Ale in Dublin: Mit Schuss?

‘Vanilla is a Bean’ by Christian Newton, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.

The Dubliners who took to ale showed what seemed a clear contempt for the stuff by sprinkling fruit cordial into it — a row of cordial shakers stood on every bar and the choice included raspberry.

That’s a claim made by ‘Dublin boy’ Gerard Fay in a 1965 article about Guinness called ‘My Goodness…’ and included in The Complete Imbiber Vol. 8 edited by Cyril Ray.

This is the first we’ve ever heard of this practice and it sounds very… Un-Irish.

Can anyone confirm or deny? And is anyone else up for giving it a go?

The Original Beer Podcast, 1975

If you tuned the radio to BBC Leeds at 18:45 on a Wednesday in 1985 you’d hear What’s Brewing, a programme dedicated to beer and pubs.

It was established during the height of real ale mania, in 1975, by a local journalist and CAMRA activist, Barrie Pepper, who worked in the newsroom at Radio Leeds and would go on to become a well-known beer writer. In a later retrospective in the CAMRA newspaper, also called What’s Brewing, for March 1985, he recalled its origins:

[The radio show] made its first appearance… after pressure from members of the Leeds branch of CAMRA. In that programme, though to be a one-off, Tom Fincham and I made the first of our ‘rural rides’ in search of good ale, we defined real ale and Eddie Lawler sang his now famous ‘We’re all here for the real thing’.

‘Famous’ might be overstating it but Eddie Lawler told us in an email that he has performed the song at the CAMRA AGM. He was kind enough to share the version he recorded under the title ‘CAMRAnthem’ for his 2007 album The Baildon Sky Rocket with 1970s references to ‘big-busted barmaids’ and the ‘nattering spouse’ removed. As you might guess, it’s a folky pub singalong with a piano backing:

We’re all here for the Real Thing.
That’s why we’re singing this song, just to show all those
Fancy TV promotions
That the customer’s not always wrong, so you’d better not
Give us pale imitations
Or gas us with chemical beer.
So just give us a pint of the Real Thing landlord
’Cos that’s why we’re bloody well here.

Off the back of that first programme the producer, David Campbell, commissioned a year’s-worth of monthly programmes. In his 1985 retrospective Barrie Pepper described the difficulty in finding topics for discussion and, in particular, the challenge of finding a Pub of the Month every month. (The first was The Greyhound at Saxton.)

1970s portrait photograph, candid and grainy.
Barrie Pepper.

There was also a ‘real ale soap opera’ called Tap Room Tales written by Gerry Garside from Bradford which was representative of the ribald, pantomime humour that characterised early CAMRA culture. There’s an extract from the first episode, broadcast in August 1977, in Barrie Pepper’s 1990 anthology of beer writing The Bedside Book of Beer:

Episode one — the Price of a Pint

The scene is the tap room of The Plastered Parrot, a real ale pub in a working suburb of a West Riding town. The time is half an hour before closing time on a weekday evening.

Let me introduce you to the cast.

Nora Nockers is an occasional barmaid; Yorkie Bale is a retired shoddy merchant, Shufflem Round is the pub domino captain and Barum Hall is the landlord. Charlie Chock, Gordon Spile, Andrew Mallet and Peter Barrel are members of the Campaign for Real Ale. Girlington Gertie is an aging ex-chorus girl and we present Lars Torders, a Swedish Steel worker.

In his 1985 retrospective Barrie admitted that Tap Room Tales ‘might have seemed a bit facile… but it had a serious purpose and was great fun to take part in’.

From 1980 What’s Brewing went weekly and Barrie took over as producer with Mike Greenwood hosting. There was homebrew advice from Bob Blagboro, profiles of Yorkshire breweries, and campaigns against pub closures. ‘[In] the case of the Spring Close Tavern in East Leeds we were able to secure the reprieve by Leeds City Council live on our microphone,’ Barrie recalled in 1985.

Though Barrie insisted the show was independent of CAMRA he was at various points on the Campaign’s National Executive and it certainly seems to have given the local branch what amounted to a mouthpiece funded by the licence payer.

The last episode was broadcast in June 1986 for reasons Barrie explained in an email:

I moved on from the news room at BBC Radio Leeds to become Head of Press and Public Relations with Leeds City council. Ray Beaty, the station manager, wasn’t keen on a non-staffer producing — he didn’t mind a freelance (unpaid) presenter but worried about someone ‘speaking out of turn’ as he called it. In any case I couldn’t find anyone to do the job and the council wouldn’t allow me to do it.

So, that was that.

