The temptation of the gin palace door, 1844

An essay by Irish writer John Fisher Murray from 1844 gives us yet another portrait of the gin palace. And, as is often the case, through the veil of temperance disapproval, there are some evocative details to be enjoyed.

For example, haven’t we all come across inviting, tempting pub doors like this?

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. At night splendid lights irradiate the surrounding gloom, and an illuminated clock serves to remind the toper of the time he throws away in throwing away his reason.

The other line that leaps out there is ‘Creaming Stout’ – a foreshadowing of the marketing that would arise around Guinness draught stout more than a hundred years later. It turns out this was a fairly common descriptor throughout the nineteenth century; here’s one example from 1855:

Creaming Ripe Porter, Treble Creaming Stout
SOURCE: Friend of India and Statesman, 20 September 1855, via the British Newspaper Archive.

Creaming Ripe Porter! Treble Creaming Stout! Bring these beer names back, somebody. (Not now, obviously.)

But let’s step back and look at the lie of the land – where would you find a gin palace? And what face does it present to the street?

Good eating deserves good drinking; and, if you have the wherewithal, you need assuredly not remain many minutes either hungry or dry. In London, the public-house is always either next door but two, or round the next corner, or over the way… The gin-palace… is generally at the corner of two intersecting streets, in a gin-drinking neighbourhood; it lowers, in all the majesty of stucco pilasters, in genuine cockney splendour, over the dingy mansions that support it, like a rapacious tyrant over his impoverished subjects.

Right, now it’s time to slip through that light-touch door and see what’s going on inside:

Within, the splendour is in keeping with the splendour without; counters fitted with zinc, and a long array of brass taps; fittings of the finest Spanish mahogany, beautifully polished; bottles containing cordials, and other drugs, gilded and labelled, as in the apothecaries’ shops. At one side is the bar-parlour, an apartment fitted up with congenial taste, and usually occupied by the family of the publican; in the distance are vistas, and sometimes galleries, formed altogether of huge vats of the various sorts of liquor dispensed in the establishment.

The intriguing detail here is the bar-parlour. We’ve only ever encountered one of these in real life, at the Bridge Inn in Topsham, Devon. That example is a cosy little domestic room with a fireplace and armchairs (we think, from memory) where the landlady occasionally invites favourite regulars to sit.

It’s funny to think of a family living in a gin palace, or at least the kind of den of debauchery depicted in Victorian literature and art.

Now we get a look at the customers and, of course, an obligatory glance towards the sexy barmaids:

Behind the counter, which is usually raised to a level with the breasts of the topers, stand men in their shirt-sleeves, well-dressed females, or both, dispensers of the ‘short’ and ‘heavy;’ the under-sized tipplers, raising themselves on tiptoe, deposit the three-halfpence for the ‘drop’ of gin, or whatever else they require, and receive their quantum of the poison in return; ragged women, with starveling children, match and ballad-vendors, fill up the foreground of the picture. There are no seats, nor any accommodation for the customers in the regular gin-palace; every exertion is used to make the place as uncomfortable to the consumers as possible, so that they shall only step in to drink, and pay; step out, and return to drink and pay again. No food of any kind is provided at the gin-palace, save a few biscuits, which are exhibited in a wire-cage, for protection against the furtive hand; drink, eternal, poisonous drink, is the sole provision of this whited sepulchre.

“Whited sepulchre!” we both cried, being of the generation that read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for GCSE English. It must be from the Bible or Shakespeare, then, we thought, and sure enough, it’s from Matthew 23:27:

Woe unto you… for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness…

Oof! The gin palace as Biblical symbol.

This theme is continued in the next passage which, judgemental or not, gives us some fascinating, vivid details:

There is not in all London a more melancholy and spirit-depressing sight than the area of one of the larger gin-palaces on a wet night. There, the homeless, houseless miserables of both sexes, whether they have money or not, resort in numbers for a temporary shelter; aged women selling ballads and matches, cripples, little beggar-boys and girls, slavering idiots, piemen, sandwich-men, apple and orange-women, shell-fishmongers, huddled pell-mell,in draggle-tailed confusion.

Pies, sandwiches, shellfish… Almost two centuries on, this is still the essence of pub grub. We can’t say we’ve ever had the urge to buy an apple or an orange down the boozer, though.

