News, nuggets and longreads 15 June 2019: Beavertown, Bristol, Boozeless Beer

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck as interesting, thought-provoking or otherwise noteworthy, from The Crumpled Horn to craft beer.

First, some bits of news.

> It used to be that if you want­ed to buy West­vleteren beer you had to vis­it the monastery at pre­scribed times and pur­chase a lim­it­ed amount under strict rules. (Or go into almost any beer shop, it seems, and pay over the odds.) Then, a few years ago, a tele­phone order­ing line was intro­duced. Now, though, you can order it online. (But you still have to pick up your order in per­son.)

> Last year, five post-war pubs were list­ed, includ­ing The Crum­pled Horn in Swin­don. Now, accord­ing to the Swin­don Adver­tis­er, it has closed. Wor­ry­ing news.

> When we vis­it­ed the Fel­low­ship at Belling­ham, South Lon­don, dur­ing research on 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub it was a near-wreck with only one decrepit room still oper­at­ing as a pub. Now, final­ly, its rein­ven­tion as a ‘com­mu­ni­ty pub’ is com­plete. We look for­ward to vis­it­ing.

It’s always worth read­ing Pete Brown on the state of the nation. For Imbibe he’s writ­ten a sub­stan­tial overview of where craft beer is at in 2019, reflect­ing in par­tic­u­lar on the takeover fever of the last cou­ple of years:

Fourpure’s beers are broad­ly sim­i­lar in style and qual­i­ty to Beavertown’s, and are avail­able about as wide­ly. Yet some­how, Fourpure’s 100% acqui­si­tion was not greet­ed with any­thing like the out­rage prompt­ed by Beavertown’s minor­i­ty sale. The rules of accept­able behav­iour among craft brew­ers, it seems, are flex­i­ble, depend­ing on who we’re talk­ing about.

Cranes on the waterside in Bristol.

Lydia and Lor­na at Liquor­Trips offer a review of the recent Bris­tol Craft Beer Fes­ti­val which might help you decide whether to attend next year:

With more than 35 brew­eries offer­ing their wares, it was dif­fi­cult to pace your­self too much with so much to try. We man­aged to get round the major­i­ty, even if it was just for tasters from some. Locals Wiper and True and Wild Beer Co were there, among oth­er nation­al and inter­na­tion­al names in beer such as The Ker­nel, To Øl, Mikkeller, Ver­dant, Lervig, Left Hand­ed Giant, Lost and Ground­ed and North­ern Monk to name a few… Some of the sours on offer were among our absolute best beers of the day – Gip­sy Hill’s Peo­ple Like Us fruit­ed sour, Wiper and True’s Bar­rel Age­ing Car­di­nal Sour and the Pome­lo Palo­ma by Com­mon­wealth Brew­ing Com­pa­ny stay in our minds.

The Waggon & Horses.

From The New Wipers Times, a blog about 1930s archi­tec­ture, comes an inter­est­ing note on an inter-war pub, the Wag­gon & Hors­es, in Lon­don N14:

With the open­ing of South­gate Tube sta­tion on 13 March 1933, as part of the Pic­cadil­ly line exten­sion to Cock­fos­ters, and the com­ple­tion of the near­by North Cir­cu­lar Road, the sur­round­ing area was heav­i­ly devel­oped dur­ing the 1930s and so South­gate became one of many new sub­urbs in Lon­don where Watney’s required larg­er, more suit­able premis­es… The North Lon­don build­ing was designed by the group’s Chief Archi­tect, A. W. Blom­field, F.R.I.B.A., (Alfred William Blom­field, 1879–1949), who also over­saw the design of “The Giraffe” in Ken­ning­ton, S.E.17. Both build­ings would like­ly now be described as Neo-Geor­gian in their exter­nal appear­ance.

Non alcoholic beer: 0,0

A pro­vok­ing thought from the Pub Cur­mud­geon: has the recent dri­ve to mar­ket non-alco­holic beers been a tac­ti­cal deci­sion in response to the threat of a ban on booze adver­tis­ing? Maybe. (Jess remem­bers TV adverts for vod­ka in Poland that weren’t for vod­ka – weird, but effec­tive.)

Scales and balance.

