Nineteen-Seventy-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide

In 1974 the first edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide was published. We spoke to those who were involved in its genesis to find out how it came to be. Here is the story in the words of those who were there, a version of which first appeared in the summer 2017 edition of BEER magazine.

John Hanscomb
Ear­ly CAMRA mem­ber, and first edi­tor of the Good Beer Guide
We all knew we liked prop­er beer but the prob­lem was, we didn’t know where to drink – we didn’t know where the pubs were. There was Frank Baillie’s Beer Drinker’s Com­pan­ion but that was all about the brew­eries, not the pubs, although it did give you an idea of their trad­ing areas. And the brew­ers… The brew­ers wouldn’t give me any infor­ma­tion! I rang up one and asked them which were their pubs and which sold prop­er beer and they wouldn’t tell me because they thought I was from Watney’s or Whit­bread: ‘We don’t know who you are.’

Michael Hard­man
Co-founder and first chair of CAMRA
John Young [of Young’s brew­ery] was cham­pi­oning cask ale in a very seri­ous way, and had been hold­ing out for a decade before CAMRA came along. He thought of him­self as the only one left. Young’s had nev­er been a par­tic­u­lar­ly prof­itable com­pa­ny. They had some pret­ty dingy pubs, and a very ‘bit­ter’ bit­ter that was going out of fash­ion. In 1963, he’d been approached by Derek Pee­bles, a for­mer naval offi­cer, who said: ‘What you need is a PR cam­paign, and I’m the man to do it!’ What he did was put togeth­er the first ever com­pre­hen­sive list of Young’s pubs under the title ‘Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It’.

Real Draught Beer and Where to Find It

John Hanscomb
The Young’s guide was undoubt­ed­ly an influ­ence, very much so. With Young’s you could guar­an­tee that all their pubs would have prop­er beer. John Young deserves a lot of cred­it.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Nine­teen-Sev­en­ty-Four: Birth of the Beer Guide”

Charabanc Fever

Main image above: ‘Sebastopol Inn, Ladies Out­ing, Pre­ston’, from Pre­ston Dig­i­tal Archive on Flickr.

A few weeks ago Doreen (@londondear) made us pause and think when she said she had been puzzled by the mention of ‘charabancs’ in our recent book, 20th Century Pub, and had to look up what it meant.

Some­how, we’ve always known about chara­bancs, though they’ve been effec­tive­ly extinct for more than half a cen­tu­ry and the word is now only used as a delib­er­ate archaism. While research­ing the book chara­bancs became a kind of run­ning joke for us as try­ing to find his­toric pho­tographs of pubs with­out chara­bancs parked in front of them was often a chal­lenge.

But Doreen is quite right – we prob­a­bly ought to have giv­en a few words of expla­na­tion, but now those few words have turned into this rather long blog post. We’re grate­ful to Patre­on sub­scribers like Harley Gold­smith and Peter Sid­well for giv­ing us an excuse to spend quite so much time on it.

* * *

Vintage illustration.
A wag­onette. (SOURCE: The Book of the Horse, 1880, via the Inter­net Archive.)

The word chara­banc comes from the French char-à-bancs (lit­er­al­ly a car­riage with bench­es) and became attached in Britain to large six- or eight-seater car­riages pre­vi­ous­ly known as wag­onettes, prob­a­bly because it sound­ed fanci­er.

The pop­u­lar­i­ty of chara­bancs among work­ing class peo­ple arose along­side the very con­cept of leisure time. An account from 1872 describes how shop assis­tants in Devon cel­e­brat­ed the intro­duc­tion of ear­ly clos­ing on Thurs­day after­noons by tak­ing a chara­banc trip to Bab­ba­combe. [1]

Hir­ing a chara­banc was an indul­gence but an afford­able one and club­bing togeth­er to pay for it, then trav­el­ling in a mer­ry group, was half the fun. By the 1880s there were chara­bancs pulled by four hors­es capa­ble of car­ry­ing 21 pas­sen­gers, or even 35. [2]

Pubs were nat­ur­al hubs for clubs, soci­eties and teams, and an equal­ly obvi­ous cen­tre for the organ­i­sa­tion of chara­banc trips, and for the pick-up and drop of daytrip­pers. Thus chara­bancs came to be strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with pubs. (But not exclu­sive­ly – church groups were also big chara­banc fans.)

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Chara­banc Fever”

Complete Guide to Bristol’s Pubs, 1975

Cover of The Complete Guide to Bristol's Pubs.

Fred Pearce wrote a series of paperback pub guides in the 1970s including this 52 page run around the pubs of Bristol.

We first heard of it when we were research­ing Brew Bri­tan­nia and Robin Allen­der (@robinallender) kind­ly sent us a scan of the sec­tion refer­ring to the Roy­al Navy Vol­un­teer. Then, in Jan­u­ary, Gar­van Hick­ey, one of the land­lords of our local, The Draper’s Arms, kind­ly let us bor­row his copy.

We’ve now scanned it and took the PDF out for a test dri­ve around Red­cliffe last Fri­day night. It was great to be able to look up the pubs we were in and see how, if at all, they might have changed.

We’re still not 100 per cent sure when it was pub­lished but we know from Andrew Swift that a part­ner vol­ume cov­er­ing Bath came out in 1976 so that seems like a rea­son­able assump­tion and is con­sis­tent with the con­tents. (Update 05/06/2018: Hav­ing acquired our own copy we found inside it a sheet of revi­sions from April 1976 which con­firms the pub­li­ca­tion date of the guide as Sep­tem­ber 1975, per Sue Hart’s sug­ges­tion in the com­ment below.)

