As a noun, the British informal word pub crawl denotes a drinking tour of a number of pubs or bars; as a verb, it means to go on a pub crawl.
But I have discovered that when they first appeared in 1909, pub crawl and the nouns pub crawler and pub crawling referred specifically to an organised form of propaganda consisting in sending a person from pub to pub in order to promote the Conservative cause. This is clear from Our Local Letter, by ‘Argus’, published in the Cambridge Independent Press (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire) of Friday 21st May 1909:
S.L.H., in his column “Sub Rosa” in the “Morning Leader,” turns his flashlight from time to time on Cambridge. Here is his latest discovery: “The members of the United Club and the New Carlton Club met together at Cambridge the other day and dined. I observe that Major C. W. Stanley, in proposing the New Carlton Club as a toast, said:
He noticed in their report they said they had started a system of “pub crawling,” and he hoped they would go on with it, for there was no doubt by that system they could help the cause very much.
I think it was in Salisbury that a similar mission was started some little time ago, when it had the benediction of the “Standard.” Willing workers were sent out every night to go from publichouse to publichouse, and there turn the conversation into a political vein, and thus get the patrons of the place to imbibe Tory principles with their beer.”
* * *
“I am not aware as to whether the system has succeeded in the city in which it was tried, but evidently its value is recognised by Major Stanley, of Cambridge. I am rather surprised, however, to find that these peripatetic philosophers should describe their proceedings by so uninspiring a phrase as “pub crawling.” Assuming that they sally forth to advocate Imperialism, true religion, national defence, and other great topics of that sort, to the thirsty denizens of the Pig and Whistle, such a mission might surely be given a better title than the one I have mentioned.”
* * *
“At the same time, I suppose that they do crawl from “pub” to “pub,” if I may use their own somewhat contemptuous abbreviation. Some men would find such duties arduous and irksome, but tastes differ, and I doubt not that among the members of the New Carlton Club there are some who can make such a duty a delight. And in addition to satisfying an honest thirst for information and for other things the “pub crawler” has the inspiring consciousness that he is helping the cause. That knowledge, together with the beer, must be peculiarly soothing.” “Pub-crawling” is very popular both in West and East Cambs. What do the country clergy think of it?
However, according to several Conservative newspapers of 1909, pub crawl, pub crawler and pub crawling were derogatory terms used by the Budget League [cf. note 1]; for example, the following is from the Framlingham Weekly News (Framlingham, Suffolk) of Saturday 25th December:
The Budget League appears to be rather tired of its uphill task of trying to popularise the Budget, so it is turning for a while to the popular Radical-Socialist weapon of abuse.
This is a sample of its latest—a leaflet which is creating amusement among those who receive it, and see that the Red Flag-waggers are losing their tempers, as well as losing the fight.
Hired men are being sent out to haunt the street corners and the public houses and catch you in your homes. They pretend to be independent, non-political gentlemen, grieved by the sad results of Free Trade. Sometimes they pretend that they are unfortunate victims “out of work through Free Trade.”
The Tariff Reform League [cf. note 2] seems proud of these men it calls “Missionaries.” Others, more truly, call them “Pub-Crawlers.”
Beware of Pub-Crawlers.
¹ The Budget League was a pressure group formed in 1909 by Winston Churchill to publicly campaign in favour of David Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget” in reaction to the activities of the Budget Protest League, a British pressure group opposing this budget.
In 1909, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the British Liberal statesman David Lloyd George (1863-1945) introduced taxes on the lands and high incomes of Britain’s wealthy in order to fund new social welfare programmes; the British statesman Winston Churchill (1874-1965), then a member of the Liberal Party, was President of the Board of Trade.
² The Tariff Reform League was a protectionist British pressure group formed in 1903 to protest against what they considered to be unfair foreign imports and to advocate Imperial Preference to protect British industry from foreign competition. It was well funded and included politicians, intellectuals and businessmen, and was popular with the grassroots of the Conservative Party.
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In French, faire la tournée des grands-ducs, to go out on a spree.