Usher’s of Trowbridge: disappearing one brick at a time

Two questions: first, what the hell happened to Usher’s of Trowbridge? And secondly, how much research can you do into this question without visiting Trowbridge or, indeed, leaving your house at all?

Usher’s is a brewery and brand that had all but disappeared from the market by the time we started paying serious attention to beer. It’s not one you hear people swooning over, either, unlike, say, Boddington’s or Brakspear.

What caught our eye was the lingering signs – literally speaking – of its once vast West Country empire. Wherever we went, from Salisbury to Newlyn, we’d spot the distinctive shield on the exterior of pubs, or see the name on faded signs.

Continue reading “Usher’s of Trowbridge: disappearing one brick at a time”

What do we really know about how to brew Bass?

This week, someone got in touch to ask if we happened to have any historic recipes for Bass in our collection.

Though we have copies of a few old logs, notably from Starkey Knight & Ford and St Austell, this isn’t really our turf, and we certainly don’t have access to what, it turns out, are log books jealously guarded by Molson Coors.*

But it did get us thinking… What do we know about the recipe for Bass?

What information of any provenance is in the public domain?

And by getting it wrong on the internet, can we encourage others to share what they know?

We’re certain there must be notebooks, photocopies, photographs and scraps knocking about in attics and filing cabinets up and down the country. Bass has been in production for 200 years or so – surely the odd bit of paperwork has snuck out?

The basics

What are the specifications of cask Bass as it is today?

We know it has an ABV of 4.4%. According to this commercial wholesaler’s catalogue, it uses Golding, Fuggles, Progress, Challenger, Styrian Golding, Hercules and Admiral hops – can we assume this information came from the brewery? And from drinking it, we know it’s, well, brown – somewhere around 10 SRM according to analyses by home-brewers.

In our experience, it certainly tastes different to other beers brewed by Marston’s* which we, at a guess, put down to a distinctive yeast strain. At times – at its best – it almost hints at Orval, which suggests a complex multi-strain yeast. What would seem to be an official blurb says “It is brewed with two strains of yeast” so maybe there’s something in that.

So, on the whole, that’s not a lot to go on.

English hops | multi-strain yeast | brown | 4.4% ABV

Twenty years ago

The historical record online is rather polluted by guesswork home-brew recipes on forums and in magazines but there are some nuggets to be found.

For example, beer writers Michael Jackson and Roger Protz (pals and contemporaries) were consistent in suggesting that Bass used Northdown and Challenger hops in the 1990s.

Writing in 2003, Mr Protz also offers further detail: “Bass is brewed with Halcyon pale malt, maltose syrup and Challenger and Northdown hops.”

Halcyon malt | maltose | English hops | multi-strain yeast | brown | 4.4%

The Continental Affair

Perhaps the most interesting recipe in the public domain, with very decent provenance, is the one for the IPA Pete Brown took to India for his Hops & Glory project. Pete worked with Steve Wellington at the Bass microbrewery in Burton-upon-Trent to develop the beer:

I’d told Steve that I wanted a beer that was around 7 per cent ABV, packed full of hops, with dry hops in the barrel, brewed with traditional Burton well water. “There was an IPA called Bass Continental that was last brewed around sixty years ago,” he explained. “It was brewed for Belgium and based on recipes that went back to Bass ale in the 1850s, so it’s pretty authentic. It was six and a half, so we’re upping it to seven. We’re using Northdown hops, which are very aromatic, pale English and crystal malts. We’re using two different Worthington yeasts, and water from Salt’s well, rich in gypsum.”

Now, this is especially interesting because it connects both with modern Bass recipes (Northdown) and an earlier historic recreation put together by Mark Dorber when he was running the White Horse in Parson’s Green. He told us about this when we interviewed him for Brew Britannia back in 2013:

It was Burton pale ale that first really caught my imagination. We had our first pale ale festival in 1992, and then an India pale ale festival the following year, in July 1993. I approached Bass and suggested using the small test plant to brew something to an authentic historic recipe. Tom Dawson provided the recipe for Bass Continental and we used that as the basis for the brew. Something went wrong, however, and it had far higher alpha acids than we’d planned, and we also dry-hopped the hell out of it in the cellar. It was more-or-less undrinkable, but massively aromatic. I kept a couple of casks back and, the next year when we had a follow-up seminar. That was a real meeting of minds from the US and Britain, and everyone went away very enthused about IPA.

