Friday, 12 August 2011

The Dorset, Brighton

This three-storey Georgian building had acquired its license by 1822. The ground floor bar boasts a fine raked counter, probably Edwardian, with pilasters and console brackets. There would once have been back fittings, possibly with a tall stillion but these have been stripped out and the good quality bar top is a replacement. At the rear of the servery by the access to the toilets is an office-like structure and screen with 1930s glasswork. Along the Upper Gardner Street side is a 1930s brick fireplace and what is now the opened-up restaurant room appears to have once been a separate property. There is a skylight with 1930s glasswork and an old, oddly positioned internal door. At both ends of the pub are attractive Art-Nouveau lincrusta dados.

The street-corner site was previously partitioned into a Public Bar, central Bottle & Jug Dept., and Private Bar, as can be seen from the names in the splendidly decorative set of etched glass doors and windows. A Bottle & Jug (often a Jug & Bottle or Off-Sales) was a small sectioned area of a pub with its own street entrance or hatch where beer could be purchased for consumption off the premises, the implication of the name being that customers brought their own bottles or jugs along to be filled. The Public Bar was the cheapest and most basic drinking room on any pub premises but Private Bar suggests a more exclusive area, restricted perhaps to a well-known set of regular patrons.

These old room divisions reflect markers of social status, so important in Victorian and Edwardian England, and external evidence for them can still be seen in a number of pubs once owned, like the Dorset, by the now-defunct Brighton-based brewery, Tamplin & Sons. Another clue to the past ownership of a pub by Tamplins is the sometimes appearance of a bird motif in the etched glasswork, usually of an external window. The type of bird varies, and far from all ex-Tamplins pubs bear this motif. Nonetheless, all but one of the pubs I have so far discovered to have this distinctive bird motif can be ascertained to have once been owned by Tamplins.

In the late 1920s, the Dorset was a “Vat” (a meeting place for gatherings) of the charitable organisation The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers (AOFB). The head of the Vat was often the relevant publican, and listed under the Dorset entry in a surviving AOFB membership booklet is Blower B. Edwards, ‘Blower’ being not a nickname but a rank within the order. The initial B may be a misprint because my own trawling through the Brighton voters lists from 1927-1933 turns up at this address a Herbert Henry Edwards and Katie Edwards. The AOFB was formally wound-up by the end of 1931 but not before attracting a worldwide membership of around 700,000 and raising more than £100,000 for children’s charities.

Rose Collis’s informative book Brighton Boozers  records that the Brighton Lesbian Group held socials here at the Dorset Arms on Sundays and Wednesdays in the early 1980s. Inquisitive regulars were told by the landlady Irene Shields that the group were the ‘Ladies Sports Club’! Having dropped the ‘Arms’ from its name, the Dorset is now a continental-style cafĂ© bar with window blinds.

The Dorset, 28 North Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 1YB

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