In 1947 the world was in the grip of flying saucer fever in the wake of American pilot Kenneth Arnold’s supposed sighting of several UFOs in Washington State in June that year.
As far as we can tell, Britain’s first flying saucer sightings of this period were in Kent as reported in various local newspapers, such as the Dundee Evening Telegraph on 10 July:
Claims to have seen a ‘flying saucer’ have been made by two people living in villages near Rochester, Kent.. Miss Tomkins, of The Nook, Snodland, said, ‘At 10.30 on Wednesday night I was astonished to see a peculiar round object in the sky travelling at great speed. I should say it was 1500 feet up.’ … A resident of Cucton, about a mile from Snodland, said he saw the ‘flying saucer’ at the same time and described it as being silver in colour.
Months later there was another similar event as reported in the Gloucester Citizen for 25 March 1948:
Mr and Mrs G. Knight of William Road, Ashford, Kent, claim to have seen a ‘flying saucer’… They say it appeared to be a large ball of dull-red colour several times the size of the largest star, and leaving a streak behind it. It was seen travelling across the sky in a south-easterly direction towards the Channel between Folkestone and Ashford.
This local angle perhaps explains why the name The Flying Saucer was chosen for a new pub in Hempstead, Kent, announced in 1951. The sign by T.C.R. Adams (about whom we’d like to know more) was displayed before the pub was up-and-running, at an exhibition in London to accompany the publication of a book, English Inn Signs.
Here’s one side:
The other featured a cartoon of a woman hurling crockery at her startled husband — flying saucers, geddit? Ho ho.
This Dover/Kent history website has more on the story: it says the licence for the pub came from a slum establishment demolished during clearance and was applied (we think) to a building that had until this time been operating as a working men’s club.
Perhaps surprisingly, The Flying Saucer is still there and trading under the same name, having had many different signs over the years, and what was a hip joke in 1951 has become a charming quirk almost 70 years on.
We spent Saturday at the London Metropolitan Archives where, among Whitbread press cuttings, we found a 1946 article headlined HALF OF GREEN, PLEASE:
Green beer is back. It was a craze in night clubs in the ’30s. I was offered a glass today, and if I had been drinking it in the dark I should not have been able to tell it from ordinary bottle dbeer. But it was bright green. Why?
I asked the Kent firm which brewed it. ‘It is simply a novelty,’ I was told. ‘Makes people talk. They want something different… The green is obtained by adding a harmless, tasteless vegetable blue dye to the beer directly it is brewed. Freshly-brewed pale ale is light yellow. Blue turns it green.’
The author goes on to explore whether other colours are possible, such as red. The answer is, yes, but green is easiest.
A hand-written note in the clippings book says it’s from The Star and appeared on 21 January if you want to look it up yourself. The same story seems to have gone global in the funny filler columnettes so there might be more sources out there, too.
We first had green beer about a decade ago, and there’s usually a little controversy about the practice around St Patrick’s Day, but we were surprised to discover that it had been going on as far back as the 1930s.
There’s also something interesting about that statement ‘They want something different’ which sounds more like a quote from the 1990s, with its seasonal guest ales and spices and fruit, than from austerity Britain.
Which Kent firm was it? We’ve dropped a line to Shepherd Neame as (a) our best guess and (b) the holders of a proper fully curated archive. We’ll update when we hear back.
UPDATE 11:36 15/05/2016
This is turning into a bit of a live blog. Here’s a story on the green beer craze from the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 24 July 1931:
Green beer—the most successful novelty that the brewing business has known in generation —is now being followed by white ale. This is not a new invention as was green beer, but is the famous old milk-like product of South Devon where it used to be regularly served in wayside hostelries… Now, however, it is being re-introduced as a Mayfair novelty, and is served at parties as companion of green beer. Hostesses find that their women guests like beer—so long as it looks like something else.
This is the last of the 1960s Batsford pub guides we’ve be digesting over the last few months and it’s a good one.
Unlike some of his colleagues on this project, D.B. Tubbs (Douglas Burnell ‘Bunny’ Tubbs?) attempts some humour in his writing, apparently inspired by Alan Reeve-Jones’s first entry, London Pubs, from 1962. Where Reeve-Jones featured his fictional Commander Xerxes McGill in every other entry (frankly, rather tediously), Tubbs has an equally fictional tome of pub lore, Hogmanay’s Etymology of the Bar (unpublished). He also uses some interesting turns of phrase, a couple of which we might nick, e.g.:
Beermanship — to be brushed up on in any pub with a choice of draught bitter.
