between the freeholder and the leaseholder, it’s about supplying the beer and drinks as part of the rent but also about Sky Sports, and gaming machines. These are all commercial property relationships and they are the basis of the negotiation between the owner of the pub (often the pubco) and (unless there is a manager instead), the landlord.
The importance of property is also illustrated by the fact that drinking when it’s outside, is ‘out of place’. It should be inside, it’s the interiority, that contains public drinking. We have some very nice quotes from Keith Rundle and from other interviewees in Bristol saying that drinking outside is not appropriate, that it can’t be licensed, that it leads to disorder, that it’s much more dangerous. Keith Rundle, who is the Bristol police’s licensing inspector, described licensing as being within four walls and a roof. Pubs can contain drinking and keep it inside, they’re at the heart of the paradigm; while open drinking, in public space makes us uneasy.
So the pub is the focus but is a pub owner’s pub his castle? The tension here is the idea of a public house. I’ve already mentioned that in principle we deem the public house to be open to everyone and in the days of equality legislation, which didn’t exist in the eighteenth century or in early modern Florence, anybody must now be admitted irrespective of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. But of course we know that door supervisors can restrict entry into a pub to any person if they appear intoxicated or aggressive. Now the reason for this is that it’s private property. So there tension between it being a public house and a private property. The legal authority for this goes back to a case called Entick v Carrington, which was where a seditious printer called John Entick was printing out pamphlets against the King and Lord Halifax sent his messengers to go and collect these pamphlets. John Entick was able successfully to argue this is private property and that Lord Halifax’s men could not come in. So this idea that we have the right to bar the door to anyone who enters is very important.
The reason it’s important though is it’s not just about the private home, it’s also about whatever we might consider to be public space. When I teach property law to my students I usually use a video of a zombie march up to Cabot Circus, for those of you who know Bristol. So there’s a zombieing against capitalism protest and they zombie, zombie, zombie down the road until they reach Cabot Circus (Cabot Circus and Quakers Friars is the open air shopping centre of about 45 acres at the centre of Bristol). When they get there there’s a line of security guards that wont let the zombies in. This is Entick v Carrington today. Despite the fact that Cabot Circus is in many senses a public space, the centre of Bristol is now privately owned. It consists of 45 acres, so the scale of the ownership is very large. Nevertheless, legally, you can evict someone as a trespasser from any privately owned property simply on the basis of Entick v Carrington.
So that still is very much part of the pub mentality. But on the other hand we have licensing and licensing shows that its much more subtle than that, that licensing has real teeth. You need to get a premises licence and obviously you need to get a personal licence today under the legislation. So licensing is one way in which we still govern through property, if you imagine property quite broadly perceived. And we can see that the late night levy, which has legislative backing, the idea that you might be able to charge folks to compensate for policing costs is a public law regulation. But I know that Nick [Carter] for example is very much more in favour of a BID, a business improvement district, which works on private property owners coming together to develop a collaborative regime, much as we had in Broadmead or we’re getting with Gloucester Road and other parts of Bristol. So even when the public law is there, the preferred way of working really is property owners coming together as part of the city.
So it is a public house but its private property that’s publicly licensed, so it’s a slightly complicated arrangement. And Pub Watch is relevant here I think. In a decision in 2009, a man named Francis Boyle was excluded from pubs in his local area and the courts upheld Pub Watch as being legitimate. Pub Watch is a scheme where pubs can band together and bar certain customers. And so certain chains, for example Wetherspoons, will encourage each of their managers to sign up with that. Once again, all of this is on the basis of the fact that it’s private property, equalities legislation aside, you can refuse entry to anyone you like. So even though Francis Boyle turns up and is completely sober, he can still be excluded.
So what we have in Bristol and I think it’s very interesting for us to research this, and I’m grateful to you for giving me the time to explain it in everyday practical detail, is that we have the use of property techniques to manage place. Now I tend to work a lot on this but there is no such thing as the law of place, although I think there are laws that come together to shape place. This slide shows the cumulative impact area for Bristol harbourside, where we are today, and within this area no new licences will be accepted. So this way of governance is a way of taking ownership of the space, not in a formal legal property sense, but in terms of governance.
So we have commodification in that we’re trying to bring people to the City of Bristol and we’re trying to generate a profit for the City of Bristol and make this their destination, but its really about having those private operators making their own internal profit and then governing on behalf of the city.
So the Friday nights, the Saturday nights that David and his colleagues have to deal with are to some extent to do with alcohol and the fights that accrue but its primarily because these private pubs/clubs that they’re making a profit and there is no limit on that in terms of the actual amount of money they can make. It’s in the property owners’ interest to keep increasing their profit, that’s why I would suggest we sometimes get over-consumption in the City Centre because there’s more money to be made. And that’s why, as an observer, I think Bristol has done a really fantastic job thinking about how it is possible to moderate this right to private property. Indicating to property owners that they can’t just keep on making more and more money, that we have an “offer” that reflects the city as a whole and that we have to add value in some sense.
So I think we can see the creation of some kind of civic space within the city, where we’re trying to mediate a tension between creating a profit and providing a civic space for Bristolians. But what is quite crucial in Bristol is that the Local Authority owns a lot of the freeholds, so for example in Number 1 Harbourside, and so can grant the lease. We’ve got number 1 Harbourside in there, it’s a company coincidentally owned by George Ferguson the Mayor with three of the young people that he set up The Canteen with.
We see quite a lot of this socially aware property ownership in Bristol, as a Bristolian will know. Sometimes these are quite patrician and sometimes they are more opaque. So, the Mayor, George Ferguson, was one of the Merchant Adventurers, a society that initially built its profits on slavery, a longstanding and for generations very secret organisation in Bristol. In the last few years they have now published their membership list, and it is clearly an organisation with property interests and there are quite often patrician elements of the ferries or some of the pubs or whatever, that are being funded here. In terms of property ownership then, there is here a connection with the past there that you might not at first sight expect in a twenty first century city.
What’s very different I think is that the city centre is completely different from neighbourhoods. Whereas St Giles was a neighbourhood in its own right, these days we modify the city centre and bring everyone down here to drink, but while there are residents the primary drinkers here are people coming from outside to the city. There was always flux, I’m not trying to suggest it was static, but the model is very different. And I think that’s important just for the last couple of slides, if I could take you through them.
Because the other side of it is that in some areas there are just not enough places to drink, so I’m becoming increasingly interested in a part of North Bristol called Patchway. I went to talk to some OAPs there who have an elderly persons’ team when I was doing a different project on what is local and this very, very sparky 85 year old woman said to me, look, there is no local here, there is no café, there is no pub, there are no local shops, there’s just a giant Tesco’s.
So this is the Patchway estate, the B is the Labour Club, that’s the only place left there where you can get a drink. So apart from that there is no convivial space, there is no associational space, there is no third space, whatever we want to call it, these places are missing.
In Southmead, which would be a bit further down, again a very, very large estate; two pubs are left, one closed down, lots of people from Southmead are suddenly coming into the city at the weekend. So people are moving and obviously, I mean I think it is obvious, the Local Authority isn’t trying to craft a plan for destination Patchway, destination Filton. So those areas are beyond this kind of production of space that the city is now engaged in, really everyone’s focused on the centre.
And again what’s happening is that there is no property, so the reason there are no pubs there is because in a lot of these areas the pubco’s have decided that they’re not making a profit, they’re being sold off and other more profitable investments are being pursued instead.
So to summarise very quickly, CAMRA, the Office of the OFT, the office of Fair Trading, super-complaint, again it’s all about beer. CAMRA are saying that the beer tie is unfair, which I think absolutely you can argue, but the OFT is saying look there’s a variety of beer available without really investigating those places where there really isn’t any beer available at all anymore. So one of the projects I’m going to do is try to map some of these ‘pub deserts’.
Now in middle-class areas with the community asset protection that’s coming through the localism legislation in 2011, in the last three months we’ve seen about 70 pubs being registered as community assets. So in affluent areas that’s quite possible, you might be able to raise £300,000/£400,000 to buy a pub. In places like Filton and Patchway that’s not going to happen. So you’re really losing all these places.
Peter Clark pointed out why pubs are good, what’s good about pubs from an eighteenth-century perspective. So when times were good the pursuit of pleasure might be unallied. Now we might argue that on Friday and Saturday night down here the pursuit of pleasure is unallied up to a certain point but then there’s a limit. But that still produces this idea of excess and of carnival, I’m not sure that there’s such a problem, when we look at Bristol we think people are having a lot of freedom in the city. But really the point that I think probably most interestingly is that in these other places, public spaces, are disappearing. I mean Bristol is seeing something really quite problematic and the problem is that the pubs as property on a balance sheet are worth more if they’re sold off to Tescos. And so we are seeing these pubs disappear and this isn’t a problem of drink, this is a problem of property.
