Watneys Pubs in the 50s, 60s and 70s

The Gaunlet, Kenilworth, a Watneys house in the 60s and 70s

Watneys, like any commercial organisation, both reacted to and attempted to lead the market. In building new public houses and refitting old ones, Watneys were very much in tune with the times. Sometimes they were innovative, with developments such as the Bird's Nest music bars and at other times plumbed the depths of bad taste with some ghastly themed pubs.

New towns, new pubs

Many new pubs were built in the 50s and increasingly in the 60s. As late as 1954 it was still difficult to get permission to build new public houses, but as restrictions were lifted and austerity gave way to "Never had it so good" new pubs began to appear. The planners of the new towns were thoughtful enough to allow the building of pubs and other recreation facilities and new housing estates often were provided with a modern pub.

At Stevenage, Watneys opened the Long Ship which occupied the ground floor of the town's tallest office block. A Viking theme was chosen and a mural outside depicted Vikings returning to their homeland after a raid. Inside a Danish theme was chosen; the Danish Lounge and Grill Room seemed tastefully furnished in fashionable Danish furniture. However, Viking motifs decorated the walls of the Danish Lounge and the inevitable Viking Bar.

Watneys opened the Woodcutter at the innovative Scottish New Town, Cumbernauld in 1970. Externally the pub blended in with its modern surroundings. Inside pine seemed to be the order of the day.

The style of the majority of public houses in the 50s and 60s followed prevailing architectural taste. Often the pub on an estate could display a considerable amount of style. Although, rarely the finest pieces of architecture, modern pubs often can typify the look of the 50s or 60s. Generally, they are not appreciated today and often subject to all kinds of unsympathetic alteration and more often demolition to make way for flats. This is a great shame since the sixties pub, represents the taste and style of that era, as well as the Victorian pub which is now revered.

Entrance to the lounge at the Gauntlet

Pubs in the 50s and 60s reflected the social structure of the day. They were rarely built without a public bar and a "posher" lounge or saloon bar, in which the beer was slightly more expensive. Watneys new public houses in the early to mid sixties usually had an off-licence attached. The Gauntlet in Kenilworth, my home town, was no exception. It was built to serve a new housing estate in the 60s. I have memories of cans of Party Seven being on prominent display in the off licence window. I had my first pint at the Gauntlet - lager, I'm afraid to say!

Themed pubs

The concept of themed pubs actually goes back many years. As early as 1948, Whitbread considered themed pubs and actually converted the Nags Head, Drury Lane to a theatre themed pub in 1950. In those days though, a theme simply meant a collection of memorabilia. On these terms you could even claim that the historic Bear, arguably Oxfords oldest pub, with its famous tie collection, was a themed pub.

However, by the end of the sixties, themed pub became a complete fantasy world. Rather than a collection of objects that the customers could choose to ignore, the theme became a large part of the drinking experience. Customers of the Ushers (part of the Watney Mann empire) Half Moon at Tiverton, could pretend they had chosen to spend their holiday, or evening out, in Hawaii, rather than rural Devon!

The customers entered via a fake rock cavern. Special effects such as rocks, waterfalls and palm trees greeted them. The interior was furnished with bamboo furniture, with rattan covered walls and a split ceiling covered with bamboo that gave customers glimpses of a Polynesian sky! This kind of fantasy seems odd in Tiverton, but it was not an uncommon theme in the 60s. Some Butlins Camps had Hawaiian Bars.

Another common fantasy was the age of chivalry. Modern lighting concealed in fake medieval armour was common, as were displays of armour and dining rooms designed to resemble medieval banqueting halls. Esso even kitted out a service station in this dcor. Watneys often used the antiquity of an old house as an excuse to do the same. They also built brand new pubs and gave them a nautical, Viking or Wild West theme. Often some spurious reason for the choice of a particular period was given. It was rarely appropriate to the pub or location.

In Coventry, a new house, "The Jolly Frenchman", had a Parisian restaurant decorated with French posters and Martini advertisements, but the crowning glory was a fake Arc de Triomphe. In Londons theatre land, the interior of an old Victorian pub, the Carnbourn, was ripped out without a thought to its history. The pub was renamed the Frigate and was turned into a three level mock up of an old time dockyard. There you could sit back and enjoy your drink whilst watching sailors kit bags being hoisted up and down to the sounds of squeaking pulleys!