Neo — self-consciously modern pub design or decor.
Loungery — when Neo goes bad.
Oldworlderye — e.g. a buffet bar described as ‘Ye Snackerie’.
Hinterlanders — people from the outer edges of London.
Wooden bitter/wooden beer — beer from the wood, AKA traditional draught, AKA ‘real ale’.
And if you can finish this book and not find yourself thirsting for a pint of his favourite bitter from Tomson & Wooton of Ramsgate, 1634-1968, ‘with a real bitter tang’, then you’ve got a stronger will than either of us. (Their X India sounds interesting, too.)
Preface — ‘[Some pubs] have been left out for reasons that you would understand if you had been there with me. Sometimes it was the beer, sometimes the welcome and occasionally the quote food unquote.’
Crown & Sceptre, Acol — ‘[The landlord] has adopted a parrot… This polychromatic bird lies on its back, crosses his (or her) legs to order, and can pick up a beer bottle with his (or her) beak.’
Walnut Tree, Aldington — ‘The pub has an almost untouched example of a medieval kitchen.’ The pub website today has no mention of an historic kitchen.
Malta Inn, Allington Lock — ‘The beer is served not from the wood but from the bottom of the cask by “by computer”.’ No further elaboration is given but we assume he means they used electric pumps.
Blue Bell, Beltring — ‘A Fremlins house opposite Whitbread’s main farm… There is still a good deal of knees-up-Mother-Brown but far fewer hop picking customers than there used to be because machines don’t drink. At one time the landlord used to shut the public bar, fill a bath with beer and pass the pints out through the window.’ Somewhat reminiscent scenes can be seen at the Blue Anchor in Helston on Flora Day when beer is served direct from the cask at the door of the cellar via plastic pipe.
Woodman’s Arms, Bodsham — ‘The landlord, Mr Bob Harvey… understands beer. Eight years ago, when he first arrived, a retired publican friend said: “The secret of keeping beer and ale, my lad, is to order it in advance so it can lay for two weeks before you tap it.” This hint he has taken ever since…. Only one brew is stocked so that it is always in condition… If you want a testimonial as the Romany regular called Bill. He drinks 22 pints of bitter every Saturday night then bicycles soberly home.’
Prince Louis, Dover — ‘The walls are fastened together at present by pictures, photographs, postcards, pennants, pistols, lifebuoys, model ships and aeroplanes, cartridges, tracts, beer-mats and incendiary bombs, nailed, pinned, screwed, glued and otherwise attached, rather in the fashion of Dirty Dick’s.’ Dirty Dick’s is arguably the original ‘collection pub’, a precursor of the 20th century theme pub.
George, Egerton — ‘in winter mulled ale’. A living tradition in this part of the world, or a bit of affected ‘oldworlderye’? (Also at the Smugglers Inn, Herne.)
King’s Head, Crafty Green — ‘Having been a tea and rubber planter in Ceylon Mr R.E. Jackson makes a speciality of Ceylon curries, which are cooked by his wife with spices specially imported from Ceylon and vegetables in season from Bombay.’ Yet another curry pub — this, it turns out, may have been ‘a thing’.
Bell, Ivychurch — ‘and fried chicken on Saturday nights’. So this wasn’t something introduced to pubs by trend-chasers in the last decade or so?
Three Horseshoes, Lower Hardres — ‘Grills and a good dish called Beef fondue… a good gobble.’ Has fondue made a comeback in hip pubs yet, or is still 70s Dinner Party naff?
George & Dragon, Speldhurst — ‘How about that drink, though? Star (Eastbourne) light mild and old ale; Fremlins’ Three Star Bitter, Worthington on draught. By pressure Flowers’ Keg, Whitbread Tankard, Watney’s Red Barrel, Double Diamond, and draught Guinness, plus Tuborg lager. Two draught ciders, four draught sherries, six malt whiskies…’ And so on. A quick glance at a couple of 1970s editions of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide suggests it didn’t retain its reputation as a beer destination.
Northfield House, Speldhurst — ‘The mild and bitter are well kept, and served straight from the wood, and if you don’t know the difference that makes you shouldn’t be drinking draught beer at all.’ Oof! A hard line, that.
