Further Reading #3: Boddies and Opening Times at Manchester Library

Researching 20th Century Pub we spent time in some great libraries and archives with rich collections of pub- and beer-related material. This is the third in a series of blog posts intended to highlight great resources we hope you’ll go an look up yourself.

Manchester’s Central Library feat. Archives+, as we think it is formally called, is on St Peter’s Square opposite the famous Midland Hotel. It’s a grand building constructed in the 1930s but in classical style and is round with a dome. You’ll find most of the important stuff on the ground floor — not only reference material on open access but also the archive reading room.

We found accessing the archives a bit of a bureaucratic ordeal, if we’re honest. Newspapers on microfiche are available on site along with a certain number of reference texts but the stuff we were after — brewery records, local planning documents — had to be ordered well in advance, a few at at ime. That’s fine if you happen to live in Manchester but travelling from Penzance as we were at the time it was rather limiting. Still, the library staff could not have been more helpful, not least in pointing us to alternative sources for some documents such as this online archive of historic planning publications.

City of Manchester Plan, 1945

Via those off-site stacks we did manage to get access to some beautiful hand-drawn and coloured city planning maps the size of bedspreads, their text applied with stencils or rub-down lettering. They were a nightmare to handle and not actually all that much use in the end though there was certainly a thrill attached to seeing PUBLIC HOUSE or PH marked here or there. (See main picture, above.)

The best things we looked at — again, not much of which actually informed 20th Century Pub — were records from Boddington’s Brewery. Of course we looked up recipes in the brewing logs, though Ron Pattinson has done a much more thorough job of processing those since we tipped him off to their renewed availability. We also ploughed through board minute books which were crammed with fascinating details — notes on specific pubs and publicans, industrial accidents, local politicking and the birth of the national Beer is Best campaign in the 1930s, to name but a few. There are also lots of inserts like this:

Report on the 1966 hop crop.

Outside in the main reference library, into which you can wander from the street more or less whenever you like, for as long as you like, and help yourself to material from the shelves, there is a real treasure trove of useful stuff.

First there’s what would seem to be a complete set of the beer and pub history pamphlets published by Neil Richardson. Most are about the size and weight of a standard magazine and have the appearance of fanzines with coloured card covers, roughly reproduced photographs and word-processor-formatted text. The quality of the contents varies too but the best among them, e.g. The Old Pubs of Chorlton-upon-Medlock, are treasure troves of oral history and foraged fact. (Some are now available for Kindle at reasonable prices if you fancy a quick taster without travelling to Manchester.)

The Old Pubs of Ancoats

Then there’s the bound set of editions of the local Campaign for Real Ale magazine Opening Times running from 1994 to (we think) the present day. Manchester was an interesting place on the beer front in the 1990s with Brendan Dobbin’s pioneering experiments with New World hops, the birth and evolution of Marble, the coming of Mash & Air, and the arrival of the biggest pub in Britain. Opening Times recorded all this as it unfolded so that over the course of a few issues you can see, for example, advertisements for Dobbin’s ales followed by worrying reports of the health of the business and, finally, a notice of its closure. It was also rather startling to come across the article below among the pub crawl reports and tasting notes:

Headline: "THE BOMB".

Finally, there are numerous local history books and memoirs which, though not exclusively about pubs or beer, touch upon them at various points, often at length. We were particularly interested to discover Jeremy Seabrook’s 1971 book City Close Up which was based on interviews and conversations with people in Blackburn, Lancashire, during the summer of 1969. There are several sections touching on pubs and drink including one chapter called ‘Evening in the Wheatsheaf’ in which three young men, engineering apprentices, discuss ‘going out’:

ALAN: You start drinking when you’re about fifteen, pubs around [the centre of Blackburn], nobody stops you. There’s nowt else to do. When you first start drinking, you sup a right lot of shit, you don’t know what a good pint is. They’ll serve you anything, they’re just making their money out of you when you start.

