Photographing the good pubs of England

If there’s one thing that most English people agree on, it’s the importance of pubs. But it’s no secret that over the last few years, such establishments have been closing in their droves thanks to everything from redevelopment to rent hikes, licensing struggles, the cost of living crisis, and more.

It seems like a good time, then, to celebrate the pubs we do still have left; both in terms of their architectural splendour and the vibrant characters that run and frequent them. A new book, Great Pubs of England, does just that, presenting documentary and portrait photographer Horst A Friedrichs’ images of 33 the country’s “most notable pubs”, alongside texts by travel journalist Stuart Husband.

Published by Prestel, the book offers a snapshot of the history of English pub culture, and explores what it is about England’s pubs that have made them transcend their status as mere buildings or watering holes and become pillars of the country’s traditions, identity, and socioeconomic fabric.

Top image: Henry Conlon, landlord of the Dublin Castle Tavern in Camden, London; Above: Great Pubs of England by Horst A Friedrichs and Stuart Husband
The Peveril of the Peak , located on Great Bridgewater Street in Manchester. © Horst A. Friedrichs / Great Pubs of England /PrestelThe Peveril of the Peak, Manchester

The pubs within the book have been selected for a number of reasons, but frequently exhibit architecture of particular historic interest or quirky interiors – “centuries-old snugs, elegant marble bar tops, rich wood-panelled anterooms and pressed tin ceilings”, as Husband puts it. Friedrichs adds that Great Pubs of England aims to offer “more than just a travel guide but a virtual pub crawl, which documents and memorialises an important and rapidly changing aspect of Britain’s national heritage”.

Pubs from across the length and breadth of England are included, with photographs of sites in Yorkshire, Swindon, Liverpool, Wigan, Skipton, Norfolk, and more. However, there’s still very much a skew towards the capital: the book is split into three sections – ‘London/South-East’, ‘South-West’, and ‘North’ — and 18 of the 33 pubs sit in the first one (with just six for the South-West). 

London’s entrants include Mile End’s stunning canalside pub the Palm Tree; the Vauxhall Tavern (home of that excellent tale of Princess Diana allegedly dressing as a bloke in order to go out dancing with Freddie Mercury, and also the UK’s first building to be listed in recognition of its importance to LGBTQI+ community history); and notorious Camden watering hole the Dublin Castle, which has played host to the likes of Blur, Madness (“they packed the place out for six weeks with all these ska kids. Then they got on Top of the Pops,” says the pub’s landlord Henry Conlon), and Amy Winehouse.

The Haunch of Venison, Salisbury, England, © Horst A. Friedrichs
The Boleyn Tavern in West Ham ,London.© Horst A. Friedrichs /Great Pubs of England /Prestel PublishingThe Boleyn Tavern in West Ham, London
The Gunton Arms: Owner and art dealer Ivor Braka , The Gunton Arms ,North Norfolk , England.  © Horst A. Friedrichs /Great Pubs of England /Prestel Publishing Owner and art dealer Ivor Braka at The Gunton Arms, North Norfolk

While most of the pubs have obvious historical interest, others feel like jarringly odd choices for inclusion, such as Beavertown’s Corner Pin in Tottenham, north London; or the Marksman, a once-fun Hackney pub that, arguably, has been totally ruined by its Michelin-isation in 2015.

But maybe that’s explained by Great Pubs of England’s stated aim to demonstrate the huge variety of pubs England has to offer, from “Yorkshire dining destinations”  to “Cornish beer shrines” to “old-school saloons”, “ultimate locals”, and “modern reimaginings of traditional hostelries”. Concurrently, it looks to also celebrate what unites them – “the same time-honoured purpose: to offer the warmest of welcomes, and to lift the spirits.”

Great Pubs of England is published by Prestel;