Rigby’s Bier Keller, Liverpool, 1968

In the 1960s and 70s German-style beer cellars were all the rage in Britain popping up everywhere from Blackpool to central London, and Liverpool did not miss out on the trend.

We’ve touched on this subject a few times including in an article on theme pubs for CAMRA last year and in 20th Century Pub. Just recently we wrote a substantial article, also for CAMRA, which we expect to appear in the next issue of BEER magazine. This post, however, zooms in one one one example via an article in the in-house magazine of the Tetley Walker brewery group for autumn 1969.

Cover of the magazine.

Rigby’s on Dale Street is a famous Liverpool pub now run by Okell’s of the Isle of Man. In 1968, however, it was part of the Allied Breweries empire managed under as part of the Walker Cain sub-group. Just before Christmas that year Rigby’s newest feature, a Bierkeller, was unveiled in the low-beamed cellar:

Much of the character of the keller was already there, for the old cellars of Rigby’s still have their ancient flagstone floors, original cast iron stanchions and stone block walls… To this existing setting were added girls in traditional Bavarian costume to serve the drinks, long beech tables and benches — four tons of timber went into their making — German poster on the walls and two doors marked Damen and Herren.

The Keller

It’s sometimes hard to tell how seriously breweries took this kind of thing. Sometimes it seemed to be a sincere effort to evoke a German atmosphere — don’t forget, many British drinkers at this point had actually been to Germany thanks to the war and the subsequent cold war — while others were… less so. Rigby’s was certainly an example of the former perhaps because Liverpool in particular had strong German connections (think of the Beatles in Hamburg) and a fairly substantial reverse traffic with enough Germans in Liverpool to warrant their own church from 1960. There was also a permanent German consulate and it was the commercial attache, H.C. von Herwarth, who opened Rigby’s Bierkeller and “drew the first stein of lager”.

Revellers.
Opening night at Rigby’s Bierkeller. Those aren’t Bavarian hats.

But Rigby’s German-flavoured venture had another advantage: the licensee was one John Burchardt:

Mr Burchardt came to England as a prisoner of war in 1946. He worked on farms in this country and he liked living here so much that when he was released and was given the option of returning to his country…. he decided to come back and take a civilian job…. He married an English girl and Mr and Mrs Burchardt have a family of four boys.

A family photograph.
The Burchardts.

For once, we have been able to gather a bit more biographical information about the nameless spouse: Mrs Burchardt was called Edith and was born in Wales in 1932. The same source tells us that John was actually called Werner and was born in Dortmund but perhaps grew up in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) which might be why he didn’t want to go home. And another perhaps: he may have ended up in Liverpool because of family connections as one Otto Burchardt was appointed consul to the King of Prussia in Liverpool in 1841 and was buried there when he died in 1882.

But, back to pubs: John Burchardt told the reporter for TW magazine that he didn’t see much difference between running a Bavarian Bierkeller and an English pub like the one upstairs. Here’s the public bar in a shot taken, we think, from just about exactly where we sat when we visited in 2016:

Pub interior

We don’t know yet what became of Rigby’s Bierkeller but, based on our research into others, we’d guess it slowly went downmarket and became less German before folding in the late 1970s. (The standard pattern.)

But if you know otherwise, or remember drinking there during its Germanicised phase, do comment below or drop us a line.

The Alpine Gasthof: Let’s Crack This

We’ve been working on an article about German Bierkellers in English towns in the 1970s and as a side quest found ourselves looking into one of the UK’s weirdest pubs: The Alpine Gasthof, Rochdale.

We’ve never been, though it’s very much on the wishlist, but Tandleman wrote about his visit earlier in the year:

Perhaps the oddest of Sam Smith’s pubs is its take-off of a German local pub, uprooted it seems, in looks if nothing else, from Garmisch or some other Alpine resort. Only it is in Rochdale. Not only is it in Rochdale, but it is on a busy main road, which if you follow it for not too long, will take you to Bacup. This is the Land that Time Forgot. Don’t do that… Not only is it incongruously in Rochdale, but it is in a less than salubrious part of town… The pub has the usual German style high sloping roof and inside is, well, a sort of pastiche of a German pub, but done, unusually for Sam’s, sort of on the cheap.

Although there are lots of photos, and though everyone seems quite fascinated by the place, there don’t seem to be many concrete facts. When was it built? Why?

