The Original Great British Beer Festival, 1873

Victorian map showing the location of Victoria Gardens aka the Royal Pavilion Gardens, North Woolwich.

Tim Holt from The Brew­ery His­to­ry Soci­ety saw our recent post on ‘world beer’ in the UK and kind­ly sent us a clip­ping from the Dai­ly News, 9 May 1873 about a very ear­ly but strange­ly famil­iar sound­ing beer fes­ti­val.

ROYAL GARDENS, North Wool­wich. – Sole Lessee and Pro­pri­etor, W. HOLLAND (the peo­ple’s cater­er) – GREAT SHOW OF ENGLISH and CONTINENTAL BEER. – The pro­posed exhi­bi­tion of Ales, Stout, Porter, &c., for the pur­pose of com­par­ing and test­ing the rel­a­tive val­ues of the pro­duc­tions of the Brew­ers of Great Britain and the Con­ti­nent, will be held at the above Estab­lish­ment, on MONDAY, May 19, 1873, and Five fol­low­ing Days. The Beers will be arranged in a Pavil­ion espe­cial­ly erect­ed for that pur­pose and will be divid­ed into com­part­ments, tak­ing each coun­ty in Great Britain…

There’s a huge list of British brew­ers in atten­dance pro­vid­ed at this point, but sad­ly no infor­ma­tion about what was on at the Bières Sans Fron­tières bar.

Entrance to the Exhi­bi­tion will be six­pence beyond the usu­al admis­sion to the Gar­dens, and vis­i­tors can pro­cure tast­ing-orders at the office in the build­ing for one shilling each per­son, enti­tling them to taste any of the beers offered for com­pe­ti­tion, and reg­is­ter­ing their vote for that which they con­sid­er best accord­ing to price and qual­i­ty.

Price and qual­i­ty as judg­ing cri­te­ria? Inter­est­ing, although per­haps the point was to show how over-priced and over-rat­ed the con­ti­nen­tal imports were com­pared to the home­grown stuff.

UPDATE 07/05/2014: almost two years on, we’ve come across some more infor­ma­tion in the Brew­ers’ Guardian for 3 June 1873 which shows that among the Con­ti­nen­tal brew­eries in atten­dance was Dreher of Aus­tria:

Attendee list from the Brewers' Guardian.

This is a bit out of the time­frame for our project but there’s noth­ing wrong with a bit of what Rita Coolidge would call ‘sweet dis­trac­tion’. For more on the devel­op­ment of the con­tem­po­rary beer fes­ti­val, try this rem­i­nis­cence of 1975 by Paul Bai­ley.

4 thoughts on “The Original Great British Beer Festival, 1873”

  1. One shilling and six­pence for entrance to the exhi­bi­tion and a “tast­ing-order” – that’s the equiv­a­lent of the cost at the time of nine pints of mild. Per­haps £30 to £40 in today’s val­ues. He may have been the “Peo­ple’s Cater­er”, but he was charg­ing nob­by prices.

    1. Mar­tyn -
      As I read this, your one-and-six got you unlim­it­ed tast­ings of all the beers avail­able, so you’d have to make sure that you tast­ed plen­ty to get your mon­ey’s worth!

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