We wrote this post because we wanted to know when brewers started declaring ABV for something else we were working on and assumed a quick Google search would turn up the answer. It didn’t.
Even searching through the excellent British Newspaper Archive, the Guardian, The Times and the Economist didn’t unearth much at first.
We knew that the practice of declaring alcoholic strength on pumpclips and packaging began at some point in the 1980s but we couldn’t work out exactly when.
And the harder it was to find out, the more we became interested in why we couldn’t find it out. Was it just not considered important at the time? How can such a seismic change for consumers have happened under the radar?
Part of the problem, we realised, was that ‘ABV’ didn’t mean much to anyone at the time so changing our search criterion to the full ‘alcohol by volume’ helped a little bit.
From this, we are able to establish that a change in the law was proposed in 1987 by the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in response to an EEC (European Economic Community) directive.
And that was our first surprise – we had assumed it happened as a result of either consumer or CAMRA pressure, or as a result of one of the many government enquiries going on at the time. But it looks like it was actually just an all-but automatic implementation in the UK of European wide legislation.
This instrument also specifies that the ABV should be shown to the nearest one decimal place and gives tolerances for acceptable differences between the figure displayed and the actual strength.
So that’s the when – pubs had to start communicating alcoholic strength to customers from July 1989.
We’re still none the wiser as to the politics (or lack of politics) around it, though.
We went through editions of CAMRA’s newspaper What’s Brewing for the relevant period and found one brief reference in October 1987, which was presumably when the move was first announced. The then chairman of CAMRA, Jim Scanlon, commented:
“This is something we have been working on for a long time. The effects will be very interesting and I look forward to a great many drinkers being surprised by the actual strength of their session lagers.”
We haven’t been able to see much evidence of this as a CAMRA priority for the preceding period, although there were plenty of digs at lager, tied pubs, brewery takeovers, additives…
In chapter three of our book Brew Britannia we tell the story of how in 1974 the early Campaign used a sympathetic chemist to compare the original gravity of Big Six beers to independent producers. But we haven’t noticed this translating into a coherent campaign to make breweries or pubs display this information.
A March 1988 follow up article made reference to CAMRA making a submission in response to the MAFF proposal but we haven’t been able to find any consultation documents with our various Google searches.
That piece also quotes a MAFF spokesman saying that strengths would not have to be displayed on handpulls “because we were informed that it would be prohibitively expensive”. The statutory instrument suggests that as long as ABV is declared somewhere, e.g. on a price list, it doesn’t need to be on the pumpclip. So it’s interesting that this is now almost universally how it is done.
In July 1989 when the legislation came into effect, CAMRA marked this momentous occasion with a couple of paragraphs on page six, below a story about Tetley’s providing south east pubs with special dispense mechanisms to recreate a proper northern head.
We couldn’t dig up much industry comment either, which again surprised us – given the general accusation in the air at the time that breweries were systematically making beer weaker, we had assumed they would resist the move.
But perhaps they had been expecting it for a while, or assumed that making a fuss about it would just draw attention to it.
It could also be that with changes in licensing and the 1989 report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, AKA the Beer Orders, that they had other things to focus on.
It’s quite hard to pull together evidence of things not happening, though, so if we’ve got anything wrong here, or you remember debate at the time, please do let us know.
William Schlackman was an American psychologist specialising in attention grabbing market research projects carried out on behalf of big companies. In 1966 he suggested that, for English drinkers, beer was a substitute for sex.
We’ve struggled to track down a copy of the research report itself which is, uh, frustrating, but there’s a summary of its contents in A Monthly Bulletin for January 1967:
At the superficial Freudian level of the unconscious mind, beer-drinking was found, incredibly, to be equated with sex. More profound research revealed this equation with sex to be but a defence enabling the beer-drinker to deny his true motivation… Hunger, the psychologists pointed out, is strong enough in primitive man to stimulate the hunt and the kill. In primitive man, in other words, hunger is overtly a more powerful drive than sex… It comes as a surprise to most of us to learn from the leader of the brewery’s research team, William Schlackman, an American doctor, that what a beer-drinker feels when opening time approaches “is the primitive tension of the hunt.” In civilised man, as in primitive man, “it may outweigh the sex drive.”
The Daily Mirror also picked up the story, quoting Schlackman extensively. Here’s a clearer explanation of his point about beer and sex, in his own words:
The regular drinker puts his love life secondary to his pub life, which is the real reason why so many marriages founder over drink… Confirmed drinkers are rarely womanisers. In fact, they are often hostile to women and to pubs that encourage women’s custom.
So beer displaces sex – got it.
The Mirror article also picks up on a suggestion by Schlackman that the particularly British taste for “tepid” ale rather than cold lager was because…
Beer, which traditionally even schoolboys used to drink for breakfast, subconsciously bears an image very close to that of soup.
Schlackman’s research team came up with a set of personality types matched to beer preference:
The typical draught-bitter drinker was a farm worker on his way home from the plough-field… The mild-and-bitter drinker: A 50-year-old underpaid clerk, dreaming of winning the pools… The Bass and Worthington drinker: A hairy-chested docker… One of the interviewed people though that the typical Bass drinker would probably be a wife-beater, too.
