Saddleworth Pub Carpets, 1966

Graham Turner’s fascinating 1967 book The North Country paints portraits of towns and cities from Wigan to Durham, often stopping off in pubs and clubs on the way.

You might remem­ber us quot­ing from it before, on the sub­ject of Pak­istani migrants attempt­ing to inte­grate into pub life in Brad­ford in the 1960s.

The rather less polit­i­cal­ly charged extract below, from a chap­ter called ‘Over the Top’ about Sad­dle­worth Moor, grabbed our atten­tion for a cou­ple of rea­sons.

No group of peo­ple in the val­ley are in more demand than the mem­bers of the Boarshurst Sil­ver Band. George Gib­son, a large, enor­mous­ly jovial man with a great red face who plays the ‘bas­so pro­fun­do’ and also teach­es brass in the local schools, reck­ons to be out either play­ing or teach­ing ‘very near every night’… [He] said over a pint at the King William [that] find­ing play­ers was not any par­tic­u­lar prob­lem – “you find me twen­ty-four instru­ments and I’ll find you twen­ty-four kids”. The King William, inci­den­tal­ly, is one of the pubs in Sad­dle­worth which has treat­ed itself to wall-to-wall car­pet­ing, an extrav­a­gance which [local char­ac­ter] John Ken­wor­thy thinks has changed them from forums of dis­cus­sion into mere drink­ing places. At one end of the bar were a group of the men we had been drink­ing with the night before at the Gentleman’s [Club], now deeply engrossed in a catholic selec­tion of rac­ing papers. At the oth­er were half a dozen men in over­alls.

So:

  1. Car­pets were seen as tak­ing pubs downmar­ket, some­how? Mak­ing them more friv­o­lous?
  2. A reminder that pub car­pets aren’t a great old tra­di­tion – they’re a rel­a­tive­ly new devel­op­ment.
  3. And, car­pets aside, a reminder of how class seg­re­ga­tion can hap­pen even with­out phys­i­cal bound­aries.

In case you’re won­der­ing, by the way, the William IV is still there, and still trad­ing as a pub.

Brewery Life, St Helens, 1920s: Free Beer and Vitriol

What was life like in a large regional English brewery in the years between the wars? Fortunately for us, Charles Forman asked someone, and recorded their answer.

We picked up a copy of Indus­tri­al Town, which was pub­lished in 1978, from a bar­gain bin some­where and have pre­vi­ous­ly flagged its com­men­tary on spit­ting in pubs.

The obser­va­tions of a name­less brew­ery work­er, born c.1902, are no less inter­est­ing, describ­ing life at Greenall Whitley’s St Helens out­post:

In the brew­ery the day turn used to be on at six in the morn­ing. You had to get malt out, which came in hun­dred­weight sacks, and put it in the dis­solv­ing tanks. You got a dip­stick out which stat­ed the quan­ti­ty of water that was want­ed to dis­solve the malt in. When you go that quan­ti­ty you let them know on the mash tuns where the malt is left. The mix­ture is pumped up to the cop­pers, where they used to put the malt and hops to boil. There were three cop­per boil­ers alto­geth­er – the biggest one held 500 bar­rels.

When they’re sat­is­fied they’ve got enough hops, they shut that man­hole and put the steam on to get it to a cer­tain heat for boil­ing the brew. They’re sup­posed to boil it just over an hour, but some­times you were wait­ing for emp­ty ves­sels, so you had to boil it longer. There were only two of us there, so you couldn’t go away and leave it.

There is a bit more detail of the brew­ing process giv­en – the brew­ery employed hop­backs, and sent the beer into ves­sels at 70°F before fer­ment­ing for a full week.

One espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing detail (well, to us; well, to Jess) is a brief dis­cus­sion of excise inspec­tions:

There’s a cer­tain grav­i­ty to work to in the beer. Once they get it to the grav­i­ty they want, you can’t do any­thing till the excise offi­cers come along and check it… On the job, if you got it wrong, there’d be an enquiry about it. If it was too high, they’d break it down with boil­ing water to make sure it was the right grav­i­ty that they’re tied down to.

Clean­ing is the less sexy side of brew­ing but, by all accounts, takes up a huge amount of most brew­ers’ time. The sub­ject of this oral his­to­ry recalls clean­ing vats as a job for brew­ery juniors: “It was rep­e­ti­tion work – just do the job till it’s done. We used sand and mixed it up with with vit­ri­ol…”

But what was Greenall Whitley’s beer like in the 1920s? It’s always excit­ing to find his­toric tast­ing notes of any kind, but this one is only brief and vague: “The beer was all right”.

[They] had dif­fer­ent strengths. They don’t brew any stout now – it’s only bit­ter and mild. We used to get beer free at half past ten and half past two in the after­noon. The chap dished it out in the cel­lar. You’d have to take a can with you. Two pints a day, that’s what it used to be. One chap got sacked for pinch­ing it – they were very keen on that.

You can pick up copies of this book for very lit­tle and if you’re inter­est­ed in St Helens, indus­tri­al his­to­ry, or work­ing class life, it’s cer­tain­ly worth a cou­ple of quid.

Main image: the St Helens brew­ery in the 1930s, via the Brew­ery His­to­ry Soci­ety Wiki.

