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.

BWOASA: Our first taste of yer actual Watney’s beer

This really was a big moment. We’ve tasted clones, read plenty, and written a lot, but we’ve never actually tasted Watney’s beer.

We’ve been corresponding on and off with Tom Unwin for years. He grew up near Jess and we interviewed his Dad, Trevor, for Brew Britannia. When Tom came into possession of several bottles of a strong ale produced by Watney’s in 1987 to celebrate the supposed 500th anniversary of the founding of the Mortlake brewery.

(You can read the inevitable Martyn Cornell takedown of that story here.)

We set aside a little time to enjoy the experience of drinking this beer, 137ml each, even though we suspected it was going to be rank. After all, Watney’s beer wasn’t well regarded even when fresh, and this had been stored for 30+ years in a suburban sideboard.

The label told us that the beer had an original gravity of between 1096 and 1104 – quite a range, giving us a hint that it was probably around 10-11% ABV.

Popping the foil covered cap, we were treated to the barest hiss, and found the inside of the lid covered in rusty sludge. It had a slight, bubbly head that drifted away in seconds.

There was a whiff of roasted malt, we thought, or perhaps even smoke, and then a big punch of sherry.

It tastes like Pedro Ximénez – raisins, prunes, a bit of balsamic vinegar. There was also an almond nuttinness and a layer of dark chocolate.

Running through all of this, stopping it from quite being out-and-out pleasant to drink, was a beefy, Marmite line.

If you’ve read any other tasting notes on old beers, none of the above will be surprising. We probably could have written them before we even opened the bottle.

Still, it was special, and an experience we can now tick off our wish list.

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?”

Watney’s Pubs of 1966-67: Failsworth, Harlington, Lambeth, Stevenage, Wythenshawe

We continue to keep our eyes peeled for old in-house magazines from British breweries and most recently acquired a copy of Watney’s Red Barrel from February 1967.

It’s particularly rich in pictures of modern pubs, from Manchester to London. Let’s start with a trip to Wythenshawe, a place we studied in some depth when researching 20th Century Pub, where we find the Flying Machine and the Firbank.

The Flying Machine was designed by Francis Jones & Sons and built near Manchester Airport, with “interior decoration featuring vintage aircraft with some attractive prints of biplanes”. Is it still there? Yes! But now it’s called the Tudor Tavern.

The Firbank was designed by A.H. Brotherton & Partners and that’s about all the information the magazine gives. That concrete mural looks interesting, at any rate. The pub is still going, and award-winning, but has been the centre of drama in recent years with drug dealers attempting to blackmail the publican.

The Brookdale, Failsworth.

Sadly there’s no exterior image of the Brookdale in Failsworth, only this image of S.H. Threadgill, M.D. of Watney’s subsidiary Wilson’s, receiving a pint pulled by footballer Bobby Charlton. This pub has been knocked down to make way for housing.


The Long Ship pub in Stevenage.

The Danish Bar at the Long Ship pub.

Phwoar! The Long Ship in Stevenage is a pub we first noticed in the background of a scene in the 1968 film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. It was the first Watney Mann pub in the Hertfordshire new town and occupied the base of the Southgate House office block.

It has a really interesting architectural pedigree: that great gorgeous mural is by William Mitchell, a sculptor currently enjoying a revival. It was sixty feet long and depicted Vikings returning to their homeland after a raid on England. Sadly it seems this mural was just torn off and chucked away when the pub was demolished.

Obviously the bars in the pub were the Viking bar and (pictured above) the Danish lounge and grill room.

The architect was Barnard Reyner of Coventry.


The Gibraltar pub near Elephant & Castle in London.

The Gibraltar in St George’s Road, London SE1, near Elephant and Castle, also has a name designer attached: architect E.B. Musman, who made his name with grand Art Deco designs in the 1930s, such as the Comet at Hatfield and the Nags Head in Bishops Stortford. It replaced a Victorian gin palace on the same site. Musman actually went to Gibraltar to make the sketches on which the sign was based.

In recent years it became a Thai restaurant before being demolished in 2012-13 to make way for, you guessed it, yuppie flats.

Interior of the Jolly Marshman, Abbey Estate, London SE2.

Still in London we have the Jolly Marshman on the Abbey Estate, London SE2. There’s no exterior shot in the magazine, only this image of the bar with “basketwork light shades and, centre back, the colourful mural of a ‘marshman’”. It was designed by J. Barnard of L.D. Tomlinson & Partners.  It has gone.


The Gamekeeper, Harlington.

Out at the end of the Piccadilly Line near Heathrow Airport something a bit different was afoot in the form of the Gamekeeper, the fourth of Watney’s Schooner Inns. It was a restaurant supposedly in the shape of a pheasant built behind an existing old pub of that name. It was a steakhouse with seating for 82 people. The architect was Roy Wilson-Smith who also designed the more famous Windsock at Dunstable. Astonishingly, this one still seems to exist — worth a pilgrimage, we reckon.


The picture at the very top of this post offers a bare glimpse of another Schooner Inn, the Leather Bottle in Edgware, which apparently closed in 2002.

Motel #1, 1953

This isn’t about pubs, or maybe it is: in June 1953 Britain gained its first American-style motel, The Royal Oak, at Newingreen outside Dover, Kent.

The Royal Oak was, as the name suggests, an old inn, apparently established in 1560 and rebuilt in the 18th century. It was around this core that the new motel was constructed by entrepreneur Graham Lyon.

Lyon was born in London in 1889 and worked with early automobiles as a youth. In the 1920s he was a pioneer of coach trips to the Continent, driving tourists around in a 10-seater Ford Model T charabanc. After World War II he entered the hotel business, starting with The White Cliffs in Dover. Something of an Americophile, his dealings with Americans during and after the war gave him the idea that Britain was deficient in hotels designed specifically for motorists and so, in 1952, approaching pensionable age, he set off to tour the US visiting more than 2,000 motels on an epic road-trip. He picked the brains of American moteliers and came back ready to implement his own take in the British market.

Aerial view of the Inn and Motel.

Each room in The Royal Oak motel had its own private garage and en suite bathroom. The larger suites had their own sitting rooms. For between 21s and 27s 6d per person (about £30 in today’s money) you got a Continental breakfast, a radio, a tea-making machine, telephone, a water dispenser, and your car washed and valeted.

Sitting room at the motel.

Continue reading “Motel #1, 1953”