The rise of lager in the UK

Stonch’s piece on lagers made in the UK made me think about why lager got so pop­u­lar in the UK so quick­ly in the late 20th cen­tu­ry. As the British Beer and Pub Asso­ci­a­tion say:

Until 1960 lager account­ed for less than one per cent of the British beer mar­ket… it was not gen­er­al­ly pro­vid­ed on draught until 1963. Since then its growth has been phe­nom­e­nal and it now accounts for almost half the beer mar­ket in Britain.

I’ve heard var­i­ous expla­na­tions.

1. The big brew­eries were deter­mined to move from cask to keg, and lager works bet­ter from kegs than ale. Faced with a choice between John Smith’s smooth flow and Fos­ters, I’d prob­a­bly go for Fos­ters, so there might be some­thing in that.

2. Peo­ple picked up the taste for cold lager on pack­age hol­i­days in con­ti­nen­tal Europe, and espe­cial­ly Spain. It seemed more refresh­ing and more ‘sophis­ti­cat­ed’ than bor­ing old British ale.

3. As the British diet got more var­ied and spicy after the end of rationing in the ear­ly 1950s, peo­ple want­ed a lighter, more refresh­ing beer to go with it. Here’s a bit from an arti­cle on the his­to­ry of the cur­ry from The Observ­er:

Like so much else con­nect­ed with cur­ry… the ori­gins of lager-drink­ing with Indi­an food are mys­te­ri­ous. Nami­ta Pan­jabi has been told that in the ear­ly days of Veeraswamy in London’s West End, which was found­ed in 1927, the King of Den­mark came when­ev­er he was in the coun­try. Frus­trat­ed at not being able to drink Carls­berg – which wasn’t then avail­able here – he shipped over a bar­rel, so that when he came to eat it would be avail­able for him.

4. All of the above are prob­a­bly part­ly true, but my favourite the­o­ry is that British sol­diers serv­ing in Ger­many dur­ing the war, and then the cold war, came back to the UK as enthu­si­as­tic advo­cates of lager, and demand­ed the same prod­uct back home. My uncle, who was sta­tioned in Ger­many in the 1960s, cer­tain­ly speaks fond­ly of the steins of lager he enjoyed in Munich, and has been a lager man ever since.

Starkey, Knight and Ford – defunct brewery

Liv­ing in Lon­don, I’m used to see­ing the ghost­ly indi­ca­tions of defunct brew­eries every­where I look – Tay­lor Walk­er; Tru­man Han­bury and Bux­ton; and, yes, Bar­clay Perkins. But the whole time I was grow­ing up in Som­er­set, I didn’t once notice the arguably more sub­tle remains of the big region­al brew­ery, Starkey, Knight and Ford.

Nowa­days, you can spot their old pub build­ings – many of which are now shops – by their black horse plaques.

tauntonroad.jpgFrom what I can tell, SKF were estab­lished in Bridg­wa­ter (or pos­si­bly Tiver­ton, in Devon) but then expand­ed aggres­sive­ly into the sur­round­ing towns (notably Taunton – this pam­phlet is excel­lent). Googling them reveals very lit­tle oth­er than a trail of takeovers of small­er brew­eries through­out the 20th cen­tu­ry, until they them­selves were sub­sumed by the colos­sal Whit­bread empire in the ear­ly 1960s.

My Dad: “They had a big range of beers. There was dou­ble X at about 3.2%; triple X at about 3.8%; and four X at around 4.1%. Triple X was the best – sort of nut­ty, from what I remem­ber.

westquay.jpgThere was one called Light­house, named after the light­house on the beach at Burn­ham-on-Sea, and a stout, but I can’t remem­ber the name. The brew­ery was right in the cen­tre of town, behind where the swim­ming pool is now. I was drink­ing their beer right up until about 1966, when they start­ed get­ting replaced in the pubs by Whitbread’s own beers.”

You can see the remains of SKF pubs on Fore Street (pic 1), Taunton Road (pic 2) and West Quay (pic 3) in Bridg­wa­ter, and on the Knowle Inn, Baw­drip (pic 4). For more details of remain­ing SKF liv­ery, see the excel­lent defunct brew­ery his­to­ry site.knowle.jpg

Sherlock Holmes and Beer

Sher­lock Holmes didn’t much go for beer. I read today, in one of the mil­lions of foot­notes in William S Bar­ing Gould’s Anno­tat­ed Sher­lock Holmes, that in all of the 56 short sto­ries and four nov­els, he drinks beer only a hand­ful of times. On two occa­sions, it’s half-and-half, which he drinks when dis­guised as a work­ing man.

