That’s the reality today.
But in the 19th and early 20th centuries, public houses (nicknamed pubs) didn’t offer food.
You may think it changed in order to turn greater profits. Instead, Dr. David Gutzke argues that pubs evolved in Great Britain as a ripple from the Progressive movement. He believes his greatest scholarly contribution is that he established the Progressive movement as a transcontinental movement. Previously, it was considered as American as apple pie.
Gutzke, a distinguished professor of history at Missouri State University, set the stage in his book, “Pubs and Progressives.” He focused on the period between World War I and World War II. Historically, it is known as the interwar period.
I don’t want to write the same type of book that somebody else might do.
As a professor of British history, an international scholar on the topic of alcohol use and a historian looking at social change, he has published more than 20 books and articles on these subjects. “Pubs and Progressives” nicely knits these interests together.
“The brewers were trying to change the type of people you expected to see in pubs. They wanted middle-class people as customers. Brewers wanted respectability,” he says, “both for themselves and public houses.”
This aligned with the Progressive movement’s values. Progressives wanted to right social ills. They desired efficiency, discipline and order. And they sought government intervention to improve society.
You have to understand the past on its own terms.
One brewer Gutzke studied, Sydney Neville, wrote in his memoir he felt personally responsible to the general public to discourage drunkenness.
“The slogan of the whole movement was, ‘We do not want people to drink more beer. We want more people to drink beer.’ I thought it was very clever,” Gutzke said.
One way to attract a different clientele: Brewers spent tens of thousands of pounds beautifying spaces, adding courtyards, gardens, linen tablecloths and fresh flowers.
“Before the first World War, the pub was a masculine republic. Progressive brewers were very keen to bring women in,” Gutzke said. “They believed women could act as a restraint on drunkenness.”
Then brewers expanded into offering a full menu. Food made the pub seem like a respectable place to spend time and eat dinner as a family.
You must not allow present-minded concerns to be projected into the past.
Large Progressive brewers, like Neville, recognized building new, expensive pubs would likely eliminate smaller, “less scrupulous competitors,” who tolerated drunkeness to maximize profit. This statement alone says Progressive brewers desired profitability, but not at the expense of moderate drinking. More importantly, notes Gutzke, it reveals a desire for social change.
“Neville writes in the preface of his book, ‘I just hope that people come to understand what we were doing after I’m dead,’” Gutzke said.
Digging into publications from political scientists, anthropologists and sociologists, Gutzke drew a more robust world picture. This comparative history helped him identify the Progressive movement in Britain.
I like the way they frame questions differently. I like to think in those terms.
Gutzke also gathered photos, ledgers and legal documents to see the buildings before and after renovations, as well as changes in sales over time. For “Pubs and Progressives,” he gathered data from about 6,000 pubs.
“He is a master researcher who ferreted out all sorts of records that are difficult to locate,” said Dr. William Rorabaugh, a colleague from University of Washington. “He interviewed a significant number of leaders in the alcohol industry – an industry which is perhaps understandably ordinarily very tight-lipped.”
British mystery novels from the interwar period also proved insightful.
“In a roundabout way, novels that aren’t trying to be historical documents can accurately depict the general public’s perception of life,” Gutzke said.
The general public, he says, thinks historians write history books to get everything factually correct for future generations.
“The truth is an abstract concept,” Gutzke added. “Historians engage in how to understand the past.”