The monthly newspaper What’s Brewing has been the semi-public face of the Campaign for Real Ale since the early 1970s; but the Branch Bulletin, intended to be private, tells the same story without any PR gloss.
We were lucky enough to come into possession of a near-complete set of these newsletters, sent from CAMRA HQ to local branches, thanks to Sue Hart, a veteran of The Ring and a long-time CAMRA activist.
In 20th Century pub, we wrote about the birth of the pub preservation movement as the rhetoric of Christopher Hutt’s 1973 book The Death of the English Pub turned into practical action.
We focused on the Pub Preservation Group and the work of Jenny Greenhalgh, Peter Lerner and crew, from the late 1970s onward, but here’s evidence that the work began in earnest a little earlier.
The earliest of the branch newsletters we have, from May 1975, includes a paper by Mike Dempsey of the East London Branch, a lawyer by profession, setting out what looks like the basis of much of the pub preservation activity that followed.
The paper establishes how the listing system works, how it might apply to pubs and how CAMRA members might go about using the system to prevent brewers (and especially the Big Six) from demolishing or altering pub buildings.
Here’s his concluding argument:
The fact that you may have succeeded in having a building included on the statutory list does not mean that your battles are over. The first thing that the owner of the pub will do when he learns of the Secretary of State’s decision is to apply to the local authority for Listed Building Consent to carry out the works which he intended to carry out in the first place. This means that you have got to put in hand the suggestions made in paragraph 4 above, and make sure that representations are submitted to the local Council at the appropriate time. Do not, therefore, be lulled into complacency as a result of your initial successes. You will only have succeeded when the pub reopens for business, unspoiled and preferably serving real beer, but there are, of course, many pubs which are worthy of preservation even if their beer is not. In these cases, the beer will have to be the subject of your next campaign.