The scale of property ownership is also significant here. The number of pubs that Admiral or Enterprise own is clearly extraordinary as is the amount of debt, so Admiral are £3 billion in debt, Enterprise is £2 billion in debt. Cabot Circus is 45 acres, you know Stratford was 180 acres and so the governance response from Local Authorities again to bring quite a long area into view and try to govern it. That seems to be quite distinct for anything that’s happened in the eighteenth century or in Renaissance times, so as properties get bigger so governance areas get bigger and we take a more collective holistic view that sometimes things like the Purple Flag may help provide a conceptual framework.
So yes we are thinking about property, we increasingly need to think about place and I think Bristol is a great example of how it’s being done. There does seem to be a movement away from the neighbourhood, that everything is focused on the city centre and on profit, which does seem to be new and this raises real questions about the role the pub is playing in the community.
So just some conclusions from my perspective and anything that you think I’ve got wrong or I’ve misunderstood, please correct me. But really I think that you govern alcohol or pubs, taverns, alehouses, whatever you want to call them, through property and have done for some time. There are very similar networks of governance in terms of the eyes and ears of the landlord and the networks and the fencing of stolen goods that we can pick up in other parts.
Andrew Misell (AM): Its interesting because I live in a kind of a pub desert myself although its actually quite an affluent area. We have no takeaways either, because people seem to think that a nice neighbourhood wouldn’t have these things. You go to the neighbourhood at the bottom of the hill, where the housing is cheaper to access. I’ve seen one of my neighbours struggling up the hill with a Chinese takeaway because you go down there to get all that stuff. I have to walk a mile probably to get to a pub and people have said to me, “Oh no, you cannot get planning permission around here for anything as working class as a pub or a chip shop or a Chinese takeaway”. That’s perhaps not the situation you’re facing in Patchway but it’s interesting. This is a nice residential area; we’ll do our drinking elsewhere.
Tom Bolton (TB): I think you’re right to pick the issue out of centres, and it’s becoming more obvious. In London that’s something that we’ve been working on quite recently, because I think out-of-London town centres, though they are a lot bigger than Bristol out-of-town centres, have the same relationship with the centre of London, places like Croydon or Oxbridge. They’re under a lot of pressure because they’re not desirable retail destinations in the way they used to be. People don’t have offices there because large companies tend to move nearer Gatwick or they move into the centre – they skip places like Croydon these days. And it’s suddenly not entirely clear what they’re there for anymore, and that’s where pubs are closing.
I wonder if pubs are some sort of a bellwether for a much wider set of changes, then, because they are places where lots of different things over history have happened, lot of different sorts of social interactions. They have this third space status – but their status as property means that they reflect what’s going on in the economy and the economy tends to drive what happens in society to a great extent.
So it would be quite interesting to talk about the change in the status of pubs, where they are, how many are open and what’s viable, what that’s telling us about the way that cities as a whole are changing since the 1970s.
James Nicholls (JN): Yeah I think that’s an interesting point and I think that if pubs are a bellwether for the wider economy they are also a bellwether for what’s happening in the trade itself, so things like the Beer Orders were a massive kind of shock to the system that had been in place, the tied house system. They’d been trying to kill it for 200 years and failed at every attempt but when the Beer Orders came that also coincided with the hollowing out of town city centres. You had town centres emptying out because of out-of-town shopping areas, and you had a new market where all the pubcos were able to come in and buy up all that property. And there was the idea of a vibrant 24-hour economy, the work, play and live stuff that was big in the 1990s.
I was going to make a point about the nineteenth-century, though, about the principle of need, which I think is really important in regard to legislation about property. Because until officially something like 1990 local magistrates supposedly could adjudicate on that principle, i.e. do we need another bar in this area. And then 2000, well from 1996 or so onwards, that wasn’t the case. In the 2000 Licensing Act, even in a Cumulative Impact Area, if there are no representations the applications still go through.
So that notion of need I think was a way of managing through property. It was a way of making moral judgements but through a property decision, which I think is really important.
And the other thing I was going to say is there’s no Pub is The Hub for council estates. There’s a Pub is The Hub movement for villages …
Tim Hampson (TB): The Pub is The Hub works in urban pubs. Its roots are rural pubs, but yes they are now focused on urban pubs as well. But I think the point you were making, that a rich community might be able to buy their pub while poor communities can’t, that applies.
JN: Yeah. If you look at places like Southmead, they’re pub deserts. And you think, its not very helpful for the village to go, “we need our pub, community pub”, but I guess for other reasons the pubs in those estates have got problems that go with them.
Nick Carter (NC): It’s interesting that a mile away from Southmead you have Westbury on Trym, a nice affluent area, and there were three pubs I think there. Two have had considerable investment, one has shut down as a result of I think a fallout from Southmead with some of the crowds from Southmead going down there and it caused some difficulties. Eventually it closed. But 100 yards away a former BlockBuster video shop is now a lounge bar and its absolutely heaving in there.
The other interesting point about Westbury on Trym is that I would say over the last three years the number of coffee shops has gone from about one, possibly two up to about five or six and they’re all very busy. So the places where people meet are changing quite considerably.
Antonia Layard (AL): I think there are these concentrations. I live off the Gloucester Road so you can see it. One of the things I want to do is map these spaces according to deprivation data and all the other census data that we have because I think you can start to develop an argument that middle-class folks have a lot more public spaces in which to meet. And I know that might seem obvious but I’m not sure. I don’t see it in the literature much.
If you think of it purely through property I wonder whether you could make an argument … say Wetherspoons want to have another licence. What struck me is that what Patchway and similar places need actually is a Wetherspoons. They’re very well ordered I would suggest when they have the right manager, they’re actually quite safe spaces, they’re quite cheap, the old folks that I met tend to go there in the afternoon. Like you have affordable housing, what you need are affordable pubs.
TH: Tim Martin who owns Wetherspoons, he broke the mould by trying to open up new pubs in city centres and he had so much resistance at first from the pub trade because they had the question of need, which was to stop other people owning buildings and operating pubs. And you’re absolutely right, there still are people who try and stop them opening pubs.
AM: I think it’s interesting, you talked about a pub in Filton that you said didn’t look very nice. And I think we all know there are pubs like that. I’ve been in them, you walk into them and there’s this sort of a tumbleweed moment when people look around. Or they’re just not pleasant, they’re dirty, they’re not welcoming, they don’t have a particular range of stuff that you want to buy. And one argument I have heard (David Cameron talked about this, the number of pubs that are closing every week) is that a lot of them are closing because they’re grotty. They’re not particularly places that people want to go to.
I was in Exmouth during the summer and the pub in the village was closed but it looked horrendous from the outside, so I could see why that place has closed. Whereas one might say that Wetherspoons is characterless, they’re all the same. As you say they’re cheap, you don’t have to bother, you wont get turned away, you don’t have to be on good terms with the landlord or anything. They’ve got food, you couldn’t smoke there for years before when you could smoke everywhere else, and both the alcohol and the food is cheap and the furniture is comfortable.
AL: Those are classic property developer techniques that you close it, you get rid of the old landlord, you let it sit around for a year and it becomes dilapidated, and there’s vandalism. I mean to go from an A4 use class to an A3 use class you don’t need permission but if you want to sell it for housing it then looks like a complete eyesore; I mean these are classic, classic property developer techniques.
AM: OK, well perhaps this pub outside Exmouth had been left to sort of go to rack and ruin so they could put some nice holiday homes.
TB: I think there is something about the ambiguous nature of a pub that it can be both good and bad, it depends on your perspective, on who you are, what your experience of pubs has been. I think that makes them quite hard to defend kind of implicitly as a good thing within communities and a high street. I know there are plenty of attempts to do that, plenty of campaigns and guide books, but they’re not a single unalloyed good thing that politicians would stand up and say, we’re going to deal with this because we know you want these places. It’s not quite as clear cut as that and I think that undermines their position in the high street or within communities because they can both cause trouble and create benefits, and you can always find a reason not to have that pub. Pubs in general, yes that’s great, but not that one.
But I think there’s something else about the status of the property within a place that is privately owned and is part of a big space, so it also feeds into the wider discussion about the decline of the high street, the decline of retail in particular. Everybody is worried about it. Local Authorities are worried about it, concerned about shops closing. National politicians are concerned about shops closing, pubs closing to some extent, and people are too. But these aren’t public spaces, you can’t just say, right we’re going to change that. It’s the combination that makes it impossible to control what’s going on in the centre of a city. Beyond certain boundaries you can’t determine what happens. Within the licensing laws you have a certain level of control, but ultimately it has to be the market that creates the activity that fills those spaces.
JN: I remember going to a talk with Tom Bloxham back in the day of Urban Splash. He’d just started doing stuff in Liverpool around Concert Square. Even then he was saying our idea was always to do this mixed use thing, where we’d have the leisure and the workspace. But he was already annoyed, he was saying, well the problem is you just get loads and loads of bars and everything else just becomes student flats and maybe a couple of other kinds of uses.
