Notable Pubs: The Milestone, Exeter, 1985–1988

"Pub with no beer"

There have been repeated attempts to test the idea that the identity of the pub need not be tied to alcohol. The Milestone, which opened in Exeter in 1985, was one such experiment.

On the book­shelf at the Drap­ers lurks a yel­low­ing copy of the Wordsworth Dic­tio­nary of Pub Names, a cheap 1990s reprint of a book by Leslie Dun­kling and Gor­don Wright first pub­lished in 1987. The nam­ing of pubs is an area of study requir­ing more pinch­es of salt than most, and the book is not with­out its inac­cu­ra­cies, but flip­ping through it over our Sun­day night pints, we often find some nugget or oth­er, and that’s how we first heard of the Mile­stone:

The pub sells only soft drinks, non-alco­holic beers and wines. It was set up in 1985 by the Devon Coun­cil on Alco­holism and the Exeter Com­mu­ni­ty Alco­hol team to help peo­ple with a drink prob­lem. It is in the base­ment of an office block, and those who named it clear­ly see it as a high­ly sig­nif­i­cant step.

A con­tem­po­rary report from the Liv­er­pool Echo (20/11/1985) offers more infor­ma­tion:

Mr Mur­ray French, chair­man of Exeter Dis­trict Health Author­i­ty, will pull the first pint – or rather pour the first soft drink – at noon [today].

The pub, com­plete with pool table, dart board and the usu­al bar fit­tings, is the brain child of Exeter Com­mu­ni­ty Alco­hol Team.

Mr Stan Ford, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Devon Coun­cil on Alco­holism, said: “The main aim is to pro­vide an envi­ron­ment where peo­ple can get the atmos­phere of a pub with­out alco­hol.

A lot of my clients have asked where they could go if they stopped drink­ing. There was nowhere. Now there is.”

Laud­able as this might sound, it’s hard to imag­ine any­one con­vinc­ing friends who are still drink­ing (pos­si­bly heav­i­ly) to come to a tee­to­tal pub, and how­ev­er con­vinc­ing the fac­sim­i­le, there’s no deny­ing that an air of mer­ri­ness is an essen­tial part of the plea­sure of the pub.

With­out booze, it will just feel like a youth club, won’t it?

There’s a cer­tain inevitabil­i­ty to the next men­tion we can find in the news­pa­per archives, from the same news­pa­per for 25 Octo­ber 1988:


Britain’s first alco­hol-free pub, the Mile­stone in Exeter, Devon, is to close next month after three years. It failed to attract enough cus­tom.

This feels like the kind of thing that might have gen­er­at­ed the odd aca­d­e­m­ic paper or offi­cial study but, if so, we can’t find them online, on this side of a pay­wall.

It would cer­tain­ly be inter­est­ing to see pic­tures of the Mile­stone, or to hear from any­one who remem­bers (not) drink­ing there.

The First Cause Beer?

These days it’s not unusual for breweries to release beers intended to support a particular cause, but we reckon we might have pinpointed the first: ‘No Cruise Mild’, from 1983–84.

It was pro­duced by Pit­field Brew­ery on a tiny kit in the base­ment of a spe­cial­ist beer shop near Old Street in Lon­don and sold through one of David Bruce’s Firkin brew­pubs, The Pheas­ant & Firkin in Isling­ton. The name refers to US Cruise mis­siles, the instal­la­tion of which was protest­ed by wom­en’s groups at RAF Green­ham Com­mon in Berk­shire dur­ing Decem­ber 1983.

While the name of the beer cer­tain­ly showed sup­port for the Green­ham Com­mon pro­test­ers the short arti­cle in What’s Brew­ing for March 1984, which is the only ref­er­ence we’ve been able to dig up, does­n’t make clear whether any of the prof­its from its sale also went their way. It does, how­ev­er, repro­duce Ken Pyne’s car­toon for Mar­ket­ing Week which we hope he won’t mind us shar­ing here:

A group of women camps outside a pub offering No Cruise Mild.