[Perhaps today's breweries should consider this example before destroying pubs from the 50s, 60s and 70s!]

In 1970, in Tottenham, Watneys built a new pub called the Flower Pot on the site of an old pub of the same name. Here the name of the pub was so in tune with the spirit of the age, that a psychedelic theme was unavoidable. Perhaps the ultimate sixties trip into fantasy land, the Flower Pot, looked from the outside, like a bizarre, cartoon-style building, a pub on LSD! The customer entered via an elevated ramp and there were huge green vines snaking across the ceiling. Inside there were several bars on different levels. The decoration was, of course, flowers - giant coloured ones!. No need to take a trip - just go to the Flower Pot and have a pint of Red Barrel!

[Sadly the Flower Pot is no longer there. Such a period design would have stood little chance of surviving the many changes of fashion. It was demolished to make way for a supermarket.]

Birds' Nests

Draft Red Barrel, c1960s

On 20 February 1968, Watneys Director Mr R H Combe and DJ Simon Dee opened a new pub in Twickenham, The Birds Nest. It was much more than a new pub. The Birds Nest represented a new concept in entertainment. Watneys combined a pub with a discotheque and an innovative system of telephone tables where customers could dial for food and drink. Inside a gay fairground type dcor was combined with an ultra modern stainless steel dance floor.

This Birds Nest was the first of several. The second was opened in the heart of swinging London as part of the Six Bells on the Kings Road in Chelsea. Two hundred and fifty people packed the launch party, which was attended by Simon Dee again, along with Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth. Here the theme was Bavarian. Watneys engaged German architect, Thomas Gehrig, who had designed the interiors of bars and clubs in Germany, Italy and the USA. The aim was to appeal to an international clientele.

Watneys continued to open more Birds Nest pubs. At the Green Man in Muswell Hill, a billiard room was converted by giving it a plush, nightclub style interior. Yet another one was opened in Waterloo, with Simon Dee becoming a regular at the launches.

With the Birds Nests pubs, Watneys had created a new style of venue that appealed to a new generation.

Schooner Inns

Top of the Watneys pub chain were the Schooner Inns. These were a new concept in drinking places that aimed to have a wider appeal beyond the traditional pub drinker. They usually had restaurants and the standard was consistent. You could drive anywhere in the country and know what to expect from a Schooner.

The first Schooner was the Crooked Billet in Staines, opened in November 1965. Schooners quickly became a national brand.

The Schooners were examples of sixties and seventies themed pubs at their best, or worst, depending on your point of view. Some of the conversions were understated others, such as the dreadful Frigate already mentioned, plumbed the depths of bad taste. The Boat and Bottle at Thorpe St Andrew, just outside Norwich, opened on 25 April 1969, was more restrained, although it is hard to believe that this is nearly forty years ago. The original house, the Thorpe Gardens Hotel famous for its tea garden in Victorian times, was extensively modernised and given a boating theme, with bars named "The Dropped Anchor" and "The Even Keel" and restaurants - "The Moorings" and "The Waterman". The décor apparently retained much of its historical character with oak beams, white walls and colourful curtain fabrics. The newly built parts of the building were pretty much late sixties in style, at least from the outside.

Schooners, together with Bernis, Trophy Taverns (Whitbread) and Toby Grills (Bass Charrington) became part of the family eating and drinking experience of the seventies. This style of pub/restaurant is still popular today, although all of these names have disappeared sometime in the eighties. Whitbreads Beefeater restaurants are the closest you get to it today.