Well, fun as this brief visit has been, it’s probably time we pulled our lapels up and went out into that bloody awful weather…

The noises, too, of the assembled topers are hideous; appalling even when heard in an atmosphere of gin. Imprecations, execrations, objurgations, supplications, until at length the patience of the publican, and the last copper of his customers, are exhausted, when, rushing from behind his counter, assisted by his shopmen, he expels, vi et armis, the dilatory mob, dragging out by the heels or collars the dead drunkards, to nestle, as best they may, outside the inhospitable door.

You can read Mr Fisher Murray’s essay in full in various places including his own 1845 collection The World of London. The main image is adapted from an engraving from The Working Man’s Friend and Family Instructor, 25 Oct 1851.

Brew Britannia: new evidence in the case – CAMRA Branch Bulletin

The monthly newspaper What’s Brewing has been the semi-public face of the Campaign for Real Ale since the early 1970s; but the Branch Bulletin, intended to be private, tells the same story without any PR gloss.

We were lucky enough to come into possession of a near-complete set of these newsletters, sent from CAMRA HQ to local branches, thanks to Sue Hart, a veteran of The Ring and a long-time CAMRA activist.

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks digging and digesting which gave us the urge to go back to our 2014 book, Brew Britannia, and 2017’s 20th Century Pub and fill in some gaps with new information.

Pub preservation

In 20th Century pub, we wrote about the birth of the pub preservation movement as the rhetoric of Christopher Hutt’s 1973 book The Death of the English Pub turned into practical action.

We focused on the Pub Preservation Group and the work of Jenny Greenhalgh, Peter Lerner and crew, from the late 1970s onward, but here’s evidence that the work began in earnest a little earlier.

The earliest of the branch newsletters we have, from May 1975, includes a paper by Mike Dempsey of the East London Branch, a lawyer by profession, setting out what looks like the basis of much of the pub preservation activity that followed.

The paper establishes how the listing system works, how it might apply to pubs and how CAMRA members might go about using the system to prevent brewers (and especially the Big Six) from demolishing or altering pub buildings.

Here’s his concluding argument:

Pyrrhic Victories
The fact that you may have succeeded in having a building included on the statutory list does not mean that your battles are over. The first thing that the owner of the pub will do when he learns of the Secretary of State’s decision is to apply to the local authority for Listed Building Consent to carry out the works which he intended to carry out in the first place. This means that you have got to put in hand the suggestions made in paragraph 4 above, and make sure that representations are submitted to the local Council at the appropriate time. Do not, therefore, be lulled into complacency as a result of your initial successes. You will only have succeeded when the pub reopens for business, unspoiled and preferably serving real beer, but there are, of course, many pubs which are worthy of preservation even if their beer is not. In these cases, the beer will have to be the subject of your next campaign.

Continue reading “Brew Britannia: new evidence in the case – CAMRA Branch Bulletin”

Mass Observation on juvenile drinking, 1944

Mass Observation was a social research firm that made its name observing the habits of British people before and during World War II. In 1944, it published a report on a particularly interesting subject: to what extent did ‘juveniles’ consume alcohol? If so, what did they drink? And where?

The Mass Observation team set about their study during 1943. Here’s a chunk of the preamble to the report:

The object of this survey was to establish how, when and where young people consumed alcoholic drinks, how the habit of drinking and pub-going is established, and, at the higher age levels, how juveniles and youth behave in pubs. Two London areas were made the main subject of the survey, one in the South West, the other in the East End. Check studies were made in a South Coast port, Worktown and a Devonshire village, with some subsidiary observations on behaviour among the older age groups, in a docks area, the neighbourhood of a London Railway terminus and one of the London markets. Direct interviewing methods of the familiar questionnaire type were only used in certain parts of this survey. In obtaining children’s own accounts of their drinking experiences the subject was brought up in the course of conversation, on different topics, and introduced naturally into the context in a friendly manner. 200 verbatim statements were obtained in this way from children aged 7 to 18, individually engaged in conversation.

Continue reading “Mass Observation on juvenile drinking, 1944”

Molly Figgures’ 50 years in a Gloucestershire pub

Molly Figgures was born Gwendoline Mary Barrett in Blockley, on the Gloucestershire-Worcestershire border, in 1907. When she was a child, her father, Ernest Alfred, took over the running of the Bell Inn at Blockley where she would live and work for the next 50 years.

We’ve often lamented the dearth of first-hand accounts of pub life in the 20th century.

Fortunately for us, Molly was encouraged by local historian Norah Marshall to write down her stories of life at the Bell.

What she wrote was published under the cryptic title Over the Bones by Blockley Antiquarian Society in 1978.

