Lovely, lovely ale, mainstay of the North

Laurence Harvey in the pub in the film of Room at the Top.

John Braine’s 1957 ‘angry young man’ novel Room at the Top isn’t as fashionable now as once it was. We took our copy down from the shelf looking for examples of the word ‘ale’ being used in preference to ‘beer’ up north and realised just how much the book relies on pubs and drinking to make (rather heavy-handed) points about social mobility and class.

For example, when  the ruthlessly social climbing working class orphan, Joe Lampton, returns to his generically northern home town of Dufton for Christmas, he goes to the pub with Charles, a childhood friend.

The Siege Gun was our local; it stood on top of a little hill overlooking a wilderness of allotments and hen-runs. It was about half an hour’s walk from Oak Crescent; for some reason it was the only respectable pub in Dufton. The others weren’t exactly low, but even in their Best Rooms you were likely to see the overalled and sweaty. The landlord at the Siege Gun, a sour old ex-regular, discouraged anyone entering the Best Room without a collar and tie.

But he’s been spoiled by his time in upmarket Warley: “It was too small, too dingy, too working-class; four months in Warley had given me a fixed taste for either the roadhouse or the authentic country pub.”

Even Charles, who is planning to move to London, is fed-up of the Siege Gun:

Do you know, when I come into this pub, I don’t even have to order? They automatically issue a pint of wallop. And if I come in with someone else I point at them and nod twice if it’s bitter… Lovely, lovely ale… the mainstay of the industrial North, the bulwark of the British Constitution. If the Dufton pubs closed for just one day, there wouldn’t be a virgin or an unbroken window left by ten o’clock.

Graham Lees, one of the four founder members of CAMRA, apparently urged the use of the ‘ale’ in the name because it was a good, solid northern word, unlike the effete, southern ‘beer’.

7 thoughts on “Lovely, lovely ale, mainstay of the North”

  1. According to the OED (citing George Orwell), wallop usually meant mild ale, rather than bitter. There’s also a passage in the recent ‘Roll out the barrel’ DVD where a barmaid (from the 40s, I think it was) refers to mild as “wallop”. Presumably at the Seige Gun it was one nod for wallop, two for bitter.

    1. I also think Wallop is also referred to in an early Hancock’s Half Hour (radio series), down at the Hand and Rackett, Sid James also refers to something as Wilson’s Collar which has puzzled me for years.

  2. Beerviking — thanks for that. Interesting. Hadn’t even crossed our minds to wonder what wallop was!

    ATJ — can’t find any reference anywhere to a Wilson’s Collar, but dif come across mention of Bishop’s Collar meaning stout with a very large head.

    1. I remember Wallop coming up on the old Jeff Bell / Stonch Blog. It seems it was just a word for mild but i have seen it refered to as mild with a kick added (porter/sherry/scotch).

      1. Came up on my blog a while back too when I mentioned that Davy’s wine bars in London were serving a bitter badged as “Old Wallop”. A commenter complained that wallop ought to be mild.

        “Codswallop”, IIRC what Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable says, is an anti-temperance term for soft drinks, referencing Hiram Codd who invented the mineral water bottle.

  3. Martyn Cornell, at the tail end of a longer post about George Orwell, brought up some ideas about Wallop in June, 2011:

    ‘Mild, incidentally, is the drink the old man orders in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four when Winston Smith quizzes him in the pub about the past:

    “You must have seen great changes since you were a young man,” said Winston tentatively. The old man’s pale blue eyes moved from the darts board to the bar, and from the bar to the door of the Gents … “The beer was better,” he said finally. “And cheaper! When I was a young man, mild beer – wallop we used to call it – was fourpence a pint. That was before the war, of course.”

    Why mild was called “wallop”, when a wallop was what it certainly did not have, not in the 1930s, anyway, being less than four per cent abv, I have no idea – just as a WAG it might be rhyming slang, “wallop the child”, but I wouldn’t take that suggestion seriously.’

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