Hole in the Wall, Tunbridge Wells — ‘[A] very special case, being not an ordinary pub but the back room of Mr Allman’s tobacconist’s shop. It used in Vic. times to be called “The Central Cigar Divan”, and still has its mahogany and black leather divans and a brass gas-jet lighter on the wall for gentlemen wishing to partake of the weed.’ (a) Central Cigar Divan — hipster bar name! (b) Not that type of weed. (c) Sounds fascinating but… it’s gone.
Pepperbox, Ulcombe — ‘Inns with an unusual name are often good.’ Discuss, 12 pts.
Victoria, Wye — ‘[In] the beer-drinking contest at the Victoria… the brisker drinkers achieve a four-second pint, and acrobatic frolics are to be seen with a double-decker counterbalanced beer mug mounted in gimbals.’ Responsible drinking! We’re struggling to picture this steampunk-sounding contraption.
Hooden Horse [sic], Wickhambreaux — ‘One of the regulars is a one-eyed swan named Nelson who lives down the road. It is quite respectable to see him, even after a long session.’ A friend of Lucifer the alcoholic donkey, perhaps? And who was asking a few years ago about the origins of the phrase ‘session beer’?
Westerham Brewery of Kent share with their bigger neighbours, Shepherd Neame, an apparent fixation on World War II, and a certain conservatism in their style of brewing.
Based on the five bottled beers we’ve tried this week, however, we’d say Westerham has one big advantage over SN: a superstar yeast strain. It was cultivated from a 1959 sample from Westerham’s original Black Eagle Brewery, taken over by Ind Coope and closed down in 1965, sleeping peacefully while other breweries’ yeasts were ‘cleaned up’ and so lost their character. It seems to add layers of complexity to even fairly ‘standard’, cleanly made beers.
William Wilberforce Freedom Ale (4.8% ABV, bottle-conditioned) is sideboard brown and offers lots of toffee and caramel, but is also notably clean. The use of (Fairtrade) sugar (an inexplicable taboo in self-consciously ‘craft’ brewing) adds some dryness that is missing from some similar beers. It is not exciting, as such, but we found it extremely satisfying.
Scotney Pale Ale (4%) is the palest beer in the range — lighter than, say, the amber of Young’s Ordinary, but certainly no ‘pale’n’hoppy’ lager-alike. There are ghosts of tangerine and pine from the hops, but it stops short of flowery or perfumed. It has a fairly intense bitterness which sucks the cheeks in. Overall, we’d call it clean, spicy and English.
We’ve been conditioned to expect from an IPA either (a) huge amounts of citrusy hop aroma or (b) no hop aroma at all (Greene King). Viceroy India Pale Ale (5%) is somewhere in the middle, alongside Worthington White Shield. The bitterness is pronounced — almost too much, but not quite — and with a tannic quality we associate with properly brewed tea. We also got more spice, this time almost Christmassy (cinnamon?). There was the faintest hint of a not-quite-right savoury flavour as we neared the end of the bottle, but the big hops defeated it.
Scotney Best Bitter (4.3%) was, for us, the only clanger: all toffee and caramel, and not much else, along the lines of Sharp’s Doom Bar. If you like this style of beer, however, you might appreciate that this is more bitter than many examples.
British Bulldog (4.3%, bottle conditioned), with Winston Churchill on the label, was, in some ways, the most interesting of the bunch. Ostensibly similar to Scotney Best, it seemed paler in colour and was far more complex. Bottle-conditioning gave it an extra zing and extremely draught-like. It took a moment or two before we realised: it’s a dead ringer for cask Fuller’s London Pride at its best. We detected a very faint roastiness, a spot of green apple, some sweet orange peel, and numerous other flavours and aromas which, dialled right down and blended together, made it subtle and fascinating. Our clumsy pouring gave it a slight haze but no ‘floaters’. One to buy by the case.
These are beers that, on the whole, don’t demand your attention — they are neither hard work nor aggressive — but, at the same time, are from from bland. They keep a companionable silence.
DISCLOSURE: Robert Wicks at Westerham sent us samples of his Audit Ale and Double Stout because we’ve expressed an interest in beers brewed to historic recipes in the past. We’ll be writing about them in a future post along with some similar beers we’ve accumulated. The beers mentioned above were included to fill up the box.