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20th Century Pub pubs

Watered-down beer in Oldham, 1960

In 1960, a mysterious man slid into pubs in and around Oldham and secretly tested the strength of the beer. What he found was criminal.

We first came across a version of this story back in 2016 when we filleted a 1969 book called How To Run a Pub by Tony White.

His version goes like this:

In 1965, fourteen Manchester licensees, all in roughly the same area of the town, were fined a total of £557 (the highest fine £37) for this very offence. It is interesting to note that these prosecutions were successfully brought as the result of a tip-off from a mystery man, whose identity has never been revealed and who never explained how he came to his conclusions, though the accuracy of his findings suggests that he had some special knowledge or know-how (some say he was an employee of a rival brewery).

This Mr X seems to have gone round his locals, sampled their beer and sent in a report on twelve of them to the police. The Customs and Excise boys immediately went into action and swooped down on about twenty pubs in the area including those mentioned by their anonymous informant. To their astonishment, they discovered that in ten cases out of twelve Mr X was proved right, though in only one case did the landlord actually admit to watering his beer.

Having done our usual checks in the archive, we can’t find any reference to such an event in 1965.

That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, or that his dates are wrong – only that if it did, and his dates are right, then either:

  • it didn’t get a write-up in the papers
  • or those papers haven’t been digitised yet

What we did find, however, was a remarkably similar story, from the same part of the world, from 1960.

Here’s how it was reported in the Birmingham Daily Post for 14 April that year:

Twenty-five Oldham and district publicans appeared at Oldham yesterday as a result, it was stated, of a sampling drive carried out by officers of the Customs and Excise Department. All pleaded guilty to being in possession of beer that had been diluted with water, three admitting that they had diluted the beer. A fine of £15 plus 1 guinea costs was imposed on each summons. Mr. W. S. Hill, for the Customs and Excise, said that in 22 cases they could not prove that a deliberate fraud had been committed by the licensees.

The excuses given by publicans for why there was water in their beer are funny, a little embarrassing, but also illuminating:

Mrs. Emma Lees of the Old Post Office Public House, Manchester Road, Oldham, Clifford Pybus of the Wagon and Horses, Manchester Road, Oldham, and Donald Jinks of the Church Inn, Middleton Road, Royton, admitted having diluted the beer.

Mr. Hill said that Jinks had written stating that he had accidentally knocked over a bucket of beer, and had added some water to the beer.

We’re not sure we quite follow this one. Why was the beer was in a bucket? Possibly because it was about to be returned to the cask from… wherever it had been before that. Then he trips over it, or whatever, spills some, and tops it up? This sounds exactly like an excuse made up on the fly.

Mr. J. Lord, for Mrs. Lees, said that she had been under the impression that when beer was muddy on being pumped she was entitled to add some lemonade to it. This she had done. The lemonade cost more than the mild beer.

That she thought this was legal, or claims as much, suggests that it was a reasonably common practice, doesn’t it? We might quite like to try (unmuddy) mild with a lemonade top.

Mr. Harold Riches, for Pybul, said there had not been a deliberate attempt to defraud the customers. but Pybus had carried out injudicious piece of manipulation. He had put a quantity of bitter beer that was rather clouded into the mild beer. Other explanations were that water must have got into the beer while the pumps were being cleaned.

This practice of dumping bad bitter into mild, where it wouldn’t be noticed, has come up before. Maybe that would interfere with gravity readings.

But it does feel more likely, despite all this wriggling, that he put a bit of water into the cask to stretch it further. Especially as we know (same link as above) that this was standard practice:

It is useful to know that customers won’t notice six gallons of water in thirty gallons of ale, and “thirty bob a bucket for water is not so bad”… Grainger chose his watering hours carefully: after all, which excise officer ever worked after midday on Saturday?

If you know anything about Tony White’s 1965 Manchester Excise swoop, do let us know, especially if you have clippings or the like.

Main picture: The Cranberry, which happened to be the only 1960s Oldham pub of which we had a handy photo.

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News

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.

Categories
featuredposts pubs

Gin palaces in Manchester: blessed gaudiness

As you might expect, when it comes to writing about gin palaces, London seems to hog the limelight, but they popped up all across England in the early 19th century, including Manchester.

Without Dickens to write about them or Cruikshank to draw them, the records are more sparse, but they do exist. And, once again, we owe disapproving temperance types a debt of gratitude for their information gathering, biased as it might be.

For example, here’s a summary of the situation from Manchester in 1844: Its Present Condition and Future Prospects by the French economist Léon Faucher who visited England on a study tour in the mid-1840s, with paragraph breaks added for easier online reading:

Only twenty years ago, drunkenness was considered a degrading indulgence; the dramshops were in retired places, and their customers entered secretly by private doors; and a candle placed behind the window was the dubious sign to arrest the attention of the passer-by.

But now, drunkenness has infused itself into the bosom of society. Habit has conquered shame, and that which formerly drew a blush from the men is now regarded as a daily habit by women and children.

