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Issue 49 – April 2001

 

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Contents



EDITORIAL Hop Press index

Once again there has been a long break since the last Hop Press ... I can only plead the usual excuse of editorial indolence. This boxed caption was the start of the first paragraph in the last Editorial (May 2000) and yet again, unhappily, it is still perfectly apt - I'm thinking of adopting it as a permanent masthead!

Still, the delay gives me the opportunity to welcome all readers into the real third millennium and twenty-first century. Is there any prospect of it being a good one for beer drinkers? What signs there are do not look too auspicious.

By now it had been expected that the mists shrouding the national brewery and pub scene would have cleared and FrancoBelgian Interbrew would be the bestriding colossus. Not so yet. The bid for all of the Bass brewing empire, of which Interbrew were so confident that they announced it only days before their major share issue, has been scotched by the (helpful for once) Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The huge drop in the value of the newly issued shares that resulted from this rebuff may yet cost the company's chief executive, Hugo Powell, his head.

What it means to the British drinker is very much harder to speculate on. Interbrew had at least made statements in support of Draught Bass - Powell went so far as to claim it was his favourite English beer - but such pre-purchase statements do not have a good record of coming true. As they look likely to challenge the MMC's ruling in the courts we may well still eventually get a chance to test its durability.

If, on the other hand, the MMC is upheld and the deal finally folds, who will benefit? The two brewers known to be left in the frame (for Bass are definitely going to get out) are South Africa's United Brewery and the ghastly American Anheuser-Busch. Neither of these have the remotest interest in cask beer.

A third long-shot is Dutch Heineken. When Interbrew took the Whitbread breweries last year it left them with the British Heineken licence, which does not fit well with the makers of Stella Artois. Heineken would like to move their image upwards to the premium lager end of the market, which would imply an independent British operation - such as the Bass breweries. Of course, this would probably also be bye-bye Draught Bass...

On the face of it, however distasteful it may seem, a successful Interbrew court action might be the best for genuine beer drinkers.

This turmoil only concerns the Bass brewing operations, what then of the pubs? A thousand of these have just been sold to the Japanese bank, Nomura. This purchase enables Nomura to reclaim the title of Britain's biggest pub company, now with over five and a half thousand! Most of the pubs in this sell-off were smaller outlets, Bass still retain (at the moment) two thousand outlets, mostly the branded chains - the O'Neills, All Bar Ones. It's a Screams and other depressingly similar abominations.

Nomura state that they will lease their new acquisitions out on 'an arm's length basis' to the licensees. We can only hope that this is more than mere rhetoric. These giant, and ever growing, pub owning companies (Punch Taverns have 5000+, Enterprise Inns 2500 for example) make it absolutely essential that the competition authorities, the MMC and the Office of Fair Trading, should produce some rules for their conduct. The extension to them of the CAMRA originated 'Guest Beer' law would be an obvious first step. Until recently this had looked quite hopeful, from hints we were getting from parliamentary contacts, but now the impending election looks like kicking it into touch.

Another unresolved issue surrounds Whitbread's several thousand remaining pubs that have the 'for sale' sign over them. Nomura are known to be interested in these as well. A deal would take them up to almost a sixth of Britain's entire pub stock, this cannot be tolerated. Another suitor was Schroders, the investment and unit trust company - what could they possibly have as an interest other than property market dealings? However, Schroder now seems to have left the battle and it looks like 3000 or so pubs will become the plaything of a pizza parlour owner. Luke Johnson, co-founder of Pizza Express, had been the figure behind the Schroder interest but now has financial backing from Lehmans, an American investment bank. There is also another possible bid in the form of a venture capital backed management buyout. The whole sale is in effect an auction.

Whitbread refuse categorically to consider individual sales, they just want to get shot of the lot in the easiest possible way without consideration of maximising their return. Whitbread shareholders, wake-up! Ask your company to increase your money by negotiating individual deals with licensees and with independent brewers.

As we said at the start of this piece, our pub and brewing scene is unexpectedly obscure and the fate of Wolverhampton and Dudley is another exemplar. Although now no longer a local matter, since Greene King rode into Hampshire to relieve W & D of their newly acquired Marston's pubs, many of us still look upon them as one of 'our' breweries. And what a mess they seem to getting into. For months there has been an on and off desultory take-over contest from one Robert Breare, an entrepreneur but one with something of the air of an asset stripper about him. This impression is not helped by one of his financial backers being the company that dismembered the Ushers operation.

