A Vivid Memory

When I was at nursery and just starting school, my parents ran a pub in Exeter and many of my earliest memories are from this time.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the day I ‘helped’ my taciturn Lancastrian Grandpa with the stock-take.

I don’t remember it all that clearly — I was four — but there are few almost still images and short fragments of playback, cut together in a montage.

The weather was grey but must have been warm because I’m sure I was wearing shorts. I’m also sure I was sat on an upturned crate, in the yard by the cellar door.

The cellar itself was whitewashed, cold and damp, with spores on its breath.

Gramps was wearing his black Harrington jacket with the red tartan lining, grumbling as he shifted bottles around with yellow-stained, tough old hands. He was probably smoking — he was always smoking — but I can’t remember for sure.

There was a blue plastic crate full of bottled beer with blue labels — light ale, I suppose — right next to me for a long time. The caps were bright blue and smooth, pretty and button-like, and I remember coveting them.

Then a crate full of root beer in glass bottles landed in front of me. I asked what it was — is it like cola? He told me. I pestered him to let me try it. Eventually, he grumpily popped open a bottle and then went into the bar, still muttering, to pay for it.

But I hated it so much it made me cry. (Which is probably why I remember this moment at all.)

CAMRA’s Own Pub Chain

Detail from the cover of the 1978 CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

Update 09/05/2019: this ended up being one of the seeds for our book Brew Britannia where the saga of CAMRAIL is covered in detail.

Our copy of the 1978 CAMRA Good Beer Guide (thanks, Bailey’s parents!) is full of interesting tit-bits, not least the page setting out the details of CAMRA’s investments.

The objective of CAMRA (Real Ale) Investments Limited is to acquire and run a chain of public houses offering a range of traditional draught beers in simply and unfussy surrounding.

In 1978, the company owned five pubs — the Old Fox in Bristol, the Salisbury Arms in Cambridge, the Nag’s Head in Hampstead, the White Gates in Manchester and the Eagle in Leeds — and was ‘on the look out for more’.

Across the chain there were beers from Marston, Crown (formerly the South Wales and Monmouthshire United Clubs Brewery), Wadworth, Courage (Bristol), Samuel Smith, Bateman, Adnams, Wells, Greene King, Brakspear, Boddingtons, Thwaites, Pollard and Theakston. Only one of those, Pollard, was a ‘new wave’ brewery.

The Nag’s Head we are told “is enormously popular among young people in North London and has made hundreds, possibly thousands, of converts to real ale in the lager generation”. All kinds of interesting language there.

Can anyone point us to an article explaining what happened to these pubs and the CAMRA investments chain?  And does anyone remember visiting any of them under the benevolent rule of the Campaign?