Beer in ‘Victory’ magazine, September 1945

Victory was the magazine for armed services in India during World War II. We found a solitary tatty copy in a bargain bin in a bookshop – the September 1945 edition – and of course noticed references to beer throughout.

First, there are the adverts: one in the front for lager and one at the back for pale ale and stout. (Here’s Mur­ree today; and here’s Mohan Meakin.)

Advert for lion pilsener beer. Advert for Solan pale ale and XXX stout.

Then there are illus­tra­tions for arti­cles and sto­ries which include beer when they don’t need to – the first accom­pa­nies a com­ic tall tale of the adven­tures of an RAF offi­cer, and the sec­ond a soupy tale of a sol­dier falling in love remote­ly with a com­rade’s sis­ter.

RAF officer with pint. Photo and pints of beer.

Final­ly, though it has no illus­tra­tion of note, there’s a fan­tas­tic piece called ‘The Man in the Cor­ner on… Rationing’. The Man in the Cor­ner is a hec­tor­ing bore who argues in favour of con­tin­u­ing rationing even after the war because he thinks it’s good for peo­ple, good for soci­ety, and incon­ve­niences peo­ple he does­n’t like. The punch­line is:

There’s only one thing I’m all against rationing – and that’s beer. It’s fair tired me out this war run­ning from pub to pub – first it’s fetch your own glass, then it’s only half-a-pint served at any one time, then it’s reg­u­lar cus­tomers only… there’s half-a-dozen kinds of what you might call rationing. And I hate the lot of them.

All of this ties into a the­o­ry we’ve had brew­ing for a while: that the rea­son beer and pubs sud­den­ly became respectable top­ics to write about, and accept­able as hob­bies, was because of the gen­er­al break­down of class dis­tinc­tions brought about by the war. We’re going to explore that thought a lit­tle more in anoth­er blog post soon.

The Magic Guinness Blend c.1939

Cover of the Guinness brewing manual.

When a colleague of mine told me that her father had been head brewer at Guinness’s London brewery and wondered if I might be interested in seeing his papers, I got a bit excited.

Final­ly, months lat­er, we got round to vis­it­ing to check out what was in her col­lec­tion. Based on a quick audit the answer is: every­thing.

We’ve agreed to take pos­ses­sion of the whole lot, cat­a­logue it, copy bits we might be able to use for our own research, and then help with arrange­ments to have the impor­tant bits tak­en into appro­pri­ate archives.

For now, though, here’s a nugget from the hand­ful of doc­u­ments we brought away with us on Wednes­day night: insid­er info on how Guin­ness gained its once leg­endary com­plex­i­ty at the blend­ing stage.

This comes from a typed doc­u­ment in a plain brown wrap­per writ­ten in 1939 and updat­ed to take account of wartime brew­ing restric­tions. The copy we have seems to come from around 1943 but was in appar­ent­ly still in cir­cu­la­tion in the 1950s.

The first page bears the title ‘The Process of Brew­ing Guin­ness’ and the 46 pages that fol­low offer detailed notes on the basics of beer mak­ing (how hops are dried, for exam­ple) as well as specifics about Guin­ness.

Section header: "making up".

Here’s the sec­tion on ‘Mak­ing Up’:

Beer in stor­age vats [after fer­men­ta­tion] is quite flat and is cloudy and bit­ter and unin­ter­est­ing to taste. Before it is ready for sale it must be ‘Made up’… Beer from say six dif­fer­ent brews forms the basis. These are cho­sen in such pro­por­tions that when mixed with unfer­ment­ed beer (i.e. wort that has been pitched but not allowed to fer­ment) known as gyle, their residues added to the fer­mentable mat­ter of the gyle will give a suit­able ‘Prime’. ‘Prime’ is the fer­mentable mat­ter in beer after mak­ing up just as ‘Residue’ is the fer­mentable mat­ter as the beer enters the stor­age vat. It is mea­sured as the dif­fer­ence between the present grav­i­ty of the beer and its per­fect pri­ma­ry.

In addi­tion to these beers there are added:–

  1. Barm beer: this is the beer which is skimmed off from the skim­mers with the yeast and is sep­a­rat­ed from the yeast in a fil­ter press. It is intense­ly bit­ter but adds very mate­ri­al­ly to the flavour of the flat, unin­ter­est­ing stor­age vat beer.
  2. O.B.S.: old beer stor­age is old acid beer that, like barm beer, improves the flavour of the fin­ished beer although it is itself very unpleas­ant.
  3. Draw­ing: these are residues of made up beer which was not bright enough to put into the trade with­out fur­ther treat­ment. It is exact­ly sim­i­lar in com­po­si­tion to made up beer.
  4. Fin­ings: this is a solu­tion of isin­glass in stor­age vat beer. Only minute traces of isin­glass are required but it brings about the very rapid sed­i­men­ta­tion of all the float­ing par­ti­cles which make the beer cloudy.

All the con­stituents of the make up are pumped into a ‘Rack­ing Vat’ togeth­er and there allowed to stand for 24–48 hours.

