News, Nuggets & Longreads 1 December 2018: Stats, Social Clubs, Suburban Pubs

Here are all the blog posts, articles and news stories around beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Norway, Maine, to Canley.

First, some­thing with a bit of weight behind it: UK government’s Office for Nation­al Sta­tis­tics (ONS) has pub­lished a report on the health of the pub mar­ket. The over­all con­clu­sion it reach­es is that, yes, lots of pubs have closed in the past 20 years, but “the total turnover of pubs and bars has held up, remain­ing flat since 2008, once infla­tion is tak­en into account”.

There’s also an inter­ac­tive tool which will give you a read­out for your town or city, e.g.

ONS chart on Bristol pubs -- down from 375 to 285 since 2001.

The report sug­gests increas­ing employ­ment in the pub trade might be down to the growth in food ser­vice, and a trend towards big­ger rather than small­er pubs. (But we won­der if the intro­duc­tion of RTI in 2013 might also be an influ­ence, effec­tive­ly end­ing  infor­mal (unre­port­ed) employ­ment in most sec­tors.)

Children's party at a social club.

His­to­ri­an of clubs Ruth Cher­ring­ton has writ­ten about her mem­o­ries of play­ing bin­go with her par­ents at the Can­ley Social Club and Insti­tute in Coven­try, and what it all meant:

Our local club was con­ve­nient­ly sit­u­at­ed just across the street from our house on a post­war coun­cil estate. Mum told us that Dad was thrilled to bits when plans for the clubs were drawn up in the late 1940s. Hav­ing a local place to drink and play games like bil­liards and crib­bage over a pint or two meant he would no longer have to trek to his old haunts on the oth­er side of town. Like many local men on the estate, he threw him­self into set­ting up the new club on the land allo­cat­ed by the Cor­po­ra­tion specif­i­cal­ly for that pur­pose. The club opened in a wood­en hut in 1948 and affil­i­at­ed to the Club and Insti­tute Union in 1950.

(PDF, unfor­tu­nate­ly.)

Norway, Maine, brewpub.

At Beer­vana Jeff Alworth has tak­en a moment to breathe and reflect on how ordi­nary it has become to find decent and inter­est­ing beer in unlike­ly places:

Human expe­ri­ence requires con­stant recal­i­bra­tion, and mine occurred about halfway through my dry-hopped pil­sner, Imper­son­ator. I was focused on the over­ly Amer­i­can hop char­ac­ter and lack of assertive malt fla­vor when it hit me: I am in a brew­pub in Nor­way, Maine. My crit­i­cal appa­ra­tus had been set to “world stan­dards.” I quick­ly recal­i­brat­ed to “18-month-old brew­pub in rur­al Maine,” and all of a sud­den it was look­ing mighty impres­sive. There were no flaws in that or any beers we tried, and part of my com­plaint was, admit­ted­ly, pref­er­ence (I don’t want to taste IPA in my pil­sner).

Debit card illustration.

We wrote about cashless/cardless pubs and bars ear­li­er this week, and it’s a top­ic gen­er­al­ly in the air. David Hold­en at Yes! Ale reports the real­i­ty on the ground where con­sumers are expect­ed to car­ry both cash and cards if they expect to vis­it more than one venue in the course of an evening:

Yes, I had to go back out in the wind and rain but at least I am in a posi­tion to get cash out at six o’clock in the evening. I don’t have to go into an open branch to get cash. In Koelschip Yard I was in the posi­tion to open my wal­let and draw a card out to make a pay­ment. There are many rea­sons why not every­one can do this. These rea­sons may be why one poten­tial cus­tomer has to “give this one a miss” or ask their mate “Do you mind get­ting the round in here?”.

Hofmeister lager.

And here’s anoth­er real­i­ty check, from Paul ‘no rela­tion’ Bai­ley: beers that you can’t actu­al­ly buy, even if you real­ly, real­ly want to, might as well not exist. His expe­ri­ence was with the award-win­ning revived ver­sion of Hofmeis­ter.

Vintage illustration: McSorleys

We were sur­prised to come across some­one this week who didn’t know Joseph Mitchell’s bril­liant 1940 essay on New York City tav­ern McSorley’s, AKA ‘The Old House at Home’. So now, in what might be a one-off, or could become a reg­u­lar fea­ture, wel­come to Clas­sics Cor­ner:

It is equipped with elec­tric­i­ty, but the bar is stub­born­ly illu­mi­nat­ed with a pair of gas lamps, which flick­er fit­ful­ly and throw shad­ows on the low, cob­web­by ceil­ing each time some­one opens the street door. There is no cash reg­is­ter. Coins are dropped in soup bowls—one for nick­els, one for dimes, one for quar­ters, and one for halves—and bills are kept in a rose­wood cash­box. It is a drowsy place; the bar­tenders nev­er make a need­less move, the cus­tomers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agree­ment for many years.

