While the tourists were busy snapping the bridge, we were photographing the remains of the Anchor brewery. Or rather, one of the Anchor breweries. There were (at least) two on the south side of the Thames. The arguably more famous one was further upstream, on Bankside, and was home to Barclay Perkins.
‘There’s half a pint of ale for you. Will you have it now?’
I thanked him and said, ‘Yes.’ Upon which he poured it out of a jug into a large tumbler, and held it up against the light, and made it look beautiful.
‘My eye!’ he said. ‘It seems a good deal, don’t it?’
‘It does seem a good deal,’ I answered with a smile. For it was quite delightful to me, to find him so pleasant. He was a twinkling-eyed, pimple-faced man, with his hair standing upright all over his head; and as he stood with one arm a-kimbo, holding up the glass to the light with the other hand, he looked quite friendly.
‘There was a gentleman here, yesterday,’ he said – ‘a stout gentleman, by the name of Topsawyer – perhaps you know him?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t think -‘
‘In breeches and gaiters, broad-brimmed hat, grey coat, speckled choker,’ said the waiter.
‘No,’ I said bashfully, ‘I haven’t the pleasure -‘
‘He came in here,’ said the waiter, looking at the light through the tumbler, ‘ordered a glass of this ale – WOULD order it – I told him not – drank it, and fell dead. It was too old for him. It oughtn’t to be drawn; that’s the fact.’
This is one of a number of great quotes about beer in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. The hero is about 10 at the time, so it’s probably a good job he didn’t take the old ale. A year or so later, he’s quite the regular boozer;
I was such a child, and so little, that frequently when I went into the bar of a strange public-house for a glass of ale or porter, to moisten what I had had for dinner, they were afraid to give it me. I remember one hot evening I went into the bar of a public-house, and said to the landlord: ‘What is your best – your very best – ale a glass?’ For it was a special occasion. I don’t know what. It may have been my
‘Twopence-halfpenny,’ says the landlord, ‘is the price of the Genuine Stunning ale.’
‘Then,’ says I, producing the money, ‘just draw me a glass of the Genuine Stunning, if you please, with a good head to it.’
The landlord looked at me in return over the bar, from head to foot, with a strange smile on his face; and instead of drawing the beer, looked round the screen and said something to his wife. She came out from behind it, with her work in her hand, and joined him in surveying me. Here we stand, all three, before me now. The landlord in his shirt-sleeves, leaning against the bar window-frame; his wife looking over the little half-door; and I, in some confusion, looking up at them from outside the partition.
They asked me a good many questions; as, what my name was, how old I was, where I lived, how I was employed, and how I came there. To all of which, that I might commit nobody, I invented, I am afraid, appropriate answers. They served me with the ale, though I suspect it was not the Genuine Stunning; and the landlord’s wife, opening the little half-door of the bar, and bending down, gave me my money back, and gave me a kiss that was half admiring and half compassionate, but all womanly and good, I am sure.
My great-grandma was born in Stepney in 1901. Sadly, I didn’t really get to know her before she died, so this anecdote comes via my mum.
Like other children of that time and place*, my great-grandma was often dispatched to the pub to get some beer for family members, in this case her grandma. However, when she was around 10 or 12 (before the First World War, at least) she took ‘The Pledge’ and joined the temperance movement. Thereafter, she refused to get any beer ever again.
I don’t know why this story tickles me — possibly the fact that something so “Dickensian” as kids fetching alcohol was actually in living memory until recently, or possibly it’s the idea of pre-teens swearing to abstain from alcohol. Or maybe it’s just the evidence of a contrary stubborn streak that persists down the female line to this day…
I’d raise a glass to her, but she’d probably turn in her grave.
*OK, I don’t have evidence that this was common practice, but Zythophile mentions a similar family story here, and hereRon has collected extracts from Charles Booth’s interviews in the 1890s with London publicans and brewers — which is an absolutely fascinating read — which mentions this on a number of occasions.
As happens every now and then, someone has come across an old post and left a fascinating comment which we wanted to bring everyone’s attention to.
Tony used to work for Starkey, Knight and Ford, the West Country brewers, in the 1960s, working in the keg shop and later delivering beer. He says:
As a student I worked for Starkey`s each summer betwen 1965 and 1967. The first two years at the Fore St. site in Tiverton and the last at the new site. Bridgwater had closed by then and Tiverton was the only brewery still in action but under the aegis of Whitbread. I used to start off in the keg shop before fiddling my way out onto the lorries. In my last year our route covered from Ivybridge to Rooksbridge and from Seaton to Barnstaple the lorry was DPF 473B and still had the Bridgewater address on the side. As I remember Starkey`s had depots in Barnstaple and Plymouth, a firm called Norman and Pring were involved. When I was in the keg plant we mostly dealt with Tankard with occasional runs of mild. Each artic trailer held 187 10 gallon kegs and the 6 wheel Dennis 150 (I had to load these on my own!) I also remember during their independent days Starkey`s brewed a keg beer called “Tantivy.” Some years before I delivered papers to Tom Ford the Chairman. He drove an old Ford(!) V8 which used to misfire every so often.
Fascinating stuff — thanks Tony!
We’re imagining Tony’s experiences to have played out to a soundtrack of Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs, although we might be confusing reality with an episode of Heartbeat.
As well as being home to some decent pubs, Heidelberg also boasts an enormous barrel as a tourist attraction. In fact, they’ve got several, going up in size as you go into the castle.
The biggest (in the photo) has a capacity of 220,000 litres and is referenced in books by Mark Twain and Jules Verne, among others. However, it’s a tiddler compared to the porter barrel that burst on Tottenham Court Road in 1814, drowning seven people. Stonch wrote about that here.
Apologies for the lack of blogging action recently and in the next few days. We’re mostly drinking mass-produced lagers in the sun, so not a lot to write about really.