Here’s my Dad enjoying a glass of our IPA. He and my Mum used to run a pub in Exeter. Last night, they told us about a popular belief in the 1970s and 80s that mild was “the slops”, which might have been part of the reason for its disappearance from many pubs. My Dad:
“Jack the Rat was one of our customers — he used to wear a flat cap and had a beard like Catweazel. We once suggested to him that he should try a pint of Whitbread mild and he turned it down because he thought it was a barrel made up of the slops from the drip trays at the bar.
“It actually was common for landlords to keep all that surplus and serve it up to customers as ‘mild’. We used to get our Whitbread Mild from the brewery at Tiverton [formerly Starkey, Knight and Ford]. By that time, demand for mild was so low we could only get one ten gallon imperial firkin at a time, so ours was always fresh. Jack the Rat tried it and never drank anything else again after that.
“I used to go Tiverton for a new firkin twice a week, and it was getting more popular with our customers, but by then it was a bit late — the brewery wasn’t pushing it and it was just out of fashion generally. I’ve seen more mild on tap recently, but for twenty years, I hardly saw any. Shame.”
So, a perception that mild was poor quality beer, partly based on fact, was one reason why people stopped drinking it, and why the supply began to dry up.
Disclaimer: any resemblance between my Dad and the man from the Sam Smith’s Alpine Lager pump is purely coincidental and does not represent a trademark infringement.
The reopening today of the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden has made me wonder why there’s no museum of brewing in the capital.
Sure, individual breweries around the country have their own museums, and Coors/Bass have the best claim to running the national museum of brewing in Burton Upon Trent.
But there’s nothing in London. The whole city is, in effect, a museum of brewing, but it would be nice to see key artifacts brought together in one place (the old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, for example) to tell the fascinating story of brewing in this city.
Failing that, though, what about an exhibition at the excellent but occasionally overlooked Museum of London? That has a great “Victorian street”, including a pub, and some great stuff in the archives, so they’re halfway there already.
Update: I wonder if this story on Hop Talk might not have subconsciously influenced my thinking?
To quote former Prime Minister John Major, “It’s there! It’s still there!”
I discovered on Friday morning that the “hulking old brewery” that my Pevsner said was in Central London is, at least in part, still standing.
The area where the surviving buildings stand is now a somewhat trendy shopping district, but in the 19th century, it was filled with warehouses, most of which were there to supply the nearby fruit and vegetable market at Covent Garden.
It’s because of that that all the streets around Long Acre have such beautiful Victorian industrial designs, even though they’re now boutiques and bars.
If you want to see the remains of the Combe brewery yourself (there’s not *much* to see) head for Long Acre and walk around the block of buildings facing out on to Neal Street, Shelton Street and Langley Street. The brewery itself was in the middle of that block (where “Old Brewer’s Yard” is now, round the back of Marks and Spencer). Surviving buildings are at numbers 6, 7 and 8 Langley Street; 24-26 and 34 Shelton Street; 3-7 and 17-19 Neal Street.
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A while ago, I wrote about Starkey, Knight and Ford, who once ran almost all the pubs in my home town. I was intrigued, but a bit frustrated at the dearth of information. Well, once again, Westminster City Archive (which I’m always on about) has come through for me, and I now know almost everything I need to about SKF.
I was browsing the Archive’s bookshelves when I came across a copy of The Brewing Industry: a guide to historical records, edited by Lesley Richmond and Alison Turton. It has an entry for almost every major brewery in Britain, with very detailed information about where each company’s records can be found. This is the kind of thing Ron probably has multiple copies of.
It says that SKF were based in Bridgwater, Somerset (not Tiverton, Devon, as some sources suggested). The brewery was founded in 1840 by George Knight. Thomas Starkey started a brewery in nearby North Petherton around the same time. They merged at some point in the late 19th century, and then took over Ford & Son, who were based in Tiverton (hence the confusion, I guess).
They seem to have been incredibly acquisitive — the biography is just one takeover after another, all over the West Country, until they themselves were taken over by Whitbread in 1962. Whitbread ceased production in Bridgwater (all those beers my Dad recalls must have disappeared then) and changed the brewery’s name to “Whitbread Devon Ltd”. It ceased brewing in Tiverton in the early 1970s.
Present day regional behemoth breweries with acquisitive tendencies, take note…
I’ve read before that Central London was well stocked with huge brewery buildings in the 18th and 19th centuries, but most of them were knocked down or blown up in the Blitz. Reading Pevsner’s guide to the architecture of Westminster, however, I noted this line:
Londoners also needed vast supplies of beer and from the late C18 breweries became the first civilian factories to be built on a giant scale. The chief survivor in Westminster is Combe & Co.’s hulking 1830s premises of plain brick, N of Long Acre.
Now, I’ve walked up Long Acre twice in the last week without noticing a single “hulking” brewery building. I’ll have to look harder next time. Nice to know that these relics of the great age of industrial brewing are still there to be found, though.