And once you’re done with Manchester there’s always Bolton a short train ride away where you can find copies of the raw notes from the Mass Observation pub observation project of the late 1930s, or the Greenall Whitley papers at Chester.

BOOK REVIEW: The Little Book of Craft Beer by Melissa Cole

Is there any point in another beginners’ guide to beer, especially one that is, by its own admission, ‘Little’, and pointedly lightweight?

That we felt moved to buy a copy (via Amazon for £8.45; RRP £10) suggests that there is something in the proposition that sets it apart from other such volumes. That something is, in large part, the voice of the author, which is one we happen to appreciate a great deal. Melissa Cole is a visible, highly vocal presence on the beer scene, notable as much for her refusal to let incidents of sexism pass without comment as for carving out of a middle ground between daytime TV fluff and extreme beer nerdiness.

In line with that tightrope act this book has not so much hidden depths as artfully concealed ones. Though she makes a point of saying in the very opening lines that this book is not for experienced beer geeks, it is clear that Cole herself is sitting on a vast mine of experience and knowledge. The greatest challenge for knowledgeable writers is resisting the urge to drop it all, everything they’ve learned, in a great torrent — to batter the reader into submission with facts, dense detail and footnotes. Cole is sparing with the science and history but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there — it’s just boiled down to the absolutely plainest, briefest of English, and balanced with humorous asides and personal anecdotes.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: The Little Book of Craft Beer by Melissa Cole”

Further Reading #1: The Newcastle Beerpendium

Researching 20th Century Pub we spent time in some great libraries and archives with rich collections of pub- and beer-related material. We barely got to scratch the surface in the book so this series of blog posts is intended to highlight some great resources you can go and look up yourself.

Our first stop is the City Library in Newcastle upon Tyne which we visited for a couple of pleasant sessions in June 2016. The top floor reference collection has a nice collection of books on the region’s pubs, most packed with photos and anecdotes, like this from Brian Bennison’s Heavy Nights, published in 1997:

In Gosforth High St the County Hotel was owned by James Deuchar before [Scottish & Newcastle]. One significant change took place in 1975 when the sanctity of the Gents’ Buffet was breached after what was thought to have been 140 years of ‘men only’. The day the Sex Discrimination Act came into force three female journalists entered the Gents’ Buffet to push the boat out with an order of one glass of cider and two fruit juices. The landlord told them, “You realise you’ve just made history in here. It’s a sad day.”

The real star of the show, though, is a huge scrapbook of newspaper clippings and leaflets. Archivists rightly protest when people claim to have ‘unearthed’ something which they, the librarians, found, bound and catalogued years ago, and this collection is a great example of their work. It contains early Tyneside CAMRA leaflets, for example — the kind of thing that most people threw away or lost when their guidance ceased to be useful but that someone thought to keep and preserve.

Good Pub Guide c.1975

From the above, undated but c.1975 we’d guess, it becomes clear how dominant Bass was in the region and that the Mitre at Benwell (second on the list) and the Duke of Wellington in Newcastle city centre were the most notable ‘beer exhibition’ pubs.

The news cuts tell interesting stories, too, such as the offence taken in the region in 1971 when analyses of beer strength undertaken by Durham County Weights and Measures Inspectors revealed that the North East’s beer was rather weaker than popularly imagined.

HEADLINE: "We're Weak Beer Snobs!"

This article also contains a table of the original gravity, ABV and price-per-pint of every beer sold in the region. (Which we think we’ve already shared with Ron Pattinson…)

There’s a story from 1976 about a two-day CAMRA beer festival in Durham with no less than fifteen different ales, but not Tetley, which refused to supply the event because they feared the beer ‘would not be served properly’. That’s followed by a review of the event by John North for the Northern Echo:

There was a feller professing to be the Earl of Derby’s nephew, another who’d struggled there on crutches, and a third who carried round an empty Castrol GTX can, presumably in case he needed to take a few samples home… The senior man at St Chad’s College arrived in knee-length shorts and near knee-length hair; the wife of a bookshop owner in Saddler Street came in a Pickwickian dress; a lot of men wore light blue CAMRA tee-shirts over tight brown bellies and a young lady had the peculiar message ‘Lubby, lubby, lubby’ emblazoned across her chest… In one corner a bearded man sat engrossed in his Times crossword, automatically reaching out every few seconds to grab his Hook Norton’s.

