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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.)

      1. GK beers at the time had a very dis­tinc­tive aro­mat­ic hop­py “snatch” that you cer­tain­ly don’t get now. Wasn’t to everyone’s taste, though.

        1. 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 ).

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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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