Thirty-odd years on, though BBC radio only touches on beer occasionally, in the current podcast boom there’s no shortage of beer-related audio. For example, we recently listened to Fermentation Radio for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. We’ll send Barrie Pepper the link.

Main image incorporates elements of ‘Philips Radio from the 1970s’ by David Martyn Hunt under Creative Commons via Flickr.

The Life of a Brewery Architect in the 1950s

The photo above is from 1957 and the young man at the drawing board is Reg Norkett, who we managed to track down.

We found the photo in the autumn 1957 edition of the Hopleaf Gazette as shared by Raymond Simonds on his website — a wonderful trove of archive material from his family’s brewery. It accompanies a brief profile of the Architects’ Department which mentions Reg Norkett’s name in passing.

Without any great expectations we Googled him and found his address on the website of a professional organisation for architects; we wrote him a letter and have since exchanged a few emails. What follows is a lightly edited version of his responses to our questions with a little commentary from us here and there.

First, we asked Mr Norkett for some general background – where was he from, and how did he end up at Simonds?

I was born in Reading in 1936, educated at Redlands Primary School – then Junior school – which was the local school. I then went to Reading Blue Coat School at Sonning near Reading as a boarder from 1948 to 1953.

During my time at school I realised I was interested in a career in the building/construction industry as, e.g. a surveyor or architect. I managed to obtain the required number of O levels to commence professional training and was initially employed in the Borough Architects Deparment at Reading Borough Council, as Junior Assistant in the Clerk of Works Section. I commenced training in part-time study for a National Certificate in Building at the local Technical College.

However I was keen to be involved in the Design and preparation of drawings and so on, which I discussed with the Borough Architect. He  approached the Chief Architect at H&G Simonds, Mr Reginald Southall, who is shown in one of the photographs in the Hop Leaf Gazette which you forwarded.

I was offered a junior position in the Architects Department, joining the company in 1954, and commencing study part-time at the Oxford School of Architecture.

Continue reading “The Life of a Brewery Architect in the 1950s”

The Loss of Local Preference as Observed in 1966

Book cover -- H.A. Monkcton: A History of Ale & Beer.

H.A. Monckton’s 1966 book A History of Ale & Beer is these days interesting mostly for what its epilogue tells us about the period of its writing, and about the tension between local and global.

That section of the book covers the rise of keg beer and the trend towards consolidation from an industry insider’s perspective (Monckton was on the board at Flower’s of Stratford-upon-Avon) but there’s a particular bit we want to zero in on here because it chimes with our Session post from last Friday which touched on the globalisation of taste:

Throughout history certain districts have favoured their own types of beer. There are definite differences between those beers brewed in the North, in the Midlands, and the South. Recently the strong preferences of certain districts have begun to weaken, not because of a change in the customer’s palate but rather because brewery amalgamations are bringing about the closure of many local breweries, which has meant the discontinuation of many local beers… In the case of bottled beers the situation was usually accepted without undue trouble, but often customer reaction to the introduction of new draught beers was strong. So strong has it been in several instances that the substituted beers have had to be changed to a type more in line with local requirements…

Unfortunately, he doesn’t break this down much further except to observe that sweeter beers were particularly popular in places like London, Birmingham and Coventry with high concentrations of manual workers, especially during and after World War II when sugar was rationed. He observes that:

All the successful beers launched on a national scale in the ten years following the last war, whether pale in colour or dark, were sweeter rather than drier. Now, some twenty years later, the situation is changing again, and full-drinking bitter beers, both in bottle and in cask, are returning to prominence. It is interesting that some premises in the Midlands are now selling increasing quantities of draught bitter beers where only mild ales have been sold for a quarter of a century.

Dry, bitter beers, he suggests, are simply better suited to our climate than ‘soft sweet beer’ — an argument we don’t quite follow, if we’re honest.

But, anyway, that’s stage one of homogenisation, driven by national consolidation and distribution, and countrywide marketing: everyone drinking the same style whether town or country, north or south, toff or scruff.

Harp lager beer mat (detail)

Then in the last paragraphs of the book he forecasts (or, rather, fails to forecast) stage two: in the midst of a great push that saw lager’s share of the UK market creep up from less than 2 per cent to 7 per cent by the end of the decade he suggests a certain scepticism about its suitability for the English weather. He was wrong, and lager now makes up something like 70 per cent of the market in the UK, and the vast majority of the global market.

On a related note, Alec Latham has an interesting post on lager in the UK at Mostly About Beer in which he observes that ‘Lambic has leap-frogged Lager’. (It’ll make sense when you read it.) If not exactly a return to local tastes as described by Monckton the failure of new breweries to engage with the market for lager does at least suggest — in some small way, in odd ways — some sort of shift.