That’s one of those startling statements that makes clear just how much the perception of brands and types of beer can change over the course of decades.
Of course, this should all be taken with a pinch of salt: this kind of pop Freudian analysis has rather gone out of fashion. In 1969, Schlackman suggested that English people liked tea because it reminded them of home, mother and the womb, which says it all, really.
You can read more about William Schlackman and how he ended up living and working in London this obituary – he died in May at the age of 88.
You’ll feel transported right to jolly old England at the Golden Bee, The Broadmoor’s 19th century British Pub. The pub was actually transferred to The Broadmoor panel by panel, directly from the UK.
So, this isn’t a recreation or a sham – it’s a real English pub interior relocated across the Atlantic.
How did this come to happen? And which pub did the fixtures and fittings come from?
There’s something a little exciting about the thought that a London pub long-demolished or converted might live on across the ocean, still serving something like its original function.
Our usual research avenues didn’t turn up much but fortunately, the Broadmoor, being something of an institution, has an archivist, Jamey Hastings, with whom we were able to get in touch. Jamey very kindly provided copies of historic press and publicity notices which, while still contradictory and confusing at times, do provide useful information from close to the moment.
This from the Colorado Springs Gazette for 16 February 1964 gives a good summary of the story and feels as it might be the truth purely because it feels less neat and romantic than the typical marketing blurb:
The fixtures, the bar and accessories are those of an English pub built in the 1880s and later brought to this country intact and set up in New York. When the Broadmoor decided to build the Bee, it asked W. and J. Sloane and Co. to find it some authentic pub fixtures.
The firm did more than that. It found an entire pub, covered with dust, in a warehouse in New York… The pub itself had been operated at one time in an area near the old London Terrace section of New York, once one of the fashionable residential districts of the city.
Another article, from just after the pub launched in 1961, says more or less the same only it specifies that the pub interior went from England to New York as far back as the 19th century.
So far, so good, until we come to a similarly credible story from Broadmoor Bonanza for spring 1984, which suggests a slightly different chain of events:
Forty years ago, The Golden Lion was a popular 17th century pub located near the Thames River in London. It’s not in London anymore but it’s still popular. Now called The Golden Bee, it’s one of The Broadmoor’s truly remarkable traditions… In the mid-1950s, Thayer Tutt, Honorary Chairman of The Broadmoor, heard about an authentic English pub for sale from a friend, Sir Guy Bracewell Smith, who was owner of the Park Lane Hotel in London. The pub was owned by the Whitbread House and they wanted to sell it to an American business to aid in publicizing their ale in the United States. Through the Broadmoor’s interior design firm, W.J. Sloan, and its representative, Leslie Dorsey, Mr Tutt arranged to purchase the dismantled bar for $20,000.
The suggestion here, then, is that the pub was older by about two hundred years, was still intact in London as late as the post-war period, and was owned by Whitbread. That’s plenty of concrete information to latch on to.
So far, though… Nothing. We have a pretty good run of 1950s editions of The House of Whitbread, the brewery’s in-house magazine, and can’t find any mention of this sale. It’s not mentioned in any of the official histories to which we have access, either. Nor does A Monthly Bulletin seem to cover it in any of the issues we’ve got.
One item we did dig up is in The Taverns in the Town by H.E. Popham, from 1937:
In the Fulham High Street is The Golden Lion, a fifty-year-old house standing on the site of a very ancient tavern of the same name. The original building, which dated back to the reign of Henry VII, is said to have been the residence of Bishop Bonner… On the pulling down of the original Golden Lion, the panelling was purchased by Lord Ellenborough for the fitting up of his residence, Southam House, near Cheltenham.
So there was at least one historic Golden Lion interior divorced from its original location and floating around.
At this stage, we’re left with more questions with answers.
Because all the sources are American, and because we suspect a certain amount of obfuscation, it’s certainly possible the details might have got mangled – that the original pub wasn’t called The Golden Lion, or wasn’t in London, or wasn’t owned by Whitbread. Although that last seems the most likely to be true.
So… Does anyone have any evidence that might unlock this? Not guesswork but references to newspapers, books, magazines or other papers that might pin this down.
Further reading: Gary Gillman has been writing extensively about the idea of the English pub in American culture for some time, as in this post. Do check out his back catalogue.
A while ago someone on Twitter said they’d like to read a history of the Leeds beer scene. We wanted to read one, too, but didn’t feel it was our place to write it. Then we recalled the success of a couple of pieces we’d written ‘in their own words’ and decided that at least we could facilitate.
What follows is based on emails and interviews, some dating as far back as 2013 (John Gyngell and Christian Townsley), others from the past month or so, with light editing for sense and clarity.
We’ve also used a quote from Richard Coldwell’s blog because we get the impression he wouldn’t want the mere fact that he sadly died in July stop him contributing on a subject about which he was so passionate.