If Breare gets his way (and the only opposition is a ragged management buyout attempt) it will inevitably mean closure of the Mansfield Brewery, disposal of 1000 pubs - probably to Enterprise, disposal of Camerons Brewery and possibly even closure of Marstons. This is the likely fate of what, just a year ago, was acclaimed as perhaps our strongest independent brewery. Thinking of it all almost drives one to drink, whilst we can still find one!

Stonehenge Mysteries Hop Press index

Rob Whatley

One great mystery of Stonehenge is how the stones from the Prescelly Hills in Wales found their way to Salisbury Plain. Another such geographical conundrum is how a Dane came to be brewing in one of Britain's longest established micro- breweries, Stonehenge Ales.

What we now know as Stonehenge Ales was set up in 1984 by retired civil engineer Tony Bunce, in the village of Netheravon, on the south eastern edge of Salisbury Plain. The building in which the brewery is located was built in 1914 to supply electricity to the new airfield nearby. The electricity was supposed to be generated by a water wheel in the river Avon that flows past the brewery. However, the river flow was never sufficient to generate enough for the needs of the airfield, so diesel engines were installed. The use as a power station only lasted five years, after which time the building had various uses including a village hall, a plastics factory and a printing works. It had been derelict for many years when Tony Bunce converted it into a miniature traditional 'tower' brewery. In such a brewery, the brewing liquor moves downwards through all of its stages in becoming beer by gravity. Today only one pump is used in the whole brewing process.

It was Tony and his wife Robin who renamed the premises the Old Mill once the brewery was completed in 1984. The conversion also included the building of accommodation on the floor above the brewery. The building was grade II listed in 1986.

When the first brew, Best Bitter, was produced it was under the name of Bunces Brewery. The brewery, which is among the longest established of the new micro breweries, continued to trade under this name for many years and the beers built up a good local following and also found favour further afield. In 1993 Tony decided to put the brewery on the market as his worsening health was making it more difficult for him to cope with the strain of running the business. Stig Anker Anderson, who at the time was managing director of Slotsmollen Brewery in Denmark, noticed the for sale notice in the Brewers' Guardian and decided, with wife Anna Marie, to come and have a look.

The Slotsmollen Brewery was a subsidiary of the Albani Brewery and specialised in making cheap lager for the supermarket trade. Only five per cent of the production was sold in draught form. Stig hankered after running a proper brewery in which he could use his brewing skills to their full potential. Stig and Anna Marie fell in love with the Netheravon brewery and six months after their initial visit it was theirs.

At that time the beer range included the malty, 3.5% abv, Benchmark, the original first brew, Best Bitter and Old Smokey, a 5% abv dark ale with lots of roasted malt and a hint of liquorice. The last beer introduced by Tony Bunce was Pigswill, which today is the brewery's biggest seller, accounting for almost half of the beer brewed. The full-bodied, 4% abv beer started as a special brew for the Two Pigs pub at Corsham, which gave it the name.

Stig launched his first new beer for the Christmas of 1994. Rudolph remains a seasonal favourite and the 5% abv, dark amber beer has a good balance of crystal malt and aromatic Goldings hops which produce the desired warming effect. Other seasonal beers followed and are still going strong. Signs of Spring, which is easily recognised by its (almost unique) green colour and the autumn brew Stig Swig, which is flavoured with the herb sweet gale, which was allegedly used by the Vikings to flavour and preserve their beer. A more obvious reflection of Stig's roots comes in the form of Danish Dynamite. This well hopped, light golden ale with the dry bitterness balanced with a degree of fruitiness. Weighing in at 5% abv, it has won numerous prizes and it is now the brewery's second biggest seller.

It was in 1998 that Stig decided to change the trading name to Stonehenge Ales, although the brewery remains as Bunce's Brewery. Since then two more new brews have been added to the range. Heel Stone is a medium strength, clean, bitter beer while the 4.6% abv and Great Dane is unusual in being a cask-conditioned lager, brewed with German hops. The beer is stored, or lagered, in the brewery for two to three weeks before release to the pubs.

Around 40 barrels (nearly 1500 gallons) of beer a week are currently being brewed. The maximum capacity is around 50 barrels a week - a factor governed by the number of fermenting vessels in which the beer has to spend a week or so. The maximum single brew is 10 barrels (360 gallons), determined by the volumes of the mash tun and copper.

