Beer history pubs

The Iron Duke and the battle for a union for bar staff

For an ambitious politician in 1930s Liverpool, wealthy brewers were a tempting target, and underpaid bar staff a potential source of power.

When we’re trying to understand what life was like in pubs and breweries in the past local working class histories can be an excellent source.

For example, there’s My Liverpool by Frank Shaw, published in 1971. It contains a hundred or so individual entries, each under their own headings, reflecting the author’s memories and impressions of life in the city during the 20th century.

On a recent dip into this book, which has no index and no real structure, we came across a passage about a local Labour politician and later Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Luke Hogan.

If we measure it by 21st century standards, Hogan is something of a forgotten figure: his Wikipedia page is barely more than a stub. That makes Shaw’s rambling, personal, first-hand observations all the more interesting.

First, he tells us, Hogan was known as ‘The Iron Duke’ not because of his aristocratic bearing, though he was apparently lordly, despite his upbringing in the slums, but simply because it rhymes with ‘Luke’.

He then goes onto say:

When I first met him in the Thirties he was working on the marvellous but hopeless task of organising barmen and barmaids in a union.

Shaw then rambles away from this intriguing point for a while, giving us a broader portrait of Hogan as a sharp political operator with street smarts – like a character from The Wire or, dare we say it, Peaky Blinders.

He then loops back to explain Hogan’s particular interest in pubs:

The licensee [of The Maid of Erin] was the brother of Luke who was a powerful man on the local Watch Committee, well liked by all policemen… Yes, Luke’s defunct school of politicians never missed anything. We could drink after hours because Luke was a magistrate and on the licensing committee. Police, pubs and schools he saw from the outset to be the sources of power and personal repute.

The battle for a barmen’s union

For more detail on Hogan’s campaign to establish a union for bar staff we have to dig around in the newspaper archives. A piece in the Belfast Telegraph from 8 October 1935 has Hogan speaking at a joint meeting of the National Union of Distribute and Allied Workers (NUDAW) and the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (Barmen’s Branch):

Alderman Luke Hogan… described the distributive trade as the biggest sweated industry in the British Isles. Since the year 1922, the workers in this class of industry had increased by over 50 per cent, and of the total number more than 50 per cent were under the age of 21. The industries were expanding, and every big firm, combine and trust was making profits of a phenomenal character. But despite those features, the tenure of employment was shorter, for it was a “blind” occupation into which thousands were brought in at 14 and discarded when they became 18… In a reference to the men and women engaged in public houses, Alderman Hogan, said that if they had barmen as strong as the liquor they sold was weak it would not be long before they took a great step forward in bettering their conditions.

In 1944, Shaw mentions in passing, Hogan angered members of the local Brewers’ Society by surveying NUDAW members employed in their pubs. There’s more on this incident in the newspapers, too: they took Hogan to court.

The questionnaire asked pub managers for details of wages, living conditions, weekly sales, and the number of staff. As far as the brewers were concerned, this was commercially sensitive information, and confidential.

At a hearing in April 1945 Hogan’s defence counsel said:

It is simply an attempt… to uphold and maintain the policy of the brewers to oppose the formation of a trade union. It has been an effective step, and has resulted in the temporary obstruction of the union, and they may feel some justification in that. But I submit this action has no legal foundation. This is the kind of action against which the unions are protected by the Trade Disputes Act.

Hogan’s own testimony (Liverpool Daily Post, 27 April 1945) helpfully fills in some gaps in the story:

[He] said at various times he had attempted to build up an organisation among the workers in the brewing industry. Other unions had made similar efforts, but all got tired of wasting money… Dealing with the effort to establish a Joint Industrial Council, witness said the suggestion was that machinery should be set up to deal exclusively with the on-licensed trade, covering all employees in the trade. The invitation to join in the effort was sent to the plaintiff companies, with the exception of Bent’s, who had always been hostile to organisation in the trade, and it was thought it would be a waste of time to trouble with them. Nothing developed in the way of forming an Industrial Council. In November 1940, there was a largely attended meeting of public-house managers and barmen and others to interest them in the formation of a trade union.

In May 1945, the court declared that Hogan was wrong to ask for information about turnover and staff costs, and shouldn’t do it again. If he did, the brewers could come back to court for an injunction. But he was free to continue to ask individuals about their pay and conditions. (Liverpool Echo, 16 May 1945.)

Bobbing about (we’ve put this in clearer order than it appears in the book) Shaw tells us that after World War II, and after his stint as Lord Mayor, Hogan continued his association with pubs and booze:

I was in Luke’s company in the Forties with other heavy drinkers in the home of a prominent Liverpool businessman. The businessman was temporarily out of the room. His wife, much younger than he, clearly resented his generosity to us, though she must have known, as we did, that he wouldn’t give anything to anyone for nothing. She said: ‘I think you gentlemen should pay for your drinks.’… Luke, elegant as ever, carefully put his drink down and looked down at her, murmuring softly: ‘Madam, you forget. I am a magistrate. If you charge one penny for a drink in this unlicensed room I shall have to summon the police.’

In 1971, Shaw had this to say about the long-term effects of Hogan’s campaign on behalf of bar staff:

[They], especially the barmaids, in Liverpool, remain among the poorest paid workers.

Half a century later again, there are unions bar staff can join, and an active campaign to encourage them to do so. But it remains an ongoing battle.


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.

20th Century Pub Beer history pubs

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”.

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.

Beer history

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.

Beer history photography pubs

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.