In the early part of the twentieth century, there was a strong temperance movement in England. The view that arose from this movement was that there were too many public houses compared with the need of the public. In addition, there was a strong movement to ‘improve’ public houses by ensuring that they had provision for recreation and eating as well as drinking.
These ideas found their first impression in Birmingham with the Surrender Scheme. In this scheme ‘a company was formed amongst the brewers, and they negotiated with the licensing justices for the surrender of licences … and the company was able to pay compensation to the members who lost those licences out of the funds which they themselves subscribed.’ Between 1904 and 1914, over 1000 licences were lost in the Birmingham area. Owing to the ‘success’ of this scheme, the 1904 Licensing Act introduced a national scheme. Licensing Magistrates could now refuse to renew a pub’s licence if it was considered that the pub was unnecessary to provide for the needs of the public. Compensation would be paid both to the owner of the premises and the licensee although, typically, only about 10% of the compensation went to the licensee. This compensation was paid for by a levy on the licences granted to other premises. This provision of the 1904 Act was carried forward into the Licensing (Consolidation) Act of 1910.
In researching the history of pubs in Salisbury, I paid one of my occasional visits to the Wiltshire and Swindon Records Office at Trowbridge. I came across one minute book of the Wiltshire County Licensing Committee (WSRO reference A1/615) which in fact turned out to be the records of the Compensation Authority for the county. If the Renewal Authority (i.e. the Licensing Magistrates) considered that a pub was a candidate for closure, they could submit a report to the Compensation Authority who would take the decision as to closure. If the pub was to be closed, they determined the value of the compensation to be paid. In Salisbury, the 1904 Act does not seem to have been used and all Compensation Authority reports refer to the 1910 Act alone.
The first pubs to be considered by this process in Salisbury seem to have been the Eagle, Fisherton Street, and the Volunteer Arms, Winchester Street, in May 1913. The Eagle was said to have been fully licensed since 1876 prior to which it was a beer house. The Volunteer Arms was a beer house since before 1869. The Volunteer was described as being small, with no sleeping accommodation for travellers and no stabling. No evidence of the trade was given and it was emphasised that the Licensee was not at the house all the time as he was employed by the Owners (Bartlett and Co. of Warminster) as a drayman. Its licence was withdrawn and compensation of £671 paid. The Eagle was described as being long but narrow and inconvenient as a licensed house and with no sleeping accommodation for travellers and no stabling. It was also in need of repair. Evidence was given that the licensee had complained to the owners (Eldridge Pope of Dorchester) about the slackness of trade and that he had by arrangement with the owners become simply the manager of the house. Not surprisingly, its licence was withdrawn and compensation of only £388 paid.
The war years seem to have prevented much use of the Act in Salisbury, presumably owing to the large numbers of soldiers being trained and billeted on Salisbury Plain. But the Victoria Inn in Church Street was referred to the Compensation Authority in May, 1915 as a result of an objection to the renewal of its licence by a private individual on the grounds (1) That the said house has been conducted in such a manner as to constitute a breach of military orders and (2) That the said house is not required to supply the reasonable requirements of the district in which it is situated. Evidence was given that there were 16 other licensed premises within a quarter of a mile of the Victoria. In addition, evidence was provided of the trade of the pub over the previous three years with 152 barrels of beer and 72 gallons of spirits, with a total value of £369, being sold in 1914. The Victoria provided sleeping accommodation for 114 people and 309 meals during a three week period in February 1915. It was also stated that Salisbury had a population of 21,217 inhabitants served by 71 fully licensed houses, 4 on-Beer Houses, 3 off-Beer Houses and 2 refreshment Houses besides 15 other shops and chemists licensed to retail alcohol for consumption off the premises. The Victoria was lucky in that the committee did not believe there were sufficient grounds to close the pub and it is still open to this day.