These local history publications aren’t always riveting, let’s be honest. This one is genuinely brilliant, though, not because Molly is a great writer but because The Bell, and Blockley, sound… mad.

Consider these two paragraphs in which Molly recollects some of the regulars from her childhood days:

We had some delightful old age pensioners who were customers. There was ‘Shover’ Eden, he came along to fetch his paper and always called for a drink every morning, which was a pint of bitter. He said that The Bell was the Doctor’s surgery and he’d come for his medicine! There was Ted Beachey who had a half of bitter. His wife was the local midwife. She made humbugs and aniseed sweets which were in ‘pennyworths’ wrapped in newspaper. Often halfway through eating one you would find a dead wasp in the centre! Ted frequently brought some along for us. You had to get the newspaper off too before you could eat them. However, we did not mind so long as we had sweets to eat! I only had 1d a week to spend so being free they were very welcome.

There was also a Mr. Freeman and he had a tame fox which he brought with him. Fred Hitchman was a very regular customer in the evenings and he always smoked a pipe so of course he was honoured with a spittoon which he proudly had between his feet so that he could spit in comfort! It was not a very pleasant job to empty these spittoons and we had to buy sawdust by the sackful from Butlers saw-yard at Draycott to put in them. Sometimes the spittoons were turned into a form of entertainment when a well-known character, who had served in the Navy, would go down on his knees and slide them around the floor accompanied by an appropriate song. This was known as Holy Stoning.

So, to summarise, we’ve got boiled sweets with wasps in them, a tame fox, and curling with spittoons – this is some real folk horror stuff.

A man outside a pub
The Bell Inn, AKA The Bell Hotel, in around 1950, via Over the Bones.

She also describes various moments of arguing and fighting, including the occasion when ‘Badgie Mayo’ got into a scrap with another customer. Because Badgie had lost an arm in WWI, the other man agreed to tie an arm behind his back so their dust up in the pub garden would be fair.

The very best part might be her account of throwing out a customer who was rude to her mother:

He called my Mum by a name of which I disapproved, so I ordered him out and made him go and I followed him and told him never to come in again, and he didn’t.* My Mum said this was the first time she had seen “Our Moll” in a temper, which goes to show what one can do.

* He is dead now. I hope he went to the right place!

There are some lovely details about the evolution of the pub. First, there’s the installation of what Molly calls a ‘snug’ but which sounds more like what would usually be called a lounge, with an electric bellpush for service and a penny surcharge per drink.

Then there’s the acquisition, after World War II, of a television, which caused great excitement in the village. One local, Molly says, became a fixture at the pub, lingering for hours over a half so he could watch whatever was on. Until he got his own TV, that is, when he stopped coming to the pub altogether. If we’d made that up, you might think it was a bit heavy handed.

There’s some great stuff about booze, obviously, lots of it a reminder of the freedom a remote village offered when it came to obeying the letter of the law.

For example, Molly’s mother made rhubarb wine while Bert, Molly’s husband, produced plum. Strictly against the law, you could order your cider ‘with’ and get a shot of wine added to the glass to give it extra oomph.

(Again, mixing and blending was absolutely normal until quite recently; it’s not a weird modern development.)

As for beer…

All the beer was drawn from the wood and it was twenty walking steps each way to the cellar to fetch each drink so of course some was spilt and sometimes my Mum would spill more than usual and there was usually someone who complained; but on the whole people were very good. Some would say “Mrs., my glass ain’t full” so my Mum would take a swig out of the glass and say “It is full now” and no more was said. I could carry four full glasses with handles in each hand and not spill much. My Mum refused to put pumps in until 1951 when my brother talked her into having them. Then she said that she wished she had had them installed years before! Unfortunately she only lived for two years after so she did not benefit much… Sometimes a customer would say the beer was flat, and Kate (my Mum) would take it back to the cellar to “change it” and all she did was make another head on it and take it back and the customer would say “Ah! that’s better” – So what!

That last point is yet more evidence of the confusion between foamy beer and beer in good condition.

One of the appendices provides a list of nicknames for pub regulars including Buffud, Chicken, Grunter, Gubbins, Jambox, Sneezer, Waggy and Yatty. Molly’s husband, Bert, was known as Pur-Pur because he had a stammer.

And the title? In 1970, after Molly’s retirement, the pub was converted into four flats and during building work, two skeletons were found beneath the floor. “It was fun really,” writes Molly: “I kept meeting people who pulled my leg and said they didn’t think I was like that!” The bones turned out to be of medieval origin, of course.

