Copyright © 2007 by"Jim McCulloch"
All Rights reserved
So what can beat the good old British Pub?
Imagine it; Sunday afternoon you are down at your local having a delicious
Sunday Lunch washed down with an excellent pint of the local ale.
If it is Summer, you could be sitting out in the beer garden, birds singing
trees and the sun shining down on you. If it is Winter, you are sitting
the cockles of your heart in front of a roaring log fire. Whatever the season
is typically British!
The British Pub is the quintessential epitome of British life. Life revolves round
the Pub whether you live in the City, a Town or in one of Britain’s many Villages.
The Village Pub is probably the main meeting place for villagers to come together and exchange information and gossip. Possibly more so than the Village Hall or Community Centre.
Alas the traditional pubs in cities are fast becoming replaced by Food and Drink chains where the community spirit is dying out.Another victim of this change is the traditional pub name. For centuries pubs have had names that reflect the history of the pub or an event that took place nearby. Grand names such as The Duke of Wellington, The Kings Arms, The Royal Oak the list goes on. Now pubs names are changing to reflect the chains that own them.
So what is it that makes a pub a pub? Well to answer that we need to go back in time and see where it all originated from.
Hostelry’s started way back in the Roman Invasion days and were set up to see to the needs of travelling dignitaries as they moved from one outpost to another. They were originally named “Tabernae” and provided warmth, food and rest to weary travelers. These originals pubs started the idea of using a banner outside to show their trade. The first Roman signs were a bunch of vine Leaves clustered together and indicated that wine was available in the establishment. After the Romans left Britain the Tabernae all but disappeared, however travelers loves to stop for a drink of the local ales, which were brewed using malted barley, water and yeast. It was sweet and often powerful,
but was easily soured and did not keep. Skill was needed to produce good ales. This skill was
grasped by many and those who were good at it thrived and sold their ale out of their own homes.
Thus started the advent of “Alehouses”.
In the tenth century, Edgar the King of Kent regulated the size of drinking mugs, these mugs were
measured by pegs inserted in the side and the drinker could only consume his share down to the
peg before passing the mug to another customer. If that person took more than the allocated amount he took the next drinker “Down a Peg or Two”. This expression is still used today.
Soon Christianity spread throughout Britain and one would be excused for thinking that this would reduce the amount of ales being sold. Far from it, ale was brewed specifically for Church Festivals or for Fund Raising where the ale would be taxed by the church. These ales were known as “Scot Ales”, and those brewers who brewed their ales secretly to avoid this tax were drinking “Scot Free”.
The twelfth century saw an increase in trade around Britain and with that an increase in travelers. The current Ale House system could not cope with this increase so the Inn became popular. These early Inns were run by Monks from their monasteries and became very popular, and offered not just ale but also food and accommodations. Although the Monks have now long gone many of these Inns are still in business today serving the needs of travelers as they have for centuries.
The sixteenth century saw another dramatic change in the Alehouse Inn system. Enter the Tavern. This was to be different to Inns in so much as it only sold wine and catered to a higher class of clientele. This is where the professional elite came to drink, play and gossip. Taverns became the place to be seen in and where deals were completed between business people.
A quotation from Samuel Johnson says;
‘....No, Sir; there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.’
London was famous for it’s many Taverns , however by the end of the eighteenth century the Tavern had declined dramatically in favour of “Gentlemens” clubs and also a new drinking establishment known as “Gin Houses. Genevieve or Gin as it is known now, was cheap to produce and soon caught on with the population and drunkenness increased dramatically.
The Gin House revolution coincided with the advent of gas lighting and plate glass manufacture and Gin House owners took full advantage of this to make their establishments brightly lit and dazzling. Because many Gin Houses were in poor areas they became known as Gin Palaces.
These were not to last however and soon the Inn became the place to be once again and in fact has stayed that way until modern times although they are now known as Pubs, short for Public Houses.
This period saw the real start of the Pub Name as we now know it. Places like the Royal Oak, The Swan, The Crown and Thistle, The Duke, The Rose and Crown and many more. The names do more than just name the pub, they are a reflection of how the name came about. For instance the Rose and Crown came from the times when King James 1st ascended to the crown of England and became James the 1st of England and 7th of Scotland. . At that time many buildings sported the Red Lion of Scotland to show their affiliation to James. Therefore naming a pub the Rose and Crown showed their loyalty to the King.
The Royal Oak is thought to have originated after the defeat of Charles the second at the Battle of Worcester in 1661. Charles is said to have hidden in a hollow oak tree to avoid capture.
