Thursday, June 29, 2017

Abingdon, Berkshire*

Entirely satisfactory

Looking for something else in my file of photographs, I came across a couple I took years ago of the Old Anchor pub in Abingon. They reminded me that I must go back and take better pictures, but meanwhile I can’t resist sharing them. The building may have a 17th-century heart (there is some timber-framed construction around the back) hidden by this 19th-century red-brick front. The carved lettering, carefully filled in with black paint, stands out beautifully from the brickwork. It probably dates to 1884, when the pub’s licence was first taken out. The lettering of the pub name is a sans serif (or ‘grotesque’) form with plenty of clarity. Apart from the very short middle stroke to the E it’s unremarkable but very effective.
The italic letters making up the words ‘Morland’s’ and ‘Entire’ on either side are much more distinctive. Looking closely one can see the bevelled cut made into the stone and the delicate way in which the transition between the thick main strokes and the very thin strokes and serifs in handled. Looking on my shelves, I see that this lettering was noticed by designer and writer on letterforms Alan Bartram – he illustrates it in his book The English Lettering Tradition from 1700 to the Present Day. He points out that the source of these italics is in the traditional English letter,§ giving the characters their rich forms and ‘generous curves’. Bartram adds that contemporary ‘modern’ printing type may have influenced the strong contrast between thick and thin strokes.

Then there’s the wording: ‘Morland’s Entire’. When I saw that, I wondered if it was referring to a specific type of beer, or an indication that only this particular brewery’s beer was served here. Wrong. A friend sent me to Chamber’s Dictionary, which gives ‘Entire, noun. Porter or stout as delivered from the brewery.’ I’m not sure you could get that here now, but it seems that they still have Morland’s beer in the bar. They also play Aunt Sally† in the garden. English pubs are full of surprises.

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* It’s in Oxfordshire nowadays, but I persist in using the old English counties and boundaries, for reasons I’ve gone into before, namely my sentimental liking for the old counties, my interest in their history, and the fact that they are also used in reference books such as Pevsner’s Buildings of England series.

§ Which he characterises as a ‘seriffed, varied-weight (stressed) letter’ with ‘a rich full shape, a vertical stress, and a fairly sharp gradation from thick to thin strokes’.

† A game in which sticks or battens are thrown at a wooden figure, traditionally a model of an old woman. The website of the Abingdon and District Aunt Sally Association (‘You know it’s good when you hear the wood’) is here.


Stephen Barker said...

I remember seeing an "Aunt Sally" in a museum in Cambridge many years ago.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: I've not seen it played, but having done a little web research there seems to be more of it about than I realised. It is not all skittles and bowls, in the world of pub games, clearly.