The Fellowship Inn: 100 years, what's changed?
The 1920s was a decade of contrasts. The First World War had ended in victory, peace had returned and with it, prosperity.
For some the war had proved to be very profitable. Nightclubs, jazz clubs and cocktail bars flourished in the cities bringing a new hedonistic drinking culture which was embraced by many young people. For many in a society that retained its pre-war values these ‘bright young things’ with their ‘debauched’ lifestyles created a lot of anxiety.
Away from the night clubs of central London, on a newly built housing estate in Bellingham, an experiment in temperance was about to begin with the building of The Fellowship Inn. The pub was not only going to provide for soldiers returning from war but was to be part of an inter-war movement towards ‘Improved public houses.’ The Fellowship was part of a new breed of pub designed to achieve a middle ground between the hedonistic drinking culture of west end London and the strict prohibition regimes taking hold in the USA. These pubs would focus the customer away from excessive alcohol consumption and towards family based entertainment and food.
The decision to build the Fellowship in Bellingham was not a straightforward process. Due to pressure from the temperance movement the London County Council was wary of building pubs on their suburban estates. When it was eventually deemed that the provision of a pub was acceptable, they were designed along ‘improved’ lines with the provision of community facilities such as halls, games rooms and refreshment rooms, and referred to as ‘refreshment houses’.
Whilst pawing through the newspaper archives I came across an interesting article about the early days of the Fellowship back in 1924. It reflects the excitement and optimism which came with the creation of the building – a totem for social progress in Bellingham and beyond.
Reading this article, it strikes me just how closely we are treading in the footsteps of history. Although we are operating in a very different type of society to our counterparts in the 1920’s, we too hope that the Fellowship Inn will be a tool for social progress in our community.
Today’s Fellowship Inn project was conceived out of a desire to create a space for the community - somewhere for families, a place for entertainment and through its regeneration, an opportunity to create jobs and provide training for local people. The same was true in 1924.
For some the idea of a housing association taking on a pub is out of the ordinary - it might even seem slightly experimental. In this respect we are not too far away from the original creators of the Fellowship. In fact, I think we can safely borrow from the words of this Fleet Street correspondent in describing our own project as a very "interesting enterprise".