Watering the Mild and Other Wheezes, 1955

Running a pub has always been a matter of margins which can encourage dodgy behaviour, from watering the beer to serving up slops.

Tom Berkley’s 1955 com­ic mem­oir We Keep a Pub is either a gold­mine or com­plete­ly use­less depend­ing on your view of the semi-fic­tion­al James Her­riot school of writ­ing.

It tells the sto­ry of Bill and Irene Day, appar­ent­ly stand-ins for Berkley and his own wife, who return to Britain from colo­nial work in Malaya and decide to run a pub. The brew­ery they approach sends them out on a series of place­ments to learn the trade and the book is an account of the char­ac­ters they meet and cus­toms they observe in a string of Lon­don pubs.

For exam­ple, in one pub, Bill and Irene become fas­ci­nat­ed by the snack counter which offers two items: veal-and-ham loaf and Melton Mow­bray pie. What is the dif­fer­ence between the two? They look iden­ti­cal. Irene decides to find out by order­ing a slice of each, and Bill observes that “the snack girl gave her a nasty look”. It is only when they see a cus­tomer order Melton Mow­bray (pre­mi­um) but receive veal-and-ham (cheap) that this gen­tle fid­dle becomes clear.

The behav­iour in the cel­lar of the land­lord of this pub, a Mr Law­son, also goes some way to explain­ing the decline of mild in the 1950s. He explains to Bill that mild ale, being unfined, is eas­i­er to adul­ter­ate: “You can’t put noth­ing back into the bit­ter.”

[He told me] that if waste beer were put into fined beer it turned it cloudy, but that a rea­son­able amount did not harm to bright beer.… [All] beer col­lect­ed in drip cans was invari­ably poured into the mild ale, and not, as I had naive­ly imag­ined, thrown away, or even returned to the brew­ery as ullage as so many peo­ple think. And at the Gor­get Hotel the same was done with the fil­tered dregs from bar­rels of fined beers, and the lees of bot­tled beer and used glass­es. It did not mat­ter to Mr Law­son what kind of beer it was: bit­ter beer, light ale, brown ale, Bur­ton: accord­ing to him it was all fit to go into the ale.

Bill won­ders if any­one ever notices this jig­gery-pok­ery:

Mild-ale drinkers nev­er notice noth­ing – not if you don’t over­do it; and that reminds me: when you was pulling up mild-and-bit­ters last night I see you giv­ing ’em half-and-half. That’s no good. All you want is a drop o’ bit­ter at the bot­tom o’ the glass and fill up with mild. Mild’s cheap­er than bit­ter. See? You got to watch the stocks.”

As well as the unof­fi­cial meth­ods of recir­cu­lat­ing waste beer there is also the brew­ery’s own pre­ferred approach, the uti­liz­er, “a sort of chi­na buck­et that hung from a hook in the ceil­ing”:

[Waste] beer from the var­i­ous bars drained into the uti­liz­er, whence it was sucked into the pub­lic bar by a lit­tle aux­il­iary pump on the beer engine at a rate of about a spoon­ful per glass…

(Fur­ther read­ing on p.112 of this 1923 paper on pub cel­lars.)

The next pub, the Block & Anchor in the East End, is a sim­i­lar­ly grot­ty, pen­ny-pinch­ing place. The staff pay for their own drinks by short-chang­ing cus­tomers. When Rosie the bar­maid­’s cig­a­rette ash drops into a cus­tomer’s beer she apol­o­gis­es, tips it into a drip can, replaces the pint, and then serves some­one else the beer from the drip can lat­er in the shift. The man­ag­er, Mr Grainger, tips three buck­ets of slops into a half-emp­ty cask of mild. Perce the Pot­man is sup­posed to clean the lines every Sat­ur­day but evi­dent­ly nev­er does.

I noticed that the bot­tles had been put on the shelves straight from the box­es with­out being pol­ished; that the shelves were dirty; that the pewter was tar­nished a dull dark-grey colour. There were pud­dles of beer on the counter; glass­es were cloudy and smeared with fin­ger marks. The elec­tric-light bulbs were spat­tered with fly spots.

