If photographer Don Tonge hadn’t snapped the shot above, we’d probably have no record of Dial-a-Pint, Bolton 31922.
We came across it last week in a Twitter thread, without credit. In fact, worse, someone had gone to the trouble of carelessly snipping Mr Tonge’s credit off the picture, leaving just a few scraps of letters in the bottom left corner.
A brief digression: nostalgic photo accounts that do this kind of thing are awful. They often know who took a photo or, with reverse image search and the like, could easily find out. They choose not to credit because (a) they might get told to take it down and (b) they want to keep shares and likes for themselves rather than the original creator.
So, if you’ve ever @-ed us into a Tweet with a cool picture and wondered why we weren’t more enthusiastic, it’s probably because of this.
Anyway, back to Dial-a-pint: we asked Mr Tonge if he could remember when and where it was taken. He said: “I can only imagine it was someone doing homebrewing and trying to be entrepreneurial. Bolton mid 1970s.”
So, nothing precise.
What additional information can we glean from the photo? We know that the van was registered in 1972.
And as our pal @teninchwheels pointed out, the gawking man is wearing a Starsky cardigan; Starsky & Hutch was first broadcast in the UK in 1976 so we can probably assume this picture dates from around 1977. (Could we even guess that his mum knitted it for him from this Sirdar pattern for Christmas 1976?)
1977 would also tie in with the height of the real ale craze when all sorts of people were setting up beer-related businesses.
That phone number ought to tell us something, right? Bolton 31992. Well, so far, it hasn’t. We can’t find any current Bolton numbers with those digits, or any historic classified ads in local papers.
Ah, yes… Searching newspapers let us down on this occasion. You can usually rely on finding a smirking story about anything beer related but we couldn’t dig up anything searching dial-a-pint, beer delivery, or related terms.
There is always one last goldmine to explore, though: Facebook local history chat. This photo has been shared quite a few times, including by Mr Tonge himself, and Jan Taylor asks an interesting question in one comment: “Is this the back of Kingholm Gardens?”. And do you know what, it could well be. Someone else suggests Cramond Walk. Consensus seems to be that it’s Halliwell, anyway.
So, for now, we have no way to be sure what was going on here. Our guess is that it was someone delivering cask ale to drink at home, probably a spin-off from an off-licence.
If you were knocking about Bolton in 1970s, or have access to local sources we don’t, and can provide more information, please comment below.
Image © Don Tonge. You can find it in his book Shot in the North available here at £29.