So arguably it was this attempt to brew old-fashioned Bass that kickstarted the whole IPA obsession of the past 30 years.

Anyway, more importantly, this means that Bass Continental recipes have escaped the brewery vaults and are floating about. Even better: one of them has been written down and published.

Not for the first time, we find ourselves recommending Mitch Steele’s excellent book IPA from 2012. Because Mr Steele is a brewer himself he seems to have been remarkably successful at convincing his peers to share recipes and the book contains a goldmine of valuable information on specific beers. That includes fantastically detailed notes on the Brown-Wellington IPA based on Bass Continental, albeit with some key details withheld.

Key points:

  • water with 400 ppm CaSO₄ and 360 ppm MgSO₄
  • 97.8% pale malt, 2.2% crystal
  • invert sugar
  • Fuggles and Goldings at start of boil, Northdown to finish
    ‘Burton Union dual strain yeast’.
  • The same book also contains a version of Steve Wellington’s recipe for Worthington White Shield, a close relative of Bass. It’s quite different to Continental but, again, Northdown is the feature hop.

One small problem with the above recipes is that Northdown hops weren’t developed until the 1970s and crystal malt wasn’t widely used until well into the 20th century. That puts paid to the suggestion that the Continental recipe has any real tie to the 1850s.

Ron, of course

Although we know he hasn’t been able to get to the Bass brewing logs, much to his frustration, Ron Pattinson has of course managed to gather some invaluable information on Bass from other sources.

Most notably, there’s this survey of the beer’s specifications from 1951 to 1993, based on the Whitbread Gravity Book and the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

It provides OG, FG, ABV, attenuation and colour for each check-in, from which we can see that the bottled version was especially dry and strong c.1961, with more than 95% attenuation and more than 6% ABV.

A key point, we suppose, is that it varied massively from one decade to the next so there is no such thing as BASS, only a multitude of BASSES.

In conclusion

If we wanted to brew an authentic old-school Bass, here’s what we’d do:

  • Pick a year from Ron’s table and use that to establish the key parameters.
  • Base the malt bill on the Continental recipe given by Steve Wellington (98% pale, dab of crystal).
  • Select a suitably funky yeast – there are some with supposed provenance.
  • Use English hops throughout, probably finishing with Northdown.

And then, probably the most important step: get a professional cellarman to look after it and a publican with know-how to serve it with due reverence in perfect glassware, in a perfect pub.

Because really, the recipe probably isn’t the most important thing when it comes to the magic of Bass.

Tell us we’re wrong!

Now, knock us down a peg or two. Flourish the brewing log your uncle nicked when he retired from Bass in 1972. Point to an amazing, authoritative source we missed.


* It’s complicated: AB-InBev owns the rights to the brand, while MC has possession of the physical records, and Marston’s make the cask product for ABI. This is a result of the reorganisation of the British brewing industry in the 1990s and the emergence of massive multinationals.

News, nuggets and longreads 2 May 2020: re-opening, reminiscing, reflecting

Here’s all the news and commentary on beer and pubs that struck us as particularly interesting in the past week, from hop farms of the Weald to hardware stores of Worksop.

Various people have been pondering a set of important interconnected questions in the past week: when will pubs re-open? Will people want to go to them when they do? And how could it be done safely?

We share Tandleman’s anxiety that some people, having been forced to find ways to enjoy drinking £2 bottles at home, might struggle to find the motivation to return to £4 pints at the pub. His evidence is compelling, too: if it’s crossed even his mind, why wouldn’t it have occurred to others?

Mark Johnson’s detailed consideration of how the re-opening of pubs might work in practice is extremely though-provoking, not least his constant exhortation that, yes, most of the suggested measures will make pubs less convivial and occasionally frustrating but the alternative – no pubs for a year – doesn’t bear thinking about.

And for Look at BrewRachel Smith writes about her confidence that whatever coping mechanisms we develop during these strange times, we’re creatures of habit who will return to the old ways as soon as the opportunity arises:

I wonder how many new habits will have been formed over these weeks of altered routine. I like my new habit of ambling riverside, I like seeing the way the local nature changes week by week under the watchful eyes of the old oaks, just a few minutes from the town centre. It seems the high street’s death has been put on a fast track, though, as larger retail outlets may never recover from this period which has seen folk resort to online ordering and staying super local, supporting smaller independent shops nearby. But what about pubs? Pubs are different. There is no substitute for going to the pub, no matter how hard some voices may try to convince us otherwise. As nature is returning to some parts of the country during lockdown, so too will wildlife of a different nature return to the pubs and social clubs when this is over.