Sixty per cent of the output is sold directly to pubs in Wiltshire and surrounding counties. The remainder is sold through 'beer agencies.' Last year the brewery entered into the pub market in the shape of the Fox in Bristol. Unfortunately the venture was short lived as sales failed to live up to expectations, not helped by the pub's location on an industrial estate and its having some rather eccentric opening hours. The brewery does still have a small stake in the Swan at Enford, a few miles north of Netheravon.

As this interest indicates, Stig is very much part of the local community and is well known in British brewing. Even after many years living in England he does though have the occasional problem with the language. Last year he came downstairs to the brewery one morning to find a pigeon had got in and was flying around inside. This is obviously not something to be desired when cleanliness is the number one priority for producing good beer. Stig had to go out that morning so he left a note for the brewery staff. The staff were somewhat bemused to be greeted by a note asking them to get rid of the penguin. Subsequently a cuddly toy penguin was purchased and left in various locations around the brewery to remind Stig of the incident...

Ask if it's cask! Hop Press index

CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, is about to launch one of its most ambitious projects yet.

For he last two years we have been getting together a fighting fund, supported by many brewers, and now at last we are ready. You should be seeing on poster sites and in pubs all over the country an advertising campaign promoting real ale and defending the choice for drinkers.

Yet, for all the effort we are putting into it and for the support we have received, we will not be able to spend even a small fraction as much on promoting real ale and drinkers' choice as a national (international?) Brewer will spend on a single lager or 'smooth' brand. And that says it all.

Big brewers are only interested in big brands. They spend millions on pushing their brands with the hope of knocking out those of their rivals. Their ambition, of course, is to freeze out the competition.

But what CAMRA is interested in is choice - variety - a pub culture where there are beers of all styles and characteristics to suit beer drinkers of all styles. You choose lager? Fine, let there be lager. You choose 'smooth,' that is fine too. But we would like to be able to have the choice of real ale as well and, unfortunately, in all too many pubs that choice is no longer on offer.

Big brewers are again yanking the hand-pumps out of pubs all over the country, to create the appearance of 'consumer demand' for their nitro-keg 'smooth' beers - which are more profitable because they are easier to handle, easier to serve, easier to hide short measure and as they are not living beers they do not have a shelf life.

But it is all bogus. Thousands of 'smooth' drinkers only drink it because their pub no longer stocks cask ale. We know the demand is there, because regional and micro breweries are all reporting rising sales in the 20% of the market that they control. But, in the other four fifths of the market controlled by the big guys, power over supply is being used to distort demand and reduce choice.

That is why CAMRA is taking to the billboards. It is about defending choice and preserving variety. It is not about knocking lager or 'smooth' beer, or about putting down the people who prefer them. It is about encouraging and persuading people who prefer cask beer to demand it in their local pubs and to refuse to be fobbed off with something that they regard as second best.

The choice is yours. Next time you go to the pub, remember:

ASK IF IT'S CASK!

Brownian Motion? Hop Press index

The Budget came and went without much excitement for drinkers - unless one counts retaining the status quo as an excitement.

But there was just one little sentence in the statement (not mentioned in the actual speech) that could have a profound effect on the beers we see on the bar counter.

The Treasury said that it was "minded to introduce a lower rate of duty for smaller brewers."

This is something that CAMRA and SIBA, the Small Independent Brewers Association, have been lobbying and campaigning for for many years. It is a situation that already exists in a number of other EU countries, to their considerable benefit.

The announcement only commits the Treasury to entering negotiations with Customs and Excise to see if an agreeable plan can be devised and given the legendary intransigence of both of these organisations we would not be holding our breath pending the outcome! However, if a good outcome does occur, and the differentials are sufficient, it could do much to compensate for the price advantages that the heavily discounting mega-brewers have. In Germany, where such a law has been in place for many decades, it has prevented the headlong rush to merger and amalgamation that we have seen here - if uniting two breweries puts up their join tax burden it is a powerful disincentive!

No time scales were given for the discussions, nor were there any indications of what consultations might be taken (although there must be enough documentation already from at least ten years of lobbying). We live optimistically.

There were a few other esoteric items in the fine print of interest to the collectors of the minutiae of the licensed trade. For example probably not many people are aware that much cider is diluted before it gets to your glass - in some mysterious way this reduces the overall duty and it is to be stopped.