And you’re right, it’s very hard to manage the market in that way. If you say, well we’re going to go for a mixed-use night time economy leisure-based model, the one that is attractive is bars quite often. The models and the plans that go with it will often disappear and you’ll just end up with … well, I think that kind of happened here on the Bristol waterfront really, you just end up with a huge strip of bars for a while.
AL: I wanted to ask Nick Carter, how much can be influenced by not granting a licence or waiting till the right kind of venue comes along? And I guess what’s interesting is whether you’re under any pressure to make money for the city, is it ever counted?
NC: I don’t sense it’s so much about making money for the city, but I think all the parties involved in Purple Flag in Bristol have got the same shared vision that we want Bristol to be a very attractive city, we want to be able to bring people in. If you look at Whiteladies Road, there’s a couple of very big bars there which have been shut for a long time. So that reflects some of the concerns of local residents and the pressures they’ve brought to the licensing authority. There is a tension there because you don’t want big empty bars on your premiere frontages, but equally you’ve got to be mindful of residents, you’ve got to be mindful of concerns from the police, so there can be quite a difficulty there in trying to get that balance. But I don’t know whether its so much about a desire to generate money, I suppose it is indirectly, but its more about making sure you’ve got a really attractive city centre with a good night time offer.
AL: So how long can the licensing folks leave those venues until they find the right licensee?
NC: Well most of the premises have already got licences, they’re just not in action. So we’ll be approached, probably David Catt is approached first because though the Local Authority makes the decision the Police need to really be on board. So often I think you’ll find that a prospective developer will talk to the police and there will be some discussion about what’s likely to be acceptable and not and try and find a halfway house. We’ve all got the same objective but sometimes you’ve got to be mindful of what’s happened on this particular strip historically. So it’s fantastic we got rid of a grotty old nightclub and we’ve got more than a few restaurants. But, when you think what this Harbourside area was like when it was first redeveloped from dock site uses, I don’t think there were any bars here at all, but a really nice mix of independent shops, a really good retail offer. Then it shifted the other way.
AM: It’s interesting. Alcohol Concern is always banging on about how Cardiff should have a nice offer, exactly the same way you talk about Bristol. And they say, well why is the centre of town so dominated by bars? It seems to be because those are the places that make the most money on the street, in the centre of town.
I had a very interesting conversation a while ago with Darren Millar who’s the Welsh Assembly member for the coastal strip which includes Prestatyn and Rhyl, traditional seaside towns, much like Weston and Minehead. I said to him, Well people don’t just want to come on holiday to somewhere that’s totally dominated by alcohol. And he just said, Yes, some people do.
And he realised as a local Assembly member – he’s a Conservative, very pro-business – that actually people do like to go to Prestatyn or Rhyl and they like to get drunk all week. Or all weekend perhaps.
I wanted to pick up on a few things that have been said, I think this idea about the pub being an ambiguous space is very interesting. I had a run in with Simon Buckley who’s a brewer out in south-west Wales, who founded the Tomos Watkin brewery I think, and I said to him, Don’t romanticise the pub. And he says to me, Don’t demonize the pub. So we have these two extremes.
Now I like going to the pub, I very much love the Albany which is my local, at the bottom of the hill. It’s a traditional Cardiff boozer, it’s got Victorian glass, it’s stood there for a hundred years, but I can testify from personal experience that it is perfectly possible to misuse alcohol in the pub, and that people do get drunk and unpleasant in the pub and make themselves unwell, and I think that brings me onto what I think is a big question, and I don’t think there’s particularly an answer for it. We talk about things like the pub is the hub and I think the Albany is the hub of that community in Roath and it brings in all sorts of people, students of all different nationalities, local people. But why do we have to have an alcoholic public space?
By way of an example, we did a dry January challenge at the beginning of this year, we challenged people to give up alcohol for a month, and all staff had to do it. For the first few weeks it was horrendous and I just thought, this is really raining on my parade, I’m not enjoying my social life at all. By the end of the month I just think this is brilliant, I’m doing all this different stuff, I’m trying all these different drinks and I’m going to different places. I thought I’d be there on the 1st February, I’d be there with my pints lined up, but I didn’t start until the 5th. Maybe if I had stayed completely sober until May or something that would have been much more impressive, but I didn’t feel: right 1st February, I must get myself some ethanol. I was doing different things and actually I quite enjoyed my alcohol-free life and like a lot of people who did the challenge I drink a lot less than I did before, I think its crept up now and again but it made me think, alcohol is a big part of our social lives but I don’t always know why. And if you speak to people who were involved in organisations a bit like Alcohol Concern but much more from a temperance perspective, perhaps coming from the churches where there’s this tradition of abstinence, they will say, Why is your social life alcoholic? What people occasionally say is, What is it you don’t like about yourself? What is this hole in your life you’re trying to fill? What are you trying to subdue with this drug before you go out and socialise?’ And I think it’s a perfectly valid question.
JN: It’s interesting point that you say, it’s a traditional Victorian pub, but in the mid nineteenth century those were precisely the places the temperance people were going, they were the equivalent of the super-bars, trying to drag people in. What we can see as traditional can change in a relatively short space of time.
One of the most interesting things about the Temperance Movement was what was called the Gothenburg System, which was an idea set up in Gothenburg where they municipalised the drinks trade. And one of the things that happened was they salaried the managers so they didn’t have an incentive to sell more alcohol, but the other thing was they said you just can’t have any ostentation inside, it’s just got to be very plain. You go in, you have your drink, you have your refreshment and so it isn’t all tied in with socialisation, all that other stuff. And that was kind of tried here in the 1920s.
Interior space, the interior geography of pubs is really important on that front. What is it about the interior design that encourages for example a view of alcohol as not being an adjunct to sociability but as being necessary to that sociability? And I think that’s something that’s changed a lot in pub design and marketing recently.
I think Wetherspoons is another interesting example of interior design because their design seems to cut down crime as well. They are very, very carefully designed to reference boozers, Victorian boozers. But they also carefully take out the seating areas, so there are big spaces here, there are no pinch points. That assumption of sociability you’re talking about, it is a massive question, it can be either encouraged or discouraged by the design.
TB: I think it’s interesting to think about pubs in relation to other places too, rather than something that’s in isolation. And the hierarchy you had of coffee shops in eighteenth-century London, the coffee shops being top of the tree and then taverns and then gin shops. I wonder if some of that’s coming back in a way, so putting pubs in a slightly different place within cities and society.
Because coffee shops are suddenly a lot more prevalent than they were ten years ago, five years ago even, so it’s chain coffee shops five years ago, now it’s other coffee shops in addition to chain coffee shops in major cities all across the country. I don’t know where that’s going as a trend but those are places which have fewer restrictions on who can go into them, age restrictions, and gender restrictions under the surface. And they’re more respectable, so you don’t have work meetings in the pubs in the way that you would have done until probably the end of the 1990s. That’s really not acceptable anymore, you go to coffee shops. They weren’t the places to have those meetings before the twenty-first century, but they were at previous points in history.
So I wonder if the pub is moving to a different status that means it doesn’t have the same kind of general support as an institution.
AM: I actually did have a business meeting in a pub only a week ago and we only had orange juice and some food, but I think we both thought it was a bit weird to be having a business meeting in a pub. Whereas the number of people who say, Oh I’ll meet you in – I don’t know – Costa. And that’s OK, people go there with their laptops and do their work.
David Catt (DC): Yes, I live in Shepton Mallet in Somerset, which is a small market town, and over the last six years that we’ve lived there the number of pubs that are closing has increased and the number of coffee shops, which is quite surprising, has increased.
Nicola Barranger: But has it got something to do with the fact that the smoking ban has affected the way pubs are making their profits, so they’re having to turn into eateries as much as drinking holes?
TB: I’m interested in how much that really is a factor, how many people stopped going to pubs since the smoking ban came in, because people say this a lot but I’ve never seen the evidence.
NC: This is a subjective view, but I think a lot of those pubs in the areas of greater deprivation, they have nowhere else to go, they couldn’t really go for an upmarket food offer, which you can do in other parts of the city, so it was very, very difficult for them to recover from the smoking ban. I don’t know where the people who used to go and drink and smoke now go, but they’re clearly not going to those pubs. When that smoking legislation came in, there was a fairly rapid decline in a number of pubs across the country.
I also think that you need to look at the number of lounge bars which are opening up around Bristol. We always hear about the number of pubs closing but there’s got to be a net figure there somewhere, because there are other premises opening as well. So whether it’s just going through a transitional change in that the lounge bar concept is the way ahead: nice atmosphere, family friendly, reasonable food offer. Perhaps that ticks all the boxes.