Pour­ing slops into the mild is bad; is let­ting down beer with water bet­ter, or worse? We sup­pose it depends on whether you pri­ori­tise hygiene or intox­i­ca­tion. One of the best pas­sages in the book con­cerns Mr Grainger’s furtive­ness over this illic­it activ­i­ty:

I’d bet­ter do the cel­lar today,” he mut­tered, with a side­long glance at the clock. “You ain’t got time to go down there today. See?”

Of course Bill for­gets and does go into the cel­lar where he dis­cov­ers a fun­nel jammed into the top of a cask of mild, half full of water, with two more buck­ets of water at its side. Fear­ing he has been rum­bled, Grainger becomes tense and knocks back sev­er­al gins.

Mr Grainger worries
Car­toon by ‘Starke’.

Even­tu­al­ly, he con­fronts Bill.

You know, a man can’t be hon­est in this line,” he blurt­ed out, gig­gling fool­ish­ly to cov­er his embar­rass­ment.

I decid­ed to help him.

No, I sup­pose he can’t,” I mum­bled com­mis­er­at­ing­ly, “not with his staff guz­zling all the prof­its.”

No,” he said sad­ly… After a silence last­ing sev­er­al sec­onds he he glanced up at me, and I saw tears in his eyes.

He cleared his throat.

A man’s got to try and make it up some­how, or else get the sack,” he mum­bled.

Lat­er, dis­cussing the busi­ness with Irene, Bill makes two fur­ther obser­va­tions:

  1. It is use­ful to know that cus­tomers won’t notice six gal­lons of water in thir­ty gal­lons of ale, and “thir­ty bob a buck­et for water is not so bad”.
  2. Grainger chose his water­ing hours care­ful­ly: after all, which excise offi­cer ever worked after mid­day on Sat­ur­day?

The pub that fea­tures in the third act, the White Lark, is a respectable place with decent man­agers, the Han­dens. Mr Han­den is proud of his beer and holds the view that it is bet­ter to sell two casks of good clean beer than one of the dirty stuff:

I’m proud o’ my bit­ter; that’s what makes your name – and you don’t want to muck around with your mild too much, either. All mild-ale drinkers ain’t dumb, though there’s many as thinks they are.

But even they are wink­ing­ly dis­hon­est in var­i­ous small ways. For exam­ple, Mrs Han­den always accepts a drink when offered by cus­tomers; if they’re poor, she takes a Guin­ness, and drinks it; but if they’re well off, she accepts a neat gin, takes a sip, and hides what remains beneath the bar to be sold to a cus­tomer lat­er, thus being paid twice for the same drink.

The dirty tricks aren’t all on the pub­li­cans’ side, though, and Mr Han­den clues Bill in on one of the brew­ery’s bits of sly­ness: they send in spies (Slimy Grimes, one is nick­named; the oth­er Mephistophe­les) to check that staff aren’t drink­ing to excess, that things are being run prop­er­ly, and that open­ing times are being observed. You’d call these mys­tery shop­pers now, we sup­pose.

And then, worse, there is Mr Green, the brew­ery’s inspec­tor, who turns up with shak­ing hands, accepts a run of free and dis­count­ed drinks, asks for the loan of some mon­ey (a bribe) and leaves hav­ing decid­ed that there’s no need to actu­al­ly go down into the cel­lar, up to the kitchen, or look at the books.

Of course all of the above has to be tak­en with a pinch of salt. As with oth­er of these We Ran a Pub mem­oirs there’s a streak of class dis­dain run­ning through the whole thing. The authors are gen­er­al­ly of the offi­cer class, regard work­ing class peo­ple as filthy brutes, and the pub­li­cans as worse again because they have the nerve to believe them­selves respectable.

Being fic­tion­alised, there’s no way to know what real­ly hap­pened, whether it hap­pened to Berkley him­self, or whether this amounts to a col­lec­tion of trade mythol­o­gy.

But, any­way, it’s worth a read.

Now, when is the first We Ran a Craft Beer Bar mem­oir due?

An Enormous Drinking Barracks, 1959

Among the literary sources we identified but did not have space to mention in 20th Century Pub was Keith Waterhouse’s 1959 comic social realist novel Billy Liar.