Ian Garrett Drinker and CAMRA activist I first drank in Leeds in the early 1970s, when I was a student in Bradford and visited the city to go to gigs at the University. The only pubs that beer lovers talked about were The Victoria Family and Commercial Hotel, and The Whitelocks. Leeds was awash with Tetley pubs and I remember when doing a PGCE in Leeds the wonderful aromas wafting over the city centre as they mashed in. I guess the ‘beer scene’ in Leeds had a few faltering starts. There was the CAMRA owned pub The Eagle which always seemed to be struggling whenever I ventured there. Then, in the 1980s, The Fox & Newt brewpub opened and, of course, The Felon & Firkin where Dave Sanders first plied his trade.
Barrie PepperBeer writer and veteran CAMRA activist
Leeds had a beer explosion came around the turn of the century. I think Ian Fozard – now the Chairman of SIBA – had quite a bit to do with it. The amazing success of his Market Town Taverns company, which he started in the mid-1990s with the Long Boat in Skipton, like Topsy, just grew and grew. His policy was to sell a good selection of cask beer in pleasant surroundings to accompany good food. There were also continental beers and a fine wine list. The estate grew to ten pubs – all in Yorkshire, five in Leeds – and by the issue of the 2008 Good Beer Guide, every one of the ten pubs was in it. There were some other factors of course. Tetley’s opened a few brew pubs and was developing its Feast group and some Festival pubs which had guest beers on their bars. Other breweries followed suit. A couple of small breweries located at pubs opened with prize-winning ales. The city’s drinkers had an impressive choice.
Zak AveryBeer writer and retailer
John Gyngell and Christian Townsley from North Bar were pioneers, doing the beer thing before craft beer existed.
John GyngellCo-founder of North Bar
People thought we were making a mistake opening a bar on Briggate. This was kebab alley. I remember driving past here with my Mum and showing her the site and she just said: “What the hell are you doing?”
Christian Townsley Co-founder of North Bar
I was 22 when we opened on 26 June 1997; John was a bit older. It was really quiet for the first six months, or something like that. At first, the beer wasn’t anything special, largely because of the brewery loan from John Smith’s. Back then, that was really the only way to finance something like this, if you didn’t have a rich mummy and daddy.
I can’t remember if we approached James Clay or they approached us, but that’s how we started getting more interesting beer. We’ve always had a great relationship with them, and we became more-or-less their brewery tap. Brooklyn, Goose Island, that kind of thing.
Erdinger Weissbier was an early one. We were the first place in the UK to sell it and I guess we’re a bit proud of that. In bottles, we had the Chimays, Duvel and Anchor Liberty, when they were pretty hard to find. We’d been drinking Liberty at the Atlantic and at Mash. That was a real landmark beer – probably where, for me, something clicked.
Matt Gorecki Owner of Zapato brewery, industry ‘face’
The first Belgian beer I had was a Hoegaarden in some terrible pub down lower Briggate and I almost smashed a tooth on the huge glass. The same night I was introduced to North Bar by a friend and marvelled at the freely flowing pints of Erdinger. When I started working at The Cross Keys [part of the North chain] I was educated by Mr Christian Townsley in the beauty and subtlety of some of the imported US, Belgian and German beers that were available at the time from James Clay. Leeds at that point had a few stand-out venues but interesting cask ale was only really just starting to take hold. My first ever beer purchase as manager was casks of Marble Ginger – the first time over the Pennines!
Special mention must go to the original BeerRitz which was a wholesale-retail warehouse where it was possible to pick up some great Belgian beers by the bottle or case.
After university, I was working on a PhD with the Open University and also writing music. I was living in Headingley just round the corner from BeerRitz and one day in 2000 they put up a sign advertising for a part time shop assistant. Eighteen months in, I was managing the shop and a couple of years after that had launched thebeerboy.co.uk to host beer tastings as corporate events. The shop went from strength to strength – best independent beer retailer 2003 – and I started writing beer-related website content. In my mind, it was before blogging was really a thing, but I might be wrong about that. From 2008, I started doing video beer reviews – I’ve been blamed for the whole phenomenon by various people – and get chosen as Beer Writer of the Year by The British Guild of Beer Writers. 2009 saw the blog Are You Tasting The Pith? launch and in 2011 my business partner and I bought out Beer Paradise and BeerRitz.
Neil WalkerBlogger, later employed by CAMRA and now SIBA
Dean at Mr Foley’s was the guy that dragged Mr Foley’s into the 21st century, got good keg beers on the bar and modernised what they were all about. It was always a good ale bar but 2011 was when it started to get really interesting.
Dean Pugh Head of European bar operations for BrewDog
I moved to Leeds for university in 2003 and was working part time at Wetherspoons. I had a shift manager there who taught me everything about cask ales and cellar management. I moved into management and different Wetherspoon locations in Leeds, always taking on the responsibility of the cellar and organising real ale festivals. I had a friend who was running the tap room at York Brewery and they were purchasing a bar on the Headrow called Dr Okells. I joined as general manager and the bar was rebranded as Mr Foley’s, opening in 2007. My initial aim when opening Foley’s was to become the best cask ale pub in the city, and we were named Leeds CAMRA pub of the year in 2008. Around the same time I joined Foley’s in 2007 I was also discovering American craft beer, mostly through visits to North Bar. I remember Brooklyn Chocolate Stout being one of the first beers that really grabbed my attention and showed me a different side to beer. I brought this back to Foley’s, beginning with an extended bottle list, but soon convinced my bosses to hand over that draft lines too.