Of course there were lots of beers before this that you can argue were polit­i­cal in one way or anoth­er – all those com­mem­o­ra­tive beers for the 1981 roy­al wed­ding and the Queen’s coro­na­tion, for exam­ple, are polit­i­cal in their own way – but we reck­on this might be the ear­li­est exam­ple of a beer whose brand­ing was explic­it­ly tied to a pro­gres­sive cause.

If you reck­on we’re wrong, or have more infor­ma­tion on this par­tic­u­lar beer, let us know in the com­ments below.

Further Reading

Christmas in the Pub, 1983

A 1980s photo of two boys in a pub.

In the picture above you can see the aftermath of Christmas present unwrapping in the bar of the Artillery Inn, Exeter, probably at around 6am, on 25 December 1983. That’s me on the left with my little brother Tim at my side.

We’re wear­ing wigs left over from the pub Christ­mas pan­to in which my Dad played Wid­ow Twan­kee. He wore clip-on ear-rings, a bra stuffed with news­pa­per, and a pin­ny. The make-up treat­ment made him look like Mol­lie Sug­den in Are You Being Served, despite his gin­ger mous­tache. Anoth­er mem­ber of the cast, then a stu­dent at Exeter Uni­ver­si­ty, went on to be a top-flight news cam­era­man at the BBC.

My broth­er is wear­ing his favourite under­pants. His favourite trick when we lived in the pub was to escape from the flat, scram­ble down the flight of stairs behind the off-licence, and burst into the pub wear­ing only those Y‑fronts. He would then run scream­ing down the entire length of the bar before dis­ap­pear­ing out of the back door. I reck­on he was addict­ed to the cus­tomers’ laugh­ter.

In the back­ground is a box for the Return of the Jedi edi­tion of the Mil­le­ni­um Fal­con with a yet-to-be-stick­ered X‑Wing fight­er pro­trud­ing from the top.  Among the good things about my par­ents run­ning a pub was the amount of space it gave us to run around in when the doors were closed and I have a mem­o­ry, which I think was from this Christ­mas or maybe the birth­day that fol­lowed, of rac­ing with speed­er bikes through the chair legs which for the pur­pos­es of play were the great red­wood trees of the for­est plan­et Endor.

My broth­er is drink­ing a bot­tle of R. White’s Orangeade, anoth­er perk of life in a pub being ready access to the worst (best) soft drinks. I guess being allowed that at break­fast time was a Christ­mas treat.

One of the down­sides to liv­ing in a pub was that Mum and Dad worked late the night before and then Dad had to dis­ap­pear for a few hours around lunchtime on Christ­mas Day to serve the reg­u­lars. Hav­ing talked about it with them since I know Mum and Dad found liv­ing where they worked dif­fi­cult and even at the age of five I could pick up on the stress in the air.

On the win­dow you can just see the words ‘Mer­ry Xmas’ sprayed in dec­o­ra­tive snow – the wrong way round, real­ly, if it was meant to be viewed from the street. There were also art­ful drifts of snow in the bot­tom cor­ners of each frost­ed pane. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when Christ­mas was over and the fake snow got wiped away it took the nico­tine stain with it so that peo­ple were being wished the ghost of a Mer­ry Xmas for months to fol­low.

Dead Fox

From the West­ern Dai­ly Press, 8 Octo­ber 1975:

The Old Fox, Bris­tol’s newest old pub or old­est new pub, will be offi­cial­ly opened this after­noon, but the trou­ble is no one knows exact­ly how old it is… The peo­ple from CAMRA, the Cam­paign for Real Ale, whose laud­able ambi­tion is to keep alive the taste for beer from the wood, bought The Old Fox in Fox Road, East­ville, when it was due for demo­li­tion… And so far they have traced it back to 1758 when it was men­tioned as being up for sale.

Land­lord Peter Bull… with his wife Sylvia will be serv­ing devo­tees with pints of strange sound­ing brews like Six X, Brak­s­pears beers and South Wales Unit­ed… Archi­tect Edward Pot­ter has cre­at­ed a pleas­ant­ly archa­ic black and white inte­ri­or, a world away from rus­tic brick and plas­tic horse brass­es and work­men put the final touch­es to his £25,000 ren­o­va­tion scheme yes­ter­day.

