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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