Mr Foley’s felt like the common room for the Leeds beer scene. Its ample space and relative cheapness made it ideal for events and beer-gatherings – bottle-shares, beer launches and so on. We even had a beer dinner there with Garrett Oliver [of Brooklyn Brewery] pouring Ghost bottles of wine-lees aged saison paired with buffalo chicken wings and pulled pork prepared by Tyler Kiley.
I think towards the end of my time at Foley’s we had around six to eight rotating taps for craft beer, two BrewDog taps, ten cask ales, bag-in-a-box real cider and probably up to a hundred bottled and canned beers.
One of the early, key moments for me was IPADay in 2011. It felt like an important moment – everyone seemed to be there and everyone remembers it. As well as the international beer list there were some great offerings from British brewers and I remember Zak Avery and Dave from Hardknott making impassioned and semi-incomprehensible speeches on the style. My first memory of feeling like I was in a beer scene was the Brewdog IPA is Dead launch at North Bar. There were just so many bloggers there and at that time it felt a little bit competitive, albeit in a friendly way, and I remember writing up my tasting notes at about 6 am the next morning to make sure I was first to press.
I was shit broke in 2010, really struggling to make ends meet, managing the shop, trying to go freelance, a new parent. I was selling things to meet mortgage payments. I wrote a really well-paid advertorial for Guinness. It wasn’t all totes craft amazeballs, you know?
Mike Hampshire Former local CAMRA chair, owner of Mike’s Tap Room
The single key turning point in Leeds beer has been the closure of Tetley’s Brewery in 2011. As sad and difficult as it was, it effectively hit the reset button on the Leeds beer scene. The US craft revolution was well underway and lots of micro-breweries started popping up, seeing the huge gap in the Leeds market for traditional ales and US-influenced modern styles.
In its heyday, Tetley’s was one of the biggest breweries in the UK, Tetley’s Bitter was the best selling beer in the UK, Leeds drinkers knew what to expect from a good pint of Tetley’s, and they drank it by the gallon.
Leigh Linley Retired blogger, author of Great Yorkshire Beer
The buzz around the first Leeds International Beer Festival in 2012 was fantastic. A real independent beer festival in Leeds, a shift toward keg being not only accepted but expected.
Maria Estibaliz Organiser of the Leeds International Beer Festival
We wanted to create a festival that celebrated and embraced the independent craft scene in the UK as existing beer events weren’t really recognising the amazing things that were going on in the industry and a lot of new, great breweries were being overlooked. We also wanted to create something that was a lot more accessible and inclusive for younger audiences, particularly women in this age group, as the industry and festivals at the time were incredibly male dominated. We also wanted the brewers themselves to attend the festival, meet audiences and talk about their beer – and at the same time we encouraged audiences not be afraid to ask the brewers questions.
I recall sitting behind my desk at work eavesdropping on a group of colleagues who had no prior interest in beer who had got tickets for the Festival excitingly detailing what beers they were going to try. That felt different, for sure.
The first LIBF, held in the city centre at the glorious town hall, marked a point where the scene started to properly cross over into the mainstream.
Leeds hosted the European Beer Bloggers Conference in 2012 – an event that probably passed a lot of non-bloggers by but the importance of having that many journalists, bloggers, writers and retailers in the city can’t be overstated. I think a lot of influential writers went away rethinking what Leeds was about. We did the city proud.
Friends of Ham opening in 2012 was the game changer for me – one of those ideas that a lot of us had dreams of, but not the ability to execute. Tyler Kiley took over as head beer buyer there and under the Kitchings it was unbelievably rammed almost every night of the week.
Here was a bar that embraced beer culture but offered something totally different. It was a tiny, well-put-together bar with good beer but also more than that. It bridged the gap between beer and food (although it really wasn’t beercentric – it sold plenty of wine and sherry, too) in a way that really shook up the bar scene. And it did it in a ratty part of Leeds that’s thriving now, due to keystone businesses like FoH.
Richard Brownhill Little Leeds Beer House, Brownhill & Co
Claire and [Anthony ‘Kitch’ Kitching] really raised the bar in terms of quality in Leeds when they opened. It coincided with my move to Leeds and their focus on service and the originality of their concept was a real scene-setter at the time.
Even though Friends of Ham has been through ‘financial restructuring’ which left a bad taste in a lot of mouths (metaphorically rather than literally, of course) I don’t think their importance can be overstated in changing the Leeds beer scene. It was qualitatively different from anything that had gone before, and set the blueprint for much that followed
It was a real shame what happened with Friends Of Ham. I think their struggles just show the fragility of small independent businesses, regardless of reputation or standing in the industry. It’s an ever crowded market out there and it’s very easy for offerings to become diluted. It’s great that they managed to strike a deal to stay operating, and it’s starting to get back to it’s best – they have some great new people in there who have a real passion for the product.