Peter Bull.

From ‘All Things to All Men’, Finan­cial Times, 7 April 1976:

The Old Fox, over­look­ing a dual-car­riage­way cut and a scrap-yard, may not be every­one’s idea of smart pub decor, but at least it is worth it for the qual­i­ty of some of the beer it sells. It also reflects some of the tol­er­ance tra­di­tion­al­ly shown in this most tol­er­ant of cities.

From What’s Brew­ing, Feb­ru­ary 1982:

[The] Old Fox Inn in Bris­tol, one of [CAMRA Invest­ments] small­er and less prof­itable hous­es, has been sold to Bur­ton brew­ers Marstons for £120,000. It was felt to be bad­ly sit­ed in a city had many free hous­es… Invest­ments man­ag­ing direc­tor, Christo­pher Hutt, denied sug­ges­tions that the com­pa­ny was delib­er­ate­ly draw­ing back from being a nation­al chain of free hous­es into a South East/East Anglia/East Mid­lands firm.

You can read more about the sto­ry of CAMRA Real Ale Invest­ments in Brew Bri­tan­nia and about the his­to­ry of the Old Fox in this blog post by pub his­to­ri­an Andrew Swift.

Panic on the Streets of Woking: Rise of the Lager Lout

 This bumper #beery­lon­greads post is ded­i­cat­ed to the kind folks who have spon­sored us via our Patre­on page, like Chris France and Jon Urch – thanks!

In 1988 the British government faced a now forgotten domestic crisis.

Pre­vi­ous­ly placid towns, vil­lages and sub­urbs up and down the coun­try were sud­den­ly awash with mob vio­lence – the kind of thing peo­ple expect­ed in for­sak­en inner cities but which seemed new­ly ter­ri­fy­ing as it spread to provin­cial mar­ket squares and high streets.

The police pan­icked, the pub­lic fret­ted, and politi­cians were pressed to take action.

What was caus­ing this rash of insan­i­ty? Who or what was to blame for this descent into mad­ness?

In Sep­tem­ber 1988 at an infor­mal press brief­ing John Pat­ten MP, Min­is­ter for Home Affairs, point­ed the fin­ger: the chaos was a result of ‘the Sat­ur­day night lager cult’ and ‘lager louts’.

Lager. Lager was to blame. A type of beer that had arrived in earnest in Britain only thir­ty years before as the upmar­ket, sophis­ti­cat­ed, sharp-suit­ed Con­ti­nen­tal cousin of the tra­di­tion­al pint of wal­lop.

Where did it all go wrong?

Skol advertisement, 1960: "British Brewer Goes Continental".
In the Beginning

Lager was first brewed in Britain as far back as the 1830s and had its first boom in pop­u­lar­i­ty, pri­mar­i­ly as a hip, high-price import­ed prod­uct, from the 1860s until World War I. (See Gam­bri­nus Waltz for more on that.) For the next 40 years or so it sat in the back­ground, very much a minor­i­ty inter­est, rep­re­sent­ed by imports from the Con­ti­nent and the occa­sion­al attempt by British brew­ers such as Bar­clay Perkins. In the 1950s it had a less than 2 per cent share of the total UK beer mar­ket.

The 1950s were an unset­tling time for British brew­eries. They could no longer rely on armies of indus­tri­al work­ers tramp­ing to the pub on a reg­u­lar basis to drink ale in sub­stan­tial quan­ti­ties. Young peo­ple seemed less inter­est­ed in pubs and beer and drawn rather more to burg­er bars, cof­fee shops, Coca Cola and pop music. Mild was def­i­nite­ly passé – a rel­ic of the slum era – and though sales of bit­ter were surg­ing, it too lacked glam­our. Bit­ter drinkers wore blaz­ers and smoked pipes. The tiny hand­ful of Lager drinkers, on the oth­er hand…

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Pan­ic on the Streets of Wok­ing: Rise of the Lager Lout”