Modern Pubs of 1961: Watney’s & Whitbread

This selection of post-war pubs comes from 1961 editions of in-house magazines from two London brewing behemoths, Watney’s and Whitbread.

To reiterate what we said a few weeks ago, the primary point of this series of posts is to put the material in these publications somewhere where other people can find it. And, for clarity, we should say that these pubs weren’t all built or opened in 1961 — that’s just when the magazines covered them. Where a date of construction or opening is given, or is available from another reliable source, we’ve included it, along with the names of architects and photographers where possible.

1. The Buff Orpington, Orpington, Greater London (Kent)
The Buff Orpington on opening day.
Photo: A.C.K. Ware. Architect: Alan Chalmers.

This Whitbread pub was the permanent replacement for a prefab that was erected as a stopgap immediately after World War II. The lounge, in black and white, was decorated with reproductions of paintings of chickens, the Buff Orpington being a breed of hen. The tap room (public bar) had lemon walls and a red and blue tiled floor — so, something like this?

Tiled floor and yellow walls.

Is it still there? Yes, under the name The Buff, and it’s yet another post-war estate pub run by Greene King who seem to be keeping it in good nick, even if it has had some faux-Victorian bits glued on.

2. The Royal Engineer, Gillingham, Kent
The Royal Engineer (exterior)
Architect: L. Mason Apps

The original pub of this name was at Chatham, near the Royal Engineers’ barracks. This new pub — a fairly handsome building for the period — was built by Whitbread as part of the shopping centre on a new estate at Twydall:

Where in the old house were shutters and frosted glass are now clear panes and airy louvres. Special attention has been paid to heating and ventilation; a pleasing feature is the lighting — more and smaller bulbs giving brightness without glare. Richly hued woods in servery, counters and doors set off with light paint and wallpaper… An unusual feature is the porcelain handles of the beer pumps. On each is a reproduction of the inn sign.

We can imagine some people reading that thinking that the shutters and frosted glass sound much nicer.

This one is no longer in operation having been turned into a takeaway restaurant fairly recently, it seems.

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The Pubs of Boggleton, 1837-2017

“The development of Boggleton, a small English town which I have traced at set periods in the next pages, is symptomatic of all England. We can learn the character of a country from the scars and wrinkles on its face.”

John Betjeman, ‘1837-1937’, 1937

With apologies to Sir John what follows is our attempt to condense the overall plot arc of the English pub in the last two centuries. It’s simultaneously a bit of fun — well, it was certainly fun to write — and semi-serious in intent, given that the town is purposefully generic and completely made up.

This also seems like a good place to announce what most of you have probably already guessed from all the hints we’ve been dropping about The Big Project: we have a new book on the way. It’s going to be called 20th Century Pub: from beerhouse to booze bunker and is due out this summer. It covers everything from improved pubs to micropubs (the long 20th Century, shall we say), via estate pubs, theme pubs, Irish pubs, Wetherspoons, and numerous other stops.

1837

Header graphic: 1837 town map.

Boggleton, being a relatively sober town much dominated by church folk, had only twelve pubs, to serve a population of 3,000 people. They were not called pubs at the time, however. One, The Dolphin, was most certainly a great Inn, situated on the main street, busy with coaches and the horses that drew them. It had beds, served meals (grudgingly, it must be said) and all sorts of drinks from ale to wine. The building rambled, was riddled with mice, and was marked by a gilded sign hanging over the street depicting something like a mer-tiger.

The Red Lion on the market square was smaller, sagging and smoky, intricately half-timbered. It too was an inn, at least on paper, but people rarely stayed or ate there. Sometimes it was referred to as a tavern, but it was not quite that either — there was nothing of the city about it, and it had no wine of distinction. It was most often called a ‘public house’ and was busiest on market days when farmers from the surrounding villages came into town, stuffed into shirts and waistcoats, sweating and merry.