The ever-per­cep­tive Kate Bernot makes some inter­est­ing obser­va­tions about writ­ing about alco­hol in a piece for The Take­out, con­clud­ing with this zinger:

I think drinkers owe it to them­selves to under­stand the risks inher­ent in over­con­sump­tion, and to savor and appre­ci­ate respon­si­ble drink­ing all the more so. Per­haps those sen­ti­ments can coex­ist, and per­haps an aware­ness of the dual­i­ty makes the sub­ject of alco­hol even more fas­ci­nat­ing to cov­er.

Final­ly, we’re fin­ish­ing with one of our own Tweets:

For more select­ed links check out Alan McLeod on Thurs­days and Stan Hierony­mus on Mon­day (prob­a­bly).

J.B. Priestley on Improved Pubs in the Midlands, 1934

The passage below appears in English Journey by J.B. Priestley, published in 1934, and just reprinted in hardback by Great Northern Books, though we found our copy for £4 in the local Amnesty bookshop.

A hun­dred pages in, it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, rather sour view of a land of cheap rain­coats and glum hotel bars, but it’s impos­si­ble to write about Eng­land with­out at least acknowl­edg­ing pubs, and the 1930s were an espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing time.

We’ve tak­en the lib­er­ty of insert­ing some extra para­graph breaks for read­ing on a screen:

Half-shaved, dis­il­lu­sioned once more, I caught the bus that runs between Coven­try and Birm­ing­ham… We trun­dled along at no great pace down pleas­ant roads, dec­o­rat­ed here and there by the pres­ence of new gaudy pubs. These pubs are a marked fea­ture of this Mid­lands land­scape.

Some of them are admirably designed and built; oth­ers have been inspired by the idea of Mer­rie Eng­land, pop­u­lar in the neigh­bour­hood of Los Ange­les. But whether come­ly or hideous, they must all have cost a pot of mon­ey, prov­ing that the brew­ers… still have great con­fi­dence in their prod­ucts.

At every place, how­ev­er, I noticed that some attempt had been made to enlarge the usu­al attrac­tions of the beer-house; some had bowl­ing greens, some adver­tised their food, oth­ers their music. No doubt even more ambi­tious plans for amuse­ment would have been put into force  if there had been no oppo­si­tion from the tee­to­tallers, those peo­ple who say they object to pub­lic-hous­es because you can do noth­ing in them but drink, but at the same time stren­u­ous­ly oppose the pub­li­cans who offer to give their cus­tomers any­thing but drink.

The trick is – and long has been – to make or keep the beer-house dull or dis­rep­utable, and then to point out how dull or dis­rep­utable it is. Is is rather as if the rest of us should com­pel tee­to­tallers to wear their hair long and unwashed, and then should write pam­phlets com­plain­ing of their dirty habits: “Look at their hair,” we should cry.

For more on inter-war improved pubs, with their bowl­ing greens and tea­rooms, see chap­ter 2 of our 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub.

QUICK ONE: The Flea and Sawdust School, 1927

The English Public House As It Is, a book by social observer Ernest Selley, was published in 1927. Re-reading it in search of a reference, we spotted a passage that hadn’t previously grabbed our attention.

In it, Sel­l­ey reports on his vis­it to The Fel­low­ship Inn, Belling­ham, South Lon­don (pic­tured above when we vis­it­ed in August), where he met some­one who was unim­pressed with the new style of ‘improved pub­lic house’:

Evi­dent­ly this man is a mem­ber of what I once heard described as ‘The Flea and Saw­dust School’; one of the type which prefers the stuffy ‘cozi­ness’ of the dirty, ill-ven­ti­lat­ed tap­room to any of the ‘new fan­gled’ ideas.

Some ances­tor of The Pub Cur­mud­geon, per­haps? (That’s not us hav­ing a go: we sus­pect he’ll quite like the com­par­i­son.)

It’s inter­est­ing to us that this lob­by, which we asso­ciate with a cer­tain wing with­in CAMRA today, was suf­fi­cient­ly well-devel­oped by the mid-1920s for Sel­l­ey to say he had ‘met sev­er­al of these crit­ics’, and for it to deserve a nick­name. It was clear­ly, as they say, ‘a thing’.

The Fellowship Inn when it was new.
The Fel­low­ship Inn in c.1920s. SOURCE: Inside Hous­ing.

