Pubs in Social Life

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most working-class men lived near their work, with their large families, in small cottages. The centre of activity in the cottage was the kitchen, where mother cooked, washed the laundry, sewed and repaired clothes. If she earned money, it was usually done in the kitchen – needlework or taking in laundry.

Most houses were dominated by mother’s activities – most fathers did not do housework – and families were large, so people’s lives were lived largely outside the home. If they were not at school, children spent their daylight hours roaming and playing in the empty streets, in the few fields, or at the swimming baths, coming home for dinner.

And the adult men? In 1855 there were 26 hotels (pubs) in Pyrmont, literally on almost every street corner. Their premises were usually spacious, and often on street corners with doors from both streets. Men did not merely drink there, they also played indoor games, or held informal meetings.

Many pubs were patronised by men from a particular enterprise, who might discuss their work or their pay – abattoir workers at the Butchers’ Arms, for example. The Stone Masons Arms, Quarrymen’s Arms or Woolbrokers’Arms clearly announced their clients.

After the First World War opening hours were legally restricted, but many landlords ignored that law. The pub that is now the Pyrmont Fire Station was patronised by policemen, who certainly kept the place open on Sundays and out of hours, and probably did not enforce licensing laws strictly on anyone else.

Pubs were, in effect, extensions of family homes, compensating for the lack of space in the cottages, and allowing workmates to relax and socialise. Children were not strictly excluded. When they were sent to bring Dad home for dinner, they might extend their visit until they were noticed and thrown out.