News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 December 2018: Slavery, Philosophy, Wetherspoon Museum

Here’s everything that grabbed us in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from American history to donkeys in pubs.

First, picking up on the topic of the day, the BBC’s Chris Baraniuk has investigated the question of cashless pubs and bars in some detail. This line seems like the key to understanding the trend:

Ikea found that so few people – 1.2 in every 1,000 – insisted on paying in cash that it was financially justifiable to offer them free food in the shop cafeteria instead.


Monticello by Martin Falbisoner | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

For Good Beer Hunting Dr J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham has written an absorbing piece about Peter Hemings, the enslaved man who actually did the brewing with which President Thomas Jefferson is sometimes credited:

With several years of experience, Peter Hemings came into his own as a maltster and brewer, and may have taught these trades to other enslaved men in Virginia. On April 11, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison, “Our brewing for the use of the present year has been some time over. About the last of Oct. or beginning of Nov. we begin for the ensuing year and malt and brew three, 60-gallon casks successively which will give so many successive lessons to the person you send… I will give you notice in the fall when we are to commence malting and our malter and brewer is uncommonly intelligent and capable of giving instruction if your pupil is as ready at comprehending it.”


The Beach Bar

Martyn Cornell has attempted to tackle the world’s thorniest philosophical conundrum: what’s the difference between a pub and bar?

In the New Town where I grew up, all the estate pubs had been built to look like New Town homes on steroids, following the ‘pub as a home from home’ idea, but their newness stripped them of any of the ‘sense of permanence and continuity’ that all the pubs in the Old Town had dripping from every brick and beam, and they felt like zombie pubs, lifeless and without character. A bar, in contrast, never feels ‘homey’: indeed, I’d suggest that the slightest pinch, jot or iota of ‘a home-like character’ turns a bar into either a pub or a teashop.


Warpigs in Copenhagen.
SOURCE: The Beer Nut.

We were intrigued by the Beer Nut’s observation that Copenhagen has become ‘Mikkeller World’:

Last time I was in town, the brewer’s retail outlets consisted solely of the little basement bar on Viktoriagade; now there are over a dozen premises in Copenhagen alone, with more worldwide.

And that’s not all – even flights in are awash with the stuff.


A side order of nuggets

Victorian illustration of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.
Classics corner: Charles Dickens’s ‘dropsical’ inn

We promised to flag some famous bits of beer and pub writing and this week’s piece – one of Jess’s absolute favourites – is the description of a London riverside pub that appears at the start of Chapter 6 of Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend:

The bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters was a bar to soften the human breast. The available space in it was not much larger than a hackney-coach; but no one could have wished the bar bigger, that space was so girt in by corpulent little casks, and by cordial-bottles radiant with fictitious grapes in bunches, and by lemons in nets, and by biscuits in baskets, and by the polite beer-pulls that made low bows when customers were served with beer, and by the cheese in a snug corner, and by the landlady’s own small table in a snugger corner near the fire, with the cloth everlastingly laid. This haven was divided from the rough world by a glass partition and a half-door, with a leaden sill upon it for the convenience of resting your liquor; but, over this half-door the bar’s snugness so gushed forth that, albeit customers drank there standing, in a dark and draughty passage where they were shouldered by other customers passing in and out, they always appeared to drink under an enchanting delusion that they were in the bar itself.


Finally, here’s an old Tweet that’s new to us:


If you want more, check out Alan’s Thursday ‘beery notes’ and (thankfully back after a hiatus) Stan’s Monday links.

David Copperfield

David Copperfield - Phiz original cover
David Copperfield - Phiz original cover

‘There’s half a pint of ale for you. Will you have it now?’

I thanked him and said, ‘Yes.’ Upon which he poured it out of a jug into a large tumbler, and held it up against the light, and made it look beautiful.

‘My eye!’ he said. ‘It seems a good deal, don’t it?’

‘It does seem a good deal,’ I answered with a smile. For it was quite delightful to me, to find him so pleasant. He was a twinkling-eyed, pimple-faced man, with his hair standing upright all over his head; and as he stood with one arm a-kimbo, holding up the glass to the light with the other hand, he looked quite friendly.

‘There was a gentleman here, yesterday,’ he said – ‘a stout gentleman, by the name of Topsawyer – perhaps you know him?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t think -‘

‘In breeches and gaiters, broad-brimmed hat, grey coat, speckled choker,’ said the waiter.

‘No,’ I said bashfully, ‘I haven’t the pleasure -‘

‘He came in here,’ said the waiter, looking at the light through the tumbler, ‘ordered a glass of this ale – WOULD order it – I told him not – drank it, and fell dead. It was too old for him. It oughtn’t to be drawn; that’s the fact.’

This is one of a number of great quotes about beer in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. The hero is about 10 at the time, so it’s probably a good job he didn’t take the old ale. A year or so later, he’s quite the regular boozer;

I was such a child, and so little, that frequently when I went into the bar of a strange public-house for a glass of ale or porter, to moisten what I had had for dinner, they were afraid to give it me. I remember one hot evening I went into the bar of a public-house, and said to the landlord: ‘What is your best – your very best – ale a glass?’ For it was a special occasion. I don’t know what. It may have been my
birthday.

