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How modern tea rooms and leisure space updated the traditional drinkers’ pub

Valeria Carullo

Oliver Hill designed Prospect Inn in 1938, a steel and brick building with horizontal windows and curved forms – one of the new Improved Public Houses of the inter-war years

Prospect Inn Minster, Kent, 1938.
Prospect Inn Minster, Kent, 1938. Credit: RIBA Collections

The inter-war period saw the introduction in Britain of a new type of inn, the Improved Public House. This new type of establishment, which included dining or tea rooms, outdoor amenities and generally larger interior spaces, was developed in response to the widespread problem of drunkenness, especially in the workforce: the public house could now be seen not only as a place for drinking but also for social and leisure activities – and therefore also attract new customers, including women. Children’s rooms were also provided.

Most of the Improved Public Houses adopted traditional architectural styles, but in the later inter-war years a modern language for pubs was developed, whose distinctive features included horizontal steel windows and curved forms, both inside and outside. They were built mostly in the suburbs or roads just out of town, but the Prospect Inn in Minster, designed by Oliver Hill, was located instead in the countryside, on a road leading to Kent’s holiday resorts. This steel-framed, brick building could be seen from a considerable distance thanks to its rooftop pylon, which was floodlit at night.