If you want to read more, Molly’s text is available as part of a collection called A Third Blockley Miscellany at £6.50 from Blockley Heritage Society.

Hobnobbing with Guinness, 1963

In June 1963, Guinness welcomed assorted members of the British press to Park Royal and then St James Gate on a three day tour (or bender) in the company of some of Guinness’s most senior executives and, of course, Norris McWhirter.

McWhirter was serving at the time as information officer for Guinness, as well as compiler in chief of the Guinness Book of Records. He led an, erm, interesting life.

Most of the main newspapers of the day were represented on the invite list for the press tour, including The Times, Financial Times, Guardian and Daily Mail.

The official press pack set out the itinerary for the three days, has biographies of key personnel and some distinctly corporate Fun Facts.

There is also a distinct focus on labour relations, highlighting that “all brewery personnel up to Foreman level are Union members” and setting out the sick pay policy in some detail. Was the idea, at least in part, to reassure investors that Guinness was not vulnerable to industrial action, as some other businesses, such as the UK branch of Ford, had begun to seem at the time?

Once the party had been flown to Dublin, things got even more highfalutin, with a dinner including the Taoiseach, the Governor of the Bank of Ireland and the President of the Dublin stock exchange.

The following day’s tour of the Dublin brewery included a “private interview” with the President of Ireland, Éamon de Valera.

Once all the obligatory hobnobbing concluded, our intrepid journalists had the option to stay on for a third day of shopping, touring and visiting the Navan races.

We don’t have any context for this document, so we don’t know if this was an annual affair or a one off and if so, what the reasons were for it.

We do know, thanks to an internal document of expected questions and answers, that they were expecting a wide range of questions on just about everything from production and sales to employment practices.

There were particular sections on Draught Guinness, Harp lager and continuous brewing, which were all new areas for Guinness, as well as questions relating to their acquisition of the Nuttall Confectionery Group in 1961. (A tour of Callard & Bowser was included in the Park Royal leg of the trip).

Below is a sample of the questions and prepared answers. The last one, be prepared, might seem slightly startling.

Is Guinness Really Good for you?
Yes, we have many thousands of testimonies from the medical professional as the value of Guinness.

How much do you spend [on advertising?
About one third of a penny per bottle overall.

Is Dublin stout brewed for Britain the same as Park Royal Stout?
Yes.

Do you contemplate another brew?
No.

A quick note: they’d just launched Harp Lager so this was about whether they planned to expand the range any further and launch, say, a mango IPA.

How can you expect to do well with beer now that wine and spirit drinking is a “done” thing?
It is true that wine sales are going up quickly but only a comparatively small amount is drunk by a particular section of the population.

What about failure of Common Market Negotiation?
This has not changed our picture. Our main trade within the European Common Market is with Belgium and France where Guinness has always been regarded as a speciality drink commanding a higher price than regular beers.

Why did you build a brewery in Nigeria?
Because it is more economical to brew and bottle locally than to import in bottle as we were doing previously. It is our biggest single overseas market.

Was it wise politically?
We have no reason to think otherwise.

You can read more about the Guinness brewery in Nigeria here.

It has been said that Harp lager sales have been disappointing – is this so?
All lager sales have been disappointing for the past year or two, but Harp distribution was right up to our estimates and sales were not far short.

Is this venture wise – you are now in direct competition with other brewers?
Our Harp lager venture has not in any way prejudiced our happy relations with other brewers.

Why are you selling SS Guinness? Has cross-channel trade declined?
Because it is 32 years old. Our cross-channel trade has NOT declined.

Does Guinness own a computer?
No.

If not, why not?
With our present volume of work, it is more economical to hire time than to own a computer.

Do you employ coloured people at Park Royal?
Yes, from time to time.

What was behind that final question? Were they expecting to be told off for employing black staff, or congratulated for it? That very brief, blunt answer seems designed to avoid the topic.

This is another item from the vast collection of Guinness documents Fiona shared with us last year. We’re slowly working through, digesting and sharing.

Pickled Egg, Blade Bone, Swedish Crowns: London pub names in the 19th century

George Dodd’s The Food of London is something of an overlooked gem published in 1856. Among many other passages worthy of attention in their own right, there’s a fantastic rundown of the naming of London pubs.

It’s great for three reasons:

  • Where other writers might have skimmed the surface, Dodd provides a detailed list of London pub names with a count of how many there are of each type.
  • It highlights some genuinely bizarre names that we’d have thought were made up if we’d encountered them in fiction.
  • There’s a certain wit and poetry in his writing that makes a list amusing.