JN: It’s a capacity thing as well isn’t it? Because lounges are relatively largish and I’m sure a lot of the ones that are closing down are the very small … you could compare the floor space rather than the number of outlets that are closing.
NC: Well if you look at some of those pubs in Lawrence Weston, they were quite big 1950s/1960s premises, but imagine the amount of investment that would have been needed if they were going to go ahead with the lounge bar concept there. I guess investors would be baulking a bit at that.
AM: This perhaps needs a bit of clarification what people mean by a lounge bar. I’ve got a place near me called The Juno Lounge and I think its part of a chain, they have them in Bath and Bristol as well. I would not count it as a pub. They sell alcohol, they have a bar and they sell beer, but the clientele is very, very middle class. Whatever it is about some of these lounge bars, be it price or whatever, there are only certain types of people go there. And to be honest I don’t go to that particular place because I just find all the other customers rather snooty.
And I was sitting in what I would consider to be a pub, which I’d walked to about two miles further on, and there was a much more normal mix of all sorts of people. I don’t know maybe you’re talking about something different with the lounge bar, but its almost like a middle-class pub.
JN: There’s always been that kind of culture politics around pubs. It’s like Monty Python where everyone’s looking down their nose, going, Oh I don’t like that boozer. And I think that where everyone has their cut-off point is interesting. Because some people go, Yeah it’s only the really horrible sticky carpet place, but there are people from those horrible sticky carpet places who were locals and that’s where you wanted to hang out. We all have our own idea of, this is what a good pub looks like.
There’s another historical moment, in the 1920s and 1930s, when a lot of the brewers were trying to improve pubs. You have the lounge bar thing, but they had things like tennis courts and ball rooms, and they spent millions and millions of pounds improving pubs to try and get middle-class clientele in. It didn’t do too much good.
The other thing was that coffee bars started to get popular then too, and the Brewers’ Society was really, really worried about it and they were saying all these young people are going to milk bars and coffee bars.
So there’s nothing inevitable about the pub actually being the centre of social life. I think often there’s been entrenchment, but when its been threatened the industry has actually done a very good job of re-branding or reframing itself so you did get drawn back into the pub as being the social space. It’s not a kind of natural process, it’s a process of response.
AL: I think that’s true and my project is to map Westbury on Trym. Once a pub is sold, the actual building, particularly the pre-First World War and some of those 1920s pubs that get converted into Tesco’s or flats, they can’t come back. So I think there is a real risk that a lot of this stuff is going forever.
DC: But I think that’s because of change, in my view of drinking habits. If you look at what’s the main attraction for people to come to the city centre, it’s that they don’t go to one pub or two pubs or three pubs. They move around and therefore they want an area which has got a high number of licensed premises. It’s less attractive to go to your community pub which might be the only one and stay there all night.
It’s predominantly probably the younger generation that want to do that. But its interesting because from a point of crime and disorder, if I could take the 35,000 capacity from the city centre and spread it over the whole of Bristol and if people stayed in a licensed premises all night there, I’m absolutely certain that we’d get far less crime and disorder associated with alcohol. It’s the movement of people that causes the crime and disorder.
JN: Again in Liverpool they’ve done some really interesting stuff around calming measures in public space, so changing the lighting levels, exterior music – and so on. This is again about designing, it’s a hard production thing rather than an alcohol reduction thing.
TB: It’s like the London Underground playing classical music at Tube Stations. I once went through Brixham Tube Station and they were playing Ride of the Valkyries. I think it’s a misunderstanding about what classical music does for you.
AM: But that would be a different experience wouldn’t it, if your 35,000 people were all sat in their local boozers? I would imagine its difficult because when you sit in the pub all evening you have to talk to people, don’t you? Whereas I don’t think there’s actually a great deal of conversation going on in the centre of town, is there? Its loud and they’re drinking and they’re moving on.
DC: Also, when people stayed within their communities I suppose there was a community sanction in that they were known and their parents might be just up the road or your uncle or someone that you knew. There isn’t that when you come into a city centre predominantly from outside, there’s not that same sort of pressure.
AM: No, and I suppose if you’re in the only pub in the village and you start misbehaving, they say out you go and you’re like, Oh I better calm down because that’s my evening’s drinking finished, whereas I guess in the centre of Bristol you just go onto next one don’t you?
JN: It’s funny, because in a sense that kind of movement, the great thing is it’s public space and its people engaging. I know when you introduce huge amounts of alcohol to it and loud music and other substances as well, which is also a major issue, it becomes something different. But there is an argument actually encouraging that kind of public engagement. It’s not that moving around is inherently a bad thing, it’s the moving around when you’re hammered and you’ve been wound up by the music. Enclosing people in these very isolated places, while it may cause less trouble, it would also be socially disaggregating in other kind of ways possibly.
David Rosenthal (DR): When I spoke to Keith Rundle [Bristol Harbourside Beat Inspector] he said there was a study ongoing looking into why so many people go out and get hammered and move through the streets exactly as you describe, and nothing happens. And so the question is what are the triggers that make just a few people switch codes basically.
JN: There’s a whole bunch of academics who sit in pubs waiting for fights to start. But they tend to find, from what I’ve read about that, is its really predictable really. You have pinch points where people bang into each other and that starts fights, you have places where people are all piling onto the street at the same time, that can start fights. These are all things actually you can go some way towards designing out. The way people behave when they’re drunk isn’t necessarily to do with how much they’ve drunk anyway, it’s to do with what they think the expectations are of that particular space. So someone getting drunk on Corn Street could drink the exact same amount of alcohol at a rugby game a few days later in Bath or somewhere and behave completely differently.
TH: Does any of it matter? Why can’t people just go out and have a good time and move around, what’s the problem? Lots of people punch each other without alcohol being involved. And a lot of study has been done on football hooliganism where people haven’t been drinking alcohol yet they are very violent people. A lot of study has been done on racism attacks, homophobic attacks, and they are very sober but violent people.
AL: I think one of the reasons it matters, and I get all this from the interviews, is that it can exclude other people from the city centre. I mean there is a question about to what extent an 80-year-old is going to want to be there until two o’clock in the morning. But if you in a sense give over the city centre to one group then you don’t have a very broad offer and there are problems with residents. So I guess those would be two issues.
NC: Well, me and Keith [Rundle] and David [Catt], every now and again we’ll sit down and get all misty-eyed when we think about Millennium night in Bristol city centre, where you had a completely different mix of people and very little violence. And it’s because that group of people, midnight, one o’clock, two o’clock onwards, because its quite a single group with very similar characteristics, that’s where you start to get some of the difficulties. But if you can break that mix up … I can remember talking earlier this year to a police superintendent from Swansea, who was responsible for policing Swansea City’s ground when they were in the bottom division of the league in an old grotty stadium. And he had to put considerable resources into policing because in that very small crowd there were a very high proportion of violent followers of that football club.
Now they’re in the premiership the same group are still there but they are completely overwhelmed by a different mix of people which takes out that violent tendency, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve in the city centres.
DR: It’s a question of how you achieve that. I mean in some ways what you have is a kind of liberalised policy to some extent in order to have an offer that is essentially alcohol-driven in the city centre. And that was a way of getting regeneration to happen. But then the backtracking begins, where you think, Well that’s not exactly the offer we want. So you have conflicting forces, one to allow people to set up pretty much what they want, the other to try and engineer socially what you actually think civic space is.
And that makes me wonder what is the underlying idea about what a city centre should be, and how the city centre seems to embody a wider idea of what civicness is – and to what extent you feel that you’re involved in shaping that. Because one thing you said when we spoke was the ethnic mix isn’t right, the age mix isn’t right.
NC: When we talk about the city centre and the offer, we’d like to think that it’s possible to engineer. But when you look at the make up of Bristol, the ethnic make up of Bristol or the diverse communities, we don’t have the sense at the moment that our city centre offer caters for all those different communities. And it may be that those communities wouldn’t want … but we just feel that the offer currently doesn’t really encourage that. So if in our own small way we can take steps to change that offer to bring a different mix in, that’s what we want to try and do.
But I’m not entirely convinced how strong a role the Local Authority can have in engineering some of that, because a lot of it is just down to market forces and we can’t wave any magic wands. OK, we’ve got a city centre Cumulative Impact Area, but at the end of the day if somebody really wants to charge through that they’ll have a good go at it and in the present climate with the cut back on public sector funding, I don’t know how risk averse our legal support are going to be in taking on some of these challenges.
A really interesting thing is going on at the moment with Early Morning Restriction Orders. Hartlepool I think went very close to bringing one in and stepped back from it. There are a few on the back burner at the moment, but I went to a workshop with the local Government Association two weeks ago and everybody’s waiting to see what somebody else is going to do.