We’ve taken to talking about the COVID-19 event as The Great Disruptor. Lots of stuff that would otherwise have been unthinkable, or years down the road, will just happen. However things unfold, we don’t think UK pubs will look or feel the same at the end of 2021 as they did at the end of 2019.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 2 May 2020: re-opening, reminiscing, reflecting”

The Session – quarantine edition: where we are at

Al of Fuggled has revived the Session, the monthly beer blogging jamboree that sputtered to a halt more than a year ago.

He’s asking us to think about our drinking habits in this weird, publess age – are we drinking more? Less? When? And what?

At first, it seemed some version of normality might be possible. The Drapers Arms was open, sort of, selling takeaway beer, and we could still ‘pop in’ to Bottles & Books, our local craft beer shop. (Remember popping into places?)

At the same time, we were also conscious of wanting to do something to show a bit of solidarity with local breweries, so we ordered a couple of cases of cans from Moor. When it arrived, we wondered if we ought to disinfect the boxes, or leave them for a couple of days. We wiped them down, washed our hands, fretted.

Needing little treats to get us through each day, we started drinking on more days of the week. But because beer was a bit of a pain to acquire, we drank less of it overall. One or two six times a week rather than two or three sessions over the course of the weekend.

Eventually, the Drapers closed for good, and Bottles & Books went delivery only, and our Twitter timeline began to fill with tempting offers and pleas: “Support us! Support them! Do your bit!”

We ordered cans from Thornbridge (excellent), more from Moor, more from Thornbridge, more from Moor.

As the situation got more serious, our brains adjusted – great things, brains – and the fight or flight panic passed, and with it the need for daily treats.

The regular dry days returned but the big weekend sessions didn’t.

So, overall, we’re drinking less, but savouring what we drink all the more.

Probably just as well, really, as hangovers and the depressive effects of alcohol aren’t all that helpful when everything else is so bleak.

One little ritual that has emerged, though, is a Sunday night homage to the Drapers: cheddar cheese, pickles, biscuits and ale, face to face over the table with the TV off. It’s mostly fun, mostly a pleasure, but with a bitter aftertaste.

Everything we wrote in April 2020

Here’s everything we wrote from our underground bunker in suburban Bristol, surrounded by stacks of toilet paper and crushed beer cans, during the month of April.

We kicked the month off by asking when and how pub quizzes became a standard component of British social lives. The answer turned out to be, to our surprise, the 1950s:

BIG Jim Traynor, a pint of beer at his elbow, settled down in a corner of a Liverpool tap-room, opened a packet of crisps, and began to study an encyclopaedia. Across the table, Charlie Vipond, from the local gasworks, eagerly flicked through the pages of Whitaker’s Almanack. ‘Hey, mate,’ he shouted, ‘what year did Henry VIII lop off Anne Boleyn’s head?’ No one batted an eyelid. It was just part of the latest pub craze… QUIZ MANIA.


For obvious reasons, we’ve been thinking about the part pubs play in society, which led us to go back to Ray Oldenburg’s 1989 book The Great Good Place. First, we interested in exploring his idea of ‘the third place’ at a time when many of don’t even have a second place:

Virtual pubs are a good idea, they’re necessary, but will anyone voluntarily subject themselves to the experience once the real thing becomes available again? Not often, we suspect… As Ray Oldenburg and others argue, spending time in the third place is not merely a pastime or preference – it’s a deep-seated, basic human need.

Then we thought about one of the suggestions Oldenburg makes in his chapter on English pubs – that intimacy (smallness) is what makes them special:

Based on our experience of drinking in The Drapers Arms, Oldenburg was on to something: it doesn’t matter that the building isn’t traditional, or that the fixtures and fittings aren’t authentic Victorian, because the space sends the right signals to the pubgoer’s brain.

Continue reading “Everything we wrote in April 2020”

Safe as houses: good old Thornbridge

There’s nothing like a prolonged, enforced stay at home to make you reflect on which beers you really like.