The rest were beerhouses, or beershops – small establishments more-or-less resembling the cottages that surrounded them. They were licensed to sell only beer and were brought into being by the passing of the 1830 Beerhouse Act. None had prominent or elaborate heraldic signs and many were simply known by the names of the people who ran them. Thompson’s Beerhouse was typical: a single room – formerly the parlour of old Thompson’s own home – with bare plaster on the walls, scrubbed floorboards, a bench against one wall, and a wooden cask of home-brewed beer on a rough-hewn table in the corner. The beerhouses could be wild places and soaked up working men’s wages which worried the pious people of the town, but all they could do was complain, and watch like hawks.

1867

Header graphic: 1867 with Victorian manicule.

When the railway came in the 1850s, New Boggleton was created. There came row after row of houses for railwaymen and for workers at the new factories, as well as suburbs and villas for the well-to-do. And for 100,000 people, twelve pubs were hardly enough.

Despite the efforts of the Boggleton Temperance Society, founded in 1855, the beerhouses had grown in number and some, the most successful, had increased in size, too, until they rivalled The Red Lion. Thompson’s had become The White Hart and scarcely a trace of the original dwelling from which it had sprung remained.

Nor could the Temperance Society prevent the magistrates from granting licences for new beerhouses on street corners among the terraces, until it was said that from any point in town you could always see two pubs. The Venezuela on Oxford Road, serving the piston works, was purpose built by the firm that constructed the surrounding houses in 1860. It was small but nonetheless had two rooms, one a touch more respectable and suitable for foremen and clerks.

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Why Did Brewers Use Sugar?

Illustration: Sweet Tooth brand can sugar cube.

It’s good to be stopped in your tracks occasionally, as when Ron Pattinson challenged us last week over our assertion that brewers used sugar to cut costs.

Here’s what we actually said, in our post on David Pollard:

Sugar has been used in British brewing for centuries not only to increase alcoholic strength while saving on raw material costs, but also to thin the body of the beer (to make it more ‘drinkable’); to add colour, in the case of dark sugars; and to add a range of often subtle flavours.

To which Ron replied:

I don’t think you’ve got it right about sugar. Its principal functions seem to have been flavour and colour, especially in Mild. That it wasn’t particularly about cost is demonstrated by the fact that brewers continued to use sugar even when it was more expensive than malt.

That made us pause and think about our assumptions.

We knew for sure that there was a perception in the 1970s that all-malt beer was purer and generally superior. Here’s what Michael Hardman, co-founder and first chair of CAMRA, said in his 1976 book Beer Naturally:

Sometimes the brewer will add sugar to the boiling wort to complement the natural sugars extracted from the malt. This practice, which was illegal until 1880, is now widespread, though many brewers proudly adhere to recipes which use only malt and hops.

But we realised that, yes, Ron was right — we had taken for granted that brewers used sugar to save money without any particular evidence in mind. It was just an idea we’d absorbed, somehow.

To answer the question about why brewers did use sugar we turned to one of our favourite historical sources: the online archive of the journal of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD). It can be a pretty dry old thing — lots of formulas and lengthy debates about piping materials, or food for brewery horses — but if you want to know what brewers were saying to each other about a particular issue behind closed doors, it’s hard to beat.

Item 1: The Economical Production of Modern Beers, 1895

In a paper read before members of the Yorkshire Institute of Brewing in Leeds (link to PDF) Fred Maynard complained about the tendency of brewery owners to demand top notch beers while providing their brewers with mediocre ingredients — an entertaining read, as it happens — while acknowledging that there were some ways to save a bit of cash without excessively compromising the end product. On sugar in particular he says (our emphasis):

The oldest method of effecting economy, and the one most generally adopted, consists in the employment of sugars as a partial malt substitute… In cases where a heavy, well-cured Yorkshire or Scotch barley malt is in use a cheap glucose may possibly be employed with advantage, but the same glucose would give rise to thin, harsh beers utterly devoid of character, if the malt used consisted of a light, under-cured English variety, or a highly diastatic foreign grain. 

That seems pretty unambiguous and makes us a feel somewhat more confident in our original assertion.

