Categories
Brew Britannia

FAQ: What was the first UK microbrewery?

This is another in our new series of short posts attempting to give straight answers to direct questions.

In our book Brew Britannia, we dedicate a chapter to mini histories of a number of breweries that we think have a claim to be the first modern microbrewery.

We specify ‘modern’ because most breweries began as microbreweries.

For much of its history, beer was brewed in domestic settings – either in ale houses for sale to the public or within country houses, colleges and other larger institutions.

Withi in the 19th century came bigger breweries, and then consolidation and mergers led to the situation where in the mid-1960s, most beer was being produced by one of the ‘Big Six’.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, a number of pioneers began to brew their own beer, independently of each other but all finding a niche and space to operate within an increasingly homogenised market.

The first of these, by a long way, was Traquair House, Scotland. Beer had been brewed on site for years, and at sufficient volume to warrant purchase of a 200 gallon boiler in 1739. In the nineteenth century, the house and brewery fell into disrepair. In 1965, the then Laird, Peter Maxwell Stuart, found the brewing equipment as part of his renovations, and started to brew Traquair House Ale. What began as an experiment became a product sold on site and then shipped elsewhere. It’s still available, and brewing continues under the lady Laird Catherine Maxwell Stuart, who grew up brewing alongside her father.

The next brewery that we cover in Brew Britannia is the Selby brewery, which had fallen dormant but survived into the 1970s as a bottling outlet for Guinness. Martin Sykes was living there when his uncle decided to close the business, and persuaded him otherwise, “mainly to safeguard my living accommodation”. He had the idea to restart brewing, and was fortuitously approached by Basil Savage, then second brewer at John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, who was looking for other opportunities. Sykes and Savage began brewing in November 1972, and enjoyed some success selling to student bars and local pubs.

Both Traquair and Selby operated on existing sites, although with newer equipment. The first microbrewery to open in a new location was the Miners’ Arms at Priddy, in Somerset. This was the brainchild of an eccentric scientist, snail farmer and restaurateur, Paul Leyton. In 1961 he took on the running of the Miners’ Arms. In 1973 he decided to add beer to his list of home grown products and brewed beer in 40 pint batches, which he bottled in nip bottles and sold alongside meals.

So, in conclusion:

The first of the modern UK microbreweries was Traquair, which began (or rather, re-started) brewing in 1965, and is still brewing today. The first microbrewery to produce beers for the wider market was the Selby Brewery, which began brewing in 1972, again, on an established site. The first ‘new’brewery microbrewery, that is the first one to be established in a new location was the Miners’ Arms in Priddy, in 1973. 

Categories
Beer history pubs

What is the oldest pub in England?

This is an interesting question with all kinds of philosophical implications: is a pub a building, or an entity?

When people ask this, we think they want to know about the oldest historic pub they can go for a drink in – not an old building that was converted to a pub in 1983, or a building that used to be a pub but is now a private home.

The other problem is the tendency of pubs to tell outright fibs about this kind of thing. It turns out that many such claims can be dismantled with a bit of work and you soon learn to ignore any information board that opens with it “It is reputed that…”

In their book Licensed to Sell, published in 2005 and revised in 2011, pub historians Geoff Brandwood, Andrew Davison and Michael Slaughter dedicate a chapter to the myth of ‘Ye Olde Englishe Pube’. They dismiss waspishly claims to great antiquity from several of the best-known contenders, which arguments we’ve drawn on below.

It’s a great book – do buy a copy.

Some contenders for oldest pub

(Ye Olde) Fighting Cocks, St Albans | Claim: 8th century | Brandwood et al are very snarky about this one: the building dates from the 17th century, the licence from the early 19th, and the claim to antiquity is a 20th century development.

Eagle & Child, Stow on the Wold | Claim: 10th century | Not recorded as a pub until the 18th century, the building is from c.1500.

Bingley Arms, Bardsey | Claim: 10th century | Brandwood et al confidently state that this is an 18th century building with no evidence to suggest an earlier founding.

(Ye Olde) Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham | Claim: 1189 | The famous cellars may have been used for brewing at around this date but the pub building dates to the late 17th century.

