News, nuggets and longreads 18 April 2020: Liverpool, Collyhurst, Heywood

Here’s all the beer and pub related writing that grabbed our attention in the past week, including a bumper crop of notes on pubs and beer festivals in the North West of England.

We’ve been asking people one question for years: “Yes, but why is cask better? What’s actually different about it?” That CO2 is CO2 has made it difficult to understand why cask-conditioned ale should feel different and more subtle than keg – which we think it does, though we’re not by any means anti-keg, they added as if it was 2012. In fact, one of the people we asked about this while researching Brew Britannia was Ed Wray who did his best to come up with a sensible answer all those years ago. Now, he’s back with another plausible answer, via the IBD magazine:

Dr Frank Müller, Brewmaster at Riegele brewery…. “describes fermentation derived carbonation as a more delicate, more integrated effervescence than the coarse bubbles that result from CO2 delivered by gas suppliers and injected in-line. One theory briefly mentioned in the course of this conversation dealt with saturation aspects of CO2 around haze particles, visibly perceived or not evident. Arguably, a slow evolution of CO2 leads to a more gradual saturation and better mouthfeel properties in the final beer.”


The Lorimers

Steve Marland, AKA The Modern Moocher, provides another photographic dispatch from the weed-strewn yard of a former Manchester pub, this time reporting from outside what was once the Lorimer’s Arms at Collyhurst:

Typical of its time, developed to meet the needs of the new estates which replaced the slum clearance of the Sixties, in an area surrounded by industry… Once home to the Osborne Street Baths and Wash House, and a pub of an earlier age – The Osborne, still standing – ceased trading…. The pub had briefly become the centre for a telephone chatline service, prior to its current use as a place of worship – for the Christ Temple International Church.

There’s also a bonus mention of The Vine, AKA The Valley, which was the one pub we chickened out of going into during our 20th Century Pub research tour of England in 2016-17.


Liverpool Beer Festival

Kirsty Walker has posted twice this week, noting with sadness that now she has time to blog, there’s nothing to blog about. Her piece on Liverpool Beer Festival was as entertaining as usual, though:

When you’ve been to as many beer festivals as I have (roughly 4000), it is possible to get to saturation point. I had never been to a beer festival in the metropolitan cathedral, and I wanted to go, but I knew it would be a CAMRA festival quite similar to most. How to shake things up? Simply, to take someone who has never been to a beer festival before and has only been drinking real or craft ale for about six months. Step up Vinnie, your time is now.


The Grapes, Heywood

After a pause, Tandleman has returned to his series of reports from Samuel Smith pubs in his neck of the woods, this time popping into The Engineer’s Arms and The Grapes in Heywood, AKA ‘Monkey Town’:

I turn to Heywood’s History site for enlightenment and two explanations are offered. I rather like the one with a pub connotation of course, whereby folklore had it that Heywood men used to have tails, and so the stools and benches in the town’s pubs had holes in them for the tails to fit through. The reality, the article concludes, is that the holes were there for carrying the stools. Hmm. I’ll reluctantly rule that one out then, but the same piece surmises that the nickname ‘Monkey Town’ is derived from the pronunciation of Heap Bridge – a local area – as ‘Ape’ Bridge, and probably dates from the 1840s-50s. Not quite so much fun, but let’s go with that.


Tandleman has also provided this relic from c.2000 which might or might not mean we need to rewrite our history of hazy beer in the UK:


At Beervana, Jeff Alworth offers reflections on the interpretation of beer history, tackling what has become a thorny topic: does Belgian Lambic beer have a long history, or is it a recent marketing gimmick? Jeff respectfully disagrees with some recent scholarship on the subject:

Raf Meert has devoted a website to revisiting the history of lambic, and has discovered some interesting material. Much of it is quite helpful. After what looks like a fairly comprehensive search, for example, he can find no reference to the word “lambic” before the early 19th century. Interesting! But many of the conclusions he draws seem unsupported by the data… He has helped refine my understanding of some of the history, particularly the development of the various lambic products after the 19th century. But some of his arguments seem faulty to me, and since I know his work has influenced people who care about these things, I’d like to point out where I think he erred.


Oatmeal Stout label

A nameless archivist at Wandsworth Heritage Service has put together an interesting piece on Young & Co branding over the decades illustrated with some lovely historic labels.


And finally, from Twitter, there’s this:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s Thursday round-up.

Rigby’s Bier Keller, Liverpool, 1968

In the 1960s and 70s German-style beer cellars were all the rage in Britain popping up everywhere from Blackpool to central London, and Liverpool did not miss out on the trend.

We’ve touched on this subject a few times including in an article on theme pubs for CAMRA last year and in 20th Century Pub. Just recently we wrote a substantial article, also for CAMRA, which we expect to appear in the next issue of BEER magazine. This post, however, zooms in one one one example via an article in the in-house magazine of the Tetley Walker brewery group for autumn 1969.

Cover of the magazine.

Rigby’s on Dale Street is a famous Liverpool pub now run by Okell’s of the Isle of Man. In 1968, however, it was part of the Allied Breweries empire managed under as part of the Walker Cain sub-group. Just before Christmas that year Rigby’s newest feature, a Bierkeller, was unveiled in the low-beamed cellar:

Much of the character of the keller was already there, for the old cellars of Rigby’s still have their ancient flagstone floors, original cast iron stanchions and stone block walls… To this existing setting were added girls in traditional Bavarian costume to serve the drinks, long beech tables and benches — four tons of timber went into their making — German poster on the walls and two doors marked Damen and Herren.