Item 2: The Manufacture and Use of Brewing Sugars in America, 1899

This paper, by Rolfe and Defren, was read at a meeting of brewers in Manchester, and contains commentary that supports Ron’s point above:

From an economical standpoint glucose and grape-sugar are sometimes used, although at times the prices of these substitutes have been higher than malt or prepared grain, which would contain equivalent amounts of extract. A little more than a year ago American glucose was selling pound for pound at less then half the price of malt. To-day the market conditions have placed the price of glucose and malt on a more uniform basis, although it is still a decided economy for the brewer to use glucose at present quotations in combination with malt.

In other words, depending what the market is up to, sugar (relatively plain varieties) might contribute to savings, but that’s not the only reason to use it.

Item 3: Invert Sugar, 1896

At an 1896 meeting in Manchester a paper by John Heron was read and discussed. After a detailed description of the process for making invert brewing sugar, he has this to say on the question of economy:

For a number of years, in fact, not until 1875, did the use of sugar make much headway in brewing, very severe restrictions being placed upon it, so that it was only in those years when good barley was scarce that it paid the brewer to employ sugar at all…

Which would seem to suggest that the decision to use sugar, if not driven purely by economics, was certainly influenced by the relative price of malt vs. sugar. This section, meanwhile, suggests that sugar became popular because it helped to make the kind of beers the public wanted:

Slowly a taste for a lighter and less alcoholic class of beer began to spring up. This meant storage for much shorter periods, so that quickness of consumption was thus fostered. This necessarily involved earlier conditioning and brightening in cask, and to meet this new state of things the brewer has been led to use less malt, fewer hops, and more sugar… For the last 50 years the use of sugar in brewing has been recognised by Government as a legitimate material in the manufacture of beer, and whilst the public taste generally demands a light beer of such a character as can only be produced with the aid of sugar, no agitation of so called protectionists will ever be able to prevents its use in the brewing of that beverage which we claim as our national drink.

Item 4: The Economics of Brewing, 1969

All the above examples date from the very tail-end of Victorian period — what about later? This paper by J.O. Harris of Scottish & Newcastle Breweries gives a fantastic overview of where savings were really being made at the dawn of the CAMRA era, which is to say not through using sugar to replace malt:

Little need or can be said in this connection which is not obvious. Cane sugar (per unit of extract) remains expensive and its replacement by cheaper glucose preparations is a matter of individual consideration.

Instead, Mr Harris suggests, the real economies are to be made through using replacement cereals (wheat, corn), extracts (especially from barely-malted malt), hop extracts, and changes to fermentation processes.

* * *

We’ll try to do more reading around this but our feeling is that, yes, it is probably fair to say the use of sugar was sometimes motivated by profit concerns, but not solely; and that by the 1970s when sugar was used in brewing, it wasn’t to save money.

In that context, ‘all-malt’ as a marketing angle was probably more about corn, wheat, potato and onion starch (Protz, Pulling a Fast One, 1978) and other adjuncts than sugar per se, although we wouldn’t be surprised to find lingering ancestral memories of the Victorian period continuing to inform consumer perceptions.

Only a Northern Brewer

David Pollard, 1977.

This is the story of a first-wave British microbrewery that came and went, and of which little is remembered more than 40 years on: Pollard’s of Stockport, in Greater Manchester.

A handful of small new breweries opened in the early 1970s, and the Campaign for Real Ale had come into existence, but it was only after 1975 that a kind of chain reaction seems to have been triggered. CAMRA membership kept climbing, hitting 30,000 by March that year, and specialist pubs sprouting across the country to cater for ‘the real ale craze’. New brewers began to appear in ever greater numbers, too, and among the original set was Pollard’s of Reddish Vale in Stockport, run by a towering man with a drooping moustache and thick sideburns – David Pollard.