First, though, there’s a bit about the sheer volume of pubs in London at this time, in the wake of the 1830 Licensing Act:

In relation to the metropolis only, the number of public-houses is of course enormous — intended, as they are, to supply malt-liquor to two million and a half of drinkers. In London, the licensed victuallers are probably about 4500; while the beer-sellers are somewhat over half this number — very likely 7000 altogether, equal to one in about every 45 houses, or one to 350 inhabitants.

If you’re interested, the full text provides further detail of the numbers of pubs, and pubs per household, for various districts, such as Norton Folgate.

The number of pubs is what drives the variety of names Dodd records – if you’ve only got one pub in the village, The Red Lion will do. If there are ten pubs on the street, you’d better start thinking about a ‘distinctive brand’ that will provide ‘differentiation’.

Because, as we say above, the writing has wit and rhythm, we’ve presented the pub passage presented complete, below, with paragraph breaks and small edits for ease of reading.

Our advice: read it aloud to really catch the poetry of it.

The public-houses of London are as motley an assemblage as can well be imagined — so far as signs are concerned. We find among them about 70 royal dukes – Cambridge, Clarence, Cumberland, Gloucester, Sussex, and York; a few royal duchesses; 60 or 70 Georges and George the Fourths; Victorias and Royal Alberts in great abundance; 80 Crowns and 20 Crown and Anchors; 70 King’s Arms and 90 King’s Heads; 20 Queen’s Arms and 50 Queen’s Hèads.

Next comes a menagerie of extraordinary animals – 30 Green Men, with or without Stills, Bells, and French Horns; 120 Lions – red, white, blue, or black; 25 Black Horses, and 45 White; 70 White Harts; 55 Swans, black or white as the case may be – and so forth.

Then we have a series of couplets – 55 Coach and Horses; 25 Horse and Grooms; 55 Rose and Crowns; and numerous Ships, combined in an extraordinary way with Blue Balls, Blue Coat Boys, Punchbowls,‘Rising Suns, Shears and Shovels.

The system of numeration has been carried out by the licensed victuallers more fully than they themselves, perhaps, are aware; for we shall find One Tun, Two Bells, Three Suns, Four Swans, Five Pipes, Six Cans, Seven Stars, Eight Bells, Nine Elms, Ten Bells, and Twelve Bells: let any enterprising publican hit upon Eleven something – Cricketers, Virgins, or what not – and the duodecimal system will be complete. Some numbers are great favourites, especially number three, which develops itself in all the varieties of Three Brewers and Three Colts; three each of Compasses, Cranes, Cups, Doves, Elms, Foxes, Goats, Hats, Herrings, Horseshoes and Johns; Three Jolly Bakers, Three Jolly Butchers, and Three Jolly Gardeners; Three Kings, Three Loggerheads and Three Lords (three loggerheads between three kings and three lords might appear sarcastic, were not the order of the alphabet alone responsible); three Mariners, Merry Boys, Neats’ Tongues, Nuns, Pigeons, Spies, Sugar-loaves, Stags, Suns, Swedish Crowns and Wheat Sheaves.

A wonderful display of tapsters’ ingenuity occurs in such signs as Blade Bone, Coffee-pot, Essex Serpent, Knave of Clubs, Lilliput Hall, Naked Boy and Woolpack, Old Centurion, Pickled Egg, Prospect of Whitby, Tippling Philosopher, Widow’s Son, Valiant Trooper, Sun in Splendour, Running Footman, Experienced Fowler, Good Man, Kentish Wag and World Turned Upside Down.

Phew!

Can you believe there was ever really a pub called The Pickled Egg? Or The Three Spies? Or the bloody Blade Bone!?

Well, there was a Blade Bone trading in Bethnal Green as recently as 2000, demolished in 2016, according to WhatPub.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was popular with skinheads in the 1970s.

If you tried to name a pub that now, we suspect the licencing authorities would attempt to discourage it.

But we’d be quite excited to drink at The Tippling Philosopher if anyone fancies reviving that.

Main image: Cowcross Street c.1870 via the Survey of London.

A Frenchman visits a gin palace, 1873

In early 1873, English newspapermen were amused to discover that the French critic and novelist Alphonse Karr had been writing about London gin palaces for Le Figaro.

Karr is these days best known for epigrams such as “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same. We’ll confess we’d never heard of him at all until we came across a mention of him in an article in the British Newspaper Archive.