And, while we’re pointing outwards, here’s a thought on a declaration by Carlsberg’s chief executive Julian Momen that the Danish giant is considering acquiring a UK craft brewery. Rather than join the (admittedly fun) game of guessing at specific breweries that might be in the frame we’ll just observer that previous UK acquisitions by global players have tended to be conservative. Camden, Meantime and Sharp’s all had strong brands popular in mainstream outlets; flagship beers at accessible strength (under 5% ABV); in classic styles (lager, bitter, pale ale); and straightforward, easy-drinking takes on those styles at that. (We’re being polite to Doom Bar, there.) In other words, breweries that already act ‘global’ seem more likely candidates than those that go out of their way to express any particular local or otherwise distinct character.

Two Pubs In One: The Feathers, Waterloo, c.1878

This post is all about the picture above, really, which is why we’ve reproduced it at a decent size.

It comes from page 408 of the sixth and final volume of Old and New London by Edward Walford and Walter Thornbury published by Cassell in, or at least around, 1878. (Archive.org | British History Online | Hathi Trust.)

The artist is uncredited but it’s not unlike the work of Gustav Doré whose own collection of evocative drawings of London was published a few years before.

We came across it thanks to an article by Jan Bondeson in the latest edition of the Fortean Times — actually an extract from his new bookThe Ripper of Waterloo Road, about the 1838 murder of Eliza Grimwood in a house near The Feathers, on Waterloo Road.

And there’s the fascinating thing: The Feathers, as you can see, had entrances on two roads on different levels: Commercial Road was low and ran parallel to the Thames while Waterloo Road was high and merged with Waterloo Bridge.

Here’s something to pinpoint the location from the wonderful National Library of Scotland’s interactive website which allows you to see historic maps overlaid on modern ones:

Map of Waterloo Road/Commercial Road intersection.

The drawing depicts the view from, or near, the top of the staircase marked at the point where Waterloo Wharf meets the bridge and, of course, P.H. is the public house in question — the large building on the corner.

There’s a bit more information on The Feathers in an odd little book in our collection, H.E. Popham’s 1927 Guide to London’s Taverns, revised in 1928:

Before we leave the south side of the river there is one more house that is worthy of attention, as as it is situated at the end of Waterloo Bridge, it can easily be visited on the return journey to central London… The present house was erected at the same time as the bridge, which was opened on the second anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. On the original site of The Feathers were Cuper’s Gardens. it is said… that the house was opened as a tavern by one, the widow Evans, who could not get a licence to open as ‘gardens’ under the act of 1752, which enacted that all places kept for public amusement within twenty miles of the City should be licensed. The law was evaded by the wily widow’s… statement on her programmes that the entertainment was given by gentlemen for their own private diversion… Boswell mentions the establishment in his Life.

(If he does, we can’t find it, but we only ran a quick search of the six volumes available via Gutenberg.org — if you can dig up this reference, let us know.)

The Survey of London entry for Waterloo, undertaken in 1951, tells us that Popham was substantially right: Ephraim Evans took on the tavern and gardens in 1738 and his widow continued to run it after his death in 1740, advertising it like this:

Cuper’s Gardens. This is to acquaint all Gentlemen and Ladies, that this present Saturday, the 25th instant, will be perform’d several curious Pieces of Musick, compos’d by Mr. Handel, Sig. Hasse, Mr. Arne, Mr. Burgess, etc., in which will be introduced the celebrated Fire-Musick, as originally compos’d by Mr. Handel … the Fireworks consisting of Fire-Wheels, Fountains, large Sky-Rockets, with an Addition of the Fire-Pump, etc., made by the ingenious Mr. Worman … play’d off from the Top of the Orchestra by Mr. Worman himself … The Widow Evans hopes, that as her Endeavours are to oblige the Town, they will favour her Gardens with their Company; and particular Care will be taken there shall be better Attendance, and more commodious Reception for the Company.

The last record of The Feathers on the astonishingly comprehensive Pubs History website is from 1938 but it was still appearing on maps published as late as 1951, and is even visible, with distinctive window arrangement and a Reid’s Stout advertisement, in the upper right of this 1951 photograph in the RIBA archive.

Based on its location, we can say with some certainty that The Feathers was demolished in around 1970 to make way for the construction of the National Theatre, but we’ll keep an eye out for firmer evidence one way or the other. (UPDATE 08/05/2017: See comments below — the pub was demolished in 1951.)

In the meantime, you can get a hint of what The Feathers and the streets around it might have been like by walking one bridge further along to London Bridge where staircases still lead to pubs down below and up above.