HELP: Real Ale Pubs of the 1970s

For our current Big Project we’re trying to get in touch with people who remember drinking in real ale pubs of the 1970s.

We’ll unpack that term a bit: before about 1975, there were pubs that sold cask-conditioned beer, AKA ‘traditional draught’, but it was usually whatever was local and the choice might consist of one, two or three different beers.

After CAMRA got everyone stirred up some pubs began to tailor their offer to appeal to Campaign members by offering four, six, eight, or even eighteen different beers from the far ends of the country.

If you read Brew Britannia you’ll remember that we covered all of this in Chapter Five, ‘More an Exhibition Than a Pub’, but now we’d like some fresh testimony for a different take.

The Hole in the Wall in 1981.
Detail from ‘Hole in the wall at Waterloo 1981’ by Tim@SW008 from Flickr under Creative Commons.

What were these pubs like to drink in? If you were used to mild and bitter from the local brewery in your home town how did it feel to suddenly see beers from several counties away?

If you worked in or owned one of these pubs, what was that like, and were you aware of being part of what the press called ‘the real ale craze’?

Based on scouring old editions of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide here’s a list which might help jog memories:

  • The Anglesea Arms, South Kensington, London
  • The Barley Mow, St Albans (covered at length in Brew Britannia)
  • The Bat & Ball, Farnham, Surrey
  • The Brahms & Liszt, Leeds (ditto)
  • The Bricklayers, City of London
  • The Duck, Hagley Road, Birmingham
  • The Hole in the Wall, Waterloo, London
  • The Naval Volunteer, Bristol
  • The Sun, Bloomsbury, London (now The Perseverance)
  • The Victoria Bar, Marylebone Station, London
  • The Victory, Waterloo Station, London
  • The White Horse, Hertford

But other nominations are welcome, as long as they’re from this early phase, from 1975 up until about 1980-81.

Please do share this with any pals you think might be able to help, on Facebook or wherever.

If you’ve got stories or memories to share comment below if you like but email is probably best:

15 replies on “HELP: Real Ale Pubs of the 1970s”

My local from around 1970 was the Lamb and Flag Rose Street Covent Garden. Mr Bessenger, the licensee, though he had to take keg beer insisted on keeping Courage Best and Directors on hand pump. The local (Charing Cross) ward Labour Party met in the function room above the main ground floor bars (then still divided by a door), and the dumb waiter was still in use. Our chairman would invariably make sure that meetings ended by 9pm so that he could be in his favourite seat in the back bar before it got too crowded. On the rare occasions when we ran over orders would be placed for beer downstairs and would arrive via the dumb waiter. The Lamb and Flag had by then already been discovered by trendies ….. civil servants from down the road in Whitehall, students, and more, as well as locals like us.

I and friends didn’t go very far afield – the Roundhouse, Green Man and French Horn, Hennekey’s Long Bar in High Holborn, and the Mitre Hatton Garden. None of these I recall, save perhaps the Mitre, served real ale. In Hampstead, with friends from school (UCS Frognal), I recall the Coach and Horses had Courage Best (and possibly Directors) on hand pump, and bar billiards. Other options were distinctly limited. I only started rediscovering good pubs and real ale in London on staring work in 1980, and a colleague who had spent his first year or two working for the Post Office had already built up a considerable knowledge that he shared with us. Safe to say that in my first job for PO Telecoms I was based in River Plate House / Finsbury Circus, and our staff bar served Bass (H) ably kept by Rod, our Spanish bar manager and barman.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, by the time I was first working in the Toon in 1973-74, and then at the University from September 1974, there were still more than just a few pubs serving real ale. I have a copy of the University Students Handbook for 1977/78 listing a number of these: mostly there were rather run down and even seedy S&N houses, but all served decent real ale on Hand or Electric pump. No Tyne Brewery or Fed Brewery products were real ale: Haymarket Hotel McEwan’s 80/- (H); Tent House 80/- (H); Royal Buffet Lorimers Best Scotch (H); Bacchus Sam Smiths OBB (E); Balmbra’s Bass (H); Star and Garter Bass (E); Crown Posada Bass (E); Spittal House 80/- (H); Cradlewell 80/- (H); Earl Grey Lorimers Best Scotch (E); Blacksmiths Arms Bass (H); Millstone Bass (H); Cumberland Arms Bass and ELB (H); Glendale Bass (H). By then we had secured cask ales in one of the Union Society bars – 80/- or 70/- – through campaigning in the Real Beer and Ale Society and on the Union Management Committee, but the lack of any decent temperature controlled cellar proved its undoing. The authors also observed that bottled Guinness and White Shield were of course conditioned beers, and that there were c. 150 0r so Houses serving cask Youngers beers in Yorkshire, but from N Yorkshire to the Tweed there were only five such outlets. I have a copy of Real Beer in North East England 1977 edition (1st edition was May 1975), produced by the Cleveland, Durham and Tyneside CAMRA branches, so there’s more detail available.