Fortunately, thanks to the magic of online digital archives, it’s fairly easy to read a version of Karr’s original text as collected in an 1876 anthology of his writing.

Here’s our attempt at tidying up Google’s automatic translation:

Let’s talk about cabarets and cafes.

This must be dealt with from three points of view, one of which is completely modern and contemporary.

The first point is drunkenness, its hideousness, its dangers; the second, the thefts, the tricks and the poisonings practiced by certain merchants; the third, the application of cabaret and coffee to street politics – or rather to agitation, to the spread of false or exaggerated ideas, to the poisoning of minds.

It seems that to see drunkenness in all its horrible stupidity, in England you have to visit the shops, the palaces, dedicated to it – gin shops, or gin palaces.

A flood of ragged beings move incessantly towards the temple, on the door of which shine, on large copper plates, the words gin, beer, spirits – that is to say, forgetfulness, absence stupor.

A room a hundred feet long, all furnished on one side with huge barrels painted in various colors, with portraits of the queen in between.

In front of the barrels, a long counter or bar and many waiters constantly busy pouring. In the crowd, there are as many women as men and women are often, in fact, in the majority.

We approach the bar, money in hand with a sort of dumb reverence, as if we were going to receive communion; in a low voice, gin or spirits are asked for; the glass, not filled until the waiter has received the money, is accepted in silence and with an icy seriousness; then we will sit on a long bench leaning against the wall in front of the barrels; here we remain motionless, silent, in a sort of ecstasy and contemplation of the barrels; a little later we rummage in our pockets and count our money; we return to the bar, we drink and we return to the bench, from where we return to the bar; and always thus as long as there is money.

Everyone knows how rigorously the sabbath is observed in England – any distraction is strictly prohibited; the only exception is the gin shop. It is enough that they should look closed, but you only have to push the door to enter. The State and Church seem to believe that there would be danger in leaving one day per week free of that awful misery – one day when people don’t forget and fall asleep like brutes.

The British take on his story was perhaps understandably arch: this daft foreigner didn’t understand how pubs worked and, worse, was some sort of temperance advocate. Here’s how it was reported in a syndicated story that appeared in numerous newspapers on and around 9 January 1873:

Not a word for the neat-handed Phyllises behind the counter. This is hardly courteous on the part French litterateurs, who are fond of ogling them when they do come here… M. Alphonse Karr a very remarkable man; one time, it we remember right, he even aspired to the dignity of citoyen, but has ever been animated with a strong dislike of perfidious islanders. It is very clear that he has never heard the Licensing Act.

Those barmaids again!

We wonder if any more confident French speakers than us might be able to dig out more accounts of English pubs and drinking culture. For example, this advice looks intriguing:

L’intérieur de ces établissements si nombreux présente quelque intérêt en ce qu’il explique la société anglaise. Il y a d’abord la salle du comptoir (bar-room), sorte de terrain neutre sur lequel des hommes et des femmes debout se rencontrent pour étancher leur soif aux flots d’ambre liquide…

Complexifying Guinness, 1967

We’ve shared a few accounts of how Guinness was produced in its heyday and here’s yet another, focusing on the conditioning and packaging stage.

It comes from the spring 1967 edition of Guinness Time, the staff magazine for the London brewery at Park Royal, and picks up on a piece from winter 1966 on the brewing process proper which, unfortunately, we’ve never managed to get hold of.

Men at work.
“Albert Addison supervising our own bottling line with fitter Bill Morse looking on.”

Here’s where this piece begins:

Storage – The beer is stored in large stainless steel vats, the two largest of which can each hold a whole day’s brew, about 160,000 gallons. The beer remains in storage vat for between three and ten days and during this period a certain amount of maturation takes place…

A brewery worker looking into a vat.
“Yeast’s eye view of Bill Childs dipping a racking vat.”

The section that really grabbed our attention, because it provides specific detail about a sometimes mysterious part of the process, is entitled ‘Make-up’:

Beer cannot be despatched direct from the storage vat, for it is quite flat and tastes rather uninteresting in this state. So to form the famous Guinness head when the beer is poured and to give it life and sparkle when it is drunk, we blend in a small of amount of gyle, which is beer containing malt-sugars and yeast… but which has not been allowed to ferment. This we achieve either by using the beer immediately after declaration to the excise officer or, if we want to use it the next day, by chilling it in the storehouse…

The blending of the gyle with storage vat beer is known as the ‘make-up’ and takes place daily in the racking vat. It also affords an opportunity of blending several days’ brewings together, to even out the inevitable small differences that exist between different days’ brewings. Various other beers are added, such as barm beer from the yeast presses, which are pasteurised before the make-up.