In the past month and a half, since we stopped going to the pub, we’ve been buying beer from various places and have certainly found our favourites.

Even before the crisis kicked in, as we researched the offerings from various supermarkets, we’d reached the conclusion that canned Thornbridge Jaipur is a hard beer to beat for drinking at home.

Having polished off 36 tins between us, bought direct from Thornbridge’s online store at about £1.80 each, that opinion hasn’t changed.

Jaipur has been a star for 15 years now despite a period when “it wasn’t what it used to be” – anecdotally, the result of ill-advised recipe tinkering a decade or so ago; the misstep was swiftly fixed but that kind of dent in a beer’s reputation tends to linger.

For our part, we come across it on cask three or four times a year and haven’t been able to fault it, except to say that the combination of 5.9% ABV and moreishness isn’t helpful as middle age sets in.

For a while, though, we’d have told you that the kegged and packaged versions weren’t a patch on the cask. Good, still, but less complex and less… well, alive.

The cans, though, are extraordinarily good.

In fact, a glass filled to the brim with the contents of most of two cans is about as close to a pint of cask ale as we’ve been able to get at home.

The softness, the depth, the green-fingered freshness, the mysterious electricity – they’re all there.

Sure, we’d rather be in the Drapers Arms, but Jaipur and chunks of cheese on Sunday night is holding the madness at bay.

The other thing we crave is, of course, lager, and the same brewery’s Lukas Helles (4.2% ABV, c.£1.70 per 330ml) has also impressed us. It was always good but now seems to have ascended to the next tier – convincingly German-tasting, sparking-fresh, as wholesome as a hike in the Fränkische Schweiz.

Blackberries in beer: Mûre Tilquin

Blackberries are my absolute favourite fruit. I’m borderline obsessed with them from about May onwards, watching out for how they’re developing, whether my usual favourite spots are looking good.

I have Strong Opinions about them, too. For example, I strongly believe that urban blackberries are better than rural ones and that the best of all come from Walthamstow Marshes; should have Protected Designation of Origin status; and ought to be the subject of lengthy essays about terroir.

So when I came across Mûre Tilquin, which is a lambic with 260g blackberries per litre, at our local beer shop, Bottles & Books, I had to give it a go, even at a whopping £25 for a 75cl bottle.

It was marked 2018-19 with a science-fiction best before date of 2029.

It’s comforting to have this kind of ‘special beer’ in the stash – something that you know will be interesting, at least: IN CASE OF UNEXPECTED GLOOM, POP CORK. And, well, that moment came at the weekend.

There’s a fun bit of additional ceremony when we open this kind of beer because as well as drinking it, we need to take photos. What if it’s amazing and we didn’t? Can you imagine?

Cage off, It opened with a threatening gunshot pop and pushed back hard against the seal. Would it gush? No, the fizz was assertive but not out of control.

Bottle and glass. Foam close up.

It poured a pretty, deep rose colour, and a pungent smell of brambles on the farm was noticeable from half a metre away.

It was, as you’d expect, rather sour. There was also an absence of sweetness and the finish was extremely dry, although not quite as mouth-puckering as most beers from Cantillon.

There was a strong oakiness but I didn’t pick up any blackberry. If someone had given me this blind, I don’t think I’d have even thought of my favourite fruit in passing. In fact, I might not have thought there was any fruit in it at all.

I enjoyed it anyway, though, over the course of hours, mostly because it reminded me of drinking Tilquin gueuze in Chez Moeder Lambic in Brussels.

In one of our very earliest blog posts, we wondered why you don’t see more blackberry beers, and reviewed a few that we had found.

I’ve often returned to that thought, particularly when it comes to lambic – if raspberries, then why not blackberries?

Having now added this data point, I’m more convinced of an answer we’ve received in the past: they ferment out too fully to retain any flavour.

But if you’re a brewer, pro or at home, who has managed to make a blackberry beer that proves otherwise, I’d love to know more.

News, nuggets and longreads 25 April 2020: Bamberg, Barcelona, big data

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past seven days, from Dorchester to daytime drinking.

