Only Watney’s could be so bold

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:

What we want is Watneys
SOURCE: Shut Up About Bar­clay Perkins.

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.

Watney’s Red Barrel – how bad could it have been?

You can’t have cops without robbers, or Batman without the Joker, and so the story of the revitalisation of British beer needs its bad guys too. Enter Watney’s.

Wat­ney’s (or Wat­ney Mann, or Wat­ney Combe Reid) was the Evil Cor­po­ra­tion which sought to crush plucky small brew­ers and impose its own ter­ri­ble beer on the drink­ing pub­lic. It acquired and closed beloved local brew­eries, and it closed pubs, or ruined them with clum­sy makeovers.

Its Red Bar­rel was par­tic­u­lar­ly vile – a sym­bol of all that was wrong with indus­tri­al brew­ing and nation­al brands pushed through cyn­i­cal mar­ket­ing cam­paigns.

This, at least, was the accept­ed nar­ra­tive for a long time, formed by the pro­pa­gan­da of the Cam­paign for Real Ale in its ear­ly years, and set hard through years of rep­e­ti­tion.

But does it stand up to scruti­ny? What if, con­trary to every­thing we’ve heard, Red Bar­rel was actu­al­ly kind of OK?

This long post was made pos­si­ble by the kind sup­port of Patre­on sub­scribers like Matthew Turn­bull and David Sim, whose encour­age­ment makes us feel less daft about spend­ing half a week­end work­ing on stuff like this. Please con­sid­er sign­ing up, or just buy us a pint.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Watney’s Red Bar­rel – how bad could it have been?”

Modern Pubs of 1961: Watney’s & Whitbread

This selection of post-war pubs comes from 1961 editions of in-house magazines from two London brewing behemoths, Watney’s and Whitbread.

To reit­er­ate what we said a few weeks ago, the pri­ma­ry point of this series of posts is to put the mate­r­i­al in these pub­li­ca­tions some­where where oth­er peo­ple can find it. And, for clar­i­ty, we should say that these pubs weren’t all built or opened in 1961 – that’s just when the mag­a­zines cov­ered them. Where a date of con­struc­tion or open­ing is giv­en, or is avail­able from anoth­er reli­able source, we’ve includ­ed it, along with the names of archi­tects and pho­tog­ra­phers where pos­si­ble.

1. The Buff Orpington, Orpington, Greater London (Kent)
The Buff Orpington on opening day.
Pho­to: A.C.K. Ware. Archi­tect: Alan Chalmers.

This Whit­bread pub was the per­ma­nent replace­ment for a pre­fab that was erect­ed as a stop­gap imme­di­ate­ly after World War II. The lounge, in black and white, was dec­o­rat­ed with repro­duc­tions of paint­ings of chick­ens, the Buff Orp­ing­ton being a breed of hen. The tap room (pub­lic bar) had lemon walls and a red and blue tiled floor – so, some­thing like this?

Tiled floor and yellow walls.

Is it still there? Yes, under the name The Buff, and it’s yet anoth­er post-war estate pub run by Greene King who seem to be keep­ing it in good nick, even if it has had some faux-Vic­to­ri­an bits glued on.

2. The Royal Engineer, Gillingham, Kent
The Royal Engineer (exterior)
Archi­tect: L. Mason Apps

The orig­i­nal pub of this name was at Chatham, near the Roy­al Engi­neers’ bar­racks. This new pub – a fair­ly hand­some build­ing for the peri­od – was built by Whit­bread as part of the shop­ping cen­tre on a new estate at Twydall:

Where in the old house were shut­ters and frost­ed glass are now clear panes and airy lou­vres. Spe­cial atten­tion has been paid to heat­ing and ven­ti­la­tion; a pleas­ing fea­ture is the light­ing – more and small­er bulbs giv­ing bright­ness with­out glare. Rich­ly hued woods in servery, coun­ters and doors set off with light paint and wall­pa­per… An unusu­al fea­ture is the porce­lain han­dles of the beer pumps. On each is a repro­duc­tion of the inn sign.

We can imag­ine some peo­ple read­ing that think­ing that the shut­ters and frost­ed glass sound much nicer.

This one is no longer in oper­a­tion hav­ing been turned into a take­away restau­rant fair­ly recent­ly, it seems.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Mod­ern Pubs of 1961: Watney’s & Whit­bread”

Big breweries confused, middling ones confusing

Watney's Red Barrel

Every day, we come across some­thing from thir­ty or more years ago which chimes with present-day issues in the world of beer. Here are a cou­ple of relat­ed notes.

Obser­va­tion 1: big brew­eries in the 1970s strug­gled to find a sat­is­fac­to­ry approach to the ‘real ale craze’ just as the ‘leisure bev­er­age’ com­pa­nies they became are grap­pling with how to get in on ‘craft beer’ today.

Wat­ney’s approach to real ale has so far been mut­ed. It has exper­i­men­tal­ly intro­duced at a few of its Lon­don pubs, at 35p a pint, cask-con­di­tioned beer brewed in Nor­wich. (It says its real beer trav­els.) There has been no big pro­mo­tion­al fuss, and it is hard to see how there could be for a prod­uct whose appeal is that of not being a big-brew­ery mass-pro­duced beer.

The Econ­o­mist, 10 July 1976, p99.

Real ale’ being more clear­ly defined than ‘craft beer’ meant big brew­eries could eas­i­ly pro­duce prod­ucts that met the tech­ni­cal cri­te­ria, but what they could­n’t do was make beer geeks love them. It was cer­tain­ly real ‘real ale’, rather than ‘faux craft’, and CAMRA gave wary nods of approval, but Wat­ney cer­tain­ly weren’t in from the cold. They’d been the bad­dies for too long, and their inter­est in real ale just did­n’t seem sin­cere.

Obser­va­tion 2: regional/family brew­ers have always mud­died the water. How do you make sense of them as part of a vague­ly hip­py­ish small­er-is-bet­ter, stick-it-to-the-man ide­ol­o­gy?

Mr Protz, a for­mer mem­ber of the Social­ist Work­ers’ Par­ty, has been attacked by the far Left for his defence of the small inde­pen­dent brew­eries with their ‘often feu­dal labour rela­tions.’… ‘The prob­lem is that polit­i­cal peo­ple, includ­ing the Left in Britain, have not yet realised that pol­i­tics and the Labour move­ment does not stop at the shop floor,’ Mr Protz argues. ‘Beer is part of the leisure indus­try, and the leisure indus­try, how peo­ple enjoy them­selves, is about mon­ey and pow­er and influ­ence – just as much as a fac­to­ry. The mid­dle­class con­sumer and the work­ing man have been get­ting a bad deal.’

The Guardian, 19 June 1978, p4.

The Big Six all had the DNA of fam­i­ly brew­eries, but had lost their human­i­ty. Region­al brew­ers, on the oth­er hand, were only ever a step away from becom­ing bad guys them­selves. A lit­tle growth spurt; a takeover here and a clo­sure there; a lit­tle too heavy a hand with the brew­ery tie and… well, look at Greene King, who were heroes in the 1970s, but now seem to be vil­lains.

Pic­ture by Mar­tin Deutsch, from Flickr, under a Cre­ative Com­mons License. It was tak­en at an exhi­bi­tion on the work of the Design Research Unit which we saw when it stopped off at the Tate Gallery in St Ives.