Exterior view of the Apple Tree pub
The Apple Tree, Lowther Street, Carlisle, Cumbria © Historic England DP188289
The Apple Tree, Lowther Street, Carlisle, Cumbria © Historic England DP188289

New Research Reveals Legacy of State-Owned Pubs, Introduced to Prevent Excessive Drinking During the First World War

As pubs open their doors again, new research from Historic England reveals the legacy of the state-run “Carlisle Experiment”, which sought to prevent excessive drinking during the First World War - both in terms of lasting influence on pub design and the rules imposed on patrons.

The radical steps taken to curb binge drinking, judged to be threatening the war effort, included the engineering of pub layouts to facilitate easier supervision of drinkers’ behaviour and the introduction of food in pubs.

A year after a 1915 report highlighted that alcohol-related problems in Carlisle, Annan and Gretna were affecting wartime munitions production due to high rates of absenteeism at the factories, the government started an ambitious acquisition programme across the area, buying up pubs, hotels, breweries, shops and other facilities linked to the alcohol trade.

Model designs

Government-owned public houses became model designs, building on new concepts such as segregated spaces for ‘first’ and ‘second classes’, and separate rooms for women who were previously excluded from pub life. Aiming to distract customers from having one drink too many, building design encouraged recreation and family orientated activities and spaces, particularly the bowling green. Toilets were provided at some venues for the first time.

Alongside the public houses which were retained after nationalisation, many were rebuilt and newly designed. Those built between 1916 and 1949 were the creations of the celebrated pub architect, Harry Redfern. Although similar in layout and concept, no two designs for new public houses were the same as Redfern took great care to ensure that individual designs were tailored for the needs of local people.

The Apple Tree

The Apple Tree on Lowther Street in Carlisle was the first of the new improved public houses built under the scheme, opening in 1927. It set the standard for Redfern’s subsequent designs, and its location on the street corner made it easy for the authorities to monitor those entering and leaving the public house with no access possible through back doors.

The layout of the Apple Tree was considered innovative at the time since it catered for combinations of genders and classes in separate rooms, with first-class customers enticed to the first floor by large windows which reflected Elizabethan design.

The story of the Apple Tree is part of Carlisle’s rich heritage and we’re thrilled to be throwing open our doors once again for customers to enjoy themselves in the surroundings of this special building.
Dylan Mckenzie, General Manager The Apple Tree

The Spinners Arms

The Spinners Arms in Cummersdale, which opened in June 1930, is identified as “a good and very attractive example of one of Redfern’s smaller new model inns” with a very well-preserved exterior and a surviving Delft pottery fireplace.

Of the 14 years we’ve owned the Spinners Arms, the last year has easily been the most challenging for us and our wonderful customers. We're really looking forward to having everyone back inside, enjoying a pint from our own brewery, and perhaps discovering a bit about the amazing history of the place too!
Alison and Alain Davis, owners of the Spinners Arms

The scheme ran for 57 years, from 1916 to 1973, with more than 400 public houses involved across the three districts of Carlisle, Enfield and Cromarty Firth. Today, 333 of these buildings remain, 93 of which are now listed. According to the Historic England report, many are under threat, not only through alteration, but also as a result of closure and demolition.

Read the report: Countering the 'deadliest of foes': public houses of the Central Control Board and the State Management Scheme, 1916-73

This research documents the survival of so many of these remarkable buildings, which introduced many features of the modern public house and highlights the need for continued care and protection.
Clare Howard, Architectural Investigator Historic England
Carlisle has a continuous history dating back to before the Romans so it’s surprising that the period from the First World War until the 1970s is so little recorded in the history books, as this was a time when Carlisle and its surroundings were the subject of one of the country’s great social experiments - the state management of its pubs and breweries. This excellent publication from Historic England fills a major gap and has been long awaited.
Tom Dodd, Carlisle State Management researcher