The Silk Mill exemplifies one of the changes brought about, or at least accelerated by, the war. In 1914, although working-class women could be found in pubs with their husbands, many pubs were ‘male drinking dens’ which no ‘respectable’ women would enter, except possibly into the ‘Jug and Bottle’ to fetch beer to drink at home. These would have a separate entrance and be partitioned off from the rest of the pub.
With the coming of war, there were more young women earning good money (though still much less than their male colleagues) (DWWIPP-13) and many older women had to cope with the loneliness of husbands away from home. Furthermore, more pubs were being run by women, creating a more congenial environment. Pub-going extended up the social ladder to upper working-class women, those in skilled employment.
The other, rather surprising, influence was the Central Control Board. This had been set up (see DWWIPP-2) to reduce the detrimental effect of the prevailing drunkenness on the war effort. Its main weapons were restricting permitted hours, closing smaller pubs and reducing the strength of beer while simultaneously increasing its price. But sensibly, prohibition was not the objective. Instead one aim was to make pubs places for moderate drinking, places where women would be happy to accompany their husbands, and men happy to invite their sweethearts.
Brewers also saw the way the wind was blowing, and the advantages in doubling their potential customer base and having fewer, but larger, pubs. Thus, when the original Old Silk Mill was demolished its replacement, built in 1928 on a slightly different site, was a spacious and attractive building that conformed to this new model of what a pub should be.
Even Mr Hargreaves, the outspoken chairman of Strettons and Altons acknowledged the importance of women in the industry. At the 1922 annual dinner (see DWWIPP 4), he said that Strettons and Altons hope to acquire a sports ground for use by the employees “Nor would they forget that members of the staff comprised both sexes, and they would provide tennis for the ladies.” This is the first time that women have been mentioned in reports of these dinners, except as musical entertainers.
It is not known if the ladies ever got their court. In the same year Altons Brewery was closed and in 1927 the whole company was taken over by Allsopps and Co. The days of very local breweries with many tiny pubs were coming to an end. The future lay with bigger companies who could finance larger and better-appointed pubs, and stifle opposition.
Other examples of inter-war pubs that reflect this continuing trend to “reformed” pubs are The White Horse in the Morledge (1923), The Star and Garter, corner of St Mary’s Gate and Bold Lane (now converted to offices) (1934) and The Blue Peter at Alvaston (1935).
Details of its opening hours and facilities of the Silk Mill can be found using the CAMRA Good Beer Guide app. This can be obtained free of charge (basic version) at https://gbgapp.camra.org.uk/ or (free of charge) from WhatPub at https://whatpub.com/
This Wonder is one of a series of thirteen researched by the Derby World War One Pubs Project (DWWIPP). In describing the wonders, we also develop an underlying narrative on how the war lastingly affected pubs and the brewing industry, and society itself. For this reason, it may be preferable to read them in sequence, DWWIPP-1 to DWWIPP-13.
The thirteen wonders in this series and other stories featuring the effects of WWI on pubs and breweries can be found in a special Armistice Centenary Edition of Derby CAMRA’s magazine, Derby Drinker. It, and the current edition, can be downloaded free of charge at https://derby.camra.org.uk/derby-drinker/DerbyDrinker/DerbyDrinker_WW1special.pdf . You can also download an ‘Ale Trail’ leaflet featuring the thirteen Wonders in this series from https://derby.camra.org.uk/
The DWWIPP team are grateful for the support and encouragement of many organizations and individuals, in particular to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and all National Lottery players, for the funding; the Derby Branch CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale); the Derby Local Studies and Family History Library; and the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery (Wonders of the Peak). We are also grateful to Maxwell Craven, whose ‘The Inns and Taverns of Derby’, Breedon Books,1992, ISBN 1 873626 21 5, is an invaluable source of information on the past and present pubs of Derby.
Images may be subject to copyright.