Beer history

Look For Dates, Find Stories

Advert for the Barley Mow pub, St Albans, 1983.

In trying to pin down some more dates for our list of key points in the development of Britain’s alternative beer culture, we’ve found some fascinating stories and subjects for further exploration.

First, thanks to some very helpful input from commenters on the original post, Twitterers and the Pub Curmudgeon, we started looking into the Barley Mow in St Albans as an early, if not the first, ‘real ale pub’. That’s not a pub that has some real ale on offer, but a pub which specialiases in, and sells itself on the strength of, having lots of real ale. We now know, thanks to CAMRA Hertfordshire’s complete online archive of newsletters dating back to 1976, the full story of the Barley Mow and its various landlords and landladies (link to PDF).

Another name in the frame as an early ‘beer exhibition’ was the Hole in the Wall in Waterloo. This blog post gives us some personal recollections and a quote from the 1975 Good Beer Guide, but if anyone can point us to a CAMRA newsletter or any other source with dates and details, we’d be grateful.

One of the commenters on the original post mentioned the Litchborough Brewery founded in Northamptonshire by Bill Urquhart in 1974. Mr Urquhart’s story, from what we’ve been able to find so far, is fascinating and familiar: he worked for a big regional brewer which was taken over and closed but he wasn’t ready to hang up his wellies and so founded his own small brewery. He later acted as a consultant to other small breweries which followed in his wake. But, pioneering as he was, he certainly wasn’t a young, dangerous maverick on a mission to shake things up: the beer he brewed was a clone of the brown bitter he’d previously brewed at Phipps.

(The current outfit producing beers under the Phipps name, by the way, appears to be dedicated to brewing historic recipes. Anyone tried them?)

Finally, we were astonished to discover that the first completely new brewery to open in Britain in fifty years was Westbury Ales in Somerset, in 1973. (Selby, in 1972, was a re-opening.) A pilgrimage may be in order next time we go to visit Bailey’s folks.

Beer history pubs

CAMRA’s Own Pub Chain

Detail from the cover of the 1978 CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

Update 09/05/2019: this ended up being one of the seeds for our book Brew Britannia where the saga of CAMRAIL is covered in detail.

Our copy of the 1978 CAMRA Good Beer Guide (thanks, Bailey’s parents!) is full of interesting tit-bits, not least the page setting out the details of CAMRA’s investments.

The objective of CAMRA (Real Ale) Investments Limited is to acquire and run a chain of public houses offering a range of traditional draught beers in simply and unfussy surrounding.

In 1978, the company owned five pubs — the Old Fox in Bristol, the Salisbury Arms in Cambridge, the Nag’s Head in Hampstead, the White Gates in Manchester and the Eagle in Leeds — and was ‘on the look out for more’.

Across the chain there were beers from Marston, Crown (formerly the South Wales and Monmouthshire United Clubs Brewery), Wadworth, Courage (Bristol), Samuel Smith, Bateman, Adnams, Wells, Greene King, Brakspear, Boddingtons, Thwaites, Pollard and Theakston. Only one of those, Pollard, was a ‘new wave’ brewery.

The Nag’s Head we are told “is enormously popular among young people in North London and has made hundreds, possibly thousands, of converts to real ale in the lager generation”. All kinds of interesting language there.

Can anyone point us to an article explaining what happened to these pubs and the CAMRA investments chain?  And does anyone remember visiting any of them under the benevolent rule of the Campaign?