We were pleased to hear this week that St Austell, our local family brewer, has a new archivist who is in the process of cataloguing its history.
When we visited to look at St Austell’s brewing records last year, we found the log books, from 1912 onward, stacked rather untidily in cardboard boxes in a corridor. We winced somewhat at the sight. Hopefully Chris Knight will do something about that, and make the records more easily accessible to researchers, as Shepherd Neame have done in Kent.
Very few breweries have professional archivists, which is a shame, if entirely understandable in a climate where every penny counts.
The Big Six British brewing giants which emerged in the nineteen-sixties, for all their faults, were very good at recording their own pasts. Nicholas Redman, archivist at Whitbread, for example, did a wonderful job of recording official histories for those breweries which it devoured.
Watney’s in-house historian, Hurford Janes wrote their company biography, The Red Barrel, though minutes from board meetings from the sixties reveal that they resented the cost of his salary and were permanently on the verge of ‘letting him go’ to save a bit of cash.
Many smaller brewers are in charge of their own ‘archives’: David Bruce has a (damp?) garage full of mementoes, paintings, cartoons and paperwork from his days running the Firkin chain.
Both the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Society for the Preservation for Beers from the Wood (SPBW) have archives in need of attention: no-one seems sure where the minutes of the early CAMRA meetings might be, and the SPBW archive lives on top of someone’s wardrobe in a carrier bag.
We hope present day breweries, campaigners, beer festival organisers and publicans, even if they can’t afford an archivist, are doing something to record their stories. Something more permanent, that is, than a blog