Can you see spot what drew us to the tatty old postcard of Main Street, Haworth, West Yorkshire, from the 1960s, reproduced above?
That’s right – it’s the advertisement for Watney’s, neatly camouflaged against the brick wall to the left, above a yellow enamel sign advertising St Bruno tobacco.
This particular Watney’s ad campaign ran from as early as 1937, as explained by Ron Pattinson here, along with details of why this design was so successful. Ron also provides a lovely image of the poster which we’ve taken the liberty of nicking:
The really interesting thing about the postcard, though, is that this poster should have appeared in Yorkshire, 200 miles from the brewery’s home in London.
In the 1960s, Watney’s grew and took over regional breweries around the UK. It took over Beverley Brothers of Wakefield in 1967 and began investing in Webster’s of Halifax at around the same time, taking it over completely in 1972.
So the poster in the postcard is a symbol of the arrival of national brands, and of the homogenisation of beer that triggered the founding of the Campaign for Real Ale in the 1970s.
But it’s not all one-sided: if you look closely, you might be able to pick out a small enamel sign advertising Tetley’s next to the Watney’s poster. That, too, would become a national brand, taking a taste of Yorkshire to the rest of the country.
I can’t help but notice how same‑y the selection is everywhere; As though there had once been a list of approved Belgian beers that no one has updated since the mid 2000’s. Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium is that list, and looking at the selection in the dusty shop windows it feels like no one has come along with the gravitas to approve new additions to the canon; it is stuck in amber… Cafe Bebo helps to ease me into the contemporary. It even has beers from breweries founded this century. I order De La Senne Zinnebir and some cheese from the Orval Trappist monastery to snack on.
The artwork is a send-up of the two composite nations – Flanders and Wallonia – and their antagonism of eachother. It employs satire, humour and caricature to make an important point: please dump the baggage of the past and let’s move on… Unlike the easy-goingness of the beer, the label artwork is utterly loaded.
We can imagine this making for an interesting series, reverse engineering the branding process to work out what breweries want us to understand from the small choices they make in their graphic design.
We spent a few days in Yorkshire last week (Leeds-Harrogate-York) and reached a couple of tentative conclusions.
1. Timothy Taylor Landlord, like Bass, and probably like many other beers, can be so different as to be unrecognisable from one pub to the next. We’re not saying it’s an inconsistent product but that it has a lot of potential for change depending on how it’s handled by pubs. We had pints that were bone dry and stony, and others that were sweet and nectar-like – older and younger respectively we assume. We almost always enjoy it but there seems to be a real sweet spot where it becomes a little less cloying and gains a sort of peach-like flavour without completely drying out. Expert opinion welcome below, of course. In the meantime, we’ll keep testing our findings when we can.
2. We might have finally zeroed in on the essence of Yorkshire bitter. Tetley*, Black Sheep and Taylor’s Boltmaker, as well as looking more alike in the glass than we recall, all had the same challenging, hot, rubber-band tang. We’ve noticed it before in Boltmaker but honestly just thought it was on the turn. But there it was again in multiple pints of Boltmaker, in different pubs, even in different cities, and in multiple pints of the others, too. It’s most pronounced in Boltmaker (Jessica likes it, Ray finds it too much) and gentlest in the current incarnation of Tetley (Ray likes it, Jessica finds it rather bland) but definitely the same thing. This is where our technical tasting skills let us down, unfortunately. Is this maybe what people mean by ‘sulphurous’? Again, expert suggestions welcome.
* No longer brewed in Yorkshire, we know.
3. Northern pale-n-hoppy beer is more to our taste than London or Bristol takes on the same style, on the whole. We knew this already, really, but this trip confirmed it. Without wanting to seem dogmatic about clarity (we’re not) beers from breweries such as Northern Monk, Rooster’s and Ossett were perfectly clear with a lightness and dryness that made them impossible to drink in anything less than great hearty gulps. Even with plenty of flavour and aroma there’s a certain delicacy there – perfect engineering. We did find ourselves wondering if perhaps we’ve grown to prefer sparklers for this style because (per this post for $2+ Patreon subscribers) the notorious widget has a capacity for rounding off hard edges and smoothing out flaws. ‘Don’t @ us’, as the kids say.
We’ve just acquired a couple of editions of Tetley’s in-house magazine from the 1960s and thought we’d share some pictures of the then state-of-the-art modern pubs featured.
We usually scan these things and effectively thrown them away on Twitter but thought that we ought to put them somewhere a bit more permanent in case they’re interesting or useful for other researchers, or just for the enjoyment of people who might recall the pubs in question as they were in their heyday.
The first batch of photos are from The Huntsman for Autumn 1964. This picture is on the front cover:
Explanatory text inside says: ‘The Cup & Ring, the new opened Tetley house on the edge of the moors by Baildon. It is almost certainly the only public house in the country with this name – taken from the cup and ring markings carved by Early Bronze Age people on certain stones of Baildon Moor.’ Today the pub is – obviously, of course, it goes without saying – gone.
Next up is The Earl Francis at Park Hill in Sheffield of which the magazine says:
[The] third Tetley ‘pub’ in the vast comprehensive area of Corporation flats which will ultimately house 10,000 people, was named as a reminder of the local historical association with the Shrewsbury family… The first two of these three Tetley houses were each an integral part of the ground floor of the block of flats in which they were situated. The Earl Francis differs in that it is a separate building. To ensure harmony with its background of flats the shell was built by the Corporation; but the main entrance and canopy, the internal planning and structure, and all fixtures and fittings were dealt with by The Company.