By degrees, the dim lights have been replaced by the dazzling gas; the doors have been enlarged; the pot-house has become a gin-shop; and the gin-shop a species of palace.

The games hitherto carried on in these places not being sufficient, the proprietors have added music, dancing, and exhibitions, as additional attractions to a dissolute people. Formerly, concerts were held in these places only in the winter, but now they extend throughout the year; and, as in Liverpool, so here, the swelling of the organ, and the sounds of the violin and the piano, resound in their large saloons.

One of these houses, situated not far from the Exchange, and at the entrance to Victoria Bridge, collects in this manner, one thousand persons, every evening, until eleven PM. On Sundays, to diminish the scandal, religious hymns and sacred music are performed upon the organ and piano.

We can’t work out exactly which establishment is being described here but a quick look at this much later map, from 1888, suggests plenty of candidates – P.H. here, P.H. there, P.H.s everywhere. Whatever was previously on the site of The Grosvenor seems most likely.

Map of Manchester with many public houses.

In 1845, an American observer using the pseudonym ‘Looker On’ set out just how common gin palaces were in Manchester at that time:

To form any just idea of the magnitude of Manchester, and of the character of its population, it should be entered towards evening.

Then every mill is illuminated, and as their countless windows blaze forth, they present a brilliant spectacle. The black walls are no longer seen, and the canopy of smoke which overhangs all is no longer distinguishable by the eye.

At the corners of nearly all the principal streets are gaudy buildings, with enormous lamps, and into these Gin Palaces, as they are called, a continual stream of living beings enter.

And oh! what a wretched procession! Old men and little children, drabbish women and young girls; youths of besotted appearance, and men in the very flower of life, bowed down to the dust, energies quenched, strength prostrated, minds half destroyed.

Benjamin Love’s 1842 book The Handbook of Manchester gives us another couple of interesting nuggets, wrapped up in a lot of temperance hyperbole:

From an observation made on [Sunday] the 13th March, 1842, by the writer’s direction, there were found to enter one dram-shop only, in this town, the astonishing number of 484 persons in one hour! The greater part were women! Some decently dressed, apparently the wives of mechanics; others almost naked, carrying in their arms a squalid infant. When wives frequent gin-palaces, no wonder their husbands, on leaving work, proceed straight to the beer house.

Assuming we credit Mr Love’s figure, that means these places were undeniably busy. It also suggests a clear gender divide between types of establishment. Beerhouses were the antithesis of the gin palace – generally small and plain.

Here’s a bit more from ‘Looker On’ describing the scene inside a Manchester gin palace:

Behind a bar, decorated richly with carvings and brass work, multiplied by numerous mirrors, in costly frames, with three or four showy-looking, and flashily attired females, occupied incessantly in drawing from enormous casks, gaudily painted in green and gold, and bearing seducing names, glasses of spirits, which are eagerly clutched by the trembling fingers of those who crowd round the counter, gasping as if for breath, for the stimulus of drink. Look at their red, half-raw lips; their glaring lack-lustre eyes…

Right, well, that’s enough of that, but the description of the fixtures and fittings seems accurate.

Glitter and grandeur aside, they were by no means genteel places, as this note of a criminal case from 1847 makes clear:

Yesterday, at the Borough Court, before Mr. Maude, a fellow employed… about the Bowdun and Altrincham coach office named John Hampson, was charged with robbing a gentleman from Preston, of his purse and eighteen sovereigns.

It appeared that on Monday evening, the prosecutor who had come here on business, got ‘a little over the line,’ and being determined, as it seemed to have jolly good spree, and see life in Manchester, he bent his steps towards gin palace in Deansgate.

There, on the strength of his well-filled purse he was received by the company present as ‘a real good fellow,’ and very speedily his excessive liberality became apparent, as he insisted on standing treat for everybody.

When the hour for closing the vaults arrived, he was just in the height of his glory, and nowise inclined to go to bed, when the prisoner and some of his friends kindly offered to find him with quarters, provided he would pay for a supply of liquor.

Accordingly, he accompanied the parties to a house in Back Queen-street, where gallons of ale, quarts of rum, &c. &c. were sent for pretty freely, until overpowered with strong drink the Preston gentleman fell asleep, and on awaking found that he was minus his purse and eighteen sovereigns.

An 1857 guidebook to Manchester and Salford singles out the gin palaces of Ancoats for particular attention:

The oldest and the worst working district of Manchester, is the region known as Ancoats. Here, however, you will find the truest specimens of the indigenous Lancashire population, and hear the truest version of the old Anglo-Saxon pronunciation… Ancoats, in fact, is Manchester pur sang – Manchester ere sanitary improvement and popular education had raised and purified its general social condition.