So, there you have it. We sort of knew the gist of this but this is the most explic­it expla­na­tion of the process we’ve seen in writ­ing from a pri­ma­ry source, we think.

VIDEO: Advice for Americans on English Pubs, 1943

We were alerted to the presence of this film on YouTube by Anthony Harper (@anthonymharper) and it’s a corker.

It was made as a joint pro­duc­tion of the US and UK gov­ern­ments and was intend­ed, in short, to pre­vent Amer­i­can sol­diers act­ing like dick­heads in Britain. The host is Burgess Mered­ith (Bat­manRocky) and he spends the first third of the film – about ten min­utes – in an Eng­lish coun­try pub:

We’re not try­ing to show you the per­fect way to behave in a pub. We’re only try­ing to point out that some of these peo­ple are a lit­tle more reserved than some of us. If you take it easy a lit­tle bit, just at the begin­ning… you’ll make some damn good friends.

It’s staged with the inte­ri­or filmed on a stu­dio set but, as it’s intend­ed to be edu­ca­tion­al rather than pro­pa­gan­da, we can prob­a­bly assume it’s a fair­ly accu­rate por­tray­al. In fact, the advice is still good, on the whole:

What’s that? What’s the dif­fer­ence between bit­ter and mild? I don’t know. One’s bit­ter and one’s mild. You’d bet­ter find out for your­self…

Bar Staff on the Fiddle, 1944

The December 1944 edition of Lilliput, a ‘gentleman’s magazine’, includes an article about – or maybe an exposé of – bar staff in London pubs.

It’s cred­it­ed to ‘Lemuel Gul­liv­er’ and is enti­tled Gul­liv­er Peeps Behind the Bar imply­ing a con­nec­tion to the satir­i­cal tra­di­tion of Jonathan Swift; with that in mind, it’s per­haps not the stuff foot­notes are made of, unless care­ful­ly word­ed. Which is to say the author might well have just made it all up, or at least used plen­ty of cre­ative licence in writ­ing up mate­r­i­al from var­i­ous sources, although there is the ring of truth about many of the details. Here’s how it opens:

You’ll get thir­ty-five bob a week,’ said the bar­maid duck­ing through a hatch in the mahogany counter, ‘a bit more if you’re lucky.’ Her per­ox­ide head popped up again in the frame of the orna­men­tal bot­tles and frost­ed glass at the back of the bar. ‘You live in,’ she said, ‘and you exist for one half-day out a week, from eleven in the morn­ing til eleven at night.’

She went on to detail the var­i­ous ways bar­maids in Lon­don pubs com­pen­sate them­selves for their mis­er­able lot, name­ly ‘fid­dling’.

Go on with you,’ said the bar­maid. ‘You know what fid­dling is, mak­ing a bit on the side.’ She gave a mas­cara wink.

First, there was the bar­maid who took addi­tion­al com­pen­sa­tion in the form of drink, ‘a bot­tle of gin before break­fast’, the emp­ty being refilled with ‘bulk gin and pale sher­ry’ to cov­er her tracks. The cus­tomers, starved for booze by wartime rationing, did­n’t notice or care.

The cover of Lilliput, December 1944.

Then there was a bar­man who was in the habit of slip­ping coins into his waist­coat but was found out because his pock­et was wet: ‘Don’t you know that mon­ey tak­en over the bar is always wet with the the spilt beer?’ Because of the preva­lence of this kind of thing, accord­ing to Gul­liv­er’s infor­mant, most pubs banned bar staff from hav­ing any mon­ey in their pock­ets at all.

There were var­i­ous meth­ods for fid­dling the till. First, there’s the sim­ple wheeze of tak­ing orders for mul­ti­ple rounds but only ring­ing up the price of one – easy, but risky. Alter­na­tive­ly, they might work with a friend pos­ing as a cus­tomer on the oth­er side of the bar: ‘Every time the accom­plice buys a drink he gets change for a quid.’ A third more elab­o­rate approach sounds pos­i­tive­ly inge­nious:

Why at one place I was at they bored a hole in the floor of the bar… The peo­ple in the bar used to drop the mon­ey on the floor, shuf­fle it down the hole and the cel­lar­man used to catch it in a beer fil­ter.

She explained that such dis­hon­est bar staff worked in gangs, mov­ing around to avoid the police, and alter­nat­ing so that some worked while oth­ers laid low. They found new jobs using forged ref­er­ences, ‘six­pence each’.

The arti­cle con­cludes with details of a clever cus­tomer-side con trick that’s new to us:

The most famous trick is called ‘Ring­ing the Changes’. It’s worked by two men. One comes into the saloon bar, orders a drink and offers a pound note. Imme­di­ate­ly after, the accom­plice goes into the pub­lic bar, orders a drink too, and pays for it out of a ten-bob note. When he gets his change he says that it was­n’t a ten-bob note he had, it was a pound. And, to prove it, he gives the num­ber. When they go to the till, they find the pound note because it’s the one the accom­plice had just hand­ed in. Well, when that hap­pens, the land­lord has to pay up.