So the one in Hartlepool was quite interesting, there were major pub companies making representations against that policy and they have no pubs in that area at all, but it’s such a battleground. So we’re all a bit nervous about that. We’re quite nervous about the way the legislation is written anyway, we think it’s quite weak. So I don’t know whether people are going to be so willing to dip their toe in the water in the future.
Early Morning Restriction Orders is a power which licensing authorities now have, they can look at an area of the city and they can say, OK, there might be lots of pubs in there which can serve alcohol through to 6am or whatever, but we can apply this Order, which says that at any time between midnight and 6am, to be agreed by the Local Authority, there can be no supply of alcohol in that area, and it overrides all licences, it overrides Temporary Event Notices, so its quite a draconian power. One of the problems we always come up against is, if you’ve got a licensed premises and there are lots of complaints about it and you try and take action against that premises, the premises will often turn round and say, all this noise is nothing to do with us, its people walking by, you can’t pin that on us. And more often than not you can’t. So the idea of an Early Morning Restriction Order is to draw a line around an area and say, well nothing’s going to happen beyond this time.
DR: As I understand it, the preferred policy for Bristol, at least as it now stands, is not to go for a Late Night Levy or Early Morning Restriction Orders but to have a Business Improvement District. I’m not entirely clear about the details of what these BIDs consist of, but they have come in for criticism, the accusation being that they hand over more control of public space to businesses and are therefore undemocratic.
TB: The general criticism of BIDs is that they’re being asked to pay for something they’ve already paid for in their council tax, but that the council isn’t necessarily delivering satisfactorily. So in certain situations I think that’s basically what’s happening, but equally they have been pretty effective in some places too. So it’s a current debate.
JN: Isn’t it normally the Late Night Levy that is seen like that, because it’s got that financial element to it? In Bournemouth and they seem to be saying it was the Late Night Levy that they wanted to shield off using a BID, because the Late Night Levy is supposed to be a contribution supposedly but they’re worried where the money is actually going to go. It isn’t entirely clear with the Late Night Levy is it? It’s meant to go to law enforcement …
NC: There are two stages to the BID process, first of all you talk to the businesses and get a sense from them what they would like to see in a BID. So they’ve had a key role in developing it. I think the key to them is how good that process is, how inclusive it is. Then you develop your model for the BID and then you develop a prospectus and then you present that back to the businesses and you try and get a positive vote at the meeting.
AL: Sorry, would there be money from the BID to pay for policing time and paramedics or anything else?
NC: It’s what you set out in your BID prospectus, though in theory it could cover that yes.
AL: Because generally its place-shaping isn’t it, because a conventional BID would be hanging baskets and lighting or re-paving.
TB: There could be rubbish collection too, it could be things that are pretty basic that make a place potentially look more attractive.
AL: Yeah. It could be an extension of the BID. I mean I find it quite interesting, again moving from property into place, I think we’re getting into the essential services.
I’m wondering about free trade and about whether something like the Early Morning Restriction Order, you know stopping everything at two o’clock, whether that could echo some of the arguments of other historical periods about the free trade of beer, whether there’s anything we can learn from the past in these debates.
JN: It’s a tricky one, closing hours, in terms of their actual effect on behaviour. They were formalised in the First World War, because of the extraordinary situation, and I think by the time we popped out the other side of the First World War it was, Oh it’s a good idea. And I think it was only in the 1970s and 1980s people started to look at late-night swell, and there were reports saying this is causing all sorts of problems.
So I’m not sure whether, historically, the time at which alcohol was sold – apart from Sundays, which was always a moral issue – was really so much of an issue as the density. Density has always been an issue.
DC: Time was critical for focusing resources though. When it was traditionally two o’clock, certainly when I started my career, two o’clock was about the latest licence. So you were able to focus the maximum amount of resources, I’m sure Accident & Emergency did very much the same. Now we go much later you can’t focus resources. Police Officers have got to have a life outside the Police Force; we can’t have absolutely everybody working the night shift. So because of that we can no longer focus, so both us and Accident & Emergency at two, three and four o’clock in the morning become more and more stretched to be able to cope with the effects of alcohol.
JN: So is that saying that logistically a big swirl where there may be more concentrated problems is easier to manage?
DC: Yes. If you could have a system where everything closed at two o’clock you’d put your maximum resources at one o’clock over to three o’clock. I used to work towns where that happened, by three o’clock it was empty, you could let the late shift go because there was no problem.
Now we have a situation where a late shift who might start at three o’clock in the afternoon cannot go home at three o’clock in the morning because we’ve still got disorder, so they end up working till four or five. That has a knock-on effect for the following day and it also prevents those officers from dealing with other matters such as burglary.
AM: That’s certainly where we hear the most concern about opening hours. We’ve looked at this loads and I always think it’s quite interesting because Alcohol Concern on the basis of sound research has always said the two big issues here are price and availability. The price obviously we bang on about all the time; availability we don’t really touch and I haven’t met anyone, well one or two maybe in years of working in Alcohol Concern, who said the pubs should go back to shutting at eleven. But the people who have said to me the pubs should shut at eleven have been police officers for exactly the reasons that you’ve just said.
I thought Tim raised a really good question, the big question, does it actually matter? I mean I suppose from a crime and disorder point of view we’d all agree that it would be better if people weren’t hitting each other. This issue of excluding people from the city centre I think is interesting and it ties into what you were saying, David, about trying to engineer a city centre. This drinking environment does exclude certain people but I guess the question is, as the gentleman from the council was saying, well would they go there anyway, do they want to go there, to what extent can you distort market forces?
But I mean the other point that Alcohol Concern tends to raise when people say, does it matter, is we say, Well, yes it does because its bad for them, you know its bad for their health if they’re drinking this much. And then you get into what is a very interesting argument. A lot of people say, Well I’m an adult, I’m a free individual, I wish to consume these substances and I will take the consequences. To which we occasionally come back and say, Fine, we’ll leave you here on the pavement then. And then they come back and say, Well I’ve paid my National Insurance you should take me to hospital. So it’s interesting.
JN: The Government is now consulting about the alcohol strategy and introducing their health objective in areas of cumulative impact. Which is a massive problem because cumulative impact is designed to deal with social disorder, because it’s about people punching each other. We’ve realised that health is actually possibly the bigger issue but the more problematic one.
So the way the Government’s looking at it now is saying well if we can have a halfway house and have a health objective but only in those Cumulative Impact Areas. But then you have the problem of going, Well, is density to do with health? How do you link health outcomes to one particular outlet or two? But you’re absolutely right that there are these two massive great poles, health and social disorder, they got confused with the introduction of the alcohol strategy where David Cameron went, we’re going to introduce minimum pricing to stop binge drinking and violence.
TH: But I found the curiosity of this, and we seem to be talking about city centres as the issue as opposed to neighbourhoods, is that there are 20,000 fewer pubs now than there were 20 years ago or 30 years ago. They’re closing. Less alcohol is consumed in pubs; most alcohol is drunk at home.
DC: Unfortunately most is drunk at home but then they come out onto the streets pre-loaded and that’s when you …
TH: But is that the problem of the licensed premises? Why should that be a licensee’s problem? We focus all the time on pubs and often when we talk about binge drinking we focus on beer. Actually when people are mis-using alcohol its more likely to be other alcoholic drinks. But we focus on the pub and one type of alcoholic drink.
DC: Not always, though, because our Cumulative Impact Areas will also focus on late-night refreshment venues. Now kebab places don’t sell any alcohol at all and you could argue they’re nothing to do with it, they just give people food. But the trouble is because those people are predominantly at two o’clock/three o’clock in the morning intoxicated, we will do our best to prevent new late-night refreshment venues opening.
So in actual fact if you had a model in the city where no one sold any alcohol at all, everyone pre-loaded, they came to the city centre, predominantly drunk already, we would still be saying we’ve got too many premises in the city centre bringing all those intoxicated people together. That’s the problem; it’s when large numbers come together.
TH: What interests me is when did people start to leave their neighbourhoods? I mean other than going on holiday to Blackpool or Skegness. When has it become such that our city centres are the equivalent to Ibiza?
TB: There was some of that from Jan Gehl that came up earlier, his tracking of necessary public activities and private activities changing from the 1920s. I mean it’s a representation rather than a piece of research, but nevertheless I think its true that there’s a shift from public to private activity and from physical to virtual that has particular impacts on the things that people do as a matter of course. And that goes back to the high street and the future of retail and the future of premises and the nature of control you can have over places and what they’re like, because as people become less visible in what they’re doing and do things at home, they drop off the public policy radar a bit.
JN: The big problem with licensing is you can’t deal with supermarkets particularly because they don’t fit the Cumulative Impact model. I mean looking historically at outlets, the proximity between where people bought their alcohol and where they consumed it and where the problems occurred is much easier to map, because it would tend to be they’d go to the pubs, they’d buy it there and if they got drunk the problems would happen around those pubs. Whereas now, if the problem is actually to do with a kind of portability of intoxication where people are buying the alcohol in one place, drinking it somewhere else, coming into town, being ferried in by taxis, moving around in the town, ferried back home, going to after parties.
