A couple of months ago someone tagged us into a Twitter query: what is the origin of the name of a pub called The Man Within Compass? After weeks of digging around, we think we’ve sussed it.
The Man Within Compass is a famous real ale pub in Whitwick, near Coalville, in Leicestershire, and has been in numerous editions of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide over the years.
Its name is apparently unique and certainly mysterious – none of the standard references seem to even offer a suggestion. There’s no joy to be had from local history websites, either.
So, we went through our usual research routines:
1. Search the exact phrase using quotes (“man within compass”) to see if it appears in old books, newspapers or the Bible. All the references we found were to the pub itself, or seemed unlikely to be connected, e.g. John Locke uses those words in that order but there’s no obvious link.
2. Search variations on the phrase: “manwithin compass” and “man withen compass” (between unorthodox spelling and dodgy OCR, this can sometimes turn up results); “manwidden compass” (pub names are often mangled versions of place or personal names); and “men within compass”.
3. Look for partial matches: “man within”, “within compass”, “man * compass”, and so on.
It was “within compass” that unlocked it, specifically leading us to the following mass-produced print from c.1820 at the British Museum website.
Via Twitter, we’ve been asked to provide more information on plans by the European Common Market in 1973 to “harmonise European brewing methods”, as mentioned in Fintan O’Toole’s book Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain.
Mr O’Toole quotes from a story in the Daily Mirror (25/06/1973) headlined EUROBEER MENACE:
A Common Market threat to British beer united labour and Tory MPs yesterday. The threat came in reports of a plan by Market authorities to ‘harmonise’ brewing methods in member countries.
Mr. William Wilson, teetotal Labour MP for South Coventry, and Tory Sir Gerald Nabarro both plan to raise the issue with Food Minister Joseph Godber “in the interests of the beer drinkers of Britain.”
Sir Gerald said: “This would be a disaster. Our beer is world famous for its strength, nutritional value and excellence.”
It’s not hard to work out what people thought harmonisation might mean: mild and bitter banned, German-style lager everywhere, by order of Brussels.
But there’s very little detail in the story and it reads like typical fuss-about-nothing tabloid reporting wilfully missing the point for the sake of causing outrage. (On the same page: NOW FRIED ONIONS ARE BANNED AT WIMBLEDON.)
Sure enough, it didn’t take much digging to find a report from the Economist from two days earlier (23/06/1973) announcing that these proposals had already been abandoned by the time the Mirror ran its piece.
Beer geeks, however, were talking about at least one specific technical issue: in the discussion around harmonisation proposals, there was a suggestion that only female (seedless) hops ought to be used in brewing across Europe. In England, however, male hops were historically grown alongside female, and people had a vague sense that male hops… er… made our beer taste more virile? Or something.
Richard Boston wrote about this in his Guardian column for 29 September 1973:
You can imagine the consternation with which I received the ugly rumour that in order to conform with the practice of our Common Market partners the male hop was going to be routed out here too… I got straight on the blower to the Hops Marketing Board… and asked their spokesman if it was true… “Absolute balls,” he replied.
The Economist followed the Eurobeer story closely, reporting on its progress over the next few years, as in this particularly interesting piece from 2 November 1974:
Much nonsense is talked by European politicians about Brussels busybodies trying madly to standardise European food and drink. Britain’s Mr Harold Wilson is just about the worst offender. At long last it has provoked a European civil servant into putting the record straight. Anonymously, he is circulating a paper dissecting each complaint. Most are exposed as innacurate…
Plans for Eurobeer and Eurobread – now withdrawn for review – neither outlaw nor standardise national brews and loaves. The aim is rather to demolish protectionist barriers which impede the free sale of these products across national boundaries. Germany, for example, has strict rules which virtually mean that if a beer is not brewed in the German way it cannot be called beer. The Commission’s Eurobeer plan would make Germany open its market to imported beers, including British ales, which meet a common European standard.
In 1975, the UK Government held a referendum on continued membership of the European Community. The threat of Eurobeer came up repeatedly in referendum campaign materials such as this pamphlet from the Government itself. A Q&A with the Consumer Association in the Daily Mirror for 30 May 1975 answers our question head on:
Q: What does ‘harmonisation’ mean? Shall we be drinking Eurobeer?
A: Harmonisation means getting our standards in line with those of other countries to enable us to sell our products to them. There are two types in the Common Market:
TOTAL: When a Common Market law says that only products which comply with that law can be sold at all in the Common Market;
OPTIONAL: When individual countries can allow products which do not conform to the law to be sold in their own countries…
But if there is a regulation on beer or bread, this will almost certainly be optional.
Oddly enough, even though the EC/EU didn’t implement any such plan, by the late 1980s, lager was everywhere in England anyway, much of it brewed in the UK under the supervision of continental European brewers, and sold under continental European brand names. Market economics and consumer demand did what the EC didn’t.
The eponymous Tinker of Turvey claims in 1630 to have “drunke double-lanted ale, and single-lanted”. Thirty years later the anonymous Renaissance drama, The Marriage Broker, includes a lament that: “My hostess takings will be very small,/ Although her lanted ale be nere so strong.” John Wright’s burlesque Mock-Thyestes in 1674 has a character “dead drunk with double lanted ale” and by 1691 the practice is so common that it wins a place in John Ray’s North Country Words: “To leint ale: To put urine into it to make it strong.”
But not everyone approved. The brewers’ bible, The London and Country Brewer, complained in 1743 of the “nasty, horrid and detestable piece of cunning and knavery… of putting chamberly, or human urine, into their pale or amber twopenny malt drink.”
Your frequent drinking country Ale with lant in’t,
Have you no hobnayls in your boots, driven in
To save the precious leather from the stones
That pave the streets of London.
But is any of that convincing evidence for this actually happening in practice? The references are mostly in comedy and it strikes us that it’s probably a folk legend highlighting the backward habits of bumpkins, and/or the foul cunning of brewers and publicans. (See also: KFCs mutant chickens.)
Before we’d really be willing to believe that anyone was putting wee in beer we’d want to see something like a brewers’ manual advising on how to go about it, and perhaps explaining why on earth you would bother; or an official document recording instances of it occurring in the real world.