And how can we not fin­ish with Hilary Man­tel doing her ver­sion of 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub?

Want more read­ing? See Alan.

So They Brewed Their Own Beer – The Northern Clubs Federation

There’s been a bit of talk lately about working men’s clubs and the breweries established to supply them and we thought we ought to flag an apparently little-known book on the subject.

So They Brewed Their Own Beer by Ted Elkins was pub­lished in 1970 and tells the sto­ry of the rise of the North­ern Clubs Fed­er­a­tion. Elkins was a jour­nal­ist from the North East of Eng­land whose career start­ed in the 1950s and as a free­lance PR man he wrote a few offi­cial com­pa­ny and organ­i­sa­tion­al his­to­ries relat­ing to brew­ing and hos­pi­tal­i­ty.

Cover of So They Brewed Their Own Beer.

STBTOB opens on 24 May 1919 at the Social Club in Prud­hoe, a vil­lage on Tyne­side, where the founders of what would become the Fed­er­a­tion Brew­ery met for the first time to dis­cuss the idea. Elkins, pos­si­bly scram­bling to reach word count, or per­haps just to make the job more fun, lays it on a bit thick:

These were new men, bruised and blood­ied in mind and limb by the car­nage of slaugh­ter and sur­vival. They came back [from war] with a sense of com­rade­ship, buoy­ant in tri­umph, each humbly aware of his oblig­a­tion to his fel­low man, the need to right the wrongs of a world irrev­o­ca­bly changed by the tor­ment of war.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “So They Brewed Their Own Beer – The North­ern Clubs Fed­er­a­tion”

Clubs: Shadow Pubs

Clubs, or working men’s clubs as they have historically been known, are all but invisible to many pub-goers but once you tune into them it can be like discovering a whole new town.

The best and snap­pi­est his­to­ry of the devel­op­ment of clubs can be found in Ruth Cherrington’s 2012 book Not Just Beer and Bin­go (£3.49 for Kin­dle via Ama­zon):

Work­ing men in the late 19th cen­tu­ry want­ed their own clubs and mem­bers of the upper class thought that these would be bet­ter places than pubs. Clubs fit­ted into the per­spec­tive of the ratio­nal recre­ation move­ment that aimed at halt­ing a per­ceived moral decline in soci­ety…

After much debate, how­ev­er, clubs did win the right to serve alco­hol from the cen­tral organ­is­ing com­mit­tee and in the 20th cen­tu­ry their char­ac­ter changed:

[If] the club bought in the beer, it could sup­ply it to mem­bers with­out the need to make a prof­it, so prices could be low­er than in the pubs. This gave clubs a rep­u­ta­tion for pro­vid­ing sub­sidised drink. The down­side of this was that clubs came to be viewed only in this light with their oth­er ser­vices and fea­tures over­looked.

Clubs thrived as indus­try thrived, serv­ing indi­vid­ual fac­to­ries, local trades such as the rail­ways, or par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal groups and par­ties – Lib­er­al, Labour and Con­ser­v­a­tive clubs. With two world wars, sev­er­al small­er ones and nation­al ser­vice until 1963, clubs allied to indi­vid­ual branch­es of the armed ser­vices also became com­mon.

Which brings us to 2017 and our recent efforts to vis­it clubs in and around Pen­zance which kicked off at our local, The Farmer’s Arms. We were sat in our usu­al place, at the cor­ner in the back, when we noticed a bloke at the next table, with his part­ner and some friends, try­ing to get our atten­tion.

Alright. Ever go to the Legion, do you? You should come down some­time.’

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Clubs: Shad­ow Pubs”

Supped it Like Bloody Wolves

Detail from the cover of Working Class Community by Brian Jackson, Pelican, 1972.
Detail from the cov­er of Work­ing Class Com­mu­ni­ty by Bri­an Jack­son, Pel­i­can, 1972.

We’ve found more evidence in our efforts to understand the extent to which British people were discerning in their choice of beer before the Campaign for Real Ale came along in the 1970s.

Bri­an Jackson’s Work­ing Class Com­mu­ni­ty was first pub­lished in 1968 and reprint­ed by Pel­i­can in 1972. It belongs to the ‘work­ing class peo­ple as aliens’ genre of aca­d­e­m­ic writ­ing so pop­u­lar in the 20th cen­tu­ry, though it is rather more read­able than most exam­ples, and occa­sion­al­ly even fun­ny.

Amongst chap­ters about brass bands and bowl­ing greens there is one called ‘At the Club’, which includes gen­er­al­i­sa­tions based on obser­va­tions of sev­er­al work­ing men’s clubs in the north of Eng­land. It con­tains a fair bit about pubs, which were appar­ent­ly con­sid­ered expen­sive and ‘stuck up’:

Ah nev­er go into a pub at all now. Clubs are much more socia­ble, like. Look at this. Ah couldn’t rest me legs across a chair in t’pub. Here it’s like being at home. As long as Ah don’t put me feet on t’seat, Ah’m all right.

