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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Watney’s Red on Film, 1971

The above film was made by Watney Mann (Watney’s) to help their staff understand Watney’s Red, which replaced Red Barrel as the firm’s flagship keg bitter in 1971.

It was unearthed by Nick Wheat who collects British documentary and industrial films and writes occasional beer articles for Dronfield CAMRA’s Peel Ale magazine. The copy above was made by projecting the 16mm film onto a wall and pointing his phone at it but it doesn’t look bad for all that.

From an article Nick dug up from Film User for July 1971 we know that it was one of three films produced to help with the roll-out of the new product as part of what Watney’s called ‘Operation Cheka’ in reference to the Bolshevik secret police. The suit of films cost £5,500 pounds to make (about £80k in today’s money) and this one is ‘Cheka 2’ ‘Cheka 3’, highlighted in this infographic from Film User:

Infographic depicting the roll-out of Operation Cheka.

The film itself is an amazing relic. It features various plummy senior executives explaining, rather stiltedly, the thinking behind the change, accompanied by footage of lorries and brewing plants around the country (our emphasis):

You see Red Barrel has been with us now for fifteen years and is still the same. In the meantime other beers have come along in keg with new flavours, and meeting new ideas of taste. Therefore Red Barrel might be said to be old fashioned. So what we did was to study the whole situation in great detail with our colleagues in the group marketing department. We wanted to find out just what it was the customers liked, what their ideals were, what were the faults, perhaps, in earlier beers, and altogether how we could make it right for the seventies.

What we’ve done is to give the beer a new smooth pleasant taste. We’ve also given it a much better head and altogether a more attractive appearance. Gone is any suggestion of bitter after palate; instead, there is a pleasant malty mealiness…. We’ve studied flavour, studied people’s reaction to flavour, and produced experimental beers, testing out all the variations we can think of in such things of sweetness or bitterness.

That confirms what we’d heard from other sources, and what we said in Brew Britannia: that Red Barrel and Red were quite different beers, with the latter an altogether fizzier, sweeter beer. But this would seem to suggest that, unless they’re outright fibbers, that people in the company genuinely believed they were responding to public demand rather than cutting corners for the sake of it.

There’s some solid historical information in all this, too. It tells us, for example, that Red was developed primarily at the Watney’s plant in Northampton, formerly Phipps, and that the beer and point-of-sale material was scheduled to hit pubs in March and April of 1971.

There is also an awkward interview with Mr Horsfall, a publican in… Eldon? Oldham? Answers on a postcard. He had been tasked with selling the new Red on the quiet to gauge customer reactions to the reformulation and, though hardly jumping for joy, seemed to think his customers preferred it, on the whole.

Arguably the most exciting part comes at the end: a reel of original TV ads from the time starring (we think) Michael Coles as a hard-boiled counter-intelligence operative tasked with stopping ‘the Red Revolution’. These ads seem to us to be parodying Callan, a popular TV programme of the day starring Edward Woodward, with the seedy sidekick ‘Friendly’ clearly a reference to Callan’s ‘Lonely’.

Thanks so much for sharing this, Nick! And if anyone else out there has this kind of material, we’d love to see it.

Updated 22/03/2018 after Nick got in touch to say he thinks this is actually Film 3.

British Beer Exports in Pictures

Ron Pattinson at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins has recently been mining data to tell the story of British beer exports in the 20th century. We thought we’d compliment that with some pictures from our collection of in-house magazines.

The pictures come from editions of The Red BarrelThe House of Whitbread and Guinness Time, mostly from the 1960s and 70s. (Yes, Guinness is Irish, but had it’s corporate HQ and a huge brewery in London from 1932.) It’s pretty well content free but we have plans to write something more substantial about all this at some point in the future.

Belgium
A Belgian pub.
Whitbread’s Taverne Nord, Boulevard Adolphe Max, Brussels, c.1933.
A portrait of a man in an office.
C. De Keyser, Whitbread’s Belgian sales manager from 1937.

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The Changing Scene: Watney’s Pubs of 1964

In 1964-64 Watney Mann and its subsidiaries were on a spree of pub building in towns, New Towns and on housing estates up and down the country.

Here are photographs of and notes on those new pubs from editions of the brewery’s in-house magazine, The Red Barrel, published in 1964. Where possible we’ve credited architects and builders. Unfortunately no photography credits are provided in the magazines.

The Kingfisher, Corby, Northamptonshire
Exterior view of a modern pub; interior view of the same.
The exterior of the Kingfisher and a view of its lounge bar.

This pub on the Lodge Park estate was opened in December 1963 by E.C.M. Palmer, the chairman of Phipps, the Northampton brewer Watney’s took over in 1960. It was designed by Phipps’s in-house architects and built by Simcock and Usher Limited of Northampton. The managers were Norman Houghton and his apparently nameless wife.

A feature of the spacious public bar is the woodwork. The seating, the counter front and the ceiling are of fine quality pinewood, and a Granwood floor blend with the general appearance of the room… [It] has that essential amenity, a car park, with space for about fifty cars.

Still there? It seems so.

The Old Swan, Battersea, London

Exterior of the Old Swan from the riverside.

