The Story of the Ring

Illustration: The Ring.

Back in 2012, when we were researching Brew Britannia, we gathered quite a list of proto-CAMRA beer appreciation societies, including The Ring.

Details on The Ring proved elu­sive, though, even when we emailed an address we were giv­en for Sue Hart, who we were told was a core mem­ber of the group. She did­n’t reply and we did­n’t pur­sue the sto­ry any fur­ther.

Then, ear­li­er this week, she emailed out of the blue with kind words about our two books and a won­der­ful sum­ma­ry of the sto­ry of The Ring which (edit­ed slight­ly, with her per­mis­sion) we’re delight­ed to present here so that nobody with access to Google need be as puz­zled as we were five years back.

The Ring was found­ed in Octo­ber 1960 by two broth­ers, both Oxford grad­u­ates, and is still flour­ish­ing today. There are pub crawls every month in Lon­don, alter­nate­ly south then north of the Riv­er Thames. We (my late hus­band ‘Arry and myself) appeared as guests in the late 1980s and were invit­ed to join soon after. There aren’t many mem­bers left who joined as ear­ly as that, just a hand­ful.

The two broth­ers, Clive and Tony Chester, were charis­mat­ic chaps, both obsessed with the Young’s pubs in and around Lon­don. Clive, AKA The Chair­man, would vis­it every one of the Young’s estate many times a year, putting them in com­pe­ti­tion mod­elled on a golf cup, foot­ball final or some­thing sim­i­lar for which he had dreamt up the rules. He always took care­ful of the prices on every vis­it and would always car­ry small note­books cov­ered with num­bers or writ­ing. Sad­ly none of these have sur­vived.

It was Tony, AKA The Deputy, who did most of the research into The Ring’s famous pub crawls. And remem­ber, this was well before CAMRA and the pletho­ra of beer guides around today, let alone the inter­net, so this was quite an ardu­ous task. I know because when Tony became inca­pac­i­tat­ed ‘Arry took on that role, and I accom­pa­nied him on many of the pre­lim­i­nary scout­ing ses­sions.

As The Ring orig­i­nat­ed in 1960 a lot of the pubs did not sell real ale but it was always about pubs first, beer sec­ond. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that is not the case today when most mem­bers will not vis­it the pub if it doesn’t sell real ale. ‘Arry and I always did, as did the Deputy.

When the Chair­man died ‘Arry took on the admin of The Ring as well as plan­ning a lot of the crawls. I should add that mem­bers are gen­er­al­ly invit­ed to join as the lim­it is 30 mem­bers. Too many and the pub crawl would become quite inva­sive in many a small pub. (Calls of “Where’ve you parked the coach?”). In prac­tice, the aver­age is usu­al­ly around twelve or so. As with most clubs and soci­eties, The Ring has its own set of rules. I have attached the lat­est ver­sion from 2012. [Extracts below – B&B.]

Since then, with some of us feel­ing our age, we don’t always do twelve pubs, even on halves, depend­ing on the dis­tances. I should add that every Octo­ber The Ring always meets in Wandsworth, home of Young’s brew­ery until they gave up brew­ing.

Arry and I were also mem­bers of three branch­es of the Soci­ety for the Preser­va­tion of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) in Lon­don and were founder mem­bers of the South West Lon­don branch of CAMRA and of CAMAL – the Cam­paign for Authen­tic Lager.  ‘Arry came from Bris­tol and my twin sis­ter lives there now so I vis­it them sev­er­al times a year. The pub scene is so very dif­fer­ent now to what it was when I was a stu­dent there.

I don’t have copies of The Ring pub crawl sheets from the begin­ning – I don’t think any­one has – but I have quite a num­ber. The ones put togeth­er by The Deputy took some under­stand­ing. He was a real whizz with num­bers and often his Ring sheets would con­tain lots of math­e­mat­i­cal rid­dles, or some­times ref­er­ences to foot­ball teams. He would also try and get a singing spot in the right sort of pub. Giv­en that he looked like a tramp with a piece of string hold­ing his coat togeth­er it was quite a sight, but he usu­al­ly got a round of applause as he knew all the old songs. As both the broth­ers were foot­ball fanat­ics the May ring was often held in the area where the Cup final was being played. This was not a good idea (in my view) but it cer­tain­ly added atmos­phere and frus­tra­tion when some pubs were closed to pre­vent vio­lence from the fans walk­ing the streets.

Nev­er a dull moment!