When I ran my college bar at Cambridge in 1977 (gulp!) we sold Adnams Bitter, Charles Wells Eagle and Abbot cask. The Adnams I remember was 24p per pint.
Our local outside college was the Cambridge Arms, a Greene King pub at the end of King Street which is now a trendy food-and-beer joint but which was then a scruffy two bar pub with outside toilets run by an ex-copper from Plymouth.
The GK IPA was marvellous, unrecognisable from the bland product which now carries the name.
GK then was an East Anglian regional which still brewed at Biggleswade as well as Bury St Edmunds.
The likes of GKIPA and Adnams were a real eye opener to me; my regular beer before going up had been Courage Tavern at the Sportmans in Heamoor, then a Courage tenancy run by local rugby legend Graham Paul.

“The GK IPA was marvellous, unrecognisable from the bland product which now carries the name.”

Wouldn’t mind delving into this a bit more. GK now so generally despised that this is almost startling to read. (Not that I doubt it.)

I suspect that the cask IPA supplied to Cambridge came from Biggleswade at that time.
Comparison with Burton snatch is a good one, although without the sulphurous note that Pedigree has (had?), plus a hop character missing from the contemporary product.
It would also not have been served at quite the low temperatures employed now, which would have helped the aromas develop ( from memory ).

In central Birmingham, Atkinson’s bar at the back of the Midland Hotel was well-known for its casks behind the bar. Even Boddingtons seemed exotic in those days. I think it closed in the late 80s.

Yeah -not cheap, but the only place for a choice of beer in Birmingham city centre – still true in the early 80s when I was a student in Brum and desparate for some variety instead of the dismal Ansells (no longer brewed in the city) and the appalling Brew XI.
It closed when they demolished and rebuilt the hotel. I believe it had been owned by Atkinson’s Brewery originally, hence the name.
The Duck was great, but a bit further away.
In Leeds, we had the Eagle – owned by CAMRA Investments for a while during this period, serving beers that you just couldn’t get in Leeds otherwise. Mind you, that was true about most beers except Tetleys, but still it was great to get some variety. Run at some point by the excellent Les Moon.

In the period from 1971, when I was underage, to c. 1980, I did most of my drinking in the Warrington (where I was a student), Liverpool and Southport areas, with occasional forays into Manchester. Warrington was Greenall Whitley Land, both in the adverts and in fact: you either drank Greenall’s, or you didn’t drink. This was despite the fact that there were two other breweries in Warrington: Tetley Walker and Burtonwood. As a result, pub crawls in Warrington were rather tedious (“Oh look! It’s Greenall’s again!”) so we didn’t bother with them much. Southport had a bit more variety, and Liverpool more still. Handpumps had mostly disappeared, and real ale was almost always served through electric pumps. Most pubs sold the products of one brewery only, although Higsons of Liverpool usually sold Draught Bass as well as their own beers. Where there was a guest beer, it was very often one of the big name keg beers, such as Worthington E or Double Diamond – whichever national brewery the local brewery had a trading deal with.