I arrived quite late to the scene itself and without friends who shared my burgeoning interest in beer, it wasn’t until Simon Girt, AKA ‘Leeds Beer Wolf’, organised a Twissup in 2014 that I actually made an effort to get to know people in Leeds and beyond. So for me, personally, the period between 2014-2016 was when the scene was at its peak, with regular bottleshares, mostly organised by Rob Derbyshire, AKA Hopzine, and held at Little Leeds Beer House or Northern Monk. The opening of Northern Monk was the next big leap forward in itself – without a significant number of breweries in Leeds this was probably the kick up the arse that others needed.
Russell Bisset Northern Monk Brew Co.
I started Northern Monk in a parent’s cellar in 2013, launching at The Sparrow in Bradford the summer of that year. Originally operating as a cuckoo brewery, we built our own brewery in a listed mill just outside the centre of Leeds, which launched in October 2014.
Northern Monk are absolutely up there and their rate of growth and mastery of the market has been astonishing. Their beers have helped put the UK on the map across the rest of the world and especially in the US. Kirkstall’s cask offering and extremely solid expanding range of beers has been quietly winning hearts all over the place. Kirkstall have also breathed life into two pubs that had gone to the dogs and managed the importation of so many of the gateway brands and exciting US beers – the entire scene owes a lot to Steve Holt and Dave Sanders. There are also scene leaders and crossover successes like Bundobust, Little Leeds Beerhouse and the team behind Whitelocks – Ed Mason of Five Points and Ash Kollakowski – who’ve put this venerable pub back at the heart of the scene.
Leeds Beer Week was started by myself, Matt Gorecki and James Ockelford from Refold Design in 2016 – both to complement the very popular Leeds International Beer Festival but also to have a week where the many venues of Leeds were all under one umbrella and in the spotlight. I had found as both as manager of Tapped Leeds in 2014 and at the fledgling Little Leeds Beerhouse in 2015 that although LIBF brought many people to the festival at the town hall, the impact was quite insular. The first couple of years were tough but we’ve now expanded the team to include more than ten people and it is 100% independently funded. We have so many amazing venues in Leeds who sponsor the week financially every year, and James produces world class design for our yearly guide which promotes all venues, big or small. I am particularly proud that we have built a model which is not for profit – we are paid a little for our time each year, and we pay our committed team, but every other penny from sponsorship, advertising and merchandise goes back into the festival to help it grow each year. Which is a good job as Matt’s bunting fetish knows no bounds.
Today’s scene, for me, is overcrowded as all the new bars try to entice the same handful of people. I tend to stick to a handful where I know there’s either excellent cask, well-kept, or a decent choice. Too many have eight varieties of IPA but that seems a common practice. It still looks like a healthy beer scene and new bars still appear, Brownhill & Co being a recent addition trying to do something a little different.
Brownhill & Co is a blueprint for everything Bryony and I love about the drinking experience and is focused on providing relaxed, simple table service in a chilled environment. Ten taps of quality, no filler, and balanced with all sorts of styles – a rotating lager line and rotating cask beers. Many years of visiting Belgium had us wondering why the UK is allergic to table service in pubs and bars. I personally can’t think of anything better than not moving all day while a nice, friendly, knowledgeable person brings me lots of beer. We’re delighted to have been selected to host this year’s Cantillon Zwanze Day.
Leeds is still Leeds – there’s still a pub for all tastes within walking distance and the majority of the classic places are still there, doing well. There’s even more choice and it’s hard to not encounter ‘craft’ in most places now, like in any major city. At the risk of sounding like an old man, it’s getting increasingly expensive to drink in the city centre, but the scene itself is thriving – beer is mainstream, there’s no need to guide people anymore. There’s a new generation of drinkers discovering beer and enjoying some incredible venues that we’d have been over the moon to have enjoyed back in the early 2000s.
Richard Coldwell Blogger
There’s no doubt in my mind that Leeds is one of the premier beer cities in the UK and that includes making the stuff as well as consuming it. We just need to shout out and make our mark. I often think Leeds is a bit slow to catch on to self promotion. (2016.)
There’s always something going on and a number of quality breweries are coming through, pushing things forward. Venues are higher quality and you’re starting to see some really good quality and curated selections rather than just a list of questionable hype beers that taste roughly similar. Leeds is at its peak right now.
Photo credits: All ours except the one based on ‘Leeds Town Hall at Night’ by Enchufla Con Clave via Wikimedia Commons and the picture of John Gyngell and Christian Townsley which they kindly supplied to us in 2013.
We’re very grateful to everyone who found time to respond to our questions so fully and frankly, but especially Zak Avery and Leigh Linley. This post was supported by Patreon subscribers like Will Jordan and Peter Sidwell. Please consider signing up, or just buy us a one-off pint via Ko-Fi. Alternatively, you can give us a boost by buying one of our books, or just by sharing something we’ve written on social media. Cheers! Ray & Jess.