Extracts from the 2012 rules for The Ring

The aim of the Ring is to vis­it a spe­cif­ic area and explore its pubs with areas not being repeat­ed at too short an inter­val.

Nor­mal­ly the Ring vis­its 12 pubs but occa­sion­al­ly local con­di­tions may not allow this, or allow more. The Leader can call for a ‘Secun­do’ – a sec­ond round in a pub. The Leader can miss out pubs if time is run­ning short.

A Round will nor­mal­ly be made up of four per­sons. This pro­vides for 3 rounds of beer dur­ing a full Ring, after which the mem­bers of the Round may pur­chase their own beer.

Mem­bers enter­ing their first pub should look to join a Round which has not yet four peo­ple. A round of less than four should look out for new arrivals to join their Round. The aim is to mix and avoid set­ting up reg­u­lar cliques, mak­ing fours as peo­ple arrive. It is sen­si­ble for guests to be in a Round with their inviter on ear­ly vis­its.

Pre­de­ter­mined groups of four are to be active­ly dis­cour­aged – the Ring is about a mixed bag of pub going indi­vid­u­als get­ting togeth­er for a con­vivial night out with like mind­ed souls. It may be that peo­ple can­not read­i­ly join in a Round, typ­i­cal­ly if they can­not stay long, but the ide­al is to join a Round when­ev­er pos­si­ble.

The Leader, or his assis­tants, should call “Ring out in two”, two min­utes before the Ring leaves the pub, and then “Ring Out” on leav­ing. These calls should be made to all mem­bers of the Ring whose where­abouts are known. The mem­bers should fol­low the Leader, or the Leader’s knowl­edge­able assis­tant, and “Ring” calls may be made at obscure road/path turn­ings.

The Round mem­bers take it in turn to buy a round. Nor­mal­ly the sequence is that of join­ing the round. The round is con­ven­tion­al­ly four halves of ordi­nary bit­ter, but the Round buy­er may choose to ask what the oth­er mem­bers require. The Round buy­er should aim to get to the bar among the first arrivals at the pub. When a Round buy­er is at the bar before oth­er mem­bers of the Round have arrived, the choice of pur­chase is that of the buy­er, typ­i­cal­ly ordi­nary bit­ter or the same as the buy­er is get­ting for him­self.

The term ‘Droit de Seigneur’ per­mits the buy­er of the round com­plete free­dom to buy what he wants for him­self, in what­ev­er quan­ti­ty or size he desires. If he wants to miss out, the buy­er exer­cis­es the ‘Droit de Nil’, i.e. has noth­ing.

Being ‘Salin­gered’ is the fate which befalls any­one order­ing a round at clos­ing time and being refused ser­vice. The clas­sic Salinger occurs when the “Vic­tim” has delib­er­ate­ly delayed his trip to the bar so as to avoid his round. This approach is not in the spir­it of the Ring and is to be frowned upon.

5 thoughts on “The Story of the Ring”

  1. Fas­ci­nat­ing, I know of one cur­rent mem­ber but was total­ly unac­quaint­ed with the “ins and outs”. When I first heard of The Ring, it seemed to be some qua­si-secret soci­ety of mys­te­ri­ous and unnamed indi­vid­u­als. Per­haps it still is! Said cur­rent mem­ber invit­ed Chris­tine and I to join a Ring tour, at one of the pubs being vis­it­ed, as he knew we had a house close to the route. We were very pleased to do so. By no means were there 12 on this crawl but we had a pleas­ant time shar­ing a beer with those that were.

    1. I’ve been on a Ring crawl as a guest too, and there was indeed a sense of it being not-quite-pub­lic. Prob­a­bly because if it were, the 30 lim­it would rapid­ly be exceed­ed. It was a very pleas­ant evening, more old-school than geeky, but with a lot else than ordi­nary bit­ter being ordered.

  2. Fas­ci­nat­ing indeed. I did­n’t know of its exis­tence in Lon­don – but have heard of The Ring in the North East, which is still active.

    Makes CAMRA meet­ings sound rather tame at any rate. To the ale-house, cas­ke­teers!

    1. The Ring in the North East came about because the the wife of Clive Chester, the Ring Chair­man, had a cousin liv­ing near New­cas­tle. He came to a cou­ple of Rings when vis­it­ing in Lon­don and so liked the idea that he start­ed one in and around the North East. My rec­ol­lec­tion is that, being based on real ale, they often had to have two sep­a­rate vis­its to some of the pubs on the Ring Sheet as not that many pubs sold real ale at the time. How times change!

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