It con­tains a chap­ter in which Bil­ly Fish­er, an aspir­ing come­di­an and writer in the fic­tion­al York­shire town of Strad­houghton, prac­tices his stand-up rou­tine at a local pub:

The New House was an an enor­mous drink­ing bar­racks that had been built to serve Cher­ry Row and the streets around it. The New House was not its prop­er title. Accord­ing to the flood­lit inn-sign stuck on a post in the mid­dle of the emp­ty car park, the pub was called the Who’d A Thought It. There had been a lot of spec­u­la­tion about how this name had come about, but what­ev­er the leg­end was it had fall­en com­plete­ly flat in Clo­g­iron Lane. Nobody called the pub any­thing but the New House.

There was a windy, rub­ber-tiled hall­way where the chil­dren squat­ted, eat­ing pota­to crisps and wait­ing for their moth­ers. Two frost­ed-glass doors, embossed with the brew­ery trade­mark, led off it, one into the pub­lic bar and one into the saloon…

The men who say [in the pub­lic bar] were refugees from the warm ter­race-end pubs that had been pulled down; they around drink­ing mild and call­ing to each oth­er across the room as though noth­ing had changed… The few items in the New House that gave it any­thing like the feel of a pub – the dart­board, the crib­bage mark­ers, the scratched blind-box, and the pok­er­work sign that said IYBMADIBYO, if you buy me a drink I’ll buy you one – were all part of the same portable world, as if they had been wheeled here in prams in the flight from the old things.

This fic­tion­al pub has a con­cert hall which sug­gests to us that Water­house had in mind one built between the wars rather than in the peri­od after World War II.

The Belle Isle, on an estate not far from where Water­house grew up, is one pos­si­ble can­di­date as a mod­el – a drink­ing bar­racks indeed, but now a nurs­ing home.

While We’re Away: Guinness in the Archives

We know blogs are ephemeral and that you’re just supposed to let a post disappear once it’s had its moment but we’ve got lots in the archive that we reckon newer readers might have missed. So, while we’re away on holiday, we thought we’d resurface a few bits on Guinness.

First, a big one, and not a blog post: for All About Beer back in June 2016 we pon­dered on how Guin­ness has man­aged to lose its edge, from being the go-to choice for dis­cern­ing drinkers to the sub­ject of scorn. After a lot of pick­ing and dig­ging, we reck­on we man­aged to work it out:

Beers that are around for a long time often come to be per­ceived as Not What They Used to Be (see also Pil­sner Urquell, for exam­ple). Some­times that is down to jad­ed palates, or is the result of a counter-cul­tur­al bias against big brands and big busi­ness. Both of those might apply to Guin­ness but there is also objec­tive evi­dence of a drop in qual­i­ty, or at least of essen­tial changes to the prod­uct.… Guin­ness has tend­ed to be secre­tive about process, recipes and ingre­di­ents but we do know, for exam­ple, that the tem­per­a­ture of draught Guin­ness dropped sig­nif­i­cant­ly from about 1988 onward, falling from a typ­i­cal 12 degrees Cel­sius to a tar­get of 7 degrees. This is one thing that caused those drinkers of tra­di­tion­al cask-con­di­tioned ale who had regard­ed draught Guin­ness as the one tol­er­a­ble keg beer to turn against it.


1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tom­my Mar­ling takes the tem­per­a­ture of draught Guin­ness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom.

Here on the blog we also looked into what old in-house mag­a­zines from Guin­ness’s Lon­don brew­ery at Park Roy­al can tell us about the roll-out of the draught Guin­ness we know today:

In 1946 when old-stagers with us now were break­ing in their 32″ bot­tom demob suits our met­al cask depart­ment was formed and man­aged by E.J. Grif­fiths. His assis­tant was Jack Moore now region­al man­ag­er in Leeds. Even in 1946 the hous­es which spe­cialised in draught Guin­ness such as Mooneys and Wards were being sup­plied from Park Roy­al ‘in the wood’. Don’t for­get, we still had a cooper­age and there was no tanker deliv­ery.”


A sardine/sild sandwich.