(Ye Olde) Man and Scythe, Bolton | Claim: 1251 | Supposedly mentioned by name in the town’s market charter of 1251, except… it isn’t, according to this 1892 history of Bolton. The present building is mostly from the 17th century.

The George Inn, Norton St Philip | Claim: 14th century | “Believed to be the earliest surviving, purpose-built inn, it was erected in the late 14th century… [and] refronted about 1475-1500.” – Brandwood et al.

So, the oldest pub is…

The George Inn seems to have a pretty convincing case, only strengthened by the fact that it isn’t called Ye Olde George Inn. If it’s good enough for Big Geoff B, it’s good enough for us.

If you know of other contenders, and can point to evidence to support the claim from a source other than a board inside the pub or a souvenir booklet, we’d be interested to hear more – comment below!

Categories
20th Century Pub pubs

FAQ: When did beer mats come in?

This is the first in a new series of short posts attempting to give straight answers to direct questions, all of which we’ll be collecting on a new permanent page.

This one, which we were asked ages ago by the folks at The Station House in Durham, turns out to be easy to answer. Sort of.

Beer mats, because collecting them is a hobby, are fairly well documented and have an established origin story.

Here’s a version from the British Beermat Collectors Society (BBCS):

The first beermats as we know them were cardboard based and produced in Germany by around 1880 by Friedrich Horn, a German printing and board mill company. Not only did they create small thin(ish) cardboard mats but they also printed messages on them, something that would eventually open up a whole new world of advertising! This was quickly taken to a new level by Robert Sputh, also in Germany who began to produce much thicker, highly absorbent mats…

So, printed cardboard beer mats arrived in Germany in the 1880s. But when did they hit the UK?

Consensus seems to be that it was in the early 1920s when Watney, Combe, Reid & Co. introduced two mats advertising Watney Pale Ale and Reid’s Stout.

The BBCS says this happened in around 1922, though other sources say 1920. The date can be estimated because the printers included their own names on the mats, says the BBCS.

We’d really like to find a contemporary document pinning this down – a note in the board minutes, for example, or a newspaper report. We’ll keep looking.

After Watney’s, says the BBCS…

A number of other breweries also began producing mats in the 1920’s, for example Massey’s… And by the mid-late 1930’s many of the recognisable ‘names’ in the brewing world were producing them and British manufacturers such as Quarmby and Regicor can be seen on many mats from this period.

We’d observe, though, that British newspaper articles in the 1930s still felt the need to explain what beer mats were, and associated them entirely with Germany and the Continent:

‘Absorbent cardboard discs as mats for beer glasses are a familiar object in nearly every German public-house…’ – Belfast Telegraph, 2 December 1936

‘The cardboard mat on which the German puts his pot of beer is a frequent cause of trouble…’ Liverpool Evening Express, 29 May 1939

‘Perhaps beer mats is not the official description, but you may know what they are; I saw them on the Continent years before they were used in this country; they are round and absorbent, and they protect tables from liquid drippings.’ – Leeds Mercury, 30 May 1939.

We did, after quite some hunting, manage to find this image of a 1930s pubs with beer mats in plain view, and another here, from c.1938. They’re in the posher rooms – smoke rooms and lounges – and perhaps that makes sense. Spit, slop and sawdust in the public bar; dainty drip-collectors for gentlemen and ladies.

Like many other aspects of UK beer advertising, beer mats seem to have taken off in earnest in the 1950s and 60s with the rise of competition between national brands.

There are lots of mentions of beer mats in 1950s newspapers, none of them feeling the need to explain what a beer mat is.

Many concern the new hobby of ‘tegestology’ or ‘beermatology’ as one report calls this particular collecting mania.

So, here’s our straight answer:

The modern beer mat emerged in Germany in the 1880s, reached Britain in the 1920s, and became common from the 1950s onward.

Categories
Beer history pubs

The Man Within Compass: mystery solved?

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.

Categories
Beer history

Q&A: Harmonising European brewing methods, 1973

Newspaper headline from 1975Via 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.

"Ideal Suit in Lager" -- a hand with playing cards depicting lager brands.
Detail from the cover of Whitbread Way No. 13.

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.