The Keller

It’s sometimes hard to tell how seriously breweries took this kind of thing. Sometimes it seemed to be a sincere effort to evoke a German atmosphere — don’t forget, many British drinkers at this point had actually been to Germany thanks to the war and the subsequent cold war — while others were… less so. Rigby’s was certainly an example of the former perhaps because Liverpool in particular had strong German connections (think of the Beatles in Hamburg) and a fairly substantial reverse traffic with enough Germans in Liverpool to warrant their own church from 1960. There was also a permanent German consulate and it was the commercial attache, H.C. von Herwarth, who opened Rigby’s Bierkeller and “drew the first stein of lager”.

Revellers.
Opening night at Rigby’s Bierkeller. Those aren’t Bavarian hats.

But Rigby’s German-flavoured venture had another advantage: the licensee was one John Burchardt:

Mr Burchardt came to England as a prisoner of war in 1946. He worked on farms in this country and he liked living here so much that when he was released and was given the option of returning to his country…. he decided to come back and take a civilian job…. He married an English girl and Mr and Mrs Burchardt have a family of four boys.

A family photograph.
The Burchardts.

For once, we have been able to gather a bit more biographical information about the nameless spouse: Mrs Burchardt was called Edith and was born in Wales in 1932. The same source tells us that John was actually called Werner and was born in Dortmund but perhaps grew up in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) which might be why he didn’t want to go home. And another perhaps: he may have ended up in Liverpool because of family connections as one Otto Burchardt was appointed consul to the King of Prussia in Liverpool in 1841 and was buried there when he died in 1882.

But, back to pubs: John Burchardt told the reporter for TW magazine that he didn’t see much difference between running a Bavarian Bierkeller and an English pub like the one upstairs. Here’s the public bar in a shot taken, we think, from just about exactly where we sat when we visited in 2016:

Pub interior

We don’t know yet what became of Rigby’s Bierkeller but, based on our research into others, we’d guess it slowly went downmarket and became less German before folding in the late 1970s. (The standard pattern.)

But if you know otherwise, or remember drinking there during its Germanicised phase, do comment below or drop us a line.

Definite Scope: Dodgy Draymen, mid-1960s

Old advertisement: men loading a dray with casks.
An ad from the wrong time period (1929) and wrong city. So sue us.

On our travels round the country over the last few months we’ve been seeking out small press local history publications like Mike Axworthy’s A Garston Working Life (2012), which we found at Liverpool Central Library.

As well as being a keen frequenter of pubs Mr Axworthy also worked as a drayman (beer deliveries) when he was a teenager in the mid-1960s, and gives us this glimpse behind the scenes:

I soon learned why our wages were so poorly paid, because the company knew we made them up on the fiddle. I am ashamed to say that no one was safe, the company were robbed in many ingenious ways, like putting extra crates on when the checker wasn’t looking. These we would sell cheap to barmen at a low cost cash price. Then often we would walk out of the bar with some of their stock in empty boxes, or with bottles of spirits up our shirt. We justified this thieving by our low wages, but really it was just greed…

I was definitely not guilty when a big robbery took place in the warehouse. Inside ‘Kings of the Bottlers’ warehouse there was a strong room that contained the spirits… [It] had a steel door and a 2ft thick brick wall. One morning we came in and a hole had been knocked through the wall and most of the spirits spirited away. No one was ever caught for the theft but we all had an idea who it was but grassing was definitely out in our culture.

Presumably this kind of thing doesn’t happen today, or is very rare, what with electronic stock control and CCTV and so on… or maybe we’re being naive?

We’re posting this in response to something on the same topic that appeared on, and then disappeared from, Ron Pattinson’s blog. When it turns up again we’ll add a direct link. UPDATE 29/5/2016: And here it is.

PS. There was no blog post yesterday but we did update this 2014 post on The Britannia Inn at the 1958 Brussels Expo with new information and pictures.

GALLERY: Not Always About the Beer

We spent the last week and a bit flying round the north west of England looking at (a) brewery records and (b) pubs.

Sign: Public Bar, Parlour.

We needed dinner near our hotel in Liverpool and stumbled upon Thomas Rigby’s, an inter-war pub interior where class distinctions and waiter service were alive and well.

The seal of the Birkenhead Brewery Company Limited.

On our way to Port Sunlight we stopped to wonder at the beautiful but empty shell of a pub half-swallowed by a bland 1980s building.

Continue reading “GALLERY: Not Always About the Beer”

QUOTE: Nairn on Northern Pubs

“The Vines was built in the last year of the [19th] century and every majestic detail is kept up as good as new… Tall and luminous, brown and gold giant pilasters combining elegance with immense force, and huge Victorian paintings between. Sitting in it, you feel ten feet tall, for it is the kind of grandeur that raises you up rather than crushes you. Drinking beer which is both better and cheaper than the metropolitan brew — any kind of Liverpool bitter is a good drop — you realize that London has nothing like this.”

Ian Nairn in the essay ‘Liverpool’ first published in The Listener in 1964 and collected in Britain’s Changing Towns in 1967, reissued and updated in 2013. There’s more information about The Vines on the CAMRA pubs heritage website.

John Lennon’s Quiet Pint Revisited

lennon_specs_474

‘In conclusion, there is some evidence that circa 1966 John Lennon made a remark about the difficulty of experiencing a “quiet pint” in a favorite Liverpool pub.’

So states a blog post by Garson O’Toole, the famous consulting quote investigator, responding to a query we made last year.

He has traced it back as far as Philip Norman’s 1981 muck-raking biography Shout! but not to source.

If you’ve got copies of magazines containing Bill Harry’s early Beatles writing, perhaps you’ll have more luck.