We didn’t hold out great hopes for any information from the brewery which is notoriously tight-lipped but did get this, which is a start:

The Alpine Gasthof was built in the 1970s (don’t have the exact date to hand) because the previous pub we had on that site had to be demolished for road widening. To have a bit of fun we decided to build a pub modelled on the Brauerei Gasthof Hotel in Aying, Germany because at that time we were brewing Ayinger beer under licence.

We can well imagine Sam Smith’s execs going to Aying during licence negotiations and being charmed by the original, pictured here in a shot taken from the gallery on the hotel website:

Brauereigasthof-Hotel-Aying exterior.

Although, oddly, the pastiche doesn’t look that much like it. Here it is photographed in 2013, via Ian S on Geograph.org.uk under a Creative Commons Licence:

The Alpine Gasthof, Rochdale.

With a bit more to go on we reckon we can guess that the date of its construction was around 1972, at the tail-end of the theme pub craze (Further reading: Chapter 5 in 20th Century Pub) and just as the German Bierkeller trend was kicking in. That’s also when Sam Smith’s started brewing Ayinger-branded beers. But we’re awful short on actual evidence. We thought this might be something…

Google Search result.

…but there are two problems. First, though Google Books has the date of publication as 1972 the particular issue referencing the Alpine Gasthof might be from, say, 1978. We’ve come across this problem in the past. It’s hard to know until you have the journal in front of you, fully readable. Secondly… It says Wetherby, Yorkshire. Surely some mistake? But, no, apparently not — there is at least one other (slightly odd) reference to an Alpine Gasthaus in Wetherby, giving the address as Boroughbridge Road, LS22 5HH. That led us to this local news story about the burning down in 2005 of the Alpine Lodge, a two-storey chalet-style building in Kirk Deighton (Wetherby). There are various other bits out there including this interview with the couple who ran it for several decades and a teasingly indistinct photo taken from a moving car in bright sunlight on this Facebook nostalgia website. We’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it here, with some tweaks — hopefully no-one will mind.

The Alpine Inn AKA the Alpine Lodge.

What a bizarre building to find there on the side of the A1.

And that leaves us with two Alpine-style Sam Smith’s pubs to be puzzled about.

So, do drop us a line if you know anything concrete about the origins of either pub (that is, not reckonings or guesses); have friends or family members who might have drunk in them; or live near either Rochdale or Wetherby and fancy popping to your local library to look at newspapers for 1972.

Irish Pubs, English Pubs and the Essence of Pubness, 1964

A pint of stout.

Was part of the appeal of the Irish pub in the 1980s and 90s that real Irish pubs were more like ideal of the English pubs than English pubs had become?

This fantastic article by Irish journalist Mary Holland (1935-2004) published in January 1964 covers multiple issues in a few hundred pithy words.

First, the mystique of Dublin pubs: ‘I’ve always gone along with the belief that any Dublin bar has a magic aura which causes the talk to shimmer and sparkle as fast as the Guinness flows.’

Then their true qualities: ‘I now think the Dublin pub mystique is thriving as never before for the simple reason that its pubs are more comfortable.’

(See also a related 1996 columns from the Pub Curmudgeon here.)

And, finally, there’s a pointed examination of the state of English pubs in the mid-1960s:

One of the most recent attempts to revamp a pub’s image in central London is a bar designed to appeal to ‘business executives and the younger set,’ in which rattan cane, murals of brooding buddhas, slatted bamboo swing doors and a background of jungle noises are among the attractions. Yet this is only an extreme example of the way the brewers seem bent on catering to a city of pub-lovers. Given that the beer is good (and I know that this is another question), I can’t believe that anyone wants to drink his pint, let alone talk the evening through with friends, in the kind of South Seas Traders tavern or sub-Scandinavian bar which seems to appear whenever the painters and decorators move in on an ordinary pub.

You can imagine how that delighted us, what with our ongoing obsession with theme pubs.

In general the Spectator archive is a fantastic resource: searchable, fully indexed, with material provided as both OCRd text and original page scans. Our ramblings through it to date suggest that it was very much a wet office — there’s lots of coverage of beer and pubs — so if you’ve got a pet obsession, give it a search and see what you can turn up.

HELP US: Theme Pubs

We’re keen to talk to or exchange emails with people who worked at, drank in, or were involved in the management, design or administration (brewery side) of the pubs listed below.

