Beer history

Today in Beer History: Marching in Stone

The march at Stone, 3 November, 1973.
Christopher Hutt in front of the words WHO NEXT? Source: The Stone Newsletter, 9 November, 1973.

On 3 November, 1973, around six hundred members of the Campaign for Real Ale descended on the Staffordshire town of Stone to protest against Bass Charrington’s plans to close the local brewery, Joule’s.

The march was led by CAMRA Chairman Christopher Hutt, author of The Death of the English Pub, and organised by Terry Pattinson.

Joule's of Stone beer crate.

They were joined by locals, members of the Transport and General Workers Union, and the town’s brass band. The march was scheduled to begin at Westbridge Park at 3:15 p.m, and, after a circuit round the town centre,  wound up at the cinema, where Hutt gave an impassioned speech.

Route of CAMRA march in Stone, Staffs, 3 November, 1973.
Source: What’s Brewing, November 1973.

Though trade union-style activity like this generated publicity (a 12-minute slot on Nationwide, no less) it did not otherwise achieve results. The decision to shut down and demolish Joule’s brewery was irreversible, and, anyway, the Big Six couldn’t be seen to back down every time the peasants revolted. The brewery closed in 1974.

But there is an interesting footnote to this story, and one which perhaps supports the optimism we expressed in this post: in 2010, Joule’s returned from the dead, the brand, recipes and yeast strain being purchased from Molson Coors and transferred to a new microbrewery in Market Drayton. We haven’t tried their beer, but look forward to doing so.

Our book, Brew Britannia, will include a section on CAMRA’s campaigning tactics in the seventies, from marches to beer festivals.

26 replies on “Today in Beer History: Marching in Stone”

Truman’s is being revived as well. All very interesting.

This part of CAMRA is something I’ve always found very interesting and perhaps uniquely English. (Beer lobbies exist elsewhere, e.g. in Northern France, but the idea of a protest march for a brewery seems unique to England).

A brewery is the result of someone’s enterprise married to patronage. You need both to keep it going, not just one side. The idea that a local brewery becomes part of the fabric of a town or area is understandable, but people have no “right” to its continuation. At one time, that brewery was a new market entrant and struggled to get known and win market share. Everything old was new and untested at one time. Something will replace the old and it may better than what went before, or different anyway. Surely when Joules went out of business something took its place and there must still have been real ale amongst the offerings – or if not a market opportunity was given someone.

This part of the CAMRA picture seems to me to pain a deeply traditional society, charming unto itself but not more. I wonder if CAMRA still does these marches.


N.B. I am a strong proponent of CAMRA generally speaking.

We’re keeping a list of revived breweries. So far, we know of Truman’s, Lacon’s, Phipps NBC and Shipstones. It’s a fascinating development, and especially heartening when they go to the trouble of sourcing original yeast samples.

CAMRA still marches from time to time, but it tends to be in Westminster, on bigger issues such as taxation.

Add Nottingham Brewery to that list: wound up in 1956, reestablished in 2001, including many of the old recipes.

I am not surprised that this aspect seems strange to Gary. It also looks quite unfamiliar from the perspective of Britain in 2013. But in 1973 British society was much more state-oriented than it is today, which is one of the reasons the CAMRA march resembles a trade union protest so much. In 1973, if you disliked some aspect of what was happening in society, you didn’t say “well, that will create a market opportunity for someone else” – you tried to get the government to do something about it. And this was just as true of the political right and centre as it was of the left.

Interesting and I can see it from an employment standpoint, e.g., to ask for a tax concession to allow an industry to remain competitive. This still occurs of course, in many parts of the world. The loss of employment was probably part of the idea of such marches and again I can understand that. The part though that expressed consumer disappointment with an altered market seems uniquely British, at least at the time. Maybe there was an element of whimsy in it too, a sly humour.


Something will replace the old and it may better than what went before, or different anyway

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Apathy.

CAMRA when it was founded was all about seeing “the old” replaced by “something”, and not liking what they saw. As the founders of CAMRA saw it, one set of beer values – cask ale, regional diversity, craftsmanship, quality – was being replaced by another – keg, uniformity, mass production, profit. The idea that all good things can be provided through the workings of the market – so we just need to wait until somebody takes the opportunity to make a profit by providing what’s missing – would have seemed crazily irresponsible back then; it still seems a bit optimistic to me.

I wasn’t talking about CAMRA’s raison d’etre; au contraire I said I was a supporter of CAMRA. The replacement I was projecting was not old-fashioned keg beer, but, i) more cask beer, ii) better keg beer. Both did finally arrive, in Joule’s trading area one presumes and certainly elsewhere. More cask came from the hundreds of new breweries that were created after CAMRA started. Better keg came later, some call it craft beer today.


But your comment seemed to suggest that the replacement for Joules would have come about whether anyone had campaigned or not, thanks to market forces. I’m suggesting that the idea that market forces can be relied to to supply good beer is specific to our current period, and would have seemed alien to the first generation of CAMRA. From their perspective, the free market was the enemy – market forces were allowing (or encouraging) profit-maximising keg breweries to destroy British beer through standardisation and industrialisation. CAMRA’s intervention was aimed at obstructing the workings of the market – and it did so very successfully. The fact that we’ve now got a status quo including large-scale effective demand for real ale – so that we can rely on market forces to carry on giving us what we want – is to the credit of CAMRA’s anti-free-market campaigning.

Arguably what was going on in the early 70s had much more to do with corporatism than free markets as such – modernisation, standardisation, big is beautiful, economies of scale etc – which was very much in tune with the government policies of the day. Nobody had even thought of the “long tail” then.

