Everything we wrote in the perfectly normal month of March 2020

March 2020

Because March 2020 has been totally normal – perhaps the least remarkable month on record? – we managed to turn out a decent number of posts, albeit with an odd emphasis on the past.

We kicked off with a write-up of a remarkable document from 1944: the Mass Observation projects notes on young people’s attitudes to alcohol, with bonus commentary on how the sex lives of young adults in London revolved around pubs. It’s full of stuff like this:

The Saloon Bar is packed with young people some 60—100 strong. To order drinks people just elbow their way to the counter. Nobody minds the pushing and shoving. Lots of young girls, very well-dressed and heavily made up, come into the pub unescorted. Soldiers and Sailors are present, but it is mostly a young civilian crowd. 17—18 age group, although a small percentage of older people (not more than 30-40 years) are present. The room is hot and the fat man at the piano looks hotter still. The room is too packed for dancing, but girls hum the melodies the fat man plays.


Moving back in time, Jess wrote about her great-grandfather and his run in with the great London brewery Barclay Perkins:

There’s an interesting insight into how these things worked: my great grandad bought beer from the brewery and also paid a royalty of 2d per dozen bottles of non-company beer sold. They were rather sniffy about his business generally; “…[Company] purchases were small and the royalty only amounted to some £12 per annum”. Also, the implication in the minutes is that Barclay Perkins would probably find another site and trade the licence.


Another piece from Jess was this reflection on the recent rise in the number of breweries in Walthamstow, east London, where she grew up, with input from Des de Moor and Jezza:

When I was young, Walthamstow wasn’t really a big drinking destination. It was somewhere young families settled. You might have a few in The Village or The Goose or whichever local pub tickled your fancy but, generally, people went up town for serious nightlife… And there were no breweries at all, not one, in a borough with about a quarter of a million people. The Essex Brewery closed in the 1970s and the Sweet William brewery at the William IV, later Brodie’s, didn’t come along until much later.


Back to the past, this time the 1970s, we dug through a pile of CAMRA branch bulletins kindly sent to us by Sue Hart. They provide a behind-the-scenes look at the story we told in Brew Britannia, with lots of interesting details that were new to us:

One of my members asked me recently why our branch no longer arranged brewery trips – “for a free booze up”. Poor man… I don’t normally tongue-lash people, but he certainly got it – and that made me think. Did his attitude reflect that of a majority of CAMRA members towards brewery trips? I certainly hope not… I have witnessed on brewery trips… people becoming obscenely drunk, fighting drunk, unconscious at the brewery, on the coach or in the pub on the way home.


A gin palace as depicted in 1851.

As the month neared its end, we got a bit hung up on the subject of gin palaces again, although this time the subject took us down a couple of interesting side avenues.

First, researching London gin palaces, we came across an account from 1844 which made particular mention of the easy-swinging doors:

The doors are large, swinging easily upon patent hinges, and ever half-and-half—half open, half shut, so that the most undecided touch of the dram-drinker admits him. The windows are of plateglass, set in brass sashes, and are filled with flaming announcements, in large letters, ‘The Cheapest House In London,’— ‘Cream Of The Valley,’—‘Creaming Stout,’—‘Brilliant Ales,’—‘Old Tom, fourpence a quartern,’ — ‘Hodges’ Best, for mixing,’ and a variety of other entertainments for the men and beasts who make the gin-palace their home.

Next, in the same territory, we got distracted by mention of ‘Kennett Ale’ – apparently another of those hyper-local regional beer styles that gradually died out through the 19th century. This was from Wiltshire/Berkshire and apparently a big deal in London:

Will you travel with your Bill
To the Crown at Pentonville,
Bonnet-builder, O!
Where the cove sells Kennett ale,
Which, like you, looks very pale,
I like it best when stale,
Bonnet-builder, O!

Finally, we decided to get out of London and find out what gin palaces in Manchester might have been like. The sources are less plentiful than for London but, still, there’s no shortage:

Many of its streets, particularly the great thoroughfare called the Oldham Road, are magnificent in their vast proportions; but the thousands of by-lanes and squalid courts, the stacked-up piles of undrained and unventilated dwellings, swarm with the coarsest and most dangerous portions of the population. Here the old and inferior mills abound; here the gin-palaces are the most magnificent, and the pawn-shops the most flourishing…


We also managed to drag ourselves out of bed to put together our usual Saturday morning round-ups of news and links – not that there was much news in this utterly uneventful month, of course.


We also kept Tweeting, mostly stuff like this:

And posted a bit on Patreon, including this, well, we suppose you’d call it a ‘statement’. TL;DR: don’t worry about us, support people who need it more.

And we also opened up the full versions of our notes from Belgium last autumn, if you fancy a vicarious holiday: day one | two | three | four | five.