The Best of Us in 2018

As the year winds to a close, it’s time to reflect on where we’ve been and the stops we made along the way.

In the real world, we’ve had a hec­tic year, with beer blog­ging as a ground­ing mech­a­nism – some­thing absorb­ing and chal­leng­ing that isn’t (quite) work.

Though it’s felt at time as if we’ve been less pro­duc­tive than in pre­vi­ous years, look­ing back over our ‘month that was’ round-ups, we realise just how much we wrote this year, and how much of it is bloody decent.

What fol­lows are some of our per­son­al high­lights. If you’ve appre­ci­at­ed our work dur­ing the year, do con­sid­er sign­ing-up for Patre­on (extra exclu­sive stuff) or just buy­ing us a pint via Ko-Fi.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Best of Us in 2018”

The Secrets of Doom Bar’s Success

This post was made pos­si­ble by the sup­port of Patre­on sub­scribers like  Nick Moyle and Sue Hart whose encour­age­ment jus­ti­fied us spend­ing sev­er­al days of our free time research­ing and writ­ing. If you like this, and want more, please do con­sid­er sign­ing up, or just buy us a pint.

How did a beer born on an industrial estate in Cornwall in 1995 become a ubiquitous national brand in just 20 years? And what about it inspires such loyalty, and such disdain?

A few inci­dents made us real­ly start think­ing about Sharp’s Doom Bar.

The first was a cou­ple of years ago on a research trip to Man­ches­ter, hav­ing trav­elled all the way from Pen­zance, when we walked into a pub – we can’t recall which one – to find two cask ales on offer: St Austell Trib­ute, and Doom Bar.

The sec­ond was at a pub in New­lyn, just along the coast from Pen­zance, where we met two exhaust­ed cyclists who’d just com­plete the John O’Groats to Land’s End run. They want­ed one last beer before begin­ning the long jour­ney home to the Home Coun­ties. When we got talk­ing to them, one of them even­tu­al­ly said to us: “You’re into your ales, then? I’ll tell you what’s a good one – Doom Bar. Do you know it?”

Peo­ple love this beer. They real­ly, gen­uine­ly, unaf­fect­ed­ly find great plea­sure in drink­ing it.

Sales sta­tis­tics sup­port that: from some­where around 12 mil­lion pints per year in 2009, to 24m in 2010, to 43m by 2016, Doom Bar shifts units.

So what is, or has been, Doom Bar’s secret? And is there some­thing there oth­er brands might imi­tate?

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Secrets of Doom Bar’s Suc­cess”

A Brutalist Brewery: Arup and Carlsberg in Northampton, 1974

The March 1974 edition of the Arup Journal is an amazing artefact, offering a blow-by-blow breakdown of the design and construction of Carlsberg’s state of the art Danish brewery in Northampton.

You can read the full mag­a­zine here in PDF form, and it’s a love­ly thing in its own right – all white space and sans serif, as styl­ish as the build­ings it depicts.

Arup Journal, March 1974, cover.

Arup is an archi­tec­ture firm found­ed in 1946 by Ove Arup, born in New­cas­tle  upon Tyne in the UK to Dan­ish par­ents in 1895, and edu­cat­ed in Den­mark. Though he died in 1988 the com­pa­ny lives on, its name a byword for mod­ernism.

In 1970, Arup was com­mis­sioned by Carls­berg Brew­ery Ltd to design a new plant in Northamp­ton in the Eng­lish Mid­lands, just as the lager boom was begin­ning to bite. The cost of the project was £15 mil­lion; Carls­berg sup­plied the brew­ery equip­ment and defined the neces­si­ties of the space accord­ing to pro­duc­tion need; and Arup com­mis­sioned Dan­ish archi­tect Knud Munk to pro­duce a design that would “express the best in mod­ern Dan­ish archi­tec­ture”.

As well as lots of detail in the text the mag­a­zine also includes process charts…

Process chart of lager brewing at Carlsberg.

…inte­ri­or shots…

A control panel at the brewery.

…and lots of dra­mat­ic black-and-white pho­tog­ra­phy of the brew­ery build­ing at var­i­ous stages of con­struc­tion, set in the flat land­scape against dra­mat­ic skies…

The exterior of the brewery.
CREDIT: Col­in West­wood.

…which are either awe-inspir­ing or grim depend­ing on your point of view.

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to think of this hulk appear­ing, with atten­dant talk of effi­cien­cy and automa­tion, at just the exact moment the Cam­paign for Real Ale was tak­ing off. This is about as far from all that imagery of wood­en casks, old inns and pewter tankards as you can get.

And the empha­sis through­out on the Dan­ish­ness of the project – Dan­ish brew­ers, Dan­ish archi­tect, offi­cial­ly opened by the Queen of Den­mark – while can­ny in terms of under­lin­ing the authen­tic­i­ty of the prod­uct was also at odds with the grow­ing sense that Local was some­how a sacred virtue.

We’ve been research­ing this build­ing and Carlsberg’s arrival in the UK on and off for years and this showed up in one of our peri­od­ic check-ins. There are times we wor­ry about the state of cor­po­rate archives and oth­ers when we feel like we’re liv­ing in the best pos­si­ble age, with digi­tis­ing get­ting cheap­er and com­pa­nies real­is­ing the val­ue of their own his­to­ry.