When I’m not obsessing over beer I sometimes obsess over architecture which is why I’ve been reading Walter Ison’s The Buildings of Georgian Bristol.
It was first published in 1952 and revised for a second edition in 1978. It mostly comprises fairly dry research into buildings and street layouts – who designed or built what with reference to original contracts, whether the pediment is segmental or not, and so on – but you won’t be surprised to learn that there are a couple mentions of brewing that leapt out.
The first is with reference to Queen Square, which you can see from Small Bar on King Street, to give a beer geek friendly reference point. Originally marshland, it was divided up into plots from 1699 and built up between 1700 and 1718. It had a dual carriageway running through the middle for most of the 20th century but is these days once again a peaceful public space.
Ison quotes from the city records for 1699 which include the terms of what we would now call planning permission for the first house on Queen Square:
[No] Tenement [is] to be lett out to any sort of Tenants particularly no Smiths Shopp Brewhouse nor to any Tallow-Chandler or to any other Tradesmen who by noyse danger of ffire or ill smells shall disturbe or annoy any of the Inhabitants who shall build neer it…
This was a classy development for well-to-do folk and it wouldn’t do for it to pong or otherwise exhibit evidence of people working. These days in Bristol, breweries tend to be on industrial estates – the logical conclusion of this kind of zoning regulation.
The second reference comes in a description of the development of Portland Square from 1788. Here, Ison quotes for a sale notice for the middle house on the south side of the square from 1812:
[The house contains] three arched under-ground cellars, a servants’ hall, housekeeper’s room, back-kitchen, larder, brew-house, and other offices…
A brewhouse is an interesting addition to a large, fashionable house as late as the early 19th century. Other houses nearby seem to have had wine cellars rather the brewing facilities, at least according to Ison’s notes, so the owner of this one was clearly one of us.
But who did the brewing? What did they brew? Where would we even start looking to find out?
It can be hard to get into the headspace of people in the past but here’s a nugget that reveals attitudes to different types of beer, and different measures, in the mid-1960s.
It’s a letter by H.C.G. Sloane to A Monthly Bulletin, a brewing trade publication, published in June 1966:
In this age of alleged democracy and an apparent tendency to throw convention to the winds, it is surprising to hear that two customers dining in an old hotel restaurant were refused “two pints of best bitter”. Pints of bitter were not served because they “lowered the tone” of the hotel.
So far, so familiar – as we covered in Brew Britannia, refusal to serve pints has become embedded as an indicator of an establishment that wishes to set itself apart from, and of course above, the bog standard boozer. Bristol has a couple of such places.
It seems that we must come to terms with the fact that, rather than becoming anachronisms, petty snobbery and the status symbol may yet extend and widen the possibilities of the absurd.
Well, it’s true that beer has got complicated with all those tribes and symbols and laws of etiquette.
Beer will, if this happens, probably be associated only with shabby taprooms, cloth caps, and newspaper-wrapped fish and chips. Already one is beginning to feel less plebeian when asking for “keg” rather than “bitter”; or a lager instead of a light ale. It sounds nicer, somehow, and more sophisticated.
This is something we keep coming back to – how did lager go from being, in 1966, the classy product you ordered when you felt a little fancy to, by the late 1980s, riot fuel?
The New Age bartender may look askance should one inadvertently demand a glass of mild instead of a beaker of bland.
No, the correct term is “dark ale”.
A “mixed” may in future be called a blend.
An ignorant saloon bar customer might even ostracised (or banned from using the premises) should he refer to his favourite tipple as brown ale – once the colour has changed to beige.
Wrong – instead, it’s almost extinct, and two rare survivors are ordered by brand name.
Overall, Sloane got it right – though never entirely as classless and simple as some romantics would have you believe, beer has become increasingly complex, stratified and laden with meaning.
But things have also been pretty well swirled about, too.
Is a dimple mug of Black Sheep Bitter posh, or plebeian? It depends where you drink it and whether it’s accompanying a packet of scratchings or a plate of gnocchi.
A peek behind the scenes: why are we suddenly looking at A Monthly Bulletin again? Because we had a really thorough tidy up of what we jokingly call The Arthur Millard Memorial Library – that is, our boxroom – and having got rid of a load of books and organised the rest, we’ve rediscovered lots of stuff that we forgot we had. It’s easy to dip into something before bed or in the morning before work and AMB in particular is especially dippable.
Interviewing farm-workers in East Anglia the folklorist and oral historian George Ewart Evans discovered what in publishing blurbs would be trumpeted as an ‘untold story’: the mass movement of men from Suffolk to Burton on Trent to work in the brewing industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
His book Where Beards Wag All is simultaneously a collection of essays highlighting specific narratives arising from oral history research and a defence of oral history as a discipline. Its message is that without oral history – without talking to working people, and mining their memories – we lose great chunks of history that weren’t recorded in official papers or covered in the news.