So the issue about the relationship between density and consumption is totally different now and that’s a very, very recent thing. So that’s one of the things that we’ve been doing when we look historically is comparing those two things – its not apples and oranges, but there is a different dynamic if you look at the old density maps, you look at density maps now they’re telling you two different stories.
AM: Your Londoners in the parish of St Giles, I think you were saying they lived there, they lived there and they drunk there, and your imaginary Italian going around Florence, they possibly lived in the city, whereas what you’re talking about and what I’ve seen in my city and is that people are coming into the centre of the city.
Fabrizio Nevola (FN): Actually this issue that you opened up, this pub desert versus the city centre. You know one of the things that David and I have talked quite a lot about and found in the documents and put into our app is the relationship between the neighbourhood and the city centre. And there are a number of the things that you’re talking about, not the deserts because there were pub hubs on the neighbourhood peripheries for all sorts of social groups pretty much, but all those people would also come into the centre, quite often with quite the opposite dynamic that we’ve been discussing today. So they would work in the centre, drink in the centre and then go home in the evening rather than the reverse. But there is a lot of movement.
DR: But distances are very small. In the case of the imaginary pub crawl document, which I talked about earlier, this fellow kind of spirals in and ends up in the centre. And the impression that’s given is that this is a reasonably common trajectory and that people do end up in the centre, and there probably was, though we don’t have much evidence for it, some preloading before that in the sixteenth-century town. It imay be apples and oranges, but I wonder if that’s to do with evidence to some extent.
TB: Another thing that relates to is the changing location of where people work, and this is something the Centre for Cities is doing a bit of work on at the moment. So over the last 15 years or so in smaller cities, I think maybe not so much in places like Bristol and larger, jobs have shifted quite significantly from the city centre to out-of-town locations. We traced that in Sunderland, Preston, Derby and Coventry and there’s some more work going on to find out whether that’s the case across other places. But the aspect of the life of a town centre that’s not really thought about, certainly not by the Portas review, is where do these people come from in the first place. If you’re working in the city centre then that’s what provides the footfall and the custom for everything that’s there, pubs included, as well as people coming in especially to go to those places. That’s much less the case in certain types of city than it was up to the end of the twentieth century.
So in some of them I think the jobs in the city centre had fallen over 15 years. So that’s a hollowing out effect around work and the nature of the city centre as a place that people come to work and do business. It definitely affects everything else that leads off from that, all the service industries, all the shops, all the pubs, all the meeting places, the institutions.
AM: So it could just become much more of a place just to go and do your leisure and drink.
JN: Previously the alcohol economy was tolerated because it was part of the economy, whereas it became necessary to encourage the alcohol economy, as part of the model for city centres throughout the 1990s.
TH: If you didn’t have the bars downstairs along this strip what would be in the centre of Bristol?
NC: Well, Bristol has always had bars in the city centre so we’re in a position now with this preloading and coming back to the city centre. But when I actually think back, my local pub was in Sea Mills. It’s now a nursery. But I guess we never stayed in the neighbourhood, we did during the week but Fridays and Saturdays we went into the city centre because that’s where the clubs were. So I guess we did our preloading in the pub, whereas the pub’s not there anymore so you do it in your front room.
TH: But the economy of this part of Bristol has changed dramatically in 30-40 years hasn’t it? Its not a sea port anymore as such, there aren’t the bars where the dockers would have drank because the dockers have gone. I just wondered what, if you didn’t let these bars here, what would be here? What would exist?
NC: That’s an interesting point. It almost takes it back to what I was saying earlier, before the bars were here there were retail shops. And then when you had your regeneration, when the banking institutions shut up shop, in these fantastic buildings on Corn Street, and there was the shift into the alcohol industry, so that’s when the shops turned into bars. Now they’re perhaps hopefully slowly turning back again.
But if you want to see a fantastic example of what happens when you get a shift in employment in an area, look at East Street in Bedminster, where you had the Imperial Tobacco cigarette production place, which is now an Asda supermarket. East Street in the 1980s was a fantastic street, the pubs were bustling, a real high level of activity. Now it’s a bit of a wilderness and the quality of the pubs which are still open, about four of them, you wouldn’t go in there if you were dying of thirst.
TH: It’s people who have changed though who go there, isn’t it? It’s not the pubs that change.
NC: The pubs are still the same, what’s changed is you’ve lost the workforce.
AL: But its also a property deal, so if you own the property then you make more money out of having a shop in there or a pub in there or a club in there because its all fundable. So everything is about balance sheet. So once everything becomes about balance sheet, it’s whatever is going to get you the most cash. And why people drink too much in the city centre at the weekends – well, they want to but it’s available because it makes a lot of profit.
DC: And that profit can be seen when I’m sitting down in front of a committee. Whereas a few years ago you would have been sitting against maybe a licensing rep or just the owner of the building, you’ll now be sitting against a solicitor, a barrister and on a couple of occasions a QC, which was a bit surprising. And it shows the amount of money they are willing to throw, which shows that they are generating, whatever they say, massive profits.
JM: So is it the case now that a lot of the pubs and the licensed properties are owned by very few property owning pubcos? Is that what’s happened, there’s been a sort of monopolisation of those?
DC: They’re owned by some very big companies yes.
AL: What I’ve realised is that I don’t know enough about nightclubs, and possibly a lot of the problems we’re looking at are actually about clubs and not pubs.
TH: There are two very big pub companies, Enterprise is one and Punch Taverns I think is the other, and between them they own over 10,000 pubs. They tend to be bigger pubs and then there are huge big nightclub owners, which tend to have properties in the city centres.
JM: I’m trying to get a map in my head about whether it’s similar to Cabot Circus, because we’ve got Princess Hay in Exeter. So these large scale companies that buy up your street or bits of your town basically, and is that an equivalent thing that’s happening in terms of pubs?
AL: That was Wetherspoons but what’s happening now is that Admiral and Punch are in massive debt, £3 billion. They are shedding, they are realising their assets to keep their investors happy. So there may have been a time when they were shopping but right now they’re selling and they’re selling those pubs that are not giving the biggest returns. So that’s one problem.
TH: The commercial price of a pub might be relatively low, you can usually buy a freehold pub for probably £400,000. If you sold it for development you’re talking a million pounds, and that’s the imperative you’re describing.
I think the Grand Met was the first company that become a property owning company as well as a pub owning company, and they would literally say, we don’t operate pubs, we have business units. So that link between the person who owned the building and what they’re selling was broken because they didn’t say, Oh I employ a licensee, we sell alcohol. It was a business unit.
AL: Every time you read a quote in the Post about why a pub is being sold to Tesco’s, it always the business justification, every single time.
AM: I wouldn’t underestimate the role of some of these supermarkets in the night time economy though. You mentioned, David, about supermarkets or companies bringing very good lawyers along to licensing hearings and we’ve certainly heard this. Cardiff County Council have got their legal department but they can’t compete with the lawyers from Tesco. And often what the supermarkets are trying to do is to get a licence to sell on drinking streets later and later into the evening. So although its an off licence they almost become part of the on trade, in that you’re working your way down St Mary Street in Cardiff and you’ve been to Flares, you’ve come out of the Goat Major and you pop into Sainsbury’s and you get yourself a bottle of Blue Wicked or whatever and you just drink it. You can’t drink it in the shop, you would just drink it more or less straight outside and then proceed to your next pub.
JM: Like a gin shop.
AM: A gin shop, brilliant, yeah like your little awning thing with the jug on a post.
TH: The fastest growing sector is the proliferation of off licences. On licences are in decline.
JN: I was looking at some of the papers from Bristol licensing and a lot of them seem to be variations on Co-op and Tesco locals, where they were extending their hours either end. Is that something that does happen, they start with fairly restricted hours and then they just go, oh can we extend it by an hour here and there?
DC: Yeah a lot of variations have been received, and it has become later and later. In fact there’s a variation that’s just going through at the moment where they originally went for one o’clock and got it and now they’re going for later. So yeah there is that drive. I think it’s profit drive.
JN: And is that the kind of strategy to start midnight in the expectation that in three years time you’ll be two o’clock?
NC: Particularly where you’ve got Cumulative Impact Areas, the applicant will come in with quite low hours and then they’ll make use of a provision in the legislation which says the Cumulative Impact policy is not triggered by a minor variation, so there’s an awful lot of debate about what’s a minor variation.