Pollard left school and went straight into the brewing trade in 1950, working alongside his father, George, as an apprentice at Robinson’s in Stockport. He went on thereafter to take jobs at various breweries across England, finding himself repeatedly shunted on as, one by one, they fell to the takeover mania of the Big Six. He became increasingly angry and frustrated, as expressed in a 1975 article in the Observer:

The accountants and engineers had started running things. All the big firms wanted were pasteurised, carbonated beers with no taste or character.

In around 1968 he started his own business – a small shop selling home brewing equipment and ingredients, on Hillgate in Stockport. Until 1963 home brewing had needed a license but when Chancellor of the Exchequer Reginald Maudlin removed that requirement, a small boom commenced. Newspapers and magazines were filled with recipes and how-to guides, and Boots the Chemist began to sell brewing kits to a new band of enthusiasts. Amidst all that excitement, Pollard’s shop was a success, and soon moved to larger premises on nearby Buxton Road.

Therapeutic as home brewing might have been for him, however, what he really wanted to be doing was making beer for sale in pubs and clubs. Buoyed by the rise of CAMRA, and perhaps aware of the recent small brewery openings in Litchborough and Selby, he bought £5,000 worth of new brewing equipment, and invested a further £5,000 in premises and ingredients. The site he chose, largely because it was cheap and the water was good, was a small unit in the recently-opened Reddish Vale Industrial Estate in the countryside south of Manchester, where the low, red-brick buildings of a substantial 19th Century printing plant had been converted into workshops.

Continue reading “Only a Northern Brewer”

The Strange Case of the Pondicherry Pearl

UPDATE 02.04.2017: Please bear in mind that this was published on 1 April before citing it anywhere or, indeed, before ruining a perfectly good pint with a pickled egg.

Have you ever put a pickled egg in your pint? It turns out to be a great British tradition with colonial roots that might be ripe for revival in the craft beer era.

We first came across an intriguing reference to this practice in a 1922 booklet, State Management of Public Houses, held in the collection at the London School of Economics library, and written by a social reformer called Leslie Townes Hope:

Extract from an old book -- OBVIOUSLY FAKE!
LSE main collection PN6149.P5 F88, p.15.

As long-time pickled egg lovers this grabbed our attention and derailed our research for a bit. We found a few passing newspaper references…

Newspaper extract
Dorset Observer, 06/05/1891, p.8.

…and then this passage in The Overseas Household Companion, published annually from 1856 until 1900 and intended to assist women who found themselves posted with their families to India and other colonial outposts:

Cookbook extract
Vol II, 1869 edn., p.208. Via Google Books.

When you think about it, it’s not so strange — Devon white ale was brewed with eggs, for example, and egg nog is very popular. But hard-boiled and pickled? That is something a bit different. A bit desperate, even.

With the Bengal and Pondicherry connections we searched the newspaper archives again and discovered, we think, why this practice died out:

Newspaper extract
Framlingham Gazette, 28/04/1912, p.1.

Thereafter, the odd reference to the practice of putting pickled eggs into beer is always in the context of the death of Robert Thompson with increasing amounts of chuckling over the state of pub food as time passed and the tragedy receded.

Of course, 80 years on, with food hygiene practice much improved and the chances of there being any arsenic involved much minimised, we had to give it a go, and so went to the one pub in town where we know we can reliably get pickled eggs. For obvious reasons we found a quiet corner for our experiment. Brace yourself, here it comes:

A pickled egg in a pint of beer.

We have to say, much to our surprise, this was amazing. It’s long been known that adding a touch of balsamic vinegar to a relatively bland beer can fool the palate into thinking it’s something much more interesting and complex, and this did exactly the same thing, giving just enough acid to, in effect, simulate prolonged maturation. A very ordinary pint of bitter tasted like some exotic stock ale 30 years old, the vinegar very much a background flavour — less extreme, indeed, than some Belgian beers with a similar character. And the egg, at the end, had magically lost a little of its rubberiness and tasted more like one freshly boiled.

So, next time you’re in the pub and you see that jar on the back shelf, give it a go! (But don’t blame us if you don’t like it.)