Q&A: What was ‘The World of Brewing’?

When Lou Tweeted the above at us back in August we added ‘World of Brewing’ to our list of things to keep an eye out for in the archives. This week, we found something.

It’s an advertisement from around the time of the museum’s launch in June 1980 and gives a pretty decent description of its purpose along with some good, solid facts.

Text of an old newspaper ad.It’s good to know exactly where it was, for one thing — at 226 Tower Bridge Road, right next to the river.

That very distinctive name, Tarant Hobbs, is also helpful. Following that trail we discover that (a) the museum ‘flourished briefly’ but had closed by December 1980; and (b) it was backed by Big Six brewery Courage, somewhat on the quiet:

The Cornell Column, June 1980.
Hertfordshire CAMRA newsletter, June 1980

The museum might have come back to life — it seems to be listed in this 1986 tourist guide to London — and there are hints, here and there, that Tarant Hobbs might still be around. If we can find a postal address we’ll send him one of our nice letters and see if we can get him to tell us a bit more.

In the meantime if you find this reviving any long-buried memories of visiting the exhibition, do drop us a line.

The Changing Scene: Watney’s Pubs of 1964

In 1964-64 Watney Mann and its subsidiaries were on a spree of pub building in towns, New Towns and on housing estates up and down the country.

Here are photographs of and notes on those new pubs from editions of the brewery’s in-house magazine, The Red Barrel, published in 1964. Where possible we’ve credited architects and builders. Unfortunately no photography credits are provided in the magazines.

The Kingfisher, Corby, Northamptonshire
Exterior view of a modern pub; interior view of the same.
The exterior of the Kingfisher and a view of its lounge bar.

This pub on the Lodge Park estate was opened in December 1963 by E.C.M. Palmer, the chairman of Phipps, the Northampton brewer Watney’s took over in 1960. It was designed by Phipps’s in-house architects and built by Simcock and Usher Limited of Northampton. The managers were Norman Houghton and his apparently nameless wife.

A feature of the spacious public bar is the woodwork. The seating, the counter front and the ceiling are of fine quality pinewood, and a Granwood floor blend with the general appearance of the room… [It] has that essential amenity, a car park, with space for about fifty cars.

Still there? It seems so.

The Old Swan, Battersea, London

Exterior of the Old Swan from the riverside.

This riverside pub was designed by architects Stewart, Hendry & Smith and built by Siggs & Chapman of Croydon. It replaced an older riverside pub.

A full length continuous window in the ‘Riverside Bar’ overlooks the Thames, and the nautical atmosphere is accentuated by the curved boarded ceiling reminiscent of a ship’s deckhead, and by a ship’s rail for a footrail, while ship’s lanterns and porthole-style windows provide light.

Still there? No, sadly not — it was apparently demolished before 1987 (didn’t even make 25 years) and was replaced with a block of flats that cheekily borrowed the pub name.

Continue reading “The Changing Scene: Watney’s Pubs of 1964”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 28 October 2017: Beer Mixing, Blenderies, Strong Stout

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pub writing in the past week, from World’s Fairs to Beer Miles.

First, there’s been a bubbling discussion about sexism in beer for the last month or two, prompted by a series of individual incidents and issues, which Kate Wiles has summarised in this widely-shared article:

Sexist beer labels may not be as prevalent as they used to be – but not a week goes by without an example cropping up on social media. The most recent example of “Deepthroat” beer clearly indicates fellatio on the label. Another, Irishtown Brewing, boasts the tagline “Dublin blonde goes down easy”. These examples are both demeaning and degrading to women. Furthermore, they reinforce the stereotype that beer is a “man’s drink” and that women have no right to it.

Her call is for stronger sanctions against offenders from within the industry itself: “Beers that are demeaning to women should not win awards, receive accreditation or be able to use industry logos.” We’re going to have to ponder that a bit but instinctively think it feels quite reasonable — not government censorship, about which people are understandably squeamish, but a setting out of standards amongst peers.