Now we want to share a few nuggets that high­light what we’ve lost, and per­haps gained, as pub cul­ture has changed in the past 40-odd years.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Com­plete Guide to Bristol’s Pubs, 1975”

The Reality of the Village Inn

Two old men in a village pub.

English village pubs are mythologised, romanticised and eulogised, but what are they actually like in the 21st century?

We’ve been tin­ker­ing with a ver­sion of this post for months but were prompt­ed to fin­ish and post it by this Tweet from an aca­d­e­m­ic con­fer­ence on drink and drink­ing:

The talk (as far as we can glean from Tweets) went on to men­tion the decreased cen­tral­i­ty of the inn in vil­lage life even as its absolute cen­tral­i­ty to the idea of the per­fect vil­lage per­sists in pop­u­lar cul­ture. Hope­ful­ly we’ll get to read the fin­ished study at some point but, for now, we thought we’d share a few obser­va­tions of our own.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Real­i­ty of the Vil­lage Inn”

Rigby’s Bier Keller, Liverpool, 1968

In the 1960s and 70s German-style beer cellars were all the rage in Britain popping up everywhere from Blackpool to central London, and Liverpool did not miss out on the trend.

We’ve touched on this sub­ject a few times includ­ing in an arti­cle on theme pubs for CAMRA last year and in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub. Just recent­ly we wrote a sub­stan­tial arti­cle, also for CAMRA, which we expect to appear in the next issue of BEER mag­a­zine. This post, how­ev­er, zooms in one one one exam­ple via an arti­cle in the in-house mag­a­zine of the Tet­ley Walk­er brew­ery group for autumn 1969.

Cover of the magazine.

Rigby’s on Dale Street is a famous Liv­er­pool pub now run by Okell’s of the Isle of Man. In 1968, how­ev­er, it was part of the Allied Brew­eries empire man­aged under as part of the Walk­er Cain sub-group. Just before Christ­mas that year Rigby’s newest fea­ture, a Bierkeller, was unveiled in the low-beamed cel­lar:

Much of the char­ac­ter of the keller was already there, for the old cel­lars of Rigby’s still have their ancient flag­stone floors, orig­i­nal cast iron stan­chions and stone block walls… To this exist­ing set­ting were added girls in tra­di­tion­al Bavar­i­an cos­tume to serve the drinks, long beech tables and bench­es – four tons of tim­ber went into their mak­ing – Ger­man poster on the walls and two doors marked Damen and Her­ren.

The Keller

It’s some­times hard to tell how seri­ous­ly brew­eries took this kind of thing. Some­times it seemed to be a sin­cere effort to evoke a Ger­man atmos­phere – don’t for­get, many British drinkers at this point had actu­al­ly been to Ger­many thanks to the war and the sub­se­quent cold war – while oth­ers were… less so. Rigby’s was cer­tain­ly an exam­ple of the for­mer per­haps because Liv­er­pool in par­tic­u­lar had strong Ger­man con­nec­tions (think of the Bea­t­les in Ham­burg) and a fair­ly sub­stan­tial reverse traf­fic with enough Ger­mans in Liv­er­pool to war­rant their own church from 1960. There was also a per­ma­nent Ger­man con­sulate and it was the com­mer­cial attache, H.C. von Her­warth, who opened Rigby’s Bierkeller and “drew the first stein of lager”.

Open­ing night at Rigby’s Bierkeller. Those aren’t Bavar­i­an hats.

But Rigby’s Ger­man-flavoured ven­ture had anoth­er advan­tage: the licensee was one John Bur­chardt:

Mr Bur­chardt came to Eng­land as a pris­on­er of war in 1946. He worked on farms in this coun­try and he liked liv­ing here so much that when he was released and was giv­en the option of return­ing to his coun­try.… he decid­ed to come back and take a civil­ian job.… He mar­ried an Eng­lish girl and Mr and Mrs Bur­chardt have a fam­i­ly of four boys.

A family photograph.
The Bur­chardts.

For once, we have been able to gath­er a bit more bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion about the name­less spouse: Mrs Bur­chardt was called Edith and was born in Wales in 1932. The same source tells us that John was actu­al­ly called Wern­er and was born in Dort­mund but per­haps grew up in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) which might be why he didn’t want to go home. And anoth­er per­haps: he may have end­ed up in Liv­er­pool because of fam­i­ly con­nec­tions as one Otto Bur­chardt was appoint­ed con­sul to the King of Prus­sia in Liv­er­pool in 1841 and was buried there when he died in 1882.

But, back to pubs: John Bur­chardt told the reporter for TW mag­a­zine that he didn’t see much dif­fer­ence between run­ning a Bavar­i­an Bierkeller and an Eng­lish pub like the one upstairs. Here’s the pub­lic bar in a shot tak­en, we think, from just about exact­ly where we sat when we vis­it­ed in 2016:

Pub interior

We don’t know yet what became of Rigby’s Bierkeller but, based on our research into oth­ers, we’d guess it slow­ly went down­mar­ket and became less Ger­man before fold­ing in the late 1970s. (The stan­dard pat­tern.)

But if you know oth­er­wise, or remem­ber drink­ing there dur­ing its Ger­mani­cised phase, do com­ment below or drop us a line.