This picks up from yesterday’s post, in which I begin a look at the English pub (particularly the Selborne Arms) as the second of ten reasons why every gamer should spend some serious time in the UK.

What’s Cool About It?

Walk into the Selborne Arms. It doesn’t look anything like the American concept of a bar, an image built on that of the western saloon. The space is divided into three or four relatively small rooms; in many of the rooms a small bit of bar occupies a corner or back wall. The ceilings are low, with the old, hand-hewn beams exposed and blackened by smoke. There’s a fireplace in every room, and if the weather is chilly (this is England, so the answer is yes) there’s a fire burning.

Inside the Selborne Arms. The bar to the left is only ten or twelve feet long; it doesn't dominate the room. It does, however, connect through to other rooms—you can sort of see one through the opening behind the bar. Beard guy sits at the left end of this bar, just out of the picture.

English village pubs are largely patronized by regulars, but there’s a real regular here: An older gent sitting at one end of the one of the bars, beer in hand, with a long gray beard. He’s such a regular that there are pictures on the wall of the same scene, with the same guy sitting in the same seat with the same beer and same long gray beard. Old pictures.

I don’t know anything about this old guy—I never spoke to him or heard his name. But if I had to guess, I’d say he harkens from the days when Selborne was still a farming village rather than an upscale commuter settlement. Like most village pubs, the Selborne Arms serves folk of all stripes. It’s mostly upscale diners now, with a healthy dose of blue-collar drinkers, but the reverse would have been more common up until the last few decades.

Something You Didn’t Know

The Eagle and Child (sometimes called the Bird and Baby (or the Fowl and Fetus)) in Oxford, where Tolkien regularly met with Lewis and his other literary buddies. It was probably built as a residence or shop, but that's speculation on my part (based partially on its layout and partially on the historical documentation of its owners' occupations). Inside it's a warren of tiny little spaces.

Why are English pubs subdivided into small rooms? I would guess it’s because they weren’t usually purpose-built as pubs, but were kit-bashed from large houses. But my aforementioned Hen and Chicken was built specifically as a coach house (I think), and it’s the same way. Of course, the Brits are obsessed with tradition and comfort (witness the wallpaper and armchairs in Wallace & Gromit’s rocketship), so even in 1740 the Hen and Chicken’s proprietors could have preferred to follow the village pub model rather than put people off with a new sort of design.

Nowadays, most pubs are owned by national breweries. But until the last century, the Selborne Arms, like most village pubs, brewed its own ale and beer. In fact, the hops kiln is now the bathrooms.

There’s not much of a waitstaff at the typical English pub—it’s not like a restaurant, and is not criss-crossed by a flow of buxom broads in low-cut peasant blouses. You order food and beverages at the bar and tell them what table you’re at. You get your drinks right there, and someone from the kitchen brings your food when its ready. There may or may not be a printed menu—just as often, the food offerings are on a chalkboard and can vary day to day—and in the old days there probably wasn’t a menu at all. You ate what they happened to cook that day.

One last one: Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham. Claims to be England's oldest extant pub, founded in 1189 as a stopping place for pilgrams headed for the Holy Land. Built against the cliff, it's a conventional pub at the front . . .

. . . with a handful of rooms built into caves at the back! The time I visited, it was chock full, as most English pubs mostly are, with a regular, local crowd.

So What’s This Mean to the Gamer?

Well, if your game is really medieval, you’re only going to see inns, taverns, and pubs in towns and cities. And you may want to rethink their design; a set of small, interconnected rooms may be more realistic (and perhaps atmospheric) than a western saloon in medieval dress. In a rural village, your characters are gonna have to ask around for the public house, and then beg lodging there if they need it.

In a setting inspired by later times, coach house type establishments might be common along major roads. But again, ditch the saloon.

So there you go: The second reason every gamer should live in the UK. I wish I had a few more of my own photos to show, but you’ll have to settle for what I dredged up. More great reasons to live in the UK in future installments!

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