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?