Joan Villar-i-Martí reports on an online edition of the Barcelona Beer Challenge, conducted via YouTube Live. In particular, he has thoughts on the participation of big brewers in craft brewing competitions, not least because of their frequent success:

[This is controversial because of the] exaggerated exaltation and esotericism about concepts such as naturalness and craftsmanship, as opposed to the horrendous artificiality of the ‘industrial’ stuff. Honesty and affection in the elaboration, versus perfidy and greed… I have always been critical of this series of myths, although time makes me understand that they were surely useful tools to broaden that limited concept of beer that the dominant actors had sold us. In any case, I think it is high time for us to forget all of it: in the end, they are all companies in the same industry but with a different history, structure, resources, objectives and products. All of them with their own peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses.


Sign on a wall: Zum Biergarten,

Kaleigh Watterson at The Ale in Kaleigh has been daydreaming about biergärten, and one specific biergarten in particular:

Our goal was Greifenklau, a beer garden so perfect it felt like I’d custom designed it in The Sims. A wide space providing a feeling of openness, seating both under cover and out in the open, benches comfortable enough for the long haul, complete with cushions on offer if you so desired. And then, there’s the view…. A choice of tables open to us, thanks to the early hour of the day, and we opt for one right on the far side. It’s right on the perimeter of the site, providing sweeping views up to a castle and over what appears to be an orchard, with a very welcome tree providing shade from the glaring heat. Probably the best seat in the house – proven later by the scramble to get it when we vacate.

We like this piece not only because it takes us there but also because it’s a document of the kind of conversation we’re having, and we suspect many beer geeks are having, day after day.

Continue reading “News, nuggets and longreads 25 April 2020: Bamberg, Barcelona, big data”

Women and young people in the pub, 1941

In 1941, A Monthly Bulletin, a publication sponsored by the British brewing industry, commissioned research into drinking habits in industrial towns with a particular focus on young people.

You might recall that we touched on something similar a few weeks ago, that time published by Mass Observation. At a guess – we haven’t got much info to go on – we’d guess this research was carried out by the same team.

It’s interesting because it’s about life in pubs during wartime and for its geographical reach. It covers Lancashire, Liverpool, Bristol, Birmingham, Nottingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Newcastle, Plymouth and Sheffield. Not the usual suspects.

The introduction summarises the findings in amusingly of-its-time Mr Cholmondley-Warner language:

[The] chief point is the extension of drinking among women. This has been accelerated by the war but it is not fundamentally due to it. A change of convention in the habits of women has been visible for a long time; the sequel to their attainment of political rights, and freedom to enter the professions and innumerable occupations, was inevitably a movement towards a full sharing of men’s recreations. There is no cause for surprise when boys and girls who have money to spend become excited and noisy. Noise is not necessarily a sign of intoxication.

All the same, the latest development must be carefully watched. Women, and especially girls, are entering upon a testing time. They have it in their power to do much good or harm. Women can restrain and sweeten any human company. The character of the public house is going in the long run to depend appreciably upon them. They are fortunate in the occasion of their new fashion, because beer has become the universal drink and the popular beer to-day is barely intoxicating. Could they not think a little, plan a little, and definitely accept the duty of adding to public house life virtues proportionate to their own powers of inspiration?

The first report, from Lancashire, continues this theme:

The plain fact is that in the past twenty years a tremendous revolution has taken place in the attitude of the womenfolk of the English middle classes towards the public house. The daughters of women who, at the same age, would never have dreamt of resorting to a public house in the course of an evening for a drink and a talk with their men friends and other girls in thousands of cases now think no more of it than of a visit to the cinema or a game of tennis in the park. It marks a revolution in social habits comparable to the spread of smoking among women and the use of cosmetics which, in the middle classes, would once have been regarded as the public announcement of a reputation that was at least doubtful. Anyone who drew such deductions today would be laughed at.

In other words, a woman who wore makeup, smoked and was in the habit of going to the pub might once have been thought to be a prostitute, but by the 1940s, that was beginning to seem daft.

A Monthly Bulletin was tied to the improved public house movement and that’s a theme of this research. Again, from the Lancashire section:

The change in the case of the public house itself has been tremendous and in any properly conducted and designed establishment it has been thoroughly salutary in that it has made the place much less of an exclusively male sphere, particularly in the suburbs, and more of a social meeting place for all sides of a family.