But in 1923, the Compensation Authority had the Black Horse in Winchester Street referred to it. What is more, apart from the evidence of the Renewal Authority, the Salisbury and District Temperance Society also provided evidence against the licence renewal. The Black Horse had been one of the principal coaching inns in the 19th century but was now very run down so much that it no longer had any stabling or parking areas. It was stated that ‘in view of the small trade done by the house and the impossibility of any licensee making a living out of such trade and that the house has been entirely closed for some months without any apparent inconvenience to the inhabitants’, the house should be closed. In due course, an offer of £570 compensation was made and accepted by the owner, Eldridge Pope, of which £28 10s 0d went to the licensee!
In 1924, the Committee having got in to its stride, considered the future of three pubs: The Goat in Milford Street, the Ox in Ox Row and the Waggon and Horses in Brown Street. The evidence to the Compensation Authority now included a report from the Sanitary Inspector for Salisbury and surveillance by the police for a week to determine how many people used the pub. The Goat averaged 86 customers a day although this figure was dominated by about 130 customers on each of the two market days. But it had also sold 160 Barrels of beer, 419 dozen of bottled beers plus wines and spirits in 1923; a not inconsiderable quantity that many modern pubs would be pleased to sell. Meanwhile the Ox only managed 11 customers a day, with only one customer on a Wednesday while the Waggon and Horses managed 55. The evidence on the Goat from the sanitary point of view was, ‘except for a complaint as to a defective fitting in one water closet’, not actually unfavourable to the house. But the Ox was described as being small, badly lighted and ventilated with the sanitary arrangements being insufficient and offensive! The Waggon and Horses got off slightly better being merely badly ventilated and lighted with the sanitary conveniences being very imperfect. The Goat was reported as being in generally good state of repair but this did not save it; it was closed with compensation of £1315. Not surprisingly, the Ox and the Waggon and Horses were also recommended for closure with compensation of £270 and £1200 respectively.
In 1926, it was the turn of the Lamb in Fisherton Street. This had 18 other licensed premises within a quarter of a mile and the sanitary arrangements were said to not be, on the whole, not unfavourable but the house was said to be small, inconvenient, and poorly lighted and ventilated. The Public Bar was small but clean, the Private Bar very small with only one small window 6 feet from the ground while the Smoking Room could only be reached though the Jug and Bottle and was rarely used. When one hears that the stables at the rear were not used but that one of them had been converted into a licensed slaughterhouse for pigs, one could see the writing on the wall. The yard and the urinal were not lighted at night with the result that the yard and its entrance were used as a public urinal. Not even the 63 customers a day could save the Lamb and it went to slaughter with compensation of £950.
In 1928, the Round of Beef in Milford Street came under scrutiny. It was said that the only large room was the smoking room, and supervision of this and the remainder of the public portions of the premises was difficult. More damning was the fact that with only five bedrooms, no rooms were let and no meals was served to customers. The sanitary arrangements, for men only, were described as primitive in character. The final nail in the coffin was that ‘the “Round of Beef” did less trade than any other licensed house in the locality with the exception of the “Catherine Wheel” and the witness (a Police sergeant) suggested it was desirable to retain that licence on account of the stabling and motor accommodation attached to and used with the house.’ Despite the fact that the owners, Eldridge Pope, stated their readiness to make any structural alterations necessary, closure was inevitable with £1000 compensation being paid.
The Round of Beef seems to have been the last pub to be closed in Salisbury under these arrangements. But, amazingly, the Compensation Committee continued to sit until well after the 1939-45 War. It did not close any further pubs but still collected revenue from the levy on licensed premises. Its final years were completed with many rambling minutes about what should happen to the funds accrued (they went into the Council’s pocket!).
What can one say about the effects of the 1904 and 1910 Acts? There were some pubs closed that were clearly not up to standard and with very poor trade. But one is left with the feeling that the closure of pubs by a process that purported to be rational and fair was in fact an arbitrary and biased system. Pubs were chosen to be closed by licensing Magistrates who would never have been seen in such premises. Having chosen a pub for closure, evidence was prepared that supported the closure. But even then, some evidence clearly showed, particularly in the case of the Goat, that successful and profitable pubs were chosen for closure for no apparent reason. Only eight pubs appear to have been closed under the compensation scheme in Salisbury but this represented 10% of the public houses and beer houses in the City. But the scheme left a fascinating set of documents that are invaluable to the pub historian!
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