Add your comments

"No mention so far of the ultimate in 1970's modern pub design, I refer of course to The Windsock in Dunstable. Designed by Rot Wilson Smith and opened in 1971 it only survived until 1984 but was amagnificent (or terrible) but certainly unique piece of architecture desigend by Roy Wilson-Smith. Knocked down to build a block of flats but remembered with affection by nearly all. Unfortunatley I was too young to ever go in it but satsified myself by drawing it, making copies of it out of lego and generally making my dad drive me past it everytime we went anywhere. I was very distressed when at age 12 I saw it being ripped apart by the bulldozers. Any google search will bring it up. I can't desribe it but even if you have no idea what it looks likes and only see a page of thumbnails you'll know which one it is as soon as you see it!" Geoff 13/08/2011
"well what can i say watneys birds nest the best discos in town in the 70s i was resident dj at the basingstoke one for some time witch we opened it in 1971 and wow what a good time we all had and yes still djing to day regards to all" dj pete grooves 15/11/2011
"can any one tell me did watney mann ever own the kicking donkey at brokers wood" dean freeman 20/03/2012
"I too, remember the Windsock in Dunstable well, and have many fond memories of eating there, as a child with my parents and sister, back in the 70's, when it was a Schooner Inn. To me, a much missed building.
razorart" razorart 13/04/2012
"I worked at the Birdsnest in Kings Road. I am sure it originally had phones so you could call other booths, and downstairs was the more 'upmarket' bar! Happy days!" Eddy 07/05/2012
"could anybody tell me the name of the watneys p.h. in Culvert Road Battersea London S.W.11 which was there in the 1950/60" bill 03/09/2012
"Im sure there was a Birds Nest bar in Twickenham
in 1970's where Santander Bank stands now on the
corner of Water Lane/King Street." Steve Slade 13/03/2013
"What years did the Birds Nest In Muswell Hill open and close...I used to go there as a teenager, wonder what happened to it?" C.c Corroyer 03/01/2014
"Hi, I don't know the exact date. I guess Bird's Nests had a fairly short life, from the end of the 60s to the first few years of the 70s. Do you remember when you went to the one in Muswell Hill?" steven 03/01/2014
"I worked at the Birds Nest in Twickenham as a dancer. We danced on a stainless steel floor that had railing all the way round. The DJ was in a glass booth mounted above us. Each table was in an alcove with a phone used to make requests for music. I worked for 10 pounds a night which included a meal before we started. We wore short silver lurex dresses and silver shoes. What a memory." Val 06/01/2014
"Does anyone remember The Trafalgar, previously The Lord Nelson, which was redesigned as a fairground-themed disco pub which opened in the Kings Road in July 1970. It was designed by Garnett, Cloughey, Blakemore and Associates who also designed the Chelsea Drugstore. The dance floor was a miniature dodgem car rink and DJ Philippe's console was a showman's booth..." Fred Brent 02/07/2014
"I used to work as a resident dj at The Chelsea Birdsnest Kings Road from 1971 up until the night it closed on new years day 1983, then it was called Musique but it never lost the Birdsnest feel, always a busy place especially at weekends was a home from home for many, I'm still in contact with some of the former doorstaff, admission prices in the early days were in the region of 15p, certainly breaks the bank!!. Passed by the building a few weeks back and it's being turned into flats after K&C borough council refused to renew the pub licence fo Henry J. Beans as it was in it's last guise. Door staff that I remember, Colin Dunn, Owen Finnegan, Martin Lovell, Peter Wigg,John Wigg
Dave Charge many more whose names I don't remember, former dj's Colin Willis,Barry, Mitch, Pete Pudding (me), Simon, Dave Brooks,Andy Stinton, (scottish) Jimmy and a guest appearance sometimes by Rockin' Ravin' Tony, I did friday nights, saturday and sunday lunchtimes with go go dancers bordering on strippers, good memories. Will try and upload some early posters at a later date." Pete Wieland 28/07/2014
"I used to go to the Trafalgar, Kings Road, in the 1970s. Great atmosphere together with excellent music. Happy Days." Trish 13/10/2014
"I used to work in several capacities at the Birds Nest in Twickenham. I can remember the silver dance floor Val mentioned and the phone booths that you could call someone you fancied. My sister was 'Miss Birds Nest' for three years running. I started working there after they did away with the small silver dance floor and booths had been removed to give people more room to dance. I recently found my Birds Nest staff tie and have scanned it if someone on this site wants to use the image." Ed Holford 04/01/2015