The time frame we’re interested in is between 1945 and, say, 1980, so please pass this request on to any industry veterans, or veteran drinkers, you might know.

No recollection is too insignificant — we need all the material we can get.

It’s best to email us via contact@boakandbailey.com or comment below and we’ll work something out.

  • The Bull’s Head, Handforth, Cheshire (bullfighting theme)
  • The Chelsea Drugstore, King’s Road, London (futuristic, boutiques)
  • The Dolphin, Liverpool (submarine)
  • The Gallopers, Bradford, West Yorkshire (fairground theme)
  • The Golden Arrow, Beckenham, Kent (train theme)
  • UPDATE 01/12/2015: The Horseless Carriage, Chingford, Essex (vintage cars)
  • The Lord Protector, Huntingdon (Cromwell themed, apparently)
  • The Malt & Hops, Finchley, London (hops/farming)
  • The Nag’s Head, James St./Floral St., Covent Garden, London (theatre)
  • The Printer’s Devil, Fetter Lane, London (printing)
  • The Sherlock Holmes, Northumberland Street, London (er, Sherlock Holmes)
  • The Stonehouse, Sheffield, South Yorkshire (Elizabethan street)
  • The Warrior, Surrey Quays, London (space age disco pub — see below)
  • The Yorker, Piccadilly, London (cricket)

The Warrior, Surrey Quays.

This won’t be the last request of this sort in the coming months but we’ll try to space them out…

One Pub to Tell the Story


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We’ve been considering, for the purposes of this here book we’re working on, whether there’s a single pub in which the whole story of British beer since 1963 is encapsulated. We haven’t hit on one yet, but we’ve found a couple of interesting candidates. Consider, for example, the Nag’s Head in Hampstead, which tells at least part of the story.

Though some sources say there was a pub here from 1698, the present building seems to have appeared in the early nineteenth century (further research could pin this down), and it was not especially genteel at that time.

MARYLEBONE.– Highway Robbery.– Henry Cannon, John Surety, and Thomas Willoughby, three labouring-looking men, were yesterday placed at the bar before the sitting Magistrate… charged with assaulting on the King’s highway a middle-aged woman, named Mary Keal, and taking from her person a shawl and seven shilling in silver… Inspectoer Aggs, of the S division, said that from information he received he went on Wednesday evening, accompanied by one of his men, to the Nag’s Head [on Heath Street]. On entering the taproom he saw the two first Prisoners, who were sitting down. He said to Cannon, “I want you;” and then turning to Shurety said, “I want you also.” Cannon said, “Very well,” and they both got up and finished what they were drinking and left the house with him and the constable. (Morning Post, 22 November 1833)

More than a century later, however, the pub’s name had changed: it had become The Cruel Sea, after Nicholas Monsarrat’s 1951 novel about the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II, and was the quintessential ‘theme pub’, popular with actors. Our guess is that the name change came with the renovation in 1958, but we could be wrong. Here’s what our old chums Martin Green and Tony White had to say in 1968:

…the pub contains nautical gear and prints of whaling ships and the sea, as well as murals by Robert Lenkiewicz. Placed bang in the middle of Hampstead,  it does a brisk trade, though it is seldom too crowded for comfort, like many other pubs near-by. It serves wine by the glass, or by the bottle… as well as draught Guinness and Worthington… The clientele is predominantly young, second-generation Hampstead, whose parents moved here when it was beginning to be fashionable without being too expensive… (Guide to London Pubs, 1968 edn.)

We hadn’t realised that the Cruel Sea, well-known in its day, was the same pub as the Nag’s Head, until Christopher Hutt told us so. As head of CAMRA Real Ale Investments (CAMRAIL), their pub-owning spin-off, in the mid-seventies, one of the first things he did on acquiring this property in 1975 was ditch the theme and revert back to the old-fashioned, properly ‘pubby’ moniker. It was the cause of some anxiety for CAMRA — why were they opening a pub here in competition with several other existing ‘real ale pubs’ rather than in, say, Norwich, which had hardly any decent boozers? And it was frightfully middle class, not to mention expensive. At any rate, it was a runaway success during the years of the ‘real ale craze’.

Between CAMRAIL (which fizzled out in the eighties) and today, the Nag’s Head ceased to be a pub. It is now an estate agent’s office. Which, we suppose, does tell a story of the British pub, albeit one with a rather downbeat ending.