A man checking meters.
“Senior jackman Tom McCann on duty in the sight room.”
Workers on the shop floor.
“Vatman Tom Jones couples up prior to bottoming a storage vat, with Peter McMullen looking on from the electric truck.”

That’s the bottled product; here’s the draught process:

Meanwhile, in the racking vathouse, Draught Guinness will have been made up in the same way as the Extra Stout but with a slightly lower proportion of gyle since the beer is processed rather differently. The aim of this processing is to turn the still rather unexciting racking vat beer into the attractive palatable final product, for when Draught Guinness leaves the brewery it must be in all respects ready for drinking.

After conditioning in tanks, the beer was run through a pasteuriser at 190°F (88°C) before being put into specially designed casks (kegs).

That’s fascinating for two reasons.

First, there’s an acknowledgement that without blending with mature beer, Guinness was a bit boring.

Secondly, Draught Guinness was, in fact, distinctly less interesting than bottled, as beer geeks always insisted.

CAMRA Beer Festival, 1979: The Great Debauch?

Part of the reason for keeping up a blog and presence on social media is that the ongoing conversation draws new information out of the woodwork, such as the late Nigel Graves’ note on the 1979 Great British Beer Festival.

Nigel Graves was born in 1955 and died in 2004, at the age of 49. In 2014, his friend, Tim Sedgwick-Jell, edited an anthology of his writing as something by which friends and family might remember him.

As it happens, Tim reads our blog (or, at least, subscribes to the newsletter) and recently got in touch to ask if we’d like a copy of Far Be It From Me to be Hyperbolic because pubs, beer and beer festivals were frequent topics for Nigel’s writing. (If he’d lived a little longer, might he have started a beer blog?)

The bulk of his notes on beer and pubs are in one chapter – snippets, diary entries, letters and so on.

There’s a fiery letter to Wetherspoon corporate HQ, for example, sent in July 2000 after he was told he couldn’t bring his children into the Temeraire in Saffron Walden:

I believe your company was originally established to provide a type of pub modelled on that in George Orwell’s essay ‘The Moon Under Water’ and I know that several of your early pubs were given this name… Perhaps you would like to consider the following passage from this essay:

“The great surprise of the Moon Under Water is its garden… Up at one end of the garden there are swings a chute for the children…”

For balance, in another piece he acknowledges that the general relaxation of the rules on kids in pubs then underway was great when you were with the kids, but less so when you wanted a session with “the lads”.

The extract that really grabbed our attention, though, was a diary entry written when Nigel was around 24 years old, giving an account of the 1979 CAMRA Great British Festival:

I actually went to the CAMRA organised Great London Beer Festival a few weeks ago. The usual unfriendly interior of the Alexandra Palace was as unalluring as ever, but had the added drawback of being cram-packed full of drunken wallies behaving as if they’d never tasted beer before in their lives, and demonstrating just about every [unattractive] male characteristic imaginable. Because of the tube-train conditions, it was impossible to sample any interesting new brews, or real cider, so I spent the evening drinking Ansells (wow, thrill!), avoiding steaming pools of puke an dodging spotty adolescents reeling around in search of the Gents. Great – I might as well have spent an evening in The Carpenters, or almost any other pub for that matter.

We like this because, as with the original CAMRA national festival in 1975, the official PR (necessary to gain a licence, of course) had it that the festival would consist of well-behaved connoisseurs gathering to sample beers in moderation. Pools of puke was not part of the image.

How many more valuable first-hand, contemporary accounts of key moments in British beer history are locked away in diaries, letters and company newsletters?

Or, worse, how many such accounts were taken to the tip or burned a week after the funeral?

Main image derived from a photo by Nicolas Lysandrou via Unsplash.

Cave’s Solid Beer Syndicate

This morning, David Martin asked us if we knew anything about Cave’s Solid Beer. We didn’t, but we do now; here’s what we found out.

CSB, Cave’s Solid Beer Syndicate, was founded by George Gordon Cave in Fenny Stratford, Buckinghamshire – now part of Milton Keynes – in around 1898.

Cave was born in London in 1841. He worked in various parts of the UK including Bristol, where he shows up in the 1871 census as a ‘hotel keeper’, and Merthyr Tydfil where, in 1881, he was working as a brewery engineer. By 1891, he had arrived in Fenny Stratford and was a brewer, full stop.