But here’s a claim we don’t think we’ve heard before – that the emergence of the phrase ‘the local’, as applied to pubs, was a result of the changing face of pub clientele:

The very name of ‘the local’, which has arisen within the period of women’s invasion of it, points to a change in the tradition. Leaving out of account for the moment the nature of the refreshments there provided, ‘the pub’ was the gossip-shop for the male; ‘the local’ is the gossip-shop for both sexes, plus darts and other diversions.

The anonymous author of the report seems to have had mixed feelings about the changing balance between old and young drinkers:

It may be remarked in passing that, at any rate in the north-west of England, the first stages of the woman’s, and particularly of the young woman’s, invasion of the local inn was apt to be bitterly resented by its older male frequenters. By the elders who were accustomed to sit there long and, it must be admitted, somewhat glumly of an evening, the arrival of chattering young men and women, fresh from a tennis court or with their bicycles left at the front of the house, was regarded as an unforgivable intrusion. The elders retreated behind the warning announcement ‘NO LADIES SERVED IN THIS ROOM’. One remembers vigorous grumbles from the male habitues on that subject in a solid hostelry in a Manchester suburb on a summer evening of 1922. But the tide, then turning, has ever since swept too strongly in the direction ‘equal citizenship’ for patrons of the public house. The Old Guard may keep to its ‘snug’ but the Young Guard has the run of the rest of the house.

The notes on Liverpool have more of the same, including what sounds like the kind of story a modern-day anti-feminist controversy columnist might come out with:

One of the most marked changes is the greater patronage of public houses by women and the considerably increased drinking among adolescents, both boys and girls. Liverpool’s geographical position is largely responsible for what has reached the magnitude of a social evil. It is now a common sight to see women and girls of all classes in bars, standing each other drinks and occupying the stools formerly sacred to men. Indeed, in one well-known city bar the other day an old customer entering and seeing half a dozen or more young women seated by the counter said to the barman, ‘Excuse me, but is it alright for men to come in here?’

Echoing what the Mass Observers found in South London at around the same time, this report suggests that pubs in the port city were full of ‘vulturine’ young women on the hunt for sailors and servicemen.
We were, of course, especially interested to read about Bristol, where the biggest problem seems to have been capacity. As the city was overrun with war workers, the report says, pubs struggled to meet demand, both in terms of available space and the supply of beer:

[Pubs] which were quiet in peace time have become crowded night after night with customers who may be diplomatically called ‘outsiders’. The policy adopted by many publicans is to sell out and close down… Others open part of the day while the stock lasts. Matters have been improved by the tacit understanding that certain well-known houses will be entirely closed on certain days, but there is still excessive crowding at night as long as stocks are available. The tendency of customers is to go from house to house in the evenings in order to get better service or a reasonably quiet time. Many declare that the only way to have refreshment in comfort is to ‘stake your claim’ early in the evening and then remain as long as you want… There are also simmering grievances about preference being given to old customers but the argument can be applied the other way round, i.e. old customers being shouldered out by casual or ‘new’ customers. With the crowded conditions generally the existing service in the evenings is under severe strain.

Having not looked closely at Nottingham, we find ourselves intrigued to learn more about its inter-war improved pubs based on this note:

There is a general desire to make licensed premises brighter, cheerier and up to date. There could be no finder stimulus than the erection in the suburbs of smart and spacious houses, with gardens, herbaceous borders, nice and handy car parks, and all the amenities that make a ‘good’ house. Nottingham has a number of these satellite houses of the finest type, to which the motorists go and where they bring their friends, especially on summer evenings.

The section on Newcastle underlines this point while also suggesting that there was particular room for improvement in that city’s pubs which were formerly ‘not unlike pig troughs’.

We found this document via the University of Warwick’s excellent online archive – go and read the whole thing and maybe have a dig to see what else might be hiding in the stacks. And here’s the source of the main image.

A Texan in England, 1943-44: pub trivia and pints of bitter

In 1943, American writer J. Frank Dobie was offered a post at Cambridge University. He used the opportunity to observe English life, including the central role of beer and pubs.

We mentioned Dobie’s 1946 memoir A Texan in England in our recent post about Ray Oldenburg. We then managed to track down a copy, printed in 1946 on thin austerity paper, for just shy of £6, delivered. It has no dust jacket but on the upside, it is signed by Jack Barrett, landlord of The Anchor Hotel, of whom more later.