Many of its streets, particularly the great thoroughfare called the Oldham Road, are magnificent in their vast proportions; but the thousands of by-lanes and squalid courts, the stacked-up piles of undrained and unventilated dwellings, swarm with the coarsest and most dangerous portions of the population. Here the old and inferior mills abound; here the gin-palaces are the most magnificent, and the pawn-shops the most flourishing; here, too, the curse of Lancashire-the ‘low Irish ’ – congregate by thousands; and here, principally, abound the cellar dwellings,and the pestilential lodging-houses, where thieves and vagrant; of all kinds find shares of beds in underground recesses for a penny and twopence a night.

Another source, also from 1855, paints a vivid picture of the contrast between the Ancoats gin palaces and their surroundings:

Returning from the Christmas treat of the St. John’s Industrial Ragged School, in company with the energetic and intelligent master of the New Ragged School in Angel Meadow, Ancoats, I met numbers of poor wretched looking children, in groups, round the corners of low streets and public-house doors, where the numerous gas lamps inside threw a gleam of light across the road, and the opening and shutting of the door of the magnificent gin palace gave a cheerfulness and bustle to a very dull and dirty street.

On the step of one public-house, a little girl, herself o about six years old, was nursing a pale and delicate infant not six months old, or rather just letting it lie over her knees. The mother was, in all probability, inside, spending her last copper; the rain was pouring, and it was past nine o’clock.

Finally, Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1848 novel Mary Barton: a tale of Manchester Life mentions gin palaces and pubs in passing in a couple of places, including confirmation of the obvious appeal of places ”where all is clean and bright, and where th’ fire blazes cheerily, and gives a man a welcome as it were”.

What we can’t work out – not easily, anyway – is if there are any surviving early 19th century gin palaces in Manchester today. There are plenty of wonderful historic pubs but most, such as The Marble Arch and Crown & Kettle, are late 19th century or early 20th century buildings.

On that, local intelligence would be welcome.

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 7 December 2019: Marble, micropubs, more takeovers

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from authenticity to Austria’s part in the birth of lager.

First, some takeover news from the US: Ballast Point has been sold again, sort of, as has Anderson Valley. It feels as if there’s often a flurry of buying and selling of breweries just before Christmas as people seek to seal deals before the end of the calendar year. The twist this time? It isn’t multi-nationals doing the buying. Here’s Jeff Alworth on Ballast Point:

Now that we’ve had 48 hours to digest the news that Kings and Convicts, a tiny, two-year-old brewery, has indeed purchased Ballast Point, new questions have emerged. Initially everyone was trying to learn who Kings and Convicts (K&C) were. Was the deal legit? And, because Ballast Point was purchased for a billion dollars just four years ago, the question everyone wanted answered—what was the (fire?) sale price?


Portrait of Jan Rogers.
SOURCE: Good Beer Hunting/Lily Waite.

For Good Beer Hunting Lily Waite has profiled Marble, the pioneering Manchester microbrewery that began its life behind one of Britain’s best pubs:

“I came here for a drink, got involved in a lock-in, and came away with a job,” Marble’s founder, owner, and director Jan Rogers tells me over a pint. “That was it!”… Often found with her trusty vape in hand, Rogers is a woman with a firecracker wit and just as much energy—her calm is someone else’s boisterous; her excited is your or my whirlwind. She’s razor-sharp of both mind and expletive-laden tongue. In an industry dominated by men, she may not exemplify a “typical” brewery owner but, frankly, I can’t imagine her giving a flying fuck—and it’s not like that’s slowed her down.

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Blogging and writing News

News, nuggets and longreads 3 August 2019: Apollo, Bass, curation

These are all the stories about beer and pubs we enjoyed most, or learned the most from, in the past week, from Wetherspoons to museums.

From Jeff Alworth, an epic – a two-parter pondering the question of why we like certain beers and dislike others:

Let’s try a thought experiment. Select one of your favorite beers and think about why you like it. If I ask you to tell me the reasons, my guess is that you will talk about the type of beer it is and which flavors you like. Since you’re reading this blog, you might talk about ingredient or even process (Citra hops! Decoction mashing!). If I asked a casual drinker, someone who drinks Michelob Ultra, say, I’d hear different reasons, but probably something along the lines Elizabeth Warren offered: it’s “the club soda of beers.” No matter one’s level of knowledge, our opinions about beer appear to come from the liquid itself.

Part one | Part two


The carpet at the Imperial, Exeter.

Tandleman has been observing what he calls the “slightly tense calm” of early morning in a Wetherspoon pub:

By 8.50 there is a palpable sense of expectation in the air. Eyes flick towards the bar. A few more arrive. Minutes tick away and suddenly there are people coming back to their tables with pints of beer and lager. One dedicated soul has two, which he arranges carefully in front of him, rims almost touching. Overall pints are evenly split between lager and John Smith’s Smooth.


The Apollo Inn
SOURCE: Manchester Estate Pubs

Stephen Marland has turned his nostalgic eye on another lost Manchester pub – the topically named Apollo Inn in Cheetham Hill. Construction, conversion, conflagration, collapse… The tale is familiar.