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. UPDATE 29/5/2016: And here it is.
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 Wood – Several 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?)
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?
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.
The following is a straight transcript of a phone conversation with Edd, a native Lancastrian.
First, can you say a bit about yourself? What’s your background?
I’m 40-years-old. I’ve always been interested in beer – how it’s kept, how it’s brewed – and I was fortunate a few years ago to find a bit of unpaid work, if you know what I mean, with a local brewery, and out of that I developed a bit of knowledge.
I’ve also always had an interest in history – brewing history and local history in general.
I heard on the grapevine that the company that owned the rights to Magee & Marshall were going into liquidation. From 1853 to 1958 it was in family ownership, then from 1958 to 1970 it was owned and operated by Greenall’s group. The brewery shut down in 1970 but the brand and company was owned by Greenalls PLC up until 1999 when it became De Vere Group, and later Ereved Group Holdings. I did a bit of digging and found that the Magee & Marshall company was still active. I thought, right, if I can get it for the right price, I will, and took ownership in March this year.