KEVIN GORDON - Raising a glass to Sussex pubs of old

Above: the Juggs Arms at Kingston
Above: the Juggs Arms at Kingston

If there are two things I like, it’s an old book and a pint, so I was pleased to pick up an interesting old guide to Sussex Pubs last week. It was written in the early 60s but is a fascinating reminder of a different age.

The jacket notes make it quite clear that it has been written for ‘the men of Sussex’ who are encouraged to drive to the pubs. The post-war pub was very different to those of today and there were probably twice as many. The pub was a smokey retreat for men to meet up and drink warm beer with their mates. There were few women (apart from the bar-maid), no children, no food and no entertainment (unless you played darts, dominoes or bar-billiards), although the guide does report that there is a ‘juke-box machine’ in the Kings’ Head in Hailsham.

The pub was divided into two or more rooms. There was always a smokey public bar which was mainly frequented by the local working-class men. This was sometimes called the ‘Tap-Room’ where beer was served directly from the barrel. There was also a saloon or lounge bar which was the one where women and visitors would feel more comfortable, although the drinks were more expensive than in the public bar.

One bar was often set aside and licensed for off-sales. The Chalk-Pit Inn at Offham had a ‘Travellers Bar’ and the Horseshoe Inn at Herstmonceaux had a rather exclusive ‘Sherry Bar’. The Fullers Arms at Brightling had a separate games room and a tea room.

Many pubs provided accommodation and larger ones such as the Crown in Lewes would also have a private bar for residents only. Not one pub seems to provide ‘en-suite’ facilities although several have the luxury of ‘h+c’ in some bedrooms.

My guidebook gives details of 170 Sussex pubs giving a brief description of their location, facilities and features. Several are described as ‘gay’ and it is clear that the author preferred the traditional pub with plenty of brass ornaments. The Griffin Inn at Fletching ‘positively twinkles with dozens of horse-brasses’. Several are described as being decorated with guns and old farm implements.

The Seven Sisters Pub at Seaford had a large collection of miniature bottles and Toby jugs. Beer was beer – the guide lists drinks available and most pubs provided Watney’s Red Barrel, or Double Diamond. Only seven of the 170 pubs served cider and amazingly only one (The Horseshoe Inn again) served lager! At the Blacksmiths Arms at Offham, a carafe of wine could be provided at the table. Several pubs served morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Some pubs boasted ‘drinking gardens’ in which patrons could drink al-fresco. Children were welcome in the garden of the Juggs Arms at Kingston near Lewes although families at the Ark in Newhaven were warned to ensure that children did not fall into the river! The Crown at Hailsham had no garden but boasted a bowling green.

Food was rare and often only available for residents ‘if a telephone call is made in advance’. Most pubs report ‘sit-down’ meals were not available although you could buy smoked trout with vegetables at the Blacksmiths Arms for 5 shillings (25p). The author, however, thought that at 17 shillings (75p), the steak at the Five Bells in Chailey, was expensive. The Tiger Inn, East Dean, only served ‘cold chicken and scotch eggs’ but visitors to the Ark at Newhaven could try one of their famous freshly caught crab sandwiches. Visitors to Newhaven were encouraged to take a ‘non-passport day trip’ to Dieppe to sample French beer.

The guide reports the open fire at the Lamb, Hooe, is kept going night and day from Christmas to May (lambing season) and the landlord had been known to open up at night to provide shelter and sustenance for shepherds escaping the freezing fog of the marshes. I doubt if that is still the case. I also doubt that when you visit the Wheatsheaf Inn at Willingdon, you can still take a pinch of snuff from the snuff-box on the bar. I will ask when I next visit – in fact I may well take the book with me when I next go on a pub crawl – I wonder if I can still get smoked salmon at Offham for 25p?