Also of note, in the sec­tion that imme­di­ate­ly fol­lows, is an account of ear­ly beer snob­bery: Sel­l­ey records a meet­ing with a bloke who won’t drink at the local improved pub because ‘the beer is rot­ten’. Sel­l­ey says he tried it and found it any­thing but ‘rot­ten’. In his view the man was prej­u­diced because he resent­ed the posh­er, more expen­sive pub, even though Sel­l­ey was sure he would have enjoyed the very same beer served at the more down-to-earth ‘Pig and Whis­tle’. We can’t say for sure what was real­ly going on – Sel­l­ey was prej­u­diced too in his own way, in favour of improved pubs – but this kind of debate about val­ue, qual­i­ty, and the qual­i­ties of a ‘prop­er pub’ is cer­tain­ly still going on 90 years lat­er.

Pub Preservation: The Railway Hotel, Edgware

Railway Hotel in the rain.
‘Rail­way Hotel Unloved’ by Matt Brown, from Flickr, under Cre­ative Com­mons.

We don’t usually get involved in campaigns or promote petitions but this one struck a particular chord with us.

It was set up by Mark Amies (@superfast72) who blogs about his­to­ry and archi­tec­ture and has a par­tic­u­lar inter­est in inter-war pubs in the Greater Lon­don area. His piece on The Comet, Hat­field, is a par­tic­u­lar favourite of ours.

The Rail­way Hotel in Edg­ware, North Lon­don, the sub­ject of his peti­tion, is anoth­er pub from the same peri­od, so few of which are left that the remain­ing exam­ples have become pre­cious.

It’s a pub we know quite well even though we did­n’t make it there on our tour of out­er Lon­don’s inter-war pubs ear­li­er in the year. It is men­tioned in pass­ing in Basil Oliv­er’s essen­tial 1947 book The Renais­sance of the Eng­lish Pub­lic House as a notable exam­ple of the kind of ‘impos­ing inn… qua­si tim­ber-framed’ that Tru­man, Han­bury & Bux­ton were build­ing at the time. Now, Mark says:

It closed in the ear­ly 2000’s and has remained board­ed up and unloved since. Last month there was an arson attack which left a por­tion of the ground floor ruined, as yet no one has been pros­e­cut­ed for this to our knowl­edge. The Rail­way Hotel has has sev­er­al own­ers since last year.

These sit­u­a­tions can be turned around. A cou­ple of weeks back we vis­it­ed The Fel­low­ship Inn, a sim­i­lar premis­es in South Lon­don, which hav­ing been list­ed is now the focus of a well-fund­ed project which promis­es not only to restore the build­ing archi­tec­tural­ly but also to bring it back to life, giv­ing over the pub to expe­ri­enced chain oper­a­tors, installing a micro­brew­ery, and turn­ing the derelict dance hall into a cin­e­ma.

Impressions of Birmingham Pubs

We had a less than satisfactory time on the second part of our recent sort-of-holiday, which we spent in Birmingham (of which more in our monthly newsletter), but there was plenty of fun to be had down the pub.

We had a hit list of places we want­ed to vis­it, either because we’d heard they were good, or because they were of his­toric or archi­tec­tur­al inter­est. That’s just as well because – gen­er­al­i­sa­tion alert – it’s not the kind of city where play­ing it by ear works espe­cial­ly well. It seemed to us that the city cen­tre is large­ly the domain of chains. Large­ly but not entire­ly, of course: The Welling­ton and The Post Office Vaults, both five min­utes walk from New Street Sta­tion, between them have more than enough beer to keep the snooti­est of drinkers hap­py for a week­end. We did also pop into Puri­ty’s craft beer bar, Pure­craft, and did­n’t take to it – it was like drink­ing in Piz­za Express – but we’d had a long day and oth­ers seem to like it.

To get to the rest of the inter­est­ing stuff, though, you have to brave the ring road (we spent what felt like hours wait­ing at traf­fic lights or wan­der­ing in sub­ways) after which you find your­self very quick­ly in the kind of post-indus­tri­al streetscapes which can feel a bit ‘sketchy’ to an out­sider.

Tower blocks, Birmingham.Local favourite The Craven Arms, for exam­ple, is only just beyond the very cen­tre of the city, but it’s not a pub a vis­i­tor would ever stum­ble upon, being up a side street, past a con­crete car park, what looks like a half-col­lapsed estate pub, some waste­land, and those beau­ties above. But it’s not actu­al­ly dodgy, as far as we can tell, and the leap of faith is total­ly worth it for the sight of this gor­geous exte­ri­or against the grey:

The exterior of the Craven Arms.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Impres­sions of Birm­ing­ham Pubs”