TH: I worked for an organisation that was campaigning for licensing law change at the time we got change in this country, in England and Wales. Pubs, I think twelve o’clock at night they were asking for because you know they just wanted an extra hour. But because the way the legislation was drafted it became 24-hour, because no one knew how to write the law to say that pubs couldn’t go beyond twelve o’clock, with all the exceptions. Then of course businesses came in to take advantage of that, and it actually wasn’t really what the pub trade was campaigning for. They’d probably love to go back to two o’clock shutting on Sundays because that was their most profitable day because they shut at two; they could actually then have an afternoon off and reopen at seven.
AL: Is it not that the drinking’s in the wrong place but at the wrong time? Are we focusing on place but the issue is time?
DC: Its both, because as I said, I think if I could take the 35,000 people and spread them over the whole of Bristol or a wider area I’d have fewer problems. But it is also about that time. That’s more to do with resourcing and we know that the fewer police officers are around the more we get assaults. I spent some time in Manchester and we did an experiment for a couple of weekends to see if we withdrew ourselves away from the city centre and simply waited to respond to calls would we generate fewer arrests and therefore have less of an impact. What we found was we didn’t make as many arrests for pubic order offences because we obviously weren’t witnessing the person that was swearing etc on the street, but we ended up with a number of serious assaults going up because we weren’t there to stop them.
And if you look at profiles of crime for the city centre, the later the bars are open the later the peak goes. So the peak of your crime and disorder is predominantly about an hour before the premises closes. So if you push it to six o’clock in the morning you’ll push the peaks towards five.
Park Street is a classic example, Park Street predominantly has bars that are open far later than the rest of the city centre, so their peak is much later than say Corn Street which closes around three o’clock. So it is a time and location issue.
JN: The funny thing about it, though, is if you look at the aggregate figures across the country from the implementation of the Act in 2005, overall crime and disorder hasn’t really changed at all but it has moved forwards to three or four in the morning and overall consumption actually has been going down since then.
So the question about the time thing, as you said, there’s the practicality of having to deal with it at four in the morning, but strangely in terms of the overall aggregate level of problems, where there’s anti-social behaviour or consumption, if consumption is construed as the problem, the time thing doesn’t seem to have been such an issue. Its just it’s been an awkward issue in terms of policing when crime happens rather than the volume.
DC: I wouldn’t entirely agree with that. I don’t want to get into statistics because you can make them say whatever you want, but if you look at overall crime and disorder in the country and assaults, all over the country there’s been a steady drop, crime has dropped. If you look at the crime figures for our immediate city centre, it’s not dropping at the same rate and the only thing that makes the city centre different from anywhere else is the number of licensed premises and the number of people that are there.
DR: That makes me think of the 2012 Alcohol Strategic Needs Assessment which was done by Safer Bristol. It was saying that outside of London, of the eight major cities outside London, Bristol was the highest for violent crime related to alcohol. Is that still true?
DC: It’s improved.
JN: Do you think that’s to do with density on top of hours though or both?
DC: I think it’s a combination, because the alcohol affects the person’s behaviour and then you’ve got a high number of people close together. And I think there’s all sorts of scientific facts, the fact that humans, just like most animals, have space issues and the more our space is invaded the more aggressive we can become. We know alcohol and drugs makes people more aggressive, so that’s your problem.
AM: Australia are very good at doing research into the links. The latest thing I saw was for Sydney. What they did was to take the harbour area of Sydney and plot every licensed premises, then they plotted all the other sorts of locations where high numbers of densities of people would arrive or would be for any reason, and then they just plotted a whole load of random locations. And they compared the three and if they looked at their crime and disorder.
And they found, and its not big surprise, that clusters of licensed premises, highest crime and disorder; clusters of other premises where it isn’t necessarily linked to licensable activity but where lots of people go, less crime and disorder but still high levels; and randomly, all over the city where no one would go, very little.
So that argues that if you bring lots of people close together you will get crime and disorder and if they’re pre-loaded or they are intoxicated you’ll get even higher levels.
JN: Can I raise a slightly different point. I wanted to ask about comparing this with Italy. British licensing is a very fascinating thing, mediated by licensees and property. Were taverns regulated more directly in Italy?
DR: I’ve never been able to find anything that shows much licensing as such at all. There are references to medieval legislation that say you require a licence but it was simply a matter of buying one if you wanted a place where people could sit down. The approach to selling wine was pretty permissive. In the legislation for the 16th century, and we have more documents by then, I’ve seen almost nothing except attempts to restrict gambling. We know there were sporadic and isolated attempts in other cities to ban women, mainly aimed at stopping prostitutes from seeking clients in taverns … since on the whole taverns were, impressionistically at least, largely masculine spaces in any case. What you do get is a lot of legislation about the quality and the measures of wine that were served up – not about how much you can drink and where you can drink it.
Which isn’t to say it’s a free for all, because there’s an enormous amount of extra-judicial or extra-legislative pressures to avoid taverns that tend to come from religious authorities, preachers, self-policing by lay devotional associations called confraternities.
FN: Which is why in that picture I was talking about surveillance, which is not just people but it’s also religion. An interesting thing that funnily enough listening to Jane made me think of, of gin not having a location. Something that when we’ve been walking around I’d never noticed until we started doing this was that around Florence and a lot of Italian cities are these tiny little kind of windows next to people’s back doors, they’re not on their front doors, not on the front door of a big grand palazzo or house, they’d be down a side street. And these little windows, which are basically windows off people’s cellars, would be points of sale for people making direct sale of wine that they’ve brought in. But what we don’t really know about it is at what period those start being used because no one’s ever asked the question.
And it’s quite interesting, because north of the Alps, in Britain etc, continue to be obsessed by this as a problem. Obviously climate is one thing, in terms of what makes for good civic space. If it’s sunny you’ve got good civic space. It’s not the only factor but we talk about night time, we talk about cafés, we talk about whatever, but good weather really does help and that’s one thing that has never found its way into any of the discussions we’ve had, perhaps because I’ve never invited a climatologist.
But it is interesting that actually we have this very extended area for discussion and for policy and all these things, and actually that doesn’t really exist in think tanks and policy groups. It doesn’t even exist in modern day Italy. And I think that that is quite interesting.
JN: One of the interesting things about licensing, and I think this is still true now to a certain extent, is you can police things indirectly through licensing, where basically the idea is if an outlet is doing something wrong then they bring in trading standards, licensing and the police and they find something else that they’re doing wrong and they say that’s what we get them on. And actually the thing about this that goes back to your windows is that in the nineteenth century there were a lot of conditions put on licences around side doors. They didn’t have a problem with side doors, they had a problem with women getting in and out of pubs, but they couldn’t ban women from going into pubs so they banned side doors because they knew that’s where women came in and out.
Some Victorian magistrates used conditions regarding barmaids to tackle prostitution, so what’s really interesting about the history of licensing as a technology of governance is that it’s an effective way of policing behaviours at one step removed – because you can find one set of things that you create conditions about that are actually about regulating other kinds of behaviour.
DR: Well in the early modern context there was conditioning of behaviour around taverns, but it’s not the regulation of a place, more attempts to regulate people. So when different forces are in the business of saying, well how do we shape people in a particular kind of way or how do we deal with certain problems in a particular kind of way, taverns come up again and again.
AM: In Victorian England, one of the things that happened then was that when entrepreneurs started to realise that people were going to pubs, they built these great big barns of pubs, which were just seen as great pleasure palaces. Brunel was credited with designing a big central bar, so the bar staff could not only serve people quickly to cut the pinch points out but also you could see what’s happening, what people were doing. You know it’s this public space but where you were trying to control other people’s behaviour.
AL: One of the things I love about Orwell’s Moon Under Water, is that it’s a description of a pub but nowhere is there any mention of alcohol. So there’s the barmaid, there’s the fire, there’s the bar, there’s the bar snacks. But behind this of course is the landlord, he is the synoptic eye. I think it’s like CCTV. Why does no one ever complain about CCTV, it’s because we don’t want to think about it.
DR: I was talking to Ron Stone about this, the chair of Bristol City Council licensing committee. He made a big deal to me about how wonderful the CCTV was in Bristol. You could see everything in detail. And he said that all he’d ever had from that was two complaints.
AL: If you open a new pub anywhere, do you always have to have CCTV? Would that be a condition of every licence?
DC: I’ve got to base it on proportionality to that premises. So it’s based on what that premises does, a nightclub, a bar, On licence always, on the off licence we can base it on prevention of crime, theft and stuff but if it’s a small café bar predominantly only open during the day, more food-led, maybe only with 10 or 12 tables I wouldn’t be able to justify it. So its based on the premises, also the location, though in saying that I did get CCTV conditions on a fairly small restaurant but it was right next to a massive nightclub and it was on the grounds that disorder from the nightclub might impact on them. It was more about protecting them.
AM: Where do the cameras look? Outside, they look at the street or inside?
DC: Inside and out. We normally ask for one covering the door area, especially if there’s queuing of if they have to control security outside, door stewarding etc, then we would ask for a camera that covers that activity.
