Category Archives: Beer history

The Lilliput Beer Book, 1956

This short pamphlet given away with a men’s magazine in the 1950s is far from essential but, if you find a copy going cheap, it’s worth adding to your collection.

Lilliput magazine, December 1956.We first became aware of it rummaging through a bin of assorted old magazines in a local retro-vintage emporium, where the word ‘beer’ leapt out at us from the cover of the December 1956 edition of Lilliput. Frustratingly, in that case, the booklet was long gone. We guessed, given the year, that it might be a promotional spin-off from Andrew Campbell’s Book of Beer, published in the same year, but couldn’t find any information online, and copies for sale on eBay were always rather too expensive to take a punt.

Last week, when we saw another copy on offer for £15, we decided to bite the bullet. It arrived tucked into a copy of the magazine, apparently untouched despite its age, with a bundle of original leaflets selling encyclopaedias and life insurance.

Continue reading The Lilliput Beer Book, 1956

Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day

It seems that this is ‘Quirks of Licensing Law’ season here on the blog: today, a few notes on the problems, and opportunities, of neighbouring districts with different pub opening hours.

The 1921 Licensing Act gave magistrates the freedom to fix within limits the opening and closing hours of pubs in their districts. In London in particular, this led to great consternation among publicans, who simply wanted uniform pub opening hours from, say, 11 am to 11 pm.

It also turned the whole business into something of a game, as one report in The Times pointed out:

A curious effect of these varying hours is that anybody setting out to get drink during as long a period of the day as possible could begin at 11 am in Kensington, continue — if he took lunch — until 3:30 pm, start again at 4:30 in Stoke Newington, and by returning to the Holborn area have a glass before him until half an hour after midnight. (03/11/1921, p.7.)

What was fun for some, however, meant trouble for others. In 1929, Mr E.H. Keen, chair of the Holborn Licensing Justices, told the Royal Commission on Licensing of the result of Holborn’s pubs staying open until 11 while those in neighbouring Marylebone, Finsbury and St Pancras closed at 10:

Between the hours of 10 and 11 outsiders from all quarters pour into Holborn, and the scenes in the public-houses nearest the boundaries baffle description. The bars are overcrowded with disorderly men and women, many of them the worse for drink, and at closing time they are turned out with difficulty and behave outside in the most disgusting and rowdy manner. The nuisance to the neighbours is unbearable… The condition of things is a disgrace to civilisation. All decency is disregarded. (Lancs Evening Post, 05/12/1929, p.7.)

But it would take years for this problem to even begin to be solved — until the 1961 Licensing Act, as far as we can tell — during which time the strategies of drinkers became cleverer and more elaborate as they learned of more dodges and tricks.

Continue reading Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day

Bona Fide Travellers: Fibbing For a Pint

Until 1921, while British pub opening hours were restricted by law, there was a loop-hole: publicans could sell booze to ‘bona fide travellers’.

We haven’t been able to pin down exactly when this loophole was introduced but an 1839 House of Commons debate mentions that ‘Landlords are entitled, under the Licensing Act, to serve bona fide travellers’.

What constituted a bona fide traveller, however, was much debated, and tested in courts up and down the country. In 1864, the Court of Common Plea upheld an appeal against magistrates in Birmingham and declared that ‘parties out for a stroll’ were just as much bona fide as those on business, so that, as long as you had walked a bit beforehand (i.e. from your village to the next one,) it was perfectly OK for a pub to serve you ‘during Church hours’ on a Sunday. (London Standard, 19/11, p.4.)

Continue reading Bona Fide Travellers: Fibbing For a Pint

John Ridd on Beer

We’re both reading R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone at the moment — a pleasingly booze-filled novel.

Published in 1869, it is set in the 17th century, and the following passage occurs when the hero, the burly Exmoor gentleman farmer John Ridd, is a guest at the house of a ‘foreign lady’ near Watchett in Somerset:

John Ridd, uncredited illustration c.1893.
John Ridd, uncredited illustration c.1893.

“Now what will ye please to eat?” she asked, with a lively glance at the size of my mouth: “that is always the first thing you people ask, in these barbarous places.”

“I will tell you by-and-by,” I answered, misliking this satire upon us; “but I might begin with a quart of ale, to enable me to speak, madam.”

“Very well. One quevart of be-or;” she called out to a little maid, who was her eldest child, no doubt. “It is to be expected, sir. Be-or, be-or, be-or, all day long, with you Englishmen!”

Continue reading John Ridd on Beer

Underestimating Lager, 1978

CHAOS LOOMS AS KEG SITES FORGE AHEAD said a front-page story in the January 1978 edition of the Campaign for Real Ale’s newspaper What’s Brewing.

Two of the Big Six brewers are to go ahead with plans to build two giant keg-only breweries… The two new breweries — Whitbread’s lager factory at Magor in South Wales and Courage’s fizz-only brewery outside Reading — will cost almost £100 million… The brewers are gambling their customers’ money on the evidence of the huge upsurge in lager sales during the two freak summers of 1975 and 1976. But at least one form of City stockbrokers… say lager sales cannot be expected to carry on climbing.

But carry on climbing they did, and how:

Graph: Lager -- Share of UK Market 1970-2011.

That amazes us every time we look at it: from 7 per cent to 74, with the only pauses coinciding with periods of recession in the early 1980s, 90s and late 00s. (Something to explore in a future post, perhaps.)

Making predictions is difficult at the best of times, but it’s even harder when your prediction is really intended to influence the outcome; and/or if your prejudices make it difficult to be objective, e.g. about the intrinsic appeal of cool, easy-drinking, pretty-looking, fizzy beer.

(Of course none of this is going to stop us attempting a prediction in tomorrow’s post…)