Definite Scope: Dodgy Draymen, mid-1960s

Old advertisement: men loading a dray with casks.
An ad from the wrong time period (1929) and wrong city. So sue us.

On our travels round the country over the last few months we’ve been seeking out small press local history publications like Mike Axworthy’s A Garston Working Life (2012), which we found at Liverpool Central Library.

As well as being a keen frequenter of pubs Mr Axworthy also worked as a drayman (beer deliveries) when he was a teenager in the mid-1960s, and gives us this glimpse behind the scenes:

I soon learned why our wages were so poorly paid, because the company knew we made them up on the fiddle. I am ashamed to say that no one was safe, the company were robbed in many ingenious ways, like putting extra crates on when the checker wasn’t looking. These we would sell cheap to barmen at a low cost cash price. Then often we would walk out of the bar with some of their stock in empty boxes, or with bottles of spirits up our shirt. We justified this thieving by our low wages, but really it was just greed…

I was definitely not guilty when a big robbery took place in the warehouse. Inside ‘Kings of the Bottlers’ warehouse there was a strong room that contained the spirits… [It] had a steel door and a 2ft thick brick wall. One morning we came in and a hole had been knocked through the wall and most of the spirits spirited away. No one was ever caught for the theft but we all had an idea who it was but grassing was definitely out in our culture.

Presumably this kind of thing doesn’t happen today, or is very rare, what with electronic stock control and CCTV and so on… or maybe we’re being naive?

We’re posting this in response to something on the same topic that appeared on, and then disappeared from, Ron Pattinson’s blog. When it turns up again we’ll add a direct link.

PS. There was no blog post yesterday but we did update this 2014 post on The Britannia Inn at the 1958 Brussels Expo with new information and pictures.

Bits We Underlined in… Surrey Pubs, 1965

Months later than its companion pieces here are the highlights from Surrey Pubs by Richard Keeble, published in 1965.

This is weird: we thought we’d written about all of these Batsford guides but it turns out that, though we annotated the book with 800 Post It notes, and even wrote most of the post, we never actually published it. Perhaps Sussex Pubs confused us. Anyway, better late than never…

Beer from the WoodSeveral pubs are mentioned as serving beer from the wood, such as The Whyte Harte and Bletchingley, Ye Olde Six Bells at Horley, the Jolly Farmer at Horne and the Swan at Thames Ditton, which had the best of all: Bass from the wood.

Drummond Arms, Albury – Proto-craft-beer-bar: ‘There is a choice of forty-seven different bottled beers and there are some outstanding wines on the list.’ The draught beer list included Friary Meux ‘Treble Gold’, a pale ale that perhaps bolsters the argument for ‘golden ale’ having existed as a vague idea long before Exmoor and Hop Back crystallised and marketed the concept.

Plough Inn, Bletchingley‘The landlord here… is a qualified optician… [Ask him] to show your how to play “shutterbox”, a game he brought to this district.’ (Shut the Box?)

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QUICK ONE: Betting in Pubs, 1961

Bill Kell as the McEwan's Scotch Ale mascot.
Detail from the cover of the book: a portrait of Bill Kell by Ralph Liddell.

As part of our mission to read every publican’s memoir available in the pits of the online second-hand book barns we’ve recently whizzed through Best Scotch or Ordinary: A North East Publican’s Tale by Bill Kell, published in 1996.

Mr Kell ran various pubs on Tyneside eventually settling in Ashington in 1955 where he ran the Portland, the pub where he grew up and which had previously been under his father’s management.

Here’s an interesting detail that we’ve not previously seen linked to the decline of The Pub (or at least, in this case, a pub):

On the first day of May 1961 the first betting shops were opened in Britain. This made quite a difference to our morning trade in the bar. The three bookies’ runners we had at the Portland were all paid off, and the backstreet bookies all became legitimate, opening betting shops up on every street corner… Before those shops opened, all those punters would have had to call into the Portland or one of the Clubs, to put on a bet. By one Government Act, we had our morning trade cut to shreds and no one could say or do anything about it, because the previous method of places their bets was totally illegal in pubs.

This is not the kind of line, as Mr Kell suggests, that you’d be likely to hear coming from the Brewers’ Society or the Licensed Victuallers’ Association.

