Kelty Public House Society

Gothenburg Experiments in Scotland (Joseph Rowntree)

Since 1895, suggestions for the public management of the liquor traffic have received increasing support in Scotland, where several important experiments are already in active operation. The earliest of these owed its inception to Mr. Charles Carlow, the managing director of the Fife Coal Company, Limited, but it was left to Mr. John Ross, a well-known educationist in Dunfermline, who is solicitor to the Fife Coal Company, to develop and extend a tentative experiment by organising the present public-house societies in Fifeshire.

The Kelty Public House Society Ltd
Date started. January 1st, 1900
Population of Village 4,700.

The rules and constitution of the Kelty Society are so closely similar to those of the Hill of Beath Society that detailed description is unnecessary. The chief differences are: (1) that the share capital is raised in shares of five shillings each instead of £1, and (2) that the committee of management consists of eight instead of six members.

Kelty is another mining village belonging to the Fife Coal Company. Its population at the recent census was nearly 4,700. It is the centre of a very prosperous mining district, and work has been plentiful and wages high for some years past. A proof of this prosperity is seen in the fact that at one pit alone the daily output is from 1,600 to 1,800 tons of coal. The miners work eleven days a fortnight, and their wages range from 6s. to 7s. 6d. per day, while mere lads can earn from 2s. 6d. to 4s. per day. It thus happens that the family income is, as a rule, high.

The proposal to establish a "Gothenburg" public-house originated with Mr. John Ross, of Dunfermline. Mr. Ross paid a visit to Kelty in the autumn of 1899, and lectured on the Gothenburg system. Shortly afterwards a meeting was summoned to consider a definite proposal, which Mr. Ross then submitted, to establish a " Gothenburg" public-house in Kelty. The proposal aroused considerable local feeling, and encountered much opposition from religious and temperance people in Kelty, with the result that at the meeting the proceedings were somewhat excited. Mr. Boss's resolution failed to find a seconder, while a resolution against the establishment of the house was carried. In the end it was decided that a plebiscite should be taken on the question, and a committee was appointed for the purpose. The promoters of the new public-house were asked to co-operate by appointing to the committee a number of representatives equal to those appointed by the public meeting. This they declined to do, but the committee, nevertheless, included some who were in favour of the scheme who had been nominated at the public meeting. The question put to the voters was: " Are you opposed to the granting of a licence to the Kelty Public-House Company ? " The result of the voting was as follows :

Opposed to licence-
Householders and resident voters….. 318
Non-voters, men…………………… 124
Non-voters, women………………… 296
Total ……………………………….. 738

In favour of licence-
Householders and resident voters….. 153
Non-voters, men……………………. 117
Non-voters, women………………… 111
Total………………………………… 381

Majority opposed to licence …….. 357
About 1,200 voting-cards were issued.

It seems unfortunate, in face of such a pronouncement, that the proposal was persisted in; at the same time it is highly probable that an additional licence would have been granted to Kelty in any case, so that the responsibility of thrusting an additional licence upon the place is not strictly to be charged against the promoters of the scheme. Practically everyone agrees (and the chief officer of the local police entirely endorsed this view in conversation with one of the present writers) that an additional licence had become almost inevitable owing to the pressure of trade at the other houses and the growing population.

The new public-house stands in an exceedingly good position, and is a substantial stone building much superior to the other public-houses in the village. It was built specially for its present purpose by the Kelty Public-House Society at a cost (including furniture and fittings) of £3,500. It is rated at £180 per annum. It has a large bar, with accommodation for a crowd of customers; also a small separate jug compartment, and four rooms off the bar. Upstairs there is a large room, 30 ft. by 20 ft., furnished with seventy chairs and used for Cricket-club dinners and teas, dinners of the local Burns Society, smoking-concerts, etc. There is also a restaurant room on the ground floor with a separate entrance from the street.

The house was visited on Thursday and Friday, June 13th and 14th, 1901. The latter day was the fortnightly payday, and we were told that the house would be well patronised. We visited the house at 9.40 p.m. The public bar was tolerably full of miners, and two men were also drinking in the private jug department. Trade was evidently brisk. The manager and two other men were serving in the bar, and the place was full of the loud voices usual in a busy public-house. The manager stated that they had been exceedingly busy all the evening. In addition to the general bar, the four rooms off the bar were also full, the orders from these rooms being taken by two young women who were busily engaged carrying liquor between the bar and the rooms. At ordinary times the bar is served by the manager and his assistant, but when trade is busy the women-helpers also serve. They occasionally serve when trade is slack if the manager and his assistant happen to be in another part of the house when customers come in. The manager much dislikes the side-rooms off the bar, since he finds it impossible to keep them under his own personal supervision and control. He mentioned that he had "rushed out of the bar to get a flying look at them at least twenty times" that evening.