(An early manifestation of the bellies and beards stereotype?)

One final item worth highlighting is the arrival in 1977 of Tsing-Tao at the Emperor Restaurant, run by Arthur King who came to Newcastle from Hong Kong as a child in the 1940s. The Journal had great fun with the crazy idea of Geordies drinking beer from China and got a few locals to taste it, like 71-year-old pensioner Albert Smith:

It’s very good: a soft, smooth tasting drink… But at 40p a bottle it’s too expensive for people like me to drink. And it’s a long way to take the bottle back.

Beyond the stuff specifically relating to beer and pubs there are also, for example, decades’ worth of issues of local society magazine Newcastle Life packed with ads for local pubs, clubs and breweries. (Main picture, top.)

If you live in the North East and fancy learning about your region’s beer history, or if you’re in Newcastle as a beer tourist and need something to do between your smashed avocado toast and the pub opening, do pop in and take a look at this fascinating collection.

Some Beer Writing Not By Beer Writers

We don’t often write book reviews these days but two newly published volumes from outside the bubble grabbed our attention.

The first is One for the Road: an anthology of pubs and poetry edited by Helen Mort and Stuart Maconie, and published by smith|doorstop at £10. It’s a large format paperback with about 130 pages of real content, author bios and indexing aside, and the bulk of that is poetry. Once upon a time we might have been able to provide some meaningful critical commentary but those muscles have all seized so we’ll just say that, in general, most are closer to pop ballads than T.S. Eliot. Which is to say, they make obvious sense, often rhyme, and are on the whole fairly unpretentious.

Book cover: One for the Road

They’re organised into four categories by theme although the majority seem to share a certain nostalgic, lamenting poignancy. One poem by Carole Bromley is called ‘All the Pubs Where We Used to Drink are Sinking’; another, by Alicia Stubbersfield, is entitled ‘Calling Time at the Bull’s Head’:

The Bull’s Head has gone. Now offices to let,
a bleak image on a ‘lost pubs’ website.
No mark on its old walls to say — here
my grandfather died his very Scottish death:
a whisky chaser undrunk before the heart attack.

The prose pieces close each section and include, for example, an extract from Mark Hailwood’s 2014 academic book on alehouses and Stuart Maconie’s portrait of the famous Buffet Bar at Stalybridge Station:

‘Now then, sir, the barman begins apologetically, if you’ve come for our infamous black peas’ — this is a northern delicacy, often enjoyed around bonfire night and delicious in a Dickensian sort of way — ‘then I have to tell you that they haven’t really been soaking for long enough yet. I can offer you a hot pork pie from Saddleworth and mushy peas though, and after that perhaps some home-made pudding.’

What this book is made for — where it would be perfect — is the kind of distracted dipping in and out you might do while sitting on your own in the corner of a pub, where there’s usually too much going on to concentrate on a novel, but where you might find yourself in a state of sufficient dreaminess to appreciate a poem even if you usually don’t. Especially if it’s about crisps and ale and merry departed drunks.

* * *

The second book is Know Your Place: essays on working class culture by the working class, a crowdfunded collection from Dead Ink books edited by Nathan Connolly, RRP £15.99. (Disclosure, we guess: we backed this one on Kickstarter, so the opposite of a freebie.)

Book cover: Know Your Place.

