The moon under water

Many years ago George Orwell wrote an article specifying what the 10 things that he thought the perfect London pub should have. Country pubs were different and he didn’t go in to the details. His ideal pub was called “The moon under water”.

Rather terribly there is course a chain version of these pubs now. This supposedly was the template for the Wetherspoons chain of pubs. The only thing that they seemed to listen to George about was his dislike of music. Everything else they seemed to get wrong. Wetherspoons pubs have had a complete atmosphere bypass, and I think the idea of several pubs all being exactly the same, being exactly as crap as each other and using his name would have wounded George. One line from his article is thus,”If you are asked why you favour a particular public-house, it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appeals to me about the Moon Under Water is what people call its ‘atmosphere.'” On that rationale, would you ever choose a Wetherspoons?

Actually here is the article…


Evening Standard, 9 February 1946

My favourite public-house, the Moon Under Water, is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights.

Its clientele, though fairly large, consists mostly of “regulars” who occupy the same chair every evening and go there for conversation as much as for the beer.

If you are asked why you favour a particular public-house, it would seem natural to put the beer first, but the thing that most appeals to me about the Moon Under Water is what people call its “atmosphere.”

To begin with, its whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian. It has no glass-topped tables or other modern miseries, and, on the other hand, no sham roof-beams, ingle-nooks or plastic panels masquerading as oak. The grained woodwork, the ornamental mirrors behind the bar, the cast-iron fireplaces, the florid ceiling stained dark yellow by tobacco-smoke, the stuffed bull’s head over the mantelpiece —everything has the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century.

In winter there is generally a good fire burning in at least two of the bars, and the Victorian lay-out of the place gives one plenty of elbow-room. There are a public bar, a saloon bar, a ladies’ bar, a bottle-and-jug for those who are too bashful to buy their supper beer publicly, and, upstairs, a dining-room.

Games are only played in the public, so that in the other bars you can walk about without constantly ducking to avoid flying darts.

In the Moon Under Water it is always quiet enough to talk. The house possesses neither a radio nor a piano, and even on Christmas Eve and such occasions the singing that happens is of a decorous kind.

The barmaids know most of their customers by name, and take a personal interest in everyone. They are all middle-aged women —two of them have their hair dyed in quite surprising shades—and they call everyone “dear,” irrespective of age or sex. (“Dear,” not “Ducky”: pubs where the barmaid calls you “ducky” always have a disagreeable raffish atmosphere.)

Unlike most pubs, the Moon Under Water sells tobacco as well as cigarettes, and it also sells aspirins and stamps, and is obliging about letting you use the telephone.

You cannot get dinner at the Moon Under Water, but there is always the snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels (a speciality of the house), cheese, pickles and those large biscuits with caraway seeds in them which only seem to exist in public-houses.

Upstairs, six days a week, you can get a good, solid lunch —for example, a cut off the joint, two vegetables and boiled jam roll—for about three shillings.

The special pleasure of this lunch is that you can have draught stout with it. I doubt whether as many as 10 per cent of London pubs serve draught stout, but the Moon Under Water is one of them. It is a soft, creamy sort of stout, and it goes better in a pewter pot.

They are particular about their drinking vessels at the Moon Under Water, and never, for example, make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass. Apart from glass and pewter mugs, they have some of those pleasant strawberry-pink china ones which are now seldom seen in London. China mugs went out about 30 years ago, because most people like their drink to be transparent, but in my opinion beer tastes better out of china.

The great surprise of the Moon Under Water is its garden. You go through a narrow passage leading out of the saloon, and find yourself in a fairly large garden with plane trees, under which there are little green tables with iron chairs round them. Up at one end of the garden there are swings and a chute for the children.

On summer evenings there are family parties, and you sit under the plane trees having beer or draught cider to the tune of delighted squeals from children going down the chute. The prams with the younger children are parked near the gate.