Further to my previous reply to Gary… the key is to think in terms of quality as well as quantity. The market is indifferent to intrinsic quality (quality as an added extra is another matter): if you sell something called beer and millions of people buy it, by definition that’s good beer. CAMRA got people thinking about the quality of beer and created a market for cask ale, and more generally a market preference for beer that was relatively un-industrialised and unadulterated. A free market would be entirely compatible with every independent brewer in the country being bought out and converted to keg: people would still buy beer. It’s only when new demands started to be expressed – in opposition to the free working of the market as it was constituted – that the kind of market equilibrium you’re taking for granted became possible.

Mudge – that’s a good point; CAMRA tapped into a lot of post-hippie/pre-Green thinking about localism, “small is beautiful”, etc, and people who thought that way could plausibly claim to be neither Right (big business) nor Left (nationalised industries). The argument would have been that free market economics & socialist planning both ended up in the same place, with a monopoly imposed either by the state or by the biggest business.

There were big protests, including at least one march, over InBev’s 2005/6 cuts and in particular the decision to close the Hoegaarden brewery. Although the brewery eventually stayed open, it was reportedly not down to the protests, and the job cuts continued.

As a matter of policy the new Joule’s brewery don’t supply their beer outside their trading area, although they do sell to some free trade outlets. The beer is very good IMV but by contemporary standards some may find it a bit understated.

My brother works in Stone, so I’ve been there often.

CAMRA would be happy these days, though. Across the road from where Joule’s used to be there’s the Poste Of Stone, the local Wetherspoons. A march wouldn’t work today. They’d all be in there using their 50p off vouchers.

Well, if that were the case, there’s The Royal Exchange (a Titanic pub) up towards the station. And when they get fed up of Iceberg and White Star, there’s The Swan at the bottom of Newcastle Road, which gives CAMRA discount. No shortage of real ale in Stone these days.

In the 1989 Good Beer Guide there’s a picture of me as part of a group on a protest march about the closure of Oldham Brewery – looking much younger, slimmer and with more hair.

To be honest, even in the early days I suspect these marches were done more in the spirit of bearing witness to the cause and highlighting the issue than in any kind of belief they would actually reverse the decision.

At the risk of being controversial, are many of the current campaigns to “Save the Snotgobblers’ Arms” or whatever, in principle essentially the same?

Like Curmudgeon, I have sampled the new Joules beers, in their dozen or so superb pubs around Cheshire and Staffs. They are good session beers that will struggle to make an impact in the free trade ( though good enough for the Holy Inadequate in Stoke). Unusual to see a new brewery stick to a small core range.

I think a lot of the comment is getting away from reality. The fact is that the owners of joule’s sold out to Bass in 1970. We don’t know why, although I understand that a number of smaller breweries sold out because they couldn’t or wouldn’t raise capital to renovate (bear in mind the deprivations of wartime and the austerity period afterwards). Bass bought for the tied estate, which they could shift more of their products through – they may even have already been a supplier to Joule’s (lager or whatever). What would be interesting is whether there is an archive somewhere with Joule’s production figures under Bass ownership – I suspect that it would show a fall as tenants were ‘persuaded’ to stock Burton products. The 1974 GBG has 2 Staffordshire pubs with Stone brewed beers but one of these has 2 other beers from elsewhere in the Bass empire.

The 1976 GBG shows that Bass still brewed Joules Bitter, with a strength of 3.5% and probably not a patch on the original. It disappears from the listings by 1980.

A friend of mine, who Ray has met, was on the Stone march and when I asked him tonight about his recollections his first reaction was that the Joule’s pubs in town charged the marchers 2p a pint more than known locals. Was this a Bass tactic, or had the publicans found Joule’s hard to deal with? I doubt if we will ever know.

Finally, I am almost certain that the person on the right in the front row of the marchers is Pete Roberts, who I knew as a founder member of East London CAMRA and an activist until he sadly passed away a few years ago, I think still in his 50s. It would have been absolutely typical of Pete to have dug out a Joule’s tie for the occasion.

Ian Worden

Interesting discussion — thanks, everyone!

We’ve tended to see the early seventies as a time when the Big Six were trying to channel consumers down a path that was convenient for them, rather than responding to demand; and CAMRA as an expression of the collective will of The Consumer — the market functioning especially healthily, if you like.

The market just consists of people buying and selling however they want to. You can see CAMRA as wanting to restrict the free market (by protecting small breweries) or wanting to make it work better (by releasing suppressed demand for real ale), but either way I think you have to see the campaign itself as working outside the market. Besides, the founding generation of CAMRA were a bunch of hippies and pinkoes, who would have had a collective fit if you’d told them they were helping the market work better.

‘the founding generation of CAMRA were a bunch of hippies and pinkoes’

Some of them were, some of them weren’t.

I’m fascinated by the sight of a trades union-style CAMRA branch banner in the background — were these common during those days, does any branch still have one? This needs me onto musing whether in an alternative history CAMRA would have something like the Durham Miners Gala thing, where Labour politicians used to go and pay homage — in the CAMRA version it would be family brewers and pubco types.

Joules’ new beers are excellent. Well brewed, traditional biiters and pale ales that make a nice contrast to all those over hopped IPAs. The pubs have been renovated to a high standard too. Their Chester pub, the Cross Keys is over the road from Sam Smith’s Falcon. You can spend an evening imagining that you have been tramdsported back to drinking 70s style beers in 70s style pubs.

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