Club Barstaff.... where would be without them? Pulling pints and emptying the slop trays. Changing barrels and cleaning out the pipes. Opening boxes of crisps and filling the ice buckets. Plenty of work to do and often for not much pay, let alone thanks. They tend to be taken for granted in the bigger picture of clubs and perhaps not always appreciated. But they are key players on the clubs scene and we need to see things from their side of the bar. What is it like to work behind the bar at a club? What sort of memories might be recalled?
Matthew Jackson, now a PhD student at the University of Warwick, recalls here a few of his memories of working at Bardeswell Social Club in Brentwood, Essex. It’s a wonderful slice of memory and portrays some of the members so well. Reading this reminded me of many clubs I have visited and the locals I have come across in them. Thanks Matt for sharing your story with Club Historians! It’s both humorous and insightful.
My experience of the Bardeswell Social Club, Brentwood, Essex
I worked at the Bardeswell during the summer before entering my first year at university as a way to save up some money for that expensive first-term nightlife that seems to take a massive chunk out of every student’s wallet. I’d heard about the position through a friend of mine who had been working there for some time, though was dismissed for biting his finger nails while serving customers’ pints. He found the whole scenario quite humorous, but it was surely not the most hygienic of practices.
The Club itself was a limp stones throw away from my house, perhaps three of four buildings up the road, and was surrounded by tall conifer trees, which always gave the place an element of secrecy when I was a young boy. Upon gaining access to this mystery building as a full-time barman, I walked along a dimly-lit corridor lined by pictures of England’s Kings and Queens, which led onto the main room furnished with several clusters of blue-cushioned seating booths, walls decorated with cream vinyl paper, and windows dressed with thick claret-red velvet curtains. The atmosphere was generally warm and peaceful, filled with the sounds of jangling coins, clinking of glasses, darts striking off the board wire, pool balls sinking into the pockets, and of course laughter.
As a young man of eighteen years however, more familiar with the lively and music-filled town bars, the Bardeswell was a new cultural experience to say the least. The bar held a small selection of draft bitters, a few spirits, fizzy pops, snacks, and a rather quaint (and very popular) stock of homemade cheese, ham and corned beef sandwiches, which one of the regulars made and sold for a pound, splitting the profits with the owner.
The job in itself was not particularly stressful and involved the usual serving of drinks, refilling stock, cleaning and cashing up, and particularly changing the heavy beer barrels. Since the owner and his brother had put their backs out several times over the years, they thought the task was more suited to my physique! Yet despite these more mundane duties, there were several more important ones. Each of my fifteen to twenty regulars drank from a specific vessel – a straight pint glass, a pilsner glass, a handled tankard, a tumbler, a small or large wine glass – in a certain way – one, two or no ice-cubes – according to certain protocols – mix the Canadian dry or leave the ginger ale mixer on the bar next to the measure – that they expected me to know. I vividly remember one gentleman that wore a thick gold bracelet and several rings saying “You’re going to have to learn fast, my boy”.
A principle that epitomised the Bardeswell Club was its almost systematic regularity; static prices despite drinking establishments locally and nationwide hiking costs up a few pennies every year, quiz nights on a Tuesday, karaoke on a Saturday, the darts league on a Friday, and a pool competition every last Monday of the month. The customers too imbued this character of regularity, such as the 60 year old regular (whose name now escapes me) who would prop himself up at the bar every night for three pints of Fosters top, arriving at 17:00 on the dot and leaving bang on 21:00. He was a really nice guy and we were always chatting about history – namely the World Wars – despite my efforts to interest him in the riots of the early modern period. The second example came in the charming couple of Bill and Doris, both in their seventies, who would come in most nights and order four rounds of Toby bitter and a gin & tonic, coming to about £3.60 and a few pennies. Their regularity came not only in the same four rounds of drinks they ordered, but that fact that Bill placed the exact amount of change for the rounds in each of the four pockets on his thick tweed jacket. This made our bar transactions speedy, but was probably more to remind him when it was time to go home.
Matthew Jackson (PhD, History, University of Warwick)
Thesis title: Drink and Identity: A Comparative Case Study of Early Modern Bristol and Bordeaux. For more information contact Matthew on:
A summary of his thesis can be found on the page about academic interest in pubs, clubs and drinking - click here.
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