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 thoughts on “CAMRA’s Own Pub Chain”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    1. 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.……

  3. 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

  4. 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”!

    1. 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.

      1. 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!

        1. 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.

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

  6. 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

  7. 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.


  8. 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.

  9. 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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