Researching 20th Century Pub we spent time in some great libraries and archives with rich collections of pub- and beer-related material. This is the third in a series of blog posts intended to highlight great resources we hope you’ll go an look up yourself.
Manchester’s Central Library feat. Archives+, as we think it is formally called, is on St Peter’s Square opposite the famous Midland Hotel. It’s a grand building constructed in the 1930s but in classical style and is round with a dome. You’ll find most of the important stuff on the ground floor — not only reference material on open access but also the archive reading room.
We found accessing the archives a bit of a bureaucratic ordeal, if we’re honest. Newspapers on microfiche are available on site along with a certain number of reference texts but the stuff we were after — brewery records, local planning documents — had to be ordered well in advance, a few at at ime. That’s fine if you happen to live in Manchester but travelling from Penzance as we were at the time it was rather limiting. Still, the library staff could not have been more helpful, not least in pointing us to alternative sources for some documents such as this online archive of historic planning publications.
Via those off-site stacks we did manage to get access to some beautiful hand-drawn and coloured city planning maps the size of bedspreads, their text applied with stencils or rub-down lettering. They were a nightmare to handle and not actually all that much use in the end though there was certainly a thrill attached to seeing PUBLIC HOUSE or PH marked here or there. (See main picture, above.)
The best things we looked at — again, not much of which actually informed 20th Century Pub — were records from Boddington’s Brewery. Of course we looked up recipes in the brewing logs, though Ron Pattinson has done a much more thorough job of processing those since we tipped him off to their renewed availability. We also ploughed through board minute books which were crammed with fascinating details — notes on specific pubs and publicans, industrial accidents, local politicking and the birth of the national Beer is Best campaign in the 1930s, to name but a few. There are also lots of inserts like this:
Outside in the main reference library, into which you can wander from the street more or less whenever you like, for as long as you like, and help yourself to material from the shelves, there is a real treasure trove of useful stuff.
First there’s what would seem to be a complete set of the beer and pub history pamphlets published by Neil Richardson. Most are about the size and weight of a standard magazine and have the appearance of fanzines with coloured card covers, roughly reproduced photographs and word-processor-formatted text. The quality of the contents varies too but the best among them, e.g. The Old Pubs of Chorlton-upon-Medlock, are treasure troves of oral history and foraged fact. (Some are now available for Kindle at reasonable prices if you fancy a quick taster without travelling to Manchester.)
Then there’s the bound set of editions of the local Campaign for Real Ale magazine Opening Times running from 1994 to (we think) the present day. Manchester was an interesting place on the beer front in the 1990s with Brendan Dobbin’s pioneering experiments with New World hops, the birth and evolution of Marble, the coming of Mash & Air, and the arrival of the biggest pub in Britain. Opening Times recorded all this as it unfolded so that over the course of a few issues you can see, for example, advertisements for Dobbin’s ales followed by worrying reports of the health of the business and, finally, a notice of its closure. It was also rather startling to come across the article below among the pub crawl reports and tasting notes:
Finally, there are numerous local history books and memoirs which, though not exclusively about pubs or beer, touch upon them at various points, often at length. We were particularly interested to discover Jeremy Seabrook’s 1971 book City Close Up which was based on interviews and conversations with people in Blackburn, Lancashire, during the summer of 1969. There are several sections touching on pubs and drink including one chapter called ‘Evening in the Wheatsheaf’ in which three young men, engineering apprentices, discuss ‘going out’:
ALAN: You start drinking when you’re about fifteen, pubs around [the centre of Blackburn], nobody stops you. There’s nowt else to do. When you first start drinking, you sup a right lot of shit, you don’t know what a good pint is. They’ll serve you anything, they’re just making their money out of you when you start.
And once you’re done with Manchester there’s always Bolton a short train ride away where you can find copies of the raw notes from the Mass Observation pub observation project of the late 1930s, or the Greenall Whitley papers at Chester.