Many as are the virtues of the Moon Under Water, I think that the garden is its best feature, because it allows whole families to go there instead of Mum having to stay at home and mind the baby while Dad goes out alone.

And though, strictly speaking, they are only allowed in the garden, the children tend to seep into the pub and even to fetch drinks for their parents. This, I believe, is against the law, but it is a law that deserves to be broken, for it is the puritanical nonsense of excluding children —and therefore, to some extent, women—from pubs that has turned these places into mere boozing-shops instead of the family gathering-places that they ought to be.

The Moon Under Water is my ideal of what a pub should be —at any rate, in the London area. (The qualities one expects of a country pub are slightly different.)

But now is the time to reveal something which the discerning and disillusioned reader will probably have guessed already. There is no such place as the Moon Under Water.

That is to say, there may well be a pub of that name, but I don’t know of it, nor do I know any pub with just that combination of qualities.

I know pubs where the beer is good but you can’t get meals, others where you can get meals but which are noisy and crowded, and others which are quiet but where the beer is generally sour. As for gardens, offhand I can only think of three London pubs that possess them.

But, to be fair, I do know of a few pubs that almost come up to the Moon Under Water. I have mentioned above ten qualities that the perfect pub should have and I know one pub that has eight of them. Even there, however, there is no draught stout, and no china mugs.

And if anyone knows of a pub that has draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio, I should be glad to hear of it, even though its name were something as prosaic as the Red Lion or the Railway Arms.


So what on earth was Tim Martin thinking when he used the name for his pubs?

There are some changes that have happened since Orwell’s article. Almost every pub serves stout now (sadly, generally only one kind). And there is no chance of bringing smoking back to the pub. And of course sacrilegiously I sometimes like music in a pub. Not always. It depends on the general noise level. I can deal with what my father calls “Wallpaper music” when the pub is quiet. That way the pub never feels totally empty. But it should never upset the possibility of conversation.

But what do you all think? What makes the perfect boozer for you?

3 thoughts on “The moon under water

  1. kris says:

    I hadn’t read the Orwell article for ages. I think I might rather go to a Wetherspoons. How awful.

  2. Alex Andronov says:

    Well Kris that is very sad.You couldn’t really. Wetherspoons is dreadful.

  3. Shauns Bicester info blog. says:

    Hi Alex,OMG!, no F1 this week!, but there is a Moto GP on at 13:00 this afternoon…that will have to do i suppose.Orwell’s article was kind of written in am age when pubs were pubs. Totally agree with him about not having loud music. A local pub is for conversation – winding the music up to loud is just stupid. It is fine in a nightclub or a pub geared up for youngsters however; we should have a choice.I was in my regular pub last night and i think that no smoking is one of the best things that has ever happened to the place. The smokers are fine about going outside and if someone, when they have had a few too many beers, like a mate of mine who dominates every conversation and also dumbs the conversation down goes out for a fag : you get a break from the drunken buffoon and are able to continue with the conversation you were having with other friends uninterrupted and at a higher level, ha ha!.A lot of landlords blame the smoking ban for falling sales. I blame the fact that you have to pay £3 for a pint of Fosters? for the decline in foot-fall through the door – but they just keep jacking the price up. Wetherspoons gets the punters by keeping prices low and thus upping the head count. Being able to buy in bulk enables this however and it seems the way forward unfortunately. A good land-lord with a bit of spark and energy about him can make a huge difference to a pub. A lot of land-lords are stuffy, boring characters that just expect the pub to look after itself. Thats what i think the problem is…and of course the extortionate prices.I hit a Bicester pub last night on the way home from my regular village pub – but my buffoon of a mate was in there having a ‘who can shout loudest over the ear splitting music competition’ with a neanderthal type character who was throwing banana skins (dont ask) at people whilst helping himself to their unguarded drinks. I had a Jack Daniels on the rocks and went home. The pubs name by the way was, The Hobgoblin, formerly known as, The Bell.What a sewer…S.

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