The material on pubs is primarily confined to a single chapter, although they’re mentioned in passing at various points. Beer also makes a cameo early on in the book in a description of the culture of university societies:

I went to the monthly meeting of a historical society presided over by a genial tutor. Only about a dozen men belong to it. After coffee one of them began reading a paper on Punch. As soon as he opened his mouth there was a bolt of all other members to a case of brown bottles I had observed in a corner of the room. It is a part of the formalism of the society that beer shall be drunk while the programme is in progress but that nobody shall touch beer until the speaker begins… Most of the men drank two or three bottles apiece during the course of the evening. A large proportion of University men drink beer, and think no more of it than of drinking coffee. I have not seen any undergraduate intoxicated beyond gaiety.

This perhaps explains why there are so few mentions of beer or pubs in writing from before about 1960 – because it was utterly and literally unremarkable.

J. Frank Dobie
J. Frank Dobie from the US National Portrait Gallery.

The chapter on pubs is actually about one specific pub, The Anchor on Silver Street, overlooking the river where the punts park. It opens, however, with a quick rundown of others in the city:

The Baron of Beef, out of bounds for American soldiers; The Angel, where soldiers are too thick for anybody else to get in bounds; The Castle, where the matured barmaid combines dignity with easy welcome; The Jug and Bottle, where citizens take their pitchers to be filled; The Red Cow, too cavelike for cheer; The Bun Shop, often in stock when other pubs have run out but too garrulous for conversation; The Hat and Feathers, too far away; The Little Rose, just what is should be.

As you’ll know if you’ve read 20th Century Pub, Ron Pattinson, Martyn Cornell or any number of other sources, beer wasn’t rationed during World War II but was in short supply, hence the comment on The Bun Shop.

Dobie’s poetic introductory description of The Anchor is lovely, and one in which you might want to wallow in these pub-deprived times:

The time I began finding it a refuge was when darkness came early and black curtains shut off the view from the river, but the ingle fire was ‘bleezing finely’. Then the days lengthened, and from the seat by the window that I always seemed to find – by being prompt at the six o’clock opening – I could see the mallard duck with her little ones, which grew up and practised skimming. In the elm trees beyond the river and a bit of fen, the rooks talked about their nests, their eggs, their young ones and other things until they all went away.

Jack Barrett, Dobie tells us, had a sideline renting boats from the wharf attached to the pub. After hours were restricted by the Government, he let regulars continue sneaking in at the usual time by the back door, pulling their own pints of bitter on the way. ‘Jack is a philosopher,’ writes Dobie, ‘kind of partridge-built, quick as a cat on his feet, light always dancing in his eyes.’

Per the quote that appeared in the previous post, Dobie was fascinated by the British innkeeper’s attitude to money:

The good English publican is certainly not averse to making money, but he is content with making a living. His pub has likely been a pub for generations without appreciable growth. The pictures on its walls go back sometimes as far as the walls themselves. They are quiet, inclining to landscapes, coaches, cheerful faces… This is the very opposite of the American bar pictures, which are designed to inflame all the lusts. The absence of silence-murdering noises from radios, nickelodeons and slot machines harmonizes with the pictures. In all the pubs you can play darts free. The proprietor is not trying to peddle sidelines…

We can’t help but wonder if Dobie ever came back to Britain and thought, oh, that didn’t last, as radios, TVs, fruit machines, jukeboxes and so on began to appear with greater regularity during the 1950s and 60s.

His idealising of the pub continues with a passage on attitudes to alcohol, which seem rather at odds with the notes taken by the Mass Observation crew in Bolton only a few years before:

These pubs do not try to make drinking ‘attractive’. Ideally, they are just homey spots among a very settled and not at all Bohemian population. They are more cheerful than merry… Neither ale nor beer – they are the same thing – taken moderately is highly potent as ‘conversation juice’. I have watched a labourer sip at his pint for an hour without saying a word, just sitting and thinking or maybe just sitting.

The bulk of the chapter is given over to a record of the pub conversation between Dobie and his cronies, the underlying point being the extent to which trivia rules. One, for example, has a list of Assyrian names for girls in his pocket to prompt a discussion about which is the prettiest. They touch on politics, but lightly, and there are competitive bouts of did-you-know about Henry VIII, the burial practices of Burmese priests, jellied eels and judicial wigs.

As one perspective among many, it’s a useful thing to have, but Dobie is clearly a romantic, writing about a particular type of pub, in a very peculiar city.