Draught Bass was a legendary beer, and we used to seek it out in the White Star in Liverpool, which still sells a reasonable pint of it. I rarely drank it in Higson’s pubs, as I liked their (cheaper) bitter anyway. Southport had quite a few Matthew Brown pubs whose beer was as bad as Greenall’s. In those days, Tetley Bitter, when real, was quite acceptable but no more than that, unlike the slop it has become in recent years.

The practice of knocking pubs through into one big room was in full swing during the 1970s, although there were still many pubs with separate rooms, sometimes with separate price lists. Theme pubs could be particularly irritating, so we ignored those too.

There may have been more pubs in the 1970s, but in terms of both choice and quality, I’d say that overall things are much better now.

Forgot to say: when I went to college in 1972, bitter was 13p a pint and mild 11p in our college bar, which charged the same as the cheapest local pub prices, not less. If the only pressure on beer prices since then had been inflation*, bitter would now be £1.55 a pint and mild £1.31.

* Using the Bank of England Inflation Calculator.

Which underlines the point that it is not off-trade beer that has got cheaper, but on-trade beer that has got dearer. One factor of course being the higher labour element involved in the price of on-trade beer.

As someone who was around in those early days, I drank in several of the London pubs mentioned in your list; but on an occasional basis, rather than as a regular. The pubs included the Anglesea Arms – South Kensington, the Hole in the Wall – Waterloo and also the Sun.

I notice though, that you have placed this particular pub in Covent Garden, but the Sun I remember, and I think it must be the one you are thinking of (as it really was the mother of all beer exhibition pubs), was situated in Lamb’s Conduit Street, just a short hop from the Lamb (the Young’s pub with the famous “snob screens”). This would place the pub in Holborn, rather than Covent Garden.

I will email you some of my recollections and thoughts regarding these establishments, and also some regarding the White gates in Hyde. The latter pub belonged to CAMRA (Real Ale Investments), and I believe it was either the second or third pub which this short-lived chain acquired and operated on behalf of the Campaign.

Paul — thanks for that — not sure what happened but have fixed it now. Look forward to your email.

I agree with Malcolm’s comments on Greene King IPA, which was certainly very palatable in the 1970s – never more so, in my experience, than at the 1975 CAMRA festival at Covent Garden, where I had a spell running the Greene King stand. The IPA was excellent, but we also served other Greene King beers, of course – perhaps Rayment’s AK was the most exciting in terms of rarity. I visited the White Gates in Hyde the same year, while on a beer-buying trip for the SW London CAMRA festival at Wimbledon Baths. Three of us took a van to the north-west, calling at Robinson’s and Hyde’s breweries (with a brewery tour at Hyde’s) and spending part of the evening at the White Gates, where Pollard’s JB Bitter was on offer: pleasant, but not particularly strongly-flavoured or memorable; I remember thinking it was pretty similar to Wilson’s Bitter. On the way back, we collected some beer from Bill Urquhart at the Litchborough Brewery. I recall it was generally served under pressure in Northamptonshire, but of course we served it straight from the cask in Wimbledon – although filtered, it was pretty acceptable as far as I remember.

From my own recollection of drinking in multi cask beer pubs from 1975 onwards including the Sun at Lambs Conduit Street London,the Black Horse at Warwick,the Duck in Birmingham and the Bier Keller in Coventry the majority of the customers were young and somewhat similar to Brewdog customers today. One significant thing about the Sun was that it never featured in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. I can recall that multi cask beer pubs became increasingly common towards the end of the 1970’s and the trend spread into university bars,Warwick University students union went from one cask beer in 1976 to 6,including Marstons Old Roger on draught in 1979.

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