Beer history pubs

CAMRA’s Own Pub Chain

Detail from the cover of the 1978 CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

Update 09/05/2019: this ended up being one of the seeds for our book Brew Britannia where the saga of CAMRAIL is covered in detail.

Our copy of the 1978 CAMRA Good Beer Guide (thanks, Bailey’s parents!) is full of interesting tit-bits, not least the page setting out the details of CAMRA’s investments.

The objective of CAMRA (Real Ale) Investments Limited is to acquire and run a chain of public houses offering a range of traditional draught beers in simply and unfussy surrounding.

In 1978, the company owned five pubs — the Old Fox in Bristol, the Salisbury Arms in Cambridge, the Nag’s Head in Hampstead, the White Gates in Manchester and the Eagle in Leeds — and was ‘on the look out for more’.

Across the chain there were beers from Marston, Crown (formerly the South Wales and Monmouthshire United Clubs Brewery), Wadworth, Courage (Bristol), Samuel Smith, Bateman, Adnams, Wells, Greene King, Brakspear, Boddingtons, Thwaites, Pollard and Theakston. Only one of those, Pollard, was a ‘new wave’ brewery.

The Nag’s Head we are told “is enormously popular among young people in North London and has made hundreds, possibly thousands, of converts to real ale in the lager generation”. All kinds of interesting language there.

Can anyone point us to an article explaining what happened to these pubs and the CAMRA investments chain?  And does anyone remember visiting any of them under the benevolent rule of the Campaign?

18 replies on “CAMRA’s Own Pub Chain”

I can’t point you to an article, but they were sold in the 1980s. I think the reasoning was that there was a need that was now being met elsewhere and that it was decided that running pubs, wasn’t after all CAMRAs main aim. They were sold.

The GBG of 1980 mentions them – then silence.

There is this brief statement:

A public company was launched CAMRA (Real Ale) Investments Ltd to run CAMRA’s own pubs. In 1983 CAMRA Investments changed name to Midsummer Inns. In 1985 Swithland Leisuretook over Midsummer Inns.

Wasn’t Chris Holmes (Castle Rock founder) CAMRA chairman back then? CR have about 20 odd pubs now I think… All a bit before my time of working for him!

Gareth –

No, I seem to remember it was Joe Goodwin, but I remember having a conversation with him about the CAMRA pub venture, and he rather distanced himself, and by implication mainstream CAMRA, from it.
Cetainly some unwise decisions were made – for example, CAMRA acquired a pub in Woolwich, up by the Artillery barracks, which was far too small and in the wrong location completely. It didn’t last long as a CAMRA pub.
The Nag’s Head in Hampstead was a nice pub though – I skived off work one day with a mate, and had far too much Gales HSB in there…….

A quick google suggests old fox is now a bikers pub

salisbury arms “the first camra pub” is tied to wells

Nags head closed

White gates is sam smiths but may not be open

The Eagle tavern is also sam smiths

I believe the Investment Club also owned pubs at one time – apparently the club’s portfolio caused it to become attractive to speculators, and was the subject of a hostile takeover! Whether or not this is true, they now refuse to assist communities trying to save local pubs – so CAMRA campaigns to save pubs which a club bearing its name, and composed of its members, “wouldn’t touch with a bargepole”!

Nope, I’ve been a member pretty much from the outset and it has never owned pubs directly and never been subject to a hostile takeover.

And its whole point is to provide a reasonably safe and solid investment with long-term growth prospects, much like a unit trust. If it changed its remit to dabble in speculative venture capital I suspect most members would withdraw their investment like a flash.

Interesting. The hostile takeover story was one reason I was given as to why they wouldn’t help. But if its just a boring old investment trust, why use CAMRA’s name, and why restrict membership to CAMRA members. And why don’t CAMRA members want to support CAMRA’s aims? (I’m not suggesting they stick the whole fund into a couple of dead end boozers, but a few hundred thousand in matching funds would go a long way). And avoid giving the impression that we’re bunch of hypocrites!

Because that’s not how investment clubs work. They can restrict their membership to whoever they choose for one thing – this is run by an for CAMRA members. Secondly investmenct clubs as a rule just invest in stocks and shares, not pubs and the like. There’s no hypocrisy involved at all. In fact the CAMRA Members Investment Club is actively looking for micro breweries it can invest in so it is prepared to put its money where its mouth is in fact. It;s just that the type of investment you want is outisde its remit.

The endless rounds of members votes on whether to invest in one or two ply loo paper probably bored them out of existence!!

We used to hold our climbing club committee meetings at the Salisbury they did a good pie and peas and good cider, but i also recall some controversy about the landlords political views which got the student union in a lather

Oh, I’ve drunk in the Eagle and go past it on the bus every day. Had no idea it was a CAMRA-owned pub.

It’s a Sam Smith’s pub in the middle of some busy roads around Sheepscar/the Little London estate. It was pretty friendly as I recall, but the location and keen Sam Smiths pricing might make it seem a bit daunting to newcomers as an “estate pub”. Also there are several more accessible Sam Smiths pubs in the city centre with the same range: the Angel is probably the nicest, if I recall.


I think the incident concerning the Salisbury is long after it was no longer a CAMRA Investements pub. Anyway, it was decent enough at the time but a little way outside the centre of Cambridge. If I remember correctly, the Manchester one was way outside the centre. I went once and it was OK but difficult to get to so I didn’t bother again.

From these two, I thought that the locations were badly chosen if the idea was to have real ale flagships.

However, what they did was different to what we’d expect now. Back then, regional brewers were more, well, regional. So, finding a pint of Pedigree round Manchester needed a modicum of effort and Adnams Bitter was positively exotic. The CAMRA Investment pubs did provide a wider choice than was common.

There was also one in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, The Duke of Wellington, just off the big market, still there but very much changed from the basic long bar boozer it was in 82, cracking pub (then). Went to the Eagle in Leeds a few times as well, it’s in the middle of a spagetti junction of fast roads now.

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