Can any­one who works in a pub or bar tell us whether that still hap­pens today, or have CCTV and the death of the mul­ti-bar lay­out out done for this (ahem) fine old tra­di­tion?

The main illus­tra­tion above is signed ‘Vic­to­ria’ which we think means it’s by Vic­to­ria David­son, 1915–1999.

Mass Observation Strikes Again: (No) Village Inn, 1947

It’s worth asking next time you read an impassioned piece about villages without pubs whether they even had one in the first place.

In Tavi­s­tock last week we picked up a tat­ty copy of Exmoor Vil­lage, a 1947 book by W.J. Turn­er ‘based on fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion from Mass Obser­va­tion’. It fea­tures a chap­ter on pubs and social­is­ing called ‘Gar­dens, Pubs and Small Talk’. But our hopes of 20 pages of glo­ri­ous detail on beer and booz­ers were shat­tered with the open­ing line:

There is no inn in Luc­combe [in Som­er­set], nor any­where on the Acland Estate. The near­est is at Woot­ton Court­ney. There is vir­tu­al­ly no social cen­tre in Luc­combe beyond the doorstep and the vil­lage street.

Some of the men in the vil­lage, the author says, were in the habit of going to pubs in near­by Woot­ton or Por­lock ‘on Sat­ur­day or Sun­day – sel­dom both’:

Mr Gould remem­bers brown ale at three­pence a pint, and says he used to go every evening, wet or fine, to Woot­ton. To-day, on an old-age pen­sion, his vis­its are rare. His son is a tee­to­taller, and Bill Tame is anoth­er… Although Som­er­set is famous for its cyder, and home-brewed cyder is found at many small farms and drunk by young and old alike, Mr Par­tridge is the only Luc­combe per­son who has it. Anoth­er farmer, Mr Stad­don, prefers beer.

The true Mass Obser­va­tion touch, more lit­er­ary than objec­tive in tone despite its sci­en­tif­ic pre­ten­sions, comes through in a descrip­tion of the men at their usu­al haunt, the bar at a posh hotel in Woot­ton Court­ney known as the ‘Dunkery’:

The pub­lic bar like most coun­try bars is small, with two tables, two bench­es, and not enough chairs… A vis­i­tor at about sev­en o’clock in the evening would find Bob Prescott, look­ing tired and weath­er-beat­en, slumped up in a chair next to the bar; Mr Hales, who has cycled from Luc­combe, sit­ting in a chair by the win­dow; a man of forty-five not from Luc­combe in the next-door chair; Mr Keal, who has walked in, stand­ing lean­ing on his cane. Talk cen­tres on hors­es. One or two more men come in and join the talk… Ten men are present now, and con­ver­sa­tion round the bar is about a stony field. ‘Ay, that’s the stoni­est one you got, George, bain’t it?’ … ‘Big stones’ … ‘One along of Dunkery be stonier’ …

We assume the hotel in ques­tion is the Dunkery Bea­con Hotel which fits the descrip­tion – ‘a white build­ing with a veran­dah’ – but it does­n’t seem like­ly the bar is still there in any­thing like its orig­i­nal form. The walk from Luc­combe to Woot­ton Court­ney (or Courte­nay) is about 45 min­utes accord­ing to Google Maps. And, for what it’s worth, Bai­ley recalls hear­ing peo­ple in Som­er­set gen­uine­ly, un-iron­i­cal­ly say­ing ‘bain’t’ when he was a kid, though younger peo­ple had gone over to ‘ain’t’.

The men in the pub take snuff, smoke a lot, and talk about root crops, the pub in Por­lock, the threat of inva­sion, Ger­man air­men and the Home Guard, choco­late rationing and oth­er then hot top­ics. (The obser­va­tions on which the book was based were from 1944.) When two Amer­i­cans turn up (GIs, pre­sum­ably) they dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion with talk of farm­ing back home.

If the men were only occa­sion­al pub-goers, the women of Luc­combe hard­ly ever went, and the young men of the vil­lage aren’t big drinkers. Meryn Arscott, an 18-year-old, is the case study and was­n’t a fre­quent drinker because he could­n’t afford it.

And that’s pubs done, in a page and half because ‘for the most part the men stay at home because they don’t want to go any­where else.’ That’s a thread that come out very clear­ly in var­i­ous bits of post-WWII writ­ing on pubs – the idea that men were aban­don­ing the pub not because it was bad but because home, fam­i­ly, gar­dens and allot­ments had become so pleas­ant.

If you’re inter­est­ed in coun­try life more gen­er­al­ly, Som­er­set in par­tic­u­lar, or Mass Obser­va­tion (this project was con­tro­ver­sial), then this book is worth get­ting. The 29 colour and 22 black-and-white pho­tos by John Hinde are also love­ly to look at, as are the charm­ing­ly peri­od charts and illus­tra­tions. We paid £4.99 for our copy of this book; Ama­zon lists a cou­ple for around £6.

Main image: a detail from a chart at the back of the book show­ing dis­tances from Luc­combe to key ameni­ties.