But that didn’t stop him pos­ing for this adver­tise­ment for Mann’s Brown Ale in the 1950s (click for big­ger ver­sion).


Although, to be fair, it’s Wat­son who’s the booz­er in this case.

Pic­ture tak­en from Peter Haining’s Sher­lock Holmes Scrap­book.

The Beer War of 1380

wroclaw.gifWrocław, Poland, is a fas­ci­nat­ing place. It’s been part of Bohemia, Poland, Ger­many, and prob­a­bly a few oth­er coun­tries I’ve for­got­ten. It also has a decent brew pub, Spiż, in the town square – prob­a­bly on the same site as a Ger­man bierkeller from its days as the Ger­man city of Bres­lau.

What I didn’t realise until today is that it was also the home of some­thing called “The beer war of 1380”. The city’s web­site says:

The dual­i­ty of munic­i­pal gov­er­nance – eccle­si­as­ti­cal and sec­u­lar – gave rise to the famous ‘beer war’ of 1380. The City Coun­cil defend­ed the city’s monop­oly on the sale of beer against the Cathe­dral canons, who lived in Ostrów Tum­s­ki (Cathe­dral Island). As a result, an inter­dict (a church dis­ci­pli­nary mea­sure) was imposed on the city’s church­es, which were sub­se­quent­ly pil­laged. It took a papal bull to end the con­flict.

Now, hav­ing a war about beer real­ly is tak­ing it too seri­ous­ly.

I read about the beer war in Nor­man Davies’ Micro­cosm, a his­to­ry of the city of Wrocław/Breslau. In the same book, he also talks intrigu­ing­ly about the two dom­i­nant beers in Wrocław in the mid­dle ages. One was called “Schöps” – Davies says it was a brand name and was first men­tioned in 1392. It came to be the most pop­u­lar brand in the area in the late 15th cen­tu­ry, superced­ing some­thing called “Schwei­d­nitzer”. I’m adding both to the list of weird his­tor­i­cal beers, along with Pim­li­co Ale.

Also see a much old­er post, “Why isn’t Pol­ish beer good?”


The Defunct Essex Brewery

brewery_tap_closeup.jpgThe Essex Brew­ery used to be on St James Street in Waltham­stow, east Lon­don. It was demol­ished in 1975. But there are still signs of the brewery’s exis­tence in the imme­di­ate area. A near­by pub – which seems now to be aban­doned, hav­ing been a night­club in recent years – bears the brewery’s name.

I’m keen to find out more about “Col­lier Broth­ers Essex Brew­ery”. For now, I’ve found this brief his­to­ry, at the East Lon­don and City Beer Guide Online:

Only one takeover, apart from the Wen­lock Brew­ery Co Ltd, has been made by a brew­ery out­side Lon­don. This was when Tollemache Brew­eries Ltd of Ipswich acquired Col­lier Broth­ers, Essex Brew­ery, St Jamess Street, Waltham­stow in 1920. Found­ed by Williams Hawes in 1859. Brew­ing ceased in 1972 and the brew­ery has been demol­ished.


There’s also this inter­est­ing trade advert at the British Library web­site.


And this from the amaz­ing British His­to­ry Online web­site:

A brew­er was list­ed in 1848. (fn. 169) In 1859 there were two, one of them being William Hawes, who built the steam-pow­ered Waltham­stow Brew­ery in St. James Street. (fn. 170) The Essex Brew­ery Co. Ltd. was formed in 1871 to buy Hawes’s brew­ery, (fn. 171) but appar­ent­ly failed to attract sub­scribers, for the brew­ery was acquired by Col­lier Bros., who oper­at­ed it as the Essex Brew­ery, until 1922. It was then sold to Tollemache’s Brew­eries Ltd., to whom it still belonged in 1968. (fn. 172)

From: ‘Waltham­stow: Eco­nom­ic his­to­ry, marsh­es and forests’, A His­to­ry of the Coun­ty of Essex: Vol­ume 6 (1973), pp. 263–75. URL: Date accessed: 26 July 2007.