Book review — Tales of Old Inns

The cover of the 1951 edition of <em>Tales of Old Inns</em> by Richard Keverne
The cover of the 1951 edition of Tales of Old Inns by Richard Keverne

Richard Keverne’s guide to England’s historic inns was first published in 1939. Hammond Innes revised the book in 1947. In his introduction, Innes makes the rather poignant observation that a new edition was needed not only to help returning servicemen reacquaint themselves with the country they’d fought to defend, but also to edit out mention of pubs which were destroyed by bombing during the war.

There’s further poignancy in reading about pubs which have great histories; which, in 1951, were still charming; but which are now plasticky chain pubs selling microwaved food (The Ferry Boat Inn, Tottenham, for example).

For all this book has about it the whiff of conservatism (there are lots of wistful comments about the simplicity of life in the ‘old days’) the author is surprisingly sympathetic to the motives of generations of innkeepers who destroyed the historic interiors of their pubs for commercial reasons.

Of particular interest to beer geeks are the rare passages which actually touch on beer. The Bell at Orford Hill in Norfolk, for example, was apparently a pioneering outlet for porter in the 1750s:

Sam Barker [the landlord]… also appreciated the use of advertisement. He advertised the then comparitively new malt liquor, porter. “A truly British liquor,” he called it, of which he had “a large quantity always bottled and fit to drink.” He offered it at five shillings a dozen (thirteen bottles to the dozen) or three shillings if you returned the bottles.

Keverne also tells us that the Sun Hotel in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, was typical in having its own brewery in the 18th century:

You should not leave the Sun without wandering through its big gardens, and seeing how the old malt and brew houses, alas! no longer in use, reminders of the days when the inn brewed its own beer. Then you will realise how vast were the resources of the big coaching house.

On the whole, it’s just a long list of pubs connected by vague anecdotes, usually unsourced, about Regency dandies and pub landlords. It’s not much use as a travel guide unless you are particularly interested in pub architecture. Nonetheless, it does give a great sense of just how much of a part of Britain’s infrastructure pubs (but specifically inns) really were, and reading about one village pub after another is almost as relaxing as spending an afternoon in one.

Bailey

You can get copies of this book from around 80p at abebooks.co.uk. We bought our copy in an Oxfam book shop.

Christmas gifts for beer lovers

What do you buy a beer lover for Christmas, other than beer?

jacksonbook.jpg1. The late Michael Jackson’s new book, the Eyewitness Guide to Beer — probably an update of his 1998 Dorling Kindersley book Ultimate Beer, but looks interesting anyway.

2. Some glassware. You can pick up branded Fuller’s glasses for around £4 in most of their pubs. Many supermarkets are selling gift sets with branded glasses from Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Old Speckled Hen and other well-known brands. Or, you can go posh — here’s a selection online. I like the look of these but could also do with one of these to drink imperial stout from.

beermachine.jpg3. A homebrewing kit. There are some basic, gimmicky automatic brewing machines, which look like fun. Or, you can buy a decent beginners kit from these people and pay less for it. But don’t forget to get a decent book to go with it.

4. More homebrewing stuff. If your loved one is already brewing, why not help them take it to the next level with some fancy kit like a

pubinabox.jpg5. There are all kinds of “pub at home” kits and accessories, from the cheap and cheerful to the ludicrously elaborate and expensive. If you don’t fancy having any of that in the house, what about the shed…?

6. Some rare and, erm, beautiful breweriana from Ebay might go down well. Not sure I’d want a load of old bottle tops for Christmas myself, but who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men.

7. What about the ludicrously named World’s Best Bottle Opener? Or even a nice traditional one. You can never have too many. Like umbrellas, they have a habit of disappearing. Just don’t buy a Homer Simpson novelty bottle opener. Believe me, the novelty of hearing “mmmmm, beer” wears off after, ooh, two bottles or so.

8. What about some food to accompany beer, or a combination of the two? O’Hanlon’s port stout and stilton; almost anything Belgian with some chocolate; or some pork scratchings…

9. CAMRA membership!

10. goodgift.jpgGood gifts are increasingly popular. If there’s too much junk in your house anyway, and you don’t want to encourage your loved ones to get fat and drunk, why not buy a brewery in Tanzania on their behalf?

11. And finally, if you are going to buy beer — and, let’s face it, it’s probably your best bet — choose them with a theme such as strong stouts, Christmas beers, German beers, or whatever, and package them nicely.