Beyond beer, Guin­ness also had a huge impact on the birth of ‘pub grub’, as read­ers of 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub will know. Here, from Novem­ber 2016, is our fil­let­ing of Guin­ness’s 1961 recipe book for pub­li­cans, which was pub­lished as part of the brew­ery’s dri­ve to get more food into pubs:

[In] Octo­ber 1962, the new­ly-formed Snack Demon­stra­tion Team hit the road in [a] fab­u­lous Mys­tery-Machine-alike [van]… Four days a week for the lat­ter part of that year, lec­tur­er Jo Shel­lard (an actor turned cater­er) and his assis­tant Clint Antell toured the North West of Eng­land (where pub food was par­tic­u­lar­ly want­i­ng, we assume) speak­ing to groups of pub­li­cans ‘and their wives’.


And there’s lots more, if you want it:

Motel #1, 1953

This isn’t about pubs, or maybe it is: in June 1953 Britain gained its first American-style motel, The Royal Oak, at Newingreen outside Dover, Kent.

The Roy­al Oak was, as the name sug­gests, an old inn, appar­ent­ly estab­lished in 1560 and rebuilt in the 18th cen­tu­ry. It was around this core that the new motel was con­struct­ed by entre­pre­neur Gra­ham Lyon.

Lyon was born in Lon­don in 1889 and worked with ear­ly auto­mo­biles as a youth. In the 1920s he was a pio­neer of coach trips to the Con­ti­nent, dri­ving tourists around in a 10-seater Ford Mod­el T chara­banc. After World War II he entered the hotel busi­ness, start­ing with The White Cliffs in Dover. Some­thing of an Ameri­cophile, his deal­ings with Amer­i­cans dur­ing and after the war gave him the idea that Britain was defi­cient in hotels designed specif­i­cal­ly for motorists and so, in 1952, approach­ing pen­sion­able age, he set off to tour the US vis­it­ing more than 2,000 motels on an epic road-trip. He picked the brains of Amer­i­can mote­liers and came back ready to imple­ment his own take in the British mar­ket.

Aerial view of the Inn and Motel.

Each room in The Roy­al Oak motel had its own pri­vate garage and en suite bath­room. The larg­er suites had their own sit­ting rooms. For between 21s and 27s 6d per per­son (about £30 in today’s mon­ey) you got a Con­ti­nen­tal break­fast, a radio, a tea-mak­ing machine, tele­phone, a water dis­penser, and your car washed and valet­ed.

Sitting room at the motel.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Motel #1, 1953”

GALLERY: Malt, 1955–1969

The Other Fellow’s Job No. 10: The Maltster’ by Richard HiltonHouse of Whitbread, Spring 1955, with photographs by P.M. Goodchild.

In these mod­ern times, when machin­ery has large­ly replaced the hands of the crafts­man, one might think that the ingre­di­ents of beer are large­ly sub­ject­ed to numer­ous mechan­i­cal process­es in the course of their evo­lu­tion. And many of them are – but the malt­ing process is one that has stood the test of time, and remains the secret of the crafts­man who trans­forms the corns of bar­ley into that most valu­able ingre­di­ent of all – malt.”

A man with a specially designed wheelbarrow.
“C. McCabe car­ries the bar­ley in a spe­cial­ly designed malt bar­row.”

When a new load of bar­ley arrives at the malt­ings, the first men to han­dle it are the gra­nary hands. It is their job to dry the bar­ley to about 12 per cent of mois­ture so that it can be kept in bulk with­out dete­rio­r­i­a­tion; next, they clean and ‘screen’ it to extract the small or bro­ken grains… Typ­i­cal of the gra­nary hand at the Whit­bread malt­ings in East Dere­ham in Nor­folk is Chris McCabe. An Irish­man, 64-year-old McCabe start­ed with Whit­bread­’s eleven years ago, and takes great pride in his work.… Before he came to East Dere­ham he worked in large malt­ings in Ire­land.”

A man in flat cap and overalls.
“As fore­man of the East side of the Dere­ham malt­ings, Wal­ter Lam­bert has many respon­si­bil­i­ties. Here, he is adjust­ing the oil burn­er on one of the bar­ley kilns.”

Con­tin­ue read­ingGALLERY: Malt, 1955–1969”