But we were most­ly intrigued by the sec­tion called ‘Drink­ing’. Unlike pubs, which were most­ly tied to brew­eries and thus offered a lim­it­ed range…

Work­ing men’s clubs are a coop­er­a­tive ven­ture in the pur­chase and sale of beer and spir­its. Each offers a choice of sev­er­al draught beers, and the brews are changed ruth­less­ly as mem­bers demand…

Club mem­bers, it seems, were ‘dis­crim­i­nat­ing and demand­ing’ in their choice of beers, and so, despite com­pet­i­tive pric­ing, it often had the best ale in town:

There is an excel­lent draught beer brewed which is sold in sur­round­ing York­shire. But it can­not be obtained in Hud­der­s­field pub­lic hous­es because the pubs are in pos­ses­sion of rival con­cerns. The beer, though good, is blocked out. Except for the clubs. In almost every one a pint of this ale could be bought. The beer was cho­sen and sold on its mer­its, quite regard­less of the major brew­ery strat­e­gy which lim­its the range of the pub drinker.

(What can it have been…?)

There is also an amus­ing worm-that-turned nar­ra­tive in the clubs’ resis­tance to adver­tis­ing and sales­men from big brew­eries. They would, accord­ing to Jack­son, take loans and gifts from brew­eries, with­out feel­ing any oblig­a­tion to then buy beer from them. Here’s an account of an attempt by a rep from Yarnold’s to win over pun­ters at one club:

Ah remem­ber a trav­eller bring­ing a bar­rel. It were free while he was here, he paid for t’lot. They supped it then, y’know. They did that! They supped it like bloody wolves! But when he were gone nobody would touch it. It’s like lead in y’belly is that stuff. When Ah had some, Ah felt as if Ah’d swal­lowed yon plumb-line from t’window there.

So, they were dis­cern­ing, but what did it mean, in this con­text? Were they inter­est­ed in flavour, strength, or some­thing more abstract? Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that’s where the book lets us down, though who knows what more detail might lurk in the orig­i­nal field notes.

At the social, the Legion, the club

The Miners and Mechanics Institute, St Agnes, Cornwall.
The Min­ers and Mechan­ics Insti­tute, St Agnes, Corn­wall.

By Bai­ley

When peo­ple talk about the impor­tance of the pub in work­ing class cul­ture, they’re right, of course, but there are reminders of an alter­na­tive drink­ing cul­ture right under our noses: half-blown illu­mi­nat­ed signs adver­tis­ing brands of beer from thir­ty years ago; signs behind frost­ed glass say­ing, slight­ly need­i­ly, ‘Non-mem­bers always wel­come!!!’.

They’re usu­al­ly in Por­tak­abins, or on the upper floors of post-war build­ings, hid­den up side-streets or on indus­tri­al estates. Occa­sion­al­ly, they occu­py rather grand but decay­ing build­ings, as in the pic­ture above.

Even though my par­ents ran a pub for a time, a lot of my child­hood mem­o­ries are actu­al­ly of social clubs. My grandad, a for­mer pris­on­er of war, used to like the Roy­al British Legion at Pawlett which, as I recall, was wipe-clean white through­out and resem­bled a hos­pi­tal wait­ing room. Lat­er, he joined a work­ing men’s club in High­bridge where the fam­i­ly spent a lot of Sun­day lunchtimes and after­noons. It was cosy and dark, and there were moun­tains of ham rolls in cling­film on the bar.

Years lat­er, my par­ents joined the Railwaymen’s Club in Bridg­wa­ter, though nei­ther had any con­nec­tion with the trains. It was in a pre­fab next to the tracks and a pint of keg bit­ter was almost as cheap as a can from the super­mar­ket. There were lots of raf­fles and usu­al­ly ‘a band’ (that is, two blokes play­ing gui­tar and singing to a back­ing tape, or a man in a shiny jack­et imi­tat­ing Matt Mon­ro to a key­board auto-back­ing). It was too bright and, sad­ly, not very friend­ly, but it was an afford­able night out.

Fac­to­ry social clubs, like those affil­i­at­ed with Wellworthy’s or British Cel­lo­phane, were the venues for wed­dings, wakes and children’s Christ­mas par­ties, too.

They’re rarely archi­tec­tural­ly sig­nif­i­cant, often a bit glum, but that doesn’t mean they’re not impor­tant. Is any­one both­ered about sav­ing or pre­serv­ing them?

When we men­tioned this sub­ject on Twit­ter, sev­er­al peo­ple point­ed us towards this book by Ruth Cher­ring­ton which is now on our wish list.