The New York World's Fair

Gary Gillman continues to mine the archives for interesting titbits. In the last week he has highlighted two especially juicy items:

  1. An 1850 catalogue from an English brewer which contains a detailed run down of the beer styles of the day — an astonishingly clear, helpful guide to what people were actually drinking then, and how those types related to each other.
  2. Details of the faux-English pub at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City — a topic that we’ve been meaning to get round to ourselves at some point, fascinated as we are by the UK beer industry’s push to export the pub concept worldwide in the 1960s and 70s.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 28 October 2017: Beer Mixing, Blenderies, Strong Stout”

Sir Charlie and the Elephant: Unreconstructed and Underdone

Pubs built in the period after World War II have, on the whole, had short, rather sad lives, but there are two still trading (for now) at Elephant and Castle in South London. What can they tell us about the fate of the post-war urban booze bunker?

Elephant (as we’ll call it from here on) was a furious cauldron of development in the 1960s. What remained of the old district after the Blitz was levelled and a new traffic hub for south London was created. Office blocks were built to house government staff, like the Ministry of Health building, Alexander Fleming House, designed by the famous Hungarian-British architect Ernő Goldfinger. Most importantly an enormous modern shopping centre was built, ‘a giant new type of building, a fully enclosed American style mall over three levels surmounted by an office block’.

It was amid all this excitement that Watney’s and Truman’s breweries built flagship pubs there, the Charlie Chaplin and Elephant & Castle respectively. In August, we decided to visit both.

Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, 1960s.
Artist’s impression of the shopping centre by Willett Developments Limited.

In the image above from Watney Mann’s Red Barrel magazine for June 1965 the site of the Charlie Chaplin, on the central island and appended to the shopping centre itself, is marked with an orange arrow. This is how it looked on launch:

Publicity photographs in black and white.
The saloon bar (top) and cocktail/grill bar.

A major feature of the house… is a wrought-iron mural of Charlie Chaplin. Designed by G. Dereford of Marlow Mosaics and made from metal springs to epitomise the spirit of the film Modern Times, the sculpture runs the full height of the first and ground floors… The Charlie Chaplin was designed by Erdi & Rabson, built by Sinclair & Son (London) Ltd and is let to the Westminster Wine Co whose manager will be Mr H.W. Moles.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Watney’s aspired for it to be an upmarket pub for shoppers, cinemagoers and office workers rather than as an ‘estate pub’. But the shops and shoppers never came to Elephant — it was a famous failure in commercial terms — and when a huge housing estate, Heygate, opened right next door in the early 1970s, the Charlie Chaplin seems to have ended up serving it by default.

The exterior of the Charlie Chaplin in August 2017.

In 2017, with the threat of closure and demolition hanging over the ‘mall’, as it has been for several years, and in the aftermath of a stabbing incident, the Charlie Chaplin feels a bit bleak. At some point it contracted to a single large room on the ground floor and received a half-hearted faux-Victorian makeover, leaving it neither thrillingly modern nor genuinely cosy. Given the tendency to connect the fate of pubs with that of the white working class it was interesting to see that the regulars were roughly fifty-fifty black and white, mostly solo drinkers, and entirely male. At one point a young woman in office clothes came in and took a seat by the window. As she talked on her mobile phone the woman behind the bar came over and asked her brusquely if she intended to buy a drink or not. The young women told the person on the phone, pointedly, that they should meet in a different pub instead, and left. We weren’t made to feel unwelcome in any overt, specific way but it did feel as if we’d intruded upon a private party, or perhaps a wake. It was literally and spiritually gloomy.

The Elephant & Castle neon sign in 2017.
The Elephant & Castle photographed in February 2017.

Across the road (or, rather, under it via the subway labyrinth) is the Elephant & Castle the history of which we’ve written about before as part of a round-up of 1960s Truman’s pubs so here, for variety, we’ll quote Danny Gill’s 2012 memoir Have Trowel Will Travel (via Google Books) which features a chapter on the pubs in this area as they were in the 1960s and 70s:

[The designer] must have had shares in a mirror company, as soon as you walked in the door there were mirrors everywhere, on the walls, toilet doors, behind the bar, and also some on the ceiling. The only place there weren’t any mirrors was on the floor. No matter where you stood in the pub, as you raised your glass to your mouth, your reflection was everywhere you looked. I must say I didn’t like this pub; it was too open for me and felt cold.

The bare ceiling of the Elephant & Castle pub.