Having spent a chunk of the past few years researching and writing about pubs, we can’t agree enough. Pubs, being seen as prosaic and unsavoury, weren’t well recorded, and it is only through oral history that much sense of the habits of drinkers and publicans really emerges from the fog of the past.
The story of the Suffolk maltsters Evans uncovered is particularly fascinating and begins like this:
The search to collect evidence started after a chance remark made by a farm horseman while I was collecting information about his experiences on the Suffolk farms. I found that it was not the first occasion on which a remark made on the margin of another and totally different enquiry proved – when followed up – to be more fruitful than the subject I was investigating at the time… [The] horseman was giving an outline of his life on the farm: “I recollect,” he said, “that were the year I went to Burton. I went up for two seasons, missed a season, then went for another two – and then I got married.”
Evans continued to hear variations on this story until, he writes, “it became clear in my own mind that there had been a fairly widespread movement of young farm-workers who followed the barley they had grown in East Anglia to Burton on Trent where they worked as maltsters, helping to convert the malt to be used in the brewing of beer”.
For more than 50 years
This migration, Evans was able to work out, began at least as early as 1880 (possibly as far back as 1860) and continued until 1931 when unemployment in Burton triggered a backlash against imported labour.
What prompted this pattern of working to emerge was the seasonal nature of farm work. Once the corn and hay had been harvested, lots of fit, able young men found themselves unemployed. Some spent winter living off their families or charity; others joined the fishing fleet; but lots went to Burton, because just after the harvest happened to be exactly when broad-shouldered maltsters were most in demand.
Evans recounts his struggle to find documentary evidence and the eventual emergence of paperwork from Bass which recorded the names of Suffolk and Norfolk men on the payroll during 1904-05 and 1926-27. In 1904, the documents revealed, 169 men went to Burton from Suffolk, making up a little over half of the workforce during that malting season.
Then comes a heartbreaking detail: when Evans went to Burton in 1968 intending to interview Suffolk men who had settled there he found that Bass had just moved offices and in so doing, destroyed the labour books. Yet another archives-in-the-skip story to make researchers weep.
Had it not been for the efforts of industrial historian Colin Owen, who transcribed and summarised many of these records, nothing would survive. As it is, Evans was able to include Owen’s work as an appendix to his book. It takes the form of a list of workers from East Anglia in the 1890-91 season, with names, home villages and the railway stations from which they embarked, via Peterborough, to reach Burton. Edgar Spall, Obediah Mortlock, Arthur Panment, William Titshall, George Fenn, Charles Flatt… There are also lists of names for later seasons.
The old men Evans interviewed told him how the recruitment process worked:
At the end of August and the beginning of September the Burton brewers sent agents down to various centres in East Anglia to engage the young farm-workers. Bass and Company sent a circular letter to each malting worker who had been employed during the previous season – if he had proved satisfactory. The letter gave the date when the agent would be in a particular locality. The place was usually a public house – The Station Hotel, Ipswich, Framlingham Crown and so on.
“They used to sign us up at the Crown. The agent was a man called Johnny Clubs, a good owd bloke, and later a Mr Whitehart come down. You went into a room and he looked you up and down to see if you could do the work, see if you were well set up. Then he asked you the name of your last master so he could get a character. Then you signed the paper.”
One interviewee, Albert Love of Wortwell in Norfolk, describes men gathering at the local station ready to depart “like soldiers”. They were given one-way tickets and Evans includes a second-hand account of one worker making his way back to Suffolk from Burton on foot, pushing a child in a pram. It wasn’t a cushy life and it’s hard not to read into it echoes of modern slavery.
Hard work and free beer
As well as a chapter on the recruitment and migration, Evans also gives a detailed account of the work itself, from lugging 16-stone sacks of malt to hurling hot malt against screens to filter out “the muck”: “When you come out of there you was drunk from the dust of the malt – without having nawthen to drink!”
And, of course, there are the tales of free beer, including this from Will Gosling, a man born and brought up in Burton but whose father migrated there from Suffolk in the 1890s:
In all steel-works and in every job like that where men lose a lot of sweat it has to be replaced with five pints of something – whether it’s water, tea, milk or beer. They used to supply us with allowance beer. Five pints in my time; we used to have a pint at six o’clock, a pint at ten, another pint at midday and another two pints during the afternoon. Then if you had to come back after tea to turn the kiln you had another pint for that. In between times you was given two pints of beer called lack. They called it lack because it was lacking a lot of things. It was a very mild beer, but it was wet: it was moisture.
Living and working in Burton
Finally, there are two entire chapters on life in Burton for migrants from East Anglia. Evans interviewed William Denny (1882-1968), who worked four seasons in Burton around the turn of the century, and gave a brilliant account of the social lives of young workers:
After coming home from work and having some tea we’d go round the town, having a pint at one pub and then at another. There was The Wheatsheaf, Punch Bowl, Golden Ball and many more. We were a crowd together and we used to enjoy ourselves. We used to sing, and one thing we used to do up there was step dance on top of a barrel. In all the pubs up there you could get a free clay-pipe at that time – with the pub’s name on it. After my first season I recollect I brought ninety clay-pipes home with me.