His own firm, CSB, specialised in producing beer extract for shipping overseas using a patented method of Mr Cave’s own invention.

Amazingly, you can see what is probably some packaged solid beer in a photo from around the turn of the century hosted at the Talk About Bletchley website – wooden crates marked CSB CAPE TOWN.

Here’s a brief description of CSB from the Leighton Buzzard Gazette for 5 May 1903:

During his whole time in Fenny, Mr. Cave had been working at these patents, the object being to produce beer in condensed form to save enormously on the carriage of it to foreign countries and the colonies, where it could be developed under his patent process.

And here’s a note on the company registration from the International Brewers’ Journal for 15 June 1898:

Cave’s Solid Beer Syndicate Company, Ltd.,with a registered capital of £25,000, divided into 25,000 shares of £1 each, to acquire from Mr. George Gordon Cave, of Fenny Stratford, the invention protected by Letters Patent No. 2,889, of 1894, for improvements in the treatment of yeast and any further improvements and additions thereto, and all further patents granted to the said George Gordon Cave in respect of the invention above mentioned, together with the right to apply for letters patent in any foreign country or British colony in respect of the invention of any improvements thereof or addition thereto, and for the manufacture and sale of ale and beer in a solid and compact form for export as at present authorised by the Excise officials.

A few references in later local history publications refer to Solid Beer as being sold ‘in slabs’ for reconstitution with water but this syndicated news article, published in various local papers on or around 8 November 1900, specifies, as we suspected, that it required fermentation before drinking:

The Central News learns that the military authorities in South Africa have reported favourably upon the latest invention in the way of concentrated beverages, known as ‘solid beer’. This is a jelly made from malt and hops, and by its use beer, said to very wholesome and palatable, can be made anywhere and fermented, the process being exceedingly simple. practically indistinguishable from beer brewed in the ordinary manner, and it can made with equal facility and success in hot or cold climates.

That’s backed up by earlier instances of ‘solid beer’ as a synonym for ‘malt extract’, this being one of those products that people kept claiming to have invented every few years.

Here’s an example from 1856:

Will the inhabitants of London ever carry their beer in their pockets? A question, this, not so strange as at first may appear; for a Moravian, M. Rietsch, has invented a mode of making what may be termed solid beer. He brews a malt-extract; he bitters it with hops and sweetens it with sugar; he concentrates it by heat; he pours the thickened mass into wooden boxes lined with tinfoil; and he sells it in this form. The purchaser, when inclined for a draught of beer, takes some of the concentrated extract, dissolves it, ferments it, and — lo! the beer appears. It is obvious that the only question here is — not whether such beer can possibly compete with draught beer where brewers and malt and hops are plentiful — but whether it may not be a valuable addition to the commissariat stores of travellers or sojourners in distant and ill-provided countries; since the concentrated extract is suited for keeping.

Here’s another reported by the Scientific American in April 1870:

The age produces some queer paradoxes, and none more so than in the results of manufacturing science. In former days it was the custom to buy bread and even beef by the yard; but we believe that it is only in the present day that we can get our beer by the pound. By a very simple process, introduced by Mr. Mertens, the wort, after being made in the mash-tub of malt and hops in the usual manner, is sucked up by a pipe into a large vacuum (exhausted by an air-pump), and then persistently worked round and round while the moisture is evaporated. The wort emerges from its tribulations with a pasty consistency, and is allowed to fall from a considerable height into air-tight boxes, in which it reposes, like hard-bake. It soon gets so exceedingly tough that it has to be broken up with a chisel and mallet, and in that condition is easily sent abroad, or to any part of the world, for people to brew their own malt liquor.

A couple of years ago, we wrote about the tendency in journalism to get excited about this kind of beer innovation – instant beer! Beer in pill form! The Keurig of beer! And so on. But none of these Victorian ‘solid beers’ were any such thing – only proto-beers, requiring further work on receipt.

Still, clever stuff for the time, requiring ingenuity in processing and packaging, and we can imagine soldiers thousands of miles from home were glad to have something even vaguely resembling the ale they were used to drinking in Blighty. Our guess, pending further research, is that an army cook could take a block of this stuff, unwrap it, pound it up in warm water, chuck in dried yeast, and a week or two later have drinkable beer to serve up to the troops.

Unfortunately, George Cave died suddenly in 1903 at the age of about 62 and the company was wound up before 1914 when the premises was advertised for sale.

As ever, more information, especially if it’s based on primary sources, would be welcome.