The manager is a fairly young man, smart and respectable, who has had previous experience of the public-house trade, and he evidently does his best to keep the place respectable. There are no special restrictions governing sale. He will not knowingly serve liquor to any man who shows signs of intoxication, and although there is no " Black List" or anything approaching to one, he is able in a broad and general way, from his knowledge of the place, to sort out his customers. He mentioned, for example, that in some cases he would probably refuse to serve a man who he knew was addicted to excess with more than two pints, whereas he might serve other men with four pints. In this respect observation would lead us to say that the house is conducted much as an ordinary public-house is conducted where there is a good manager.

The house is managed by a committee of the miners, which meets every Monday. They have the assistance of a Secretary, who receives a salary of £16 a year. The latter is a teetotaller and thoroughly in sympathy with temperance work, and the opponents of the scheme speak in the highest terms of him. He orders all the liquors, and they are debited to the manager at selling prices. The usual hours of sale are observed, and there are no special restrictions concerning the sale of liquor to children. No credit is, however, given. A general public-house trade is done, but beer-sales preponderate. The manager stated that, speaking generally, they would sell about one hogshead of spirits and thirty-two barrels of draught beer a month, besides bottled " Bass " ; also about two hundred and forty dozen of " minerals" a month. (He explained that the mineral waters were being largely used in conjunction with beer for what is known as "shandy gaff").

He further stated that there was a fair "off" trade, but that the "off " sales would not amount to more than a tenth of the whole. In accordance with local practice, beer is sold a halfpenny per pint cheaper for "off" consumption.

The manager is paid a fixed salary of £2 per week, with house, coal, and light. He receives no commission upon sales, even in the case of mineral waters, but it was stated that it is intended to let him have the profits on food in the restaurant as soon as the restaurant gets properly established. This restaurant is a good room with a separate entrance. It has, however, only been running a short time (being opened at the end of 1900), and at first involved a loss, but it is now paying its way. It is not likely ever to do a great business, inasmuch as it must depend upon cyclists and other visitors, the miners themselves having their meals at home. The manager at Kelty, as also the manager at the Hill of Beath, confirmed what had been stated elsewhere, that it is not really possible for a manager of a public-house to do much in pushing the sale of non-intoxicants. If it were possible, the high profits upon mineral waters would probably induce private publicans to do their utmost to sell them.

The "takings" of the house average at the present time from £60 to £70 per week. They are, as elsewhere, heaviest at the end of the week, and are specially affected by the fortnightly pay-day.

Only a portion of the profits has so far been appropriated. The appropriations already made include a grant of £50 to the local library, and the maintenance of a certificated district nurse. The district nurse is a great success, and is very popular in the village. Her maintenance will mean an expenditure of at least £100 per annum. The general rule of the Society governing the appropriation of profits is the same as that adopted by the Hill of Beath Society.


As the experiment is only eighteen months old, and has only completed one financial year, not much has been done so far in the way of direct counter-attractions to the public-house. As already explained, out of the last year's profits a grant of £50 was made to the local library. This institution is an excellent building, containing a loan library and reading-room, and a billiard-room with one table, in addition to accommodation for the caretaker and his family. The members pay a subscription of 2s. 6d. a year, and the building seems to be fairly well patronised. Although excellent in its way, it is quite inadequate to meet the recreative needs of the village, and especially inadequate as a counter-attraction to six public-houses and a drink-club. The Public-house Society, however, proposes shortly to lay down a bowling-green away from the public-house at a cost of about £500, and there is also some vague talk of a people's park, but there is little likelihood that the latter will be established just yet. It should be mentioned in this connection that some at least of the other public-houses in Kelty provide games for their customers.

In estimating the general results of the experiment in Kelty it is but just to make full acknowledgement of what the present writers believe to be the absolute sincerity and disinterestedness of aim which led to the establishment of the scheme. Mr. John Ross, the actual promoter of the Society, is a well-known and influential citizen, whose devotion to the cause of education and other public questions in Fifeshire has won him widespread respect; and it is unquestionable that in promoting the Fifeshire public-house societies he has been actuated by a sincere desire to make a practical contribution to the solution of a difficult and dangerous problem. He himself regards the local public-house societies as little more than experiments. "They are," he says, "picking their way," and he urges that they have been in existence for too short a time to show decisive results.