‘Twopence-halfpenny,’ says the landlord, ‘is the price of the Genuine Stunning ale.’

‘Then,’ says I, producing the money, ‘just draw me a glass of the Genuine Stunning, if you please, with a good head to it.’

The landlord looked at me in return over the bar, from head to foot, with a strange smile on his face; and instead of drawing the beer, looked round the screen and said something to his wife. She came out from behind it, with her work in her hand, and joined him in surveying me. Here we stand, all three, before me now. The landlord in his shirt-sleeves, leaning against the bar window-frame; his wife looking over the little half-door; and I, in some confusion, looking up at them from outside the partition.

They asked me a good many questions; as, what my name was, how old I was, where I lived, how I was employed, and how I came there. To all of which, that I might commit nobody, I invented, I am afraid, appropriate answers. They served me with the ale, though I suspect it was not the Genuine Stunning; and the landlord’s wife, opening the little half-door of the bar, and bending down, gave me my money back, and gave me a kiss that was half admiring and half compassionate, but all womanly and good, I am sure.

A savvy customer for a pre-teen.

Boak

You can read David Copperfield for yourself at Project Gutenberg. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A trio of East End riverside pubs (Wapping & Limehouse)

We love exploring London on foot, particularly East London. There’s always something to catch your eye in this area of contrasts — the strange mix of the very rich and the very poor, incredibly old buildings poking out between 1960s concrete blocks, five-for-a-pound samosas next to £50-a-pop sea-bass restaurants.

And if you’re interested in beer, pubs and/or brewing history, there’s stacks to see, if not necessarily to drink. About a year ago, we posted these photos of old Truman, Hanbury and Buxton signs. This time, the theme of our walk was riverside pubs. We didn’t plan a particular route or crawl, we just headed for the river around Wapping to see what we could see.

Firstly, we were intrigued to find ourselves on a Brewhouse Lane, just off Wapping High Street, which featured “improved industrial dwellings” from 1864 and Chimney court, complete with chimney. It definitely looks like an old brewery complex, but a bit of internet research hasn’t yet shed much light on which brewery, or when it was in operation. John Rocque’s 1747 map of London shows the street in exactly the same location. If anyone can shed any further light or even suggest where to go to get further information, we’d be grateful.

Our first beer stop was the Captain Kidd, on Wapping High Street, just behind Brewhouse Lane. This Sam Smith’s pub looks like it’s been there for centuries, but apparently only dates from the 1980s. They’ve made great use of the old building in which it’s housed, with big windows looking over the Thames. There’s also a small beer garden/yard. The usual Sam Smith’s selection is available, plus food. All in all, a really nice spot.

Wapping High Street continues east and becomes Wapping Wall. There you’ll find the famous Prospect of Whitby which dates from 1520 and claims to be the oldest riverside tavern. The place just oozes history and has lots of prime riverside views. In the summer,the small beer garden under the massive weeping willow is beautiful; in the winter, it’s a cosy place to look out onto the grey Thames and read your favourite East End Dickens scenes. The beer selection is unexciting (London Pride and Greene King products) but it’s in reasonably good nick.

After the Prospect of Whitby, we kept following the Thames Path eastward. Wapping becomes Limehouse and on Narrow Street we passed “The Narrow”, once the home of the Taylor Walker “Barley Mow brewery”, now a Gordon Ramsey gastropub. Maybe it’s nice, maybe it’s not. We didn’t go in.

The Grapes, further along Narrow Street, is claimed to be the inspiration (or one of the inspirations) for the “Six Jolly Fellowship Porters” pub in Our Mutual Friend. We’ve got no primary evidence to support this, but Zythophile is bold enough to repeat the suggestion. It’s definitely an old place (current building from 1720), with a great atmosphere and nice beers — among them, London Pride, TT Landlord and a guest, this time Bateman’s Valiant.

There’s a deck out the back where you can sit and hear (and occasionally feel) the Thames lapping up against the wall. It almost felt like we were beside the seaside, particularly with the stormy skies and choppy water. Bliss. The first photo in this post was taken there.

Boak

Notes

The Captain Kidd is at 108 Wapping High Street, E1W 2NE. Further west from here (no. 62) is another old pub, the Town of Ramsgate, which we found out about afterwards. That’s the disadvantage of being spontaneous and not planning.

The Prospect of Whitby is at 57 Wapping Wall, E1W 3SH. The nearest tube station for the Captain Kidd and the Prospect of Whitby would be Wapping, but it’s shut until 2010 for East London Line refurbishment. Try Docklands Light Railway to Shadwell instead. Or have a bit of a walk from the City. You’re bound to see something cool.

The Grapes is at 76 Narrow Street, E14 8BP. Closest public transport is Limehouse DLR station.

We didn’t have this walking guide from the local council yesterday. Might have been nice if we had!