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.

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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.

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