AM: I suspect one reason that we don’t complain about it is because we know that at some point we might wish to call on the evidence of those cameras. I’ve been trying to get our local council not to gate the lane at the back of our houses but it has occurred to me, if my house ever gets burgled, I may think, Oh do you know what, perhaps its not so authoritarian gating the lane at the back of my house.
AL: I wonder whether it’s something in England though about property governance. Historically we’ve always governed through property. And what interests me is how we are expanding on the notion of what property is, but in some way it’s about the right to the city, that we’re claiming the right to the city from some of these drinking establishments.
TB: Well how do you, David Catt, in terms of managing the city centre, feel about large areas of public space being owned by shopping centres or private entities. Does that make any real difference to the way you operate? Does it make life easier or does it mean that there’s a set of other people you’re dealing with who aren’t directly controlled by the council, by the police.
DC: I don’t think it makes life difficult because Cabot Circus is an example of that, which is a massive area which is controlled. No, I wouldn’t say that that creates any general policing problem in doing that.
TB: Does it make it easier?
DC: It doesn’t always make it easier because I can think of examples going back to CCTV, where if we’ve got Council CCTV generally we’ve got access to that pretty fast. Just down on the end of here you’ve got a massive nightclub, Oceana, which does generate reasonable levels of crime and disorder. The area to the side of that is privately owned, the Millennium Square area, and there’s a separate camera system. Because it’s privately owned that camera system doesn’t come into the general control room. So when incidents happen there are delays in having to request it, data protection, etc, so that’s a slight problem, it’s a public area which people walk through but we can’t put our Council CCTV into because its technically private.
TB: So in a way those are kind of areas where you could go to escape from attentions of the police. There’s a bit of refuge available isn’t there in certain parts of Bristol?
NC: I would say that for Cabot Circus, one of the advantages is it’s a managed space. So there are street wardens, their own security staff, so there’s more management there than you probably find in Broadmead, but there are these little hiccups around access to things like CCTV. But having said that I think you would find that there’s a great spirit of cooperation with the Cabot Circus management.
DC: It’s not a question of them handing over the tapes, it’s just a question of the fact that it’s not all linked into a central system.
FN: So if you’re doing real time tracking you don’t want a handing over, you want to be able to see the guy and follow him from camera to camera.
AL: So a pub would be linked into the council system?
DC: No, that’s the whole thing. CCTV is often offered as a condition when someone wants to get a new licensed premises, Oh we’re going to have the best CCTV. Well that’s fine but that doesn’t prevent anything. CCTV only can prevent when it can spot something which is about to happen and direct officers to go there, to get there when they see two people squaring up to each other. If you can get there and stop that you’ve stopped an assault. CCTV in a pub simply films the assault and you may be able to get the offender but you won’t have stopped a crime occurring. CCTV doesn’t change anyone’s behaviour anyway because as we all know the CCTV in city centres is fantastic and the behaviour of people immediately in front of those cameras is sometimes quite unbelievable.
TB: Has it ever been a deterrent at all? Has that changed over time or has it always just been effective in allowing you to get to things quickly and record the evidence?
DC: CCTV will deter a robber or a burglar because they’re thinking about what they’re doing but not someone who’s intoxicated having a fight. In fact, we talk say about getting there very quickly, but I’ve been walking down the street and had people start a fight right in front of me, punching each other, because people are affected by the alcohol, inhibitions have gone.
AL: I guess it’s a different kind of surveillance isn’t it, i.e. CCTV whereas in the past they had god.
FN: From what we’ve just been listening to, people paid some attention to god, they clearly take no notice of surveillance. I’ve written recently about surveillance in pre-modern streets and the paradigm of CCTV cameras was what I was working to. At first it’s easy to make the parallel and then you erode that parallel step-by-step.
JN: But when people talk about the kind of informal space of the pub and that we need to get people back into pubs, often the paradigm isn’t CCTV it’s the landlord – and that is arguably where people do respond to surveillance; its not surveillance in a big brother kind of way but in-the-community kind of surveillance.
AM: And actually a sort of community discipline like you get in your early modern society. You know things like the Skimmington ride where you’d have like a local adulterer or a drunkard and you’d parade him through the village until he was thoroughly embarrassed. And I suppose this is what people imagine your colleagues in the police force were doing 50 years ago –I’ll take this lad home by the ear and embarrass him in front of the street and he won’t do that again.
JN: But the problem is with the night-time economy now is when you’ve got very big bars and the frontline don’t have a vested interest in their business, they’re young people who are on very short-term contracts and very low wages, and why the hell are you going to refuse to serve someone when they’re drunk when they’re bigger than you and you’re not getting paid much.
Although isn’t it the Cardiff area where they’ve trialled the idea of showing videos back at people who turn up in A&E? So it’s a different form of shaming in surveillance.
AM: That’s an interesting one. Cardiff University being good academics wanted to do it to see what would happen. The Welsh Government being sensible politicians in civil service with legal advisers thought this might not be appropriate and I think they’re waiting to see what happens. There are three possible outcomes. One is that people don’t care; one is that they are thoroughly embarrassed, and the third that they ask for the tapes so they can show their mates because they think it was so brilliant.
What I’ve heard initially, I mean its all being evaluated as part of an outdoor treatment centre, a sort of field hospital that’s been set up I think for the next three years. Now this is to minimise the amount of time that ambulance crews have to spend going back and forth to the hospital, it frees up ambulances. The initial feedback I’ve heard is that a lot of them just don’t care. If you say, look here’s you drunk and they say, yeah, well I was drunk, that’s what I came out for.
JN: In a sense if you’re going to think of it as a modernisation of, say, Bruegel’s Fight Between Carnival and Lent – there’s someone in an A&E, someone very sensible, very sober, saying don’t do this, and them going, I don’t care, that’s why I went out to get drunk. It does go back to that thing, if the point of getting drunk is to behave the way you did when you were sober what’s the point? And it’s about what level of acceptance there is about carnivalesque behaviour. That is the question isn’t it?
TH: And in Oxford they have the Bullingdon club, and they recently trashed a local bar and money changed hands and the police were not called. They had a feature written about it in the Telegraph. And that’s the curiosity, some people it’s acceptable to break the law under certain circumstances and others it’s wrong.
AM: I suppose the point of this dry January challenge that we did was that there are certain things that you’re much better at when you’re drunk, in terms of socialising and relaxing and you feel more like having a dance and all that. We were trying to say, well perhaps you’d like to go out and be extremely talkative and dance without the aid of alcohol. I found after a certain point, you can actually do it. I found myself being extremely talkative at someone’s leaver do after three bottles of lemonade.
JN: The interesting thing about the dry January is that, first, you have the kind of carnivalesque drinking, which is something that goes back in time, people getting drunk periodically. But you also have the normalisation of fairly high levels of consumption throughout the week and throughout every kind of social occasion, whether its watching television, watching football at home or going to the pub. So you’ll just be getting a bit tipsy on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Its almost where the bigger cultural difference is with the past, and that’s where dry January really does make a difference because its unexpected for a lot of people to find themselves going through the week without having a little drink.
AM: Yeah but I was drinking with my sister the other day who has a fairly stressful job and I said, A lot of people they drink when they come home from work. And she just looked at me and she said, I have wine every night when I come home from work. Well I’m not getting anywhere because this just becomes a conversation where I’m having a go at you and I’m some annoying puritan. So I just said, well that’s okay, whatever. But I think that would be the pinch point for a lot of people – they come home from work and they’re, right where is that bottle of wine? Oh, right, I can’t drink that this month, how am I going to unwind?
JN: Exactly, how do I know the day’s ended?
FN: On the subject of days ending, this has been a fantastic conversation to participate and certainly spectate on as well. So can I just thank everybody very much. Before we do wrap up, James has said he will make a few final observations as a sort of observer on our project and this afternoon.
JN: All I’d say is about learning from history, because the history/present thing is fascinating, problematic, enlightening, and I think that it’s always a really interesting situation when you look at the kind of nuts and bolts of everyday practice and you kind of go, well is there something that history can tell us?
I think there is, I think there’s loads of things history can tell us about contemporary alcohol culture and practice. I think for me one of the things is the relationship between policy and culture actually. Often you’ll get people saying, Oh drinking its just a cultural thing and policy has got nothing to do with it, as if policy isn’t a part of culture, which I think it’s a really major misunderstanding of the word ‘culture’. And to look historically at that, at whether different forms of regulation are associated with different kinds of drinking practice, whether changes in regulation do or don’t produce changes in drinking practices and different behaviours, is really interesting.
And on licensing as well, about regulation through property, I think that’s an interesting angle and its really good to see it going on. The thing is, if you’re an academic historian, you think, I know loads, but actually speaking to people who do this stuff every day is valuable. And I don’t know who gets most out of it. Possibly the academics get more out of it than the practitioners but that’s a good thing as well.