These days, after becoming very rough and eventually escaping conversion into an estate agents, it is run by London pub company Antic, AKA ‘hipster Wetherspoons’. They have given it a retro brutalist makeover, all functional mid-century furniture and exposed structural concrete, which is somewhat in keeping with the period in which it was built, and interesting to gawp at, but also completely inauthentic. It too felt oddly gloomy — that’s bunkers for you, we guess. Although the wide range of cask and keg beer on offer looked enticing the former was in lacklustre condition and expensive, too. (We preferred the Guinness at the Charlie Chaplin.) The pub was at least buzzing, though, and if we felt out of place it was only because we had at least a decade in age on most of the clientele.

This experience probably informed a suggestion we made on Twitter earlier this week that there ought to be a prize for the first post-war pub to undergo an historically accurate refurbishment — to bring back the Formica tables, linoleum tiles, mustard-coloured lounge chairs and fibreglass friezes on the bar. The apparent alternatives — neglect or trend-chasing upmarket superficiality — seem rather sad.

This post was edited to remove a reference to the subway system which was apparently closed recently. We used to use it a lot when we regularly commuted through Elephant and must have got temporally confused. Also, we had consumed beer.

The Ram Rampant

The Young's brewery ram mascot on a London pub window.

Great beers can sometimes burn brightly before passing into memory. Young’s Ordinary Bitter, unlikely as it might sound, was one such beer – beloved by ale drinkers, legendary in its brilliance, until the light went out.

When we interviewed Michael Hardman, one of the founders of the Campaign for Real Ale, his eyes blazed as he talked about Young’s Ordinary. ‘It used to have an intense bitterness that was almost too much for some people,’ he said. A good beer tasting note will trigger a surge of desire and Mr Hardman’s brief comment, delivered with such passion, and as straightforward as the beer it described, did just that.

We can’t say he didn’t warn us, though, that in 2012 Young’s Ordinary had become a shadow of its 1970s self. Having worked for the brewery as a PR executive for 30 years Hardman watched with sadness as, first, the brand lost its great champion, the company’s eccentric chairman John Young, who died in 2006 and then as, in 2007, the historic Wandsworth facility ceased brewing and moved production to Charles Wells at Bedford.

For London ale drinkers this was a ravens departing the Tower moment, leaving London with a mere handful of breweries and only Fuller’s as an independent of any size. There were reassurances that extensive testing had been carried out to assure continuity and even rumours that the last batches of Wandsworth-brewed Ordinary were being blended with the new version to ease the transition. But Wells could point at specification sheets and test results all they liked: the beer changed and people who drank it regularly knew it.

Bedford-brewed Ordinary wasn’t terrible – we drank plenty and enjoyed it – but veteran drinkers would push it away, shaking their heads at its sheer… ordinariness. Wells & Youngs, as they were then known, could brew something like Young’s Ordinary but could not breathe into the essential spark of life.

At the same time, Young’s London pubs, for so long a kind of defensive line against modernity, were also sold off and became a separate company. They generally continued to serve Young’s branded beers, however, so that, superficially at least, not much changed beyond a general ‘smartening up’. On trips to London we would invariably end up in one or another, either out of convenience or nostalgia, and check in on Ordinary. This was a sad, fruitless habit until the summer of 2014 when, suddenly, the beer seemed to jolt out of its coma – paler, drier, and more vigorous than we’d ever known it. But we doubted ourselves – perhaps it was a one-off? Or wishful thinking?

Young's Ordinary.

But, no: since then, the beer seems to have got better every time we’ve encountered it. It knocked our socks off at the Prince Alfred in Maida Vale earlier this year and now, after making a point of trying it in multiple pubs in four corners of London, and also in Exeter and Bristol, we want to underline this point: the sickness has gone and Young’s Ordinary is once again A Great Beer.

On our most recent trip to London at the Flask in Hampstead — a gorgeous Victorian pub whose discreet partitions and ornate details will frankly make any beer taste a little more interesting — we drank luminous, comically foaming pints of it that are among the best beers we’ve enjoyed this year, full stop.

It isn’t one of those 2017 beers perfumed with pine, citrus, mango or green onion. There’s barely a flavour note to latch on to, in fact, beyond a suggestion of minerals and lemon peel. But it has the austere structural elegance of a Victorian railway terminus, with a snatch of tame funkiness for seasoning.

We’ve been telling people the good news, and now we’re telling you. After all, with Charles Wells selling up to Marston’s, this resurgence might not last.