"The Swiss Cottage Finchley Road opposite Swiss Cottage underground station, Schooner?" John 12/09/2015
"interesting page. Used the Birds Nest Muswell Hill, The Trafalgar and The Drug Store In the Kings Road in the early 1970's. Very fond memories of all the places. Was there not a Birds Nest in South Harrow on a roundabout near the tube station? Living in St.Albans used the Long Ship in Stevenage. Also used to go to The Boat and Bottle in Thorpe St. Andrews which is now called The Rushcutters. Before you ask no do not have a drink problem. Pity these places are still no longer around. Thank you for reminding me of the past and those memories of old friends. Wonder where they all are!
Kind regards. Lee 23/11/2015" Lee Dawson 23/11/2015
"I worked as a relief chef for a short time in August 1969 at the Boat and Bottle in Norwich. It was a great place to be and the staff there at the time were the tops. The location was great and boats would often tie up so the crew could have a drink or meal! I still have fond memories of this establishment and the staff and was really quite sad at moving on to the next job after such a short association" Nick Doe 10/12/2015
"I worked for a short period in August 1969 at the Ship and Bottle in Norwich. It was a great location by the river and did attract boat trade. The staff who worked there were absolutely great and we all enjoyed our work albeit at times it got very busy. I have very fond memories of my time there and although only there for a short time before moving on to the next job was really sorry to be leaving. I did go back there as a customer with my parents though and have really warm memories of the place." Nick Doe 15/12/2015
"I remember The Swiss Cottage in Finchley Road being a Schooner Inn. My friends and I visited it often.
My favourite at the time was Roast Duckling with orange sauce.
This would have been early 1970s." Bob Astill 07/01/2016
"I used to frequent the Birds Nests at Muswell Hill, West Hampstead, Chelsea, South Harrow (not so good). I also went to The Refectory (The Phonograph) at Golders Green, the Chelsea Drugstore, The Lyceum Ballroom near The Strand, the Purple Pussycat in Swiss Cottage, Crackers in/near Oxford Street, the Tottenham Royal, the Swinging Sporran near Holloway Road, Scamps in Hemel Hempstead, Oldfield Tavern in Greenford, the Bandwagon in Kingsbury, and more that I can't remember at this moment. And I did not drink alcohol after about 18years old (and still don't)." Peter Deckett 17/02/2016
"I remember the Birds Nest at Muswell Hill. I think it changed its name later in 70's but can't remember the name. Does anyone remember Charlie Brown's disco attached to the Robert E Lee pub in Tottenham? I spent many a happy Friday night there. I also went to Bumbles in Woodgreen,Tottenham Royal,Eltons and Room at the Top in Ilford. Great times" Tessa Storey 23/04/2016
"Please can you tell me if the moat house in Tamworth Staffordshire used to be a schooner inn." Beverly Cliffe 20/01/2017
"I used Charlie Browns in Tottenham round the back of Robert E Lee a hell of a lot in the 70s. Dale Winton (yes him) was a DJ there on the circuits, with two Go-Go dancers on multicoloured podiums either side of him The place had an upstairs and a rectangular hole in floor so you could look down onto the dance floor. Occasionally glasses or bottles were kicked over starting fights but trouble here was rare. Bouncers were great and if you were a regular they would do their best to get you in on a ticket only night.
I am white English but loved it here dancing with Greeks Turks and West Indians we had real integration here so my memories are of a fondness of the place. Met many girls here too. Wish I had a time machine." Dave 05/02/2017
"I worked at Schooners head office in, I think, Buckingham Gate from 1968 to 1970, it was a great place to work - the company was very successful and expanding fast: we were the glamour boys of the Watney group.
The second Schooner to open was the Leather Bottle in Edgware. Other Schooners included:
The Mitre, Reading;
The Robin Hood, Kingston;
The Swan, Bursledon;
The Spotted Dog, Forest Gate.
There was one in Brighton: the Abingdon?
There was also the Coach & Horses, Chiswick, which Roy Wilson Smith redesigned with an artificial stream flowing through, recycling the water. One night someone threw a large quantity of detergent into the water, which resulted in a tidal wave of foam flowing everywhere. Good old Roy.
Wish I could remember more." Bill 01/03/2017
"Hi, we were at the Six Bells Birds Nest for 18 months or so from the opening in 1969. Great days, resident DJ's John Hall and the legendary 'whispering' Bob Harris. Annie worked upstairs and Jo downstairs. A lifetime ago. What ever happened to Mr Jost?" Jo and Annie 04/03/2017
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