This riverside pub was designed by architects Stewart, Hendry & Smith and built by Siggs & Chapman of Croydon. It replaced an older riverside pub.

A full length continuous window in the ‘Riverside Bar’ overlooks the Thames, and the nautical atmosphere is accentuated by the curved boarded ceiling reminiscent of a ship’s deckhead, and by a ship’s rail for a footrail, while ship’s lanterns and porthole-style windows provide light.

Still there? No, sadly not — it was apparently demolished before 1987 (didn’t even make 25 years) and was replaced with a block of flats that cheekily borrowed the pub name.

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Fameusement British — Watney’s in Belgium, 1969

The October 1969 edition of Watney’s in-house magazine, The Red Barrel, contains a substantial feature on the British mega-brewery’s operations in Belgium. Here are some highlights.

The author was John Nixon, editor of The Red Barrel, and what took him to Brussels in the summer of 1969 was the presentation of an award for the quality of Belgian-brewed Red Barrel keg bitter. (We think we’ve got that right — the text is a bit vague.) At that ceremony M. Orban of L’Institut Mondial pour la Protection de le Haute Qualite Alimentaire spoke of ‘the progress of an ideal to which men, calling themselves European, have dedicated their best efforts for so many years’. Highly topical in 2017… Can we even say poignant without having someone tick us off?

The feature proper is entitled ‘Continental Journey’ (as above) and is a charming period travelogue with a focus on beer. Mr Nixon observes, first, that Brussels isn’t far away once airport rigmarole is out of the way: ‘[Only] about the same distance from London as is Manchester — what an incredible difference that strip of water makes!’. Then, after a few observations about the terrible driving, the high price of food and drink, and the low cost of renting flats, he gets down to business:

I finished the [first] evening at The Red Lion, one of the first English pubs in Brussels. The house is going incredibly well and as I walked through the door I was greeted by Mine Host Major John Reynolds, his charming wife Pat and a vast chorus of slightly obscene singing from a circle of British Leyland apprentices — exactly what they were doing in the city I didn’t find out as the Reynolds rushed me upstairs to another bar where we could swap news in comfort and my delicate ears would not be affronted by the lyrics of British Rugby songs.

Ah, the British abroad! (See also.) Mr and Mrs Reynolds benefited in business terms but suffered personally as a result of the absence of British-style regulated licensing in Brussels:

They open at 9.00 am and are then continuously engaged until 5 o’clock in the morning. Of course, they have a bevy of carefully selected British and Belgian barmaids to assist, who ‘live in’ above the pub, but Mr and Mrs Reynolds have to work in shifts, sometimes seeing each other only for an hour or so each day or passing on the stairs in the small hours of the morning as one gets up and the other goes to bed!

Le Real, Brussels, 1969.

The next day Mr Nixon was escorted around the city by M. Joary, Watney’s PR man in Belgium, and (supposedly) a former boxing champion, Jean Charles, who was then in charge of sales to cafes in Brussels:

Our first stop was the Cafe Real, situated at the edge of a park and frequented by professional men — lawyers, doctors and business men who work in the area. The establishment is designed to represent a cafe in the Black Forest, Germany. It is panelled throughout in red pinewood, well decorated with chandeliers, flowers, advertisements, Red Barrels and the illuminated fluorescent advertisements which are a feature of nearly all Belgian cafes… You can buy most kinds of food at the Cafe Real… Drinks range from wine through to beer, with simple but unusual items like freshly-squeezed orange juice, which you could not obtain in most British cafes or pubs.

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Q&A: What Was the First Kegged Craft Beer?

‘What was the first kegged “craft”? Freehouses had keg lines – something must have been number one.’ Paul, Edinburgh (@CanIgetaP)

Bailey has recently been reading What Was the First Rock’N’Roll Record? by Jim Dawson and Steve Propes. Rather than declare an answer it puts forward a list of 50 candidates from 1944 to 1956 and explains the claim each has to the title. We’re going to steal that approach.

Watney's Red Barrel (detail from beer mat).

1. Watney’s Red Barrel, London, 1931.
Wait, bear with us! It was the first keg bitter, full stop, and when it first emerged was a well-regarded export quality beer. We’ve tasted a clone of a 1960s version and it was better than some keg red or amber ales currently being put out by larger breweries through their craft sub-brands.

1970s photograph of two men in horn-rimmed glasses inspecting beer.
Tommy Marling takes the temperature of draught Guinness watched by Mr Bill Steggle, licensee of the Cock at Headley near Epsom. SOURCE: Guinness Time.

2. Draught Guinness, 1958.
Please continue to bear with us. In the mid-20th Century draught Guinness was a super-hip beer and apparently very tasty, but hard to find. Technicians at the brewery worked out a way to reliably dispense it from one vessel with a creamy head and it went on to take over the world. It was brewed in both Dublin and London. CAMRA veteran Barrie Pepper is once reported to have said that if all keg beer had been as good as draught Guinness CAMRA would never have got off the ground.

a. German and Belgian beers began to appear more frequently in Britain at the end of the 1970s, usually  bottled, but occasionally on draught. In the mid-1980s Sean Franklin at Rooster’s and Peter Austin at Ringwood considered kegging their beers but neither bit the bullet.

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