On the other hand, it is clear that in Kelty local feeling is strongly opposed to the experiment, and many complaints are made of increased drunkenness, and of persons who did not formerly frequent the public-houses of the village, but who now are said to visit the "Gothenburg" house owing to its supposed greater respectability. It is not clear that there is much in this last charge, although one or two instances were given, nor do we think that it is quite fair to charge the alleged increase of drunkenness in Kelty against the new public-house. The fact seems to be accepted that an increase of drunkenness has taken place during the last year or so, but this would appear to be due to (1) the very prosperous times which the miners have been having; (2) the growth of the population; and (3) the establishment of a club which is really no more than a drinking-saloon without the restrictions of an ordinary public-house. The chief officer of the local police was especially emphatic in his condemnation of this club, to which he evidently attributes the increase of drunkenness. He went so far as to say that the Sunday closing of the public-houses in Kelty is being rapidly undone by the heavy sales in the club on Sunday, and he gave illustrations of what he had himself seen in support of this. The club was opened about a year ago, and its establishment seems to have been the familiar case of a man thwarting the licensing justices who had refused a licence. In any case, its evil influence must be kept very prominently in view when considering the alleged increase of drunkenness in Kelty. The police officer, in speaking of the "Gothenburg" public-house, stated that in his experience it was well conducted, and he had no complaints to make against it. He seemed to think (in common with many others) that its chief virtue was that it diverted the profits of some part at least of the local liquor traffic to public purposes. On the whole, his testimony was favourable to, rather than against, the " Gothenburg " house.

Mr. Terris, J.P., chairman of the Kelty School Board, who has always been a supporter of the experiment, evinced no great enthusiasm for it in discussing the matter with one of the present writers. His great point was that in a choice between an ordinary public-house and a Company house it was better to have the Company house. He practically admitted that the chief value of the experiment was that the profits were diverted to useful ends.

The opponents of the scheme (some of whom are very hostile) chiefly take the ground that the way the profits (which were £602 for the first year) are likely to be appropriated may injure the cause of temperance by giving the people a direct monetary interest in the continuance of the traffic. Some of them also feel that the establishment of the house has increased drinking and drunkenness; but the chief objection is clearly the apprehension of an appeal to the cupidity of the village. In some respects the most weighty opinion was given by a resident doctor - a comparatively young man and a regular Church worker. He was, on the whole, distinctly opposed to the experiment, and especially felt the difficulty likely to arise out of the villagers' pecuniary interest in the scheme. It was, however, generally acknowledged that if a scheme of local option could be devised whereby the whole of the public-house traffic in Kelty could be brought under effective and stringent public management, and arrangements made under which the locality would derive no profit from the traffic save and except a fixed grant for direct and efficient counter-attractions to the public-houses, the objections now felt would largely disappear.

The present writers are of opinion that it is practically impossible to decide whether the house has or has not increased drinking in Kelty. Upon the whole they would be inclined to suggest that its effect has not been great either way. That it has not diminished drinking and drunkenness may be accepted as certain. It could not well be expected to do this, in view of the fact that it has increased the facilities for obtaining drink ; and it is further possible that to some slight extent it has increased drinking among those to whom its respectability is said to appeal.

It is clear, however, that with the competition which the house encounters it is hopeless to look for very satisfactory results. In addition to the "Gothenburg" house there are five other public-houses in Kelty (one of them immediately opposite), as well as two grocers' licences and a drink-club. The manager himself is fully alive to the injurious effect of this competition upon his own efforts. "My principal bother here," as he recently informed the special commissioner of the Alliance News? "is drunken people coming from other places. This place is doing no good. One of its kind in a place is no use. If we had all the houses in the place under our management we could do some good; but what would be the use of us closing earlier, or anything like that, when our customers would just go across the way to the public-house opposite?" In conversation with the present writers he was equally emphatic.

Summed up briefly, the defects of the Kelty experiment do not indicate any inherent defect in the principle of public management, rightly applied and directed, but rather the urgent necessity of legislation which shall allow localities to acquire a complete monopoly of the local traffic under conditions that will give free play both to restrictive and constructive agencies, and prevent the traffic being conducted for local pecuniary gain. At present there is a distinct danger that localities may drift into experiments before the necessary safeguards are properly understood.

See also Among the Fife Miners, Kellogg Durland, Chapter VI