Moving into more modern day’s, pubs soon split up into different areas for drinking. Commonly known was the Bat, The Smoking Room and the Snug. The Bar became the hangout for male customers and women were not welcome there. Of course this is typified in the British soap, Coronation Street. Where Ena Sharples always frequented the snug of The Rovers Return with her friends Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhurst. It was here they drank their glasses of Milk Stout.
The beer types also changed dramatically in more modern days. Gone was the one standard ale and in came names like Bitter, Mild, Milk Stout, and Lager and in Scotland they had Heavy and Light which were similar to Bitter and Mild. And of course if they didn’t suit you, you could mix drinks and have a pint of mix.
Nowadays the lists of Beer types is almost endless, with imported varieties on sale from all over the world.
The 20th century saw the big brewers taking over and out selling the small local breweries who went out of business. Breweries started their own chains of pubs where you only could buy their brand. This was a highly successful venture but it stifled the initiatives of pubs because the pub was not owned by a Landlord anymore but by a Tenant.
To combat this, four guys from Manchester formed what was to become known as CAMRA, Campaign for Real Ale. This group brought pressure on Breweries to make beer using the natural and ancient methods from years gone by and to advertise it as “Real Ale”
If you wish to read more on this subject follow this link.
This concludes my light history of the Great British Pub. Now sit back and remember all those lovely summer days relaxing with a pint in a Beer Garden or those nostalgic winter evenings in front of a roaring log fire drinking down some hearty ale.
If you have any stories or memories of a specific pub or an event in a pub please let me have them, to add to this Web Page.
In the beginning… a brief history of CAMRA
From Issue 50 of Inspire
To celebrate the fiftieth issue of InnSpire, this article looks at the history of CAMRA, both nationally and locally. This then is the tale of how the experiences of four dissatisfied drinkers has mushroomed into a national campaign with over 70,000 members.
In the beginning there were four founding fathers, all from the Manchester/Liverpool area, who went on a pub crawl one night and were so disappointed in the beer quality that they decided that action was required, and subsequently formed the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale. Whilst they had gained 1000 members by 1973, things really took off when ‘revitalisation’ was dropped and the term ‘real ale’ was put forward and entered every day language. All real ale drinkers may wish occasionally to toast the health off Michael Hardman, Graham Lees, Bill Mellor and Jim Makin, who launched CAMRA in 1971 with the aim of preventing the complete destruction of cask ales in Britain.
But what lay behind the key factor that gave rise to CAMRA: the decline in beer quality in our pubs? In his book ‘ The Ale Trail’ published in 1995, Roger Protz suggests that a root cause behind the changes that occurred in the industry in the 1960s & 1970s, in particular the decline in the quality of beer at that time, can be attributed to the loss of many experienced publicans killed during the World War Two (either in military service or during bombings over here). The new generation of publicans lacked experience in keeping cask beer, and untimely deaths had prevented the knowledge being passed down in the usual way. Brewers therefore moved over to bottled, and then keg, beers to overcome the issue of many landlords not knowing how to look after cask ale, with resultant poor quality.
CAMRA’s determination to deal with these issues hit the right spot with drinkers as by the late 1970s the Campaign had grown to 28,000 members. Indeed positive results in bringing cask ale back into many pubs led to CAMRA becoming a victim of its own success and there was a membership slump in the early 1980s. However the Campaign recognised the need to look at other issues such as pub closures, opening hours, and the availability of a guest beer and indeed these still make up some of the key issues that we are campaigning for today. The job is a long way from being completed!
…and then there was the Good Beer Guide. CAMRA’s flagship publication has always been the Good Beer Guide, first published in 1974. The first edition has two versions - the original that stated that Watney’s beers should be avoided ‘like the plague’ was immediately withdrawn by the publishers and replaced with a more sensitive appraisal of Watney’s delights - ‘avoid at all costs’. Early editions are said to contain a few quirks - a Suffolk pub on the London Underground, a pub that claimed a car park yet had to be reached via a half mile walk along a canal towpath, a non-existent pub that was apparently a complete spoof and even a county that never existed.
The Good Beer Guide is 32 years old this year and the 2005 vintage will be looking to match the record sales of nearly 49,000 achieved by the 2004 Guide (around 20,000 more than the nearest competitor, the Good Pub Guide). As an aside, CAMRA now has over 70,000 members which, allowing for sales to the general public, means that a considerable number of CAMRA members do not purchase the Guide each year, when did you last renew yours?
Thanks to the Chesterfield CAMRA branch for this enlightening article.
To see their full article follow this link!
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