It’s a hardback with about 200 pages of real substance, its cover designed to resemble a beer label. There’s actually only one essay expressly on the subject of pubs, ‘The Death of a Pub’ by Dominic Grace, a playwright from Leeds. As you might guess from the title, which deliberately or otherwise echoes Christopher Hutt, it tends to the same kind of bitter nostalgia as the poems discussed above:

We’re losing living, breathing, vibrant cells in the body of our country… Government has done little to reverse this loss, perhaps seeing no merits in a working class that is in touch with itself and can feel not just its muscles but sense the power that resides within itself. Meanwhile, heritage and preservation industries in the UK are worth millions and employ thousands, but the heritage they wish to preserve has nothing to do with the cultural endowment resting in the reservoir of working class communities. Instead, it concerns itself mainly with the houses of the aristocracy…

Grace argues for the pub as the anti-safe-space where you might get ‘called names’ and revels in the ribaldry and naughtiness of working class pubs at full throttle. He recalls, too, the first moment he realised middle class people also went to pubs on an expedition to north Leeds: ‘Everyone else in the pub, bar none, was better looking than us.’

It’s very much a piece about feelings and experience rather than cautious, evidenced analysis (ahem, hello) but there is room for both types of writing, taken on their own terms, and anyone with an interest in pubs and society will want to read it. Whether it justifies the purchase of an entire book will depend on whether your engagement in the politics of working class life goes beyond the boozer.

* * *

Perhaps there’s something significant in the fact that these two books have arrived now, without any of the usual Beer Writing names or faces attached, and from people who see beer and pubs not as the be-all-and-end-all, but as part of a bigger picture. After all, pubs barely feature in any of the other essays in Know Your Place — a reminder that, despite Dominic Grace’s observation that pubs are a literary and filmic signifier of working classness, they’re not necessarily as integral as we monomaniacs might imagine.

COMPETITION: Book Bundle

Competition prizes: 20th Century Pub and Brew Britannia, new edition.

UPDATE: 13.09.2017 THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED.

The winners are @beerfoodtravel and @claytonbrooke.

As is customary around the time a book comes out we’re going to run a little competition.

We’re going to give away two bundles each comprising one copy of the new book, 20th Century Pub, and a copy of the new edition of Brew Britannia (smaller, not updated, but corrected).

There are two ways to enter.

1. With a Photo

The Grey Horse, Manchester.

For this part of the competition, we want you share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook your very best picture on the theme of the 20th century English pub using the hashtag #20thCenturyPub.

Interpret that theme as liberally or creatively as you like.

We’re after evocative images, not necessarily the most technically accomplished.

We’ll look at all the contenders we’ve received by midnight on Tuesday 12 September and declare a winner on Wednesday 13. (See T&Cs below.)

2. With 100 Words

A pen on a table next to a beer mat and glass.

If you’re not so handy with a camera, try writing. For this, we’re after 100 words (give or take 10-15 either way) on the same topic as above — that is, the 20th century English pub.

It can be a memory, an anecdote, a pen portrait, or whatever else you like.

We don’t care about spelling or grammar — it’s just a bit of fun.

Post it as a screengrab on Twitter, as a Facebook post, or on your own blog, and let us know about it however you like. You could also post it in the comments below or, if you’re shy, email it directly to us at contact@boakandbailey.com

Again, we’ll look at all the contenders we’ve received by midnight on Tuesday 12 September and declare a winner on Wednesday 13. (See T&Cs below.)

3. Terms and Notes
  • You can enter wherever you are in the world; if someone overseas wins, we’ll worry about postage costs then.
  • If you post on Facebook and don’t set the post visibility to ‘Public’, we won’t be able to see it. The same also goes for private/locked Instagram and Twitter accounts.
  • Our decision is final and we won’t enter into any debate over it.
  • We reserve the right to disqualify entries for suspected cheating, or any other reason whatsoever.
  • Once we’ve emailed the winners to get their postal addresses for dispatch, they’ll have 48 hours to respond or the prize will default to another winner.
  • It’s only a bit of fun.