Evans paints a picture of “Suffolk Jims” as hard-drinking, hard-working men living in lodgings, scrapping in pubs, and making themselves conspicuous in Burton by their unusual taste in clothing and peculiar accents. When they went home, it was often in a fancy new Burton suit, or wearing braided belts that were a speciality of Burton; and bearing fancy teapots as gifts for their mothers or landladies.
One specific branded beer also gets a brief mention in this context – the 1902 King’s Ale, bottles of which are amazingly still in circulation. This is Will Denny again:
It cost a lot o’money, about a shilling a pint as far as I can recollect. Some of the boys brought a gallon of the Royal Ale hoom with them. My mate did.
Although this story was forgotten when Evans wrote Where Beards Wag All, and was questioned at the time, it has since become an accepted part of the narrative of brewing in Burton, being referenced by multiple academic works on the subject.
And these days, even amateurs can find documentary evidence with a few clicks: if you have access to ancestry.co.uk, search the 1901 census for people born in Suffolk, living in Burton, with ‘maltster’ as a keyword, and you’ll see for yourself how real this was.
Can you see spot what drew us to the tatty old postcard of Main Street, Haworth, West Yorkshire, from the 1960s, reproduced above?
That’s right – it’s the advertisement for Watney’s, neatly camouflaged against the brick wall to the left, above a yellow enamel sign advertising St Bruno tobacco.
This particular Watney’s ad campaign ran from as early as 1937, as explained by Ron Pattinson here, along with details of why this design was so successful. Ron also provides a lovely image of the poster which we’ve taken the liberty of nicking:
The really interesting thing about the postcard, though, is that this poster should have appeared in Yorkshire, 200 miles from the brewery’s home in London.
In the 1960s, Watney’s grew and took over regional breweries around the UK. It took over Beverley Brothers of Wakefield in 1967 and began investing in Webster’s of Halifax at around the same time, taking it over completely in 1972.
So the poster in the postcard is a symbol of the arrival of national brands, and of the homogenisation of beer that triggered the founding of the Campaign for Real Ale in the 1970s.
But it’s not all one-sided: if you look closely, you might be able to pick out a small enamel sign advertising Tetley’s next to the Watney’s poster. That, too, would become a national brand, taking a taste of Yorkshire to the rest of the country.
London pubs are rich in the trappings of the Victorian age, which knew exactly how a town pub should appear. A fine one is illustrated here – the King and Queen in the Harrow Road. This is nineteenth-century Baroque at its most florid. Grey marble columns riser from a mosaic floor, raised a step above the pavement. There is splendid ironwork – iron letters and wrought iron – over the door. The words ‘Saloon Bar’ have a bucolic abandon… The architects of the late Victorian pubs and music-halls knew exactly what the situation demanded – extravagance, exuberance, and plenty of decoration for its own sake.
Other pubs Fletcher mentions by name as good examples include the Lamb in Leadenhall market (still worth stopping to look at today), the Black Friar at Blackfriars, and the Crown on Cunningham Place, St John’s Wood/Maida Vale. The latter is still there, apparently with a nicely preserved interior, but as a gastropub/bistro called, for some reason, ‘Crocker’s Folly’. Fletcher also provides drawings of The Lamb and The Black Friar.
Beyond fixtures and fittings, Fletcher has views on pub culture, too:
Although… the East End is losing some of its strongly focal character, the old life of the pubs in those parts of London still persists. A weekend pub crawl in such places as Shoreditch, Stepney, and Hackney is the way to see it at first hand. Here the East End ‘ma’ continues to flourish, the large sized, perhaps even pneumatic specimen who was no stranger to Phil May and Albert Chevalier, joins in the chorus, supported at the bar by a buttoned horsehair seat and at the front by a large Guinness. Such period characters must disappear sometime – that is where the funeral parlour comes in; if so, however, they are at once replaced by replicas, presumably on a system known only to the East End.
That’s yet more evidence of the link between women and stout, by the way, which we’ll file away for future reference.
What we should have paid more attention to was that our friends who weren’t especially interested in beer – who would turn pale if you accused them of being beer geeks – seemed to like Hells a lot. They were switching from Foster’s, Stella, Peroni, and (perhaps crucially) drinking Hells just as they’d drunk those other beers: by the pint, pint after pint.
With hindsight, it’s easy to see why they’d make the switch. Hells was light-tasting, reasonably strong, clean and clear; usually came in smart but chunky glassware; and the branding was nice – bold, contemporary, declaring itself a Londoner.
To reiterate, Hells certainly wasn’t the first British craft lager, but it might yet turn out to be the most influential.
It probably prompted Fuller’s Frontier (2013), Adnams Dry Hopped (2013), and Guinness Hop House 13 (2015), to name but three examples.
And we’re certain it’s why breweries like Moor have been unable to resist giving lager a go in recent years, even though that’s not something that seemed on the agenda for them a decade ago.
The recent launch of Carlsberg Danish Pilsner must also surely be a reaction to Hells, or at least indirectly, via Hop House 13 and the others.