Would it be too much to argue that the pub trade as a whole was given a boost for a long time by the incidental illicit practices that went on in and around the premises, from betting to prostitution, via the sale of stolen goods?

News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 May 2016: Pilsner, Mild and Pubs

These are all the blog posts and articles touching on beer and pubs that have given us pause for thought, or told us something we didn’t know, in the last week, from Pilsner to pubs.

→ We somehow missed this one last week so it gets top billing today: Evan Rail’s blog is back from whatever Internet wormhole it got lost in (this is great news, generally) and his latest post is about the influence of the Czech influence on European lager brewing in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It makes a strong case, with reference to some lovely primary sources, for Czech brewing getting more credit than it has tended to in the past:

For its low-grade Bavière, the brewery used German hops (generally Hallertau, Wolnzach and a less-expensive cultivar, Bavière Montagne), which it bought from J. Tüchmann & Söhne and Bernard Bing in Nuremberg. But for the higher-grade Munich and the Bock that was later renamed Pilsner, the brewery generally used 100% Saaz, purchased from hop vendors like the Kellner brothers and Sonnenschein & Landesmann, both in Žatec (aka Saaz), right here in Bohemia.

Detail from a Whitbread advertisement, 1937, showing beer with food.

→ For Eater Matthew Sedacca ponders how ‘foodie culture’ (which includes craft beer) survived, and even thrived during, the Great Recession. We don’t necessarily agree with all of his conclusions but it’s a great question:

A large driver behind the sustainability of the “foodie” ideology during and post-recession has been linked to the millennial generation’s shift in attitude towards material goods —€” namely, they don’t really want them. Several reports have highlighted the phenomenon that, unlike the baby boomers and several members of Gen X, millennials prefer consumption of ‘experiences.’

→ Alec Latham considers the various ways in which pubs in St Albans, where he lives, have mutated, changed or otherwise been reinvented:

Some pubs come back from the dead, others change the orientation of their ‘swing’… Though Mokoko’s isn’t a beery place, it’s still a great bar. After all, cocktails are people too.

Greene King sign

→ In an interview with Australian Brews News the venerable brewing professor Charles Bamforth has railed against gimmicks in brewing, like a Dogfish Head beer made with chewed-up and spat-out grains: ‘Come on! You’re only going to do it once aren’t you?’ It’s not all grumping, though: he thinks black IPA, for example, is the right kind of boundary pushing.

→ Ed visited Greene King and brings us this interesting nugget, among others:

I also got to try their XX mild at last… Having various milds in the portfolio from the breweries they’ve taken over they rationalised it to just one recipe, and had tasting trials to decide on the best one. Despite the name it’s sold under it was actually the Hardys and Hansons mild that won.

→ Gary Gillman continues to dig up tasting notes and opinions on Belgian beer from the 19th century like this 1836 1847 diary entry mentioning Westmalle. (The makings of a longer article or e-book here, perhaps?)

→ Not reading but listening: on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London this week a listener asked if anyone remembered an estate pub in South London called The Apples & Pears. People did (@ 2h 20m):

It was a very modern pub… Myself and my three girlfriends used to drive up on a Saturday night in our Austin A40… We used to go around ’72, ’73… We used to dress to match the era of the car, lots of long beads, headbands, flouncy frocks, sort of 1920s flappers was our style…

→ Carlisle is getting a State Management Scheme museum with Heritage Lottery funding — fantastic new! Let’s generally have more brewing, beer and pub museums and exhibitions, please. (There’s no website that we can find so this Tweet with a screenshot of a Word document will have to do.)

We Finally Got To Drink Watney’s Red Barrel! (Sort Of.)

Someone finally answered our prayer and brewed an accurate clone of Watney’s Red Barrel, pasteurisation and all, and we’ve just finished drinking our two bottles.

The brewer in question, who’s a bit shy, is professionally qualified but also brews at home. They brewed a small batch using a 1960s recipe from the Kegronomicon, fermented it with Hop Back’s yeast strain (supposedly sourced from Watney’s), and then used professional pasteurising equipment to finish it off as per the process set out by Watney’s. We met them briefly at Paddington station last week to take possession of two 330ml bottles, one pasteurised, one not.

This seemed like the right occasion to enter the Black Museum of Big Six Tat to retrieve our Watney’s branded half-pint semi-dimple mug — a glass we’ve had for ages but never actually used.

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