Another measure, to help the almost hopeless struggle against tobacco smuggling, will make it a criminal offence to allow one's premises (and we presume this includes car parks) to be used by anyone making a sale of untaxed tobacco. This may give a few landlords and especially some club committees and stewards reason to be fearful...

Once again, the Chancellor has defied his Single European Act obligations - which are to take steps towards a Europe-wide harmonisation of excise rates - and left the United Kingdom ploughing a lonely furrow. A recent study has shown that for every 1p of duty reduction, smugglers' profits would be reduced by an eighth; the expected reduction in 'white van' trade would more than compensate for the duty loss - a Government win-win sum.

BON GOÛT, BON MARCHÉ Hop Press index

Older readers who spent time in France in their youth will have less than happy memories of French beer. A generation ago, the best our nearest neighbours could come up with was a pale, anaemic thing, tasting mostly, to me at least, of onions.

Not so now. Quality beers are becoming more and more available and popular. Small and micro breweries are prospering and pub breweries - an unthinkable thing a few years ago - are springing up all over. When you come back from this year's holiday, here are some suggestions for any space left in the boot.

Firstly, avoid the dockside warehouses aimed at British white-van-men and full of pallets of Stella or 1664. French supermarkets have a good range of the small brewery beers - in both Cherbourg and Le Havre the giant Auchan stores are the best bet. The second golden rule is to concentrate on the large, 750ml, champagne style bottles with their wired-down corks. When comparing prices check the strengths, some of these beers are seriously strong!. There are a number of varieties - Blonde which is the normal pale bitter; Ambrée, darker and often fruitier; Brune, somewhat equivalent to our brown ale; Froment wheat beer and other specialised Triples, Bières des saisons etc.

Cheapest varieties, at 9 to 10 francs, are usually Jenlain (Ambrée 6.5%), easily recognised by its almost all-black label and Goudale (Blonde 7.2%) whose bottles have no labels, just a painted inscription. Jenlain is from the small Duyck brewery near Valenciennes and Goudale is from the Gayant brewery at Douai.

Another low price beer, also often below 10 francs, is Septante 5 (Ambrée 7.5%, Froment 6.2%) from the Terken brewery near Lille, a larger independent capable of over 7000 barrels per week .

All of these breweries are in the Pas de Calais area of France, all close to brewers' heaven, Belgium. In the same area, central to the now closed and desolate coalfields of Zola's Germinal fame, at Bénifontaine, the Castelain brewery produces excellent beers under the curious name of Ch'ti (a word from the antique Picardian language of the area). The Blonde is 6.4%, Ambrée 5.9%, Brune 6.4% and the Triple a hefty 7.5%. These are usually in the 15 to 17 franc region, still only £1.25 per pint.

At 12 to 16 francs the Auchan supermarket usually has some other north-eastern beers. 3 Monts (a Blonde at a mighty 8.5%!) comes from the St Sylvestre brewery, near Dunkirk and near Lille La Choulette (Blonde and Ambrée 7.5%) is made in its eponymous brewery. Usually nearer 20 francs is the star beer from Orpal's Jeanne d'Arc brewery at Ronchin, south of Lille: Le Grain d'Orge is an 8% Blonde, made with three malt varieties and with an intriguing, slightly smoky flavour.

Even the mega-giant Interbrew can provide big, corked bottles of their Leffe, which are worth a try. Happy shopping.!

PUB NEWS Hop Press index

Rob Whatley

Two new outlets for our local regional brewers have appeared in the Forest in recent months, though for a change this hasn't resulted in the loss of any free houses. In Burley the former Tree Tops and Toad Hall has become a residential pub for the first time, as the Burley Inn. It is owned by Wadworth and was at first run by the Emberley family, who had run the White Hart at Cadnam and the Horse and Jockey in Romsey in recent years. It is now under new management. But the Horse & Jockey is now a restaurant, the Casa Bodega, after it was put on the market for £375,000.

The other new outlet is Towles, at Walhampton, just outside Lymington, which has been purchased by Horndean brewers, Gales. The restaurant had been owned by Robert Towle for the last 20 years and the two restaurant areas (which includes the bar) can seat up to 200 customers. It is still very much a restaurant however and customers who do not wish to eat are not encouraged, or so our researcher was informed.

Another large Forest pub that has been in the hands of the same owner for more than 20 years has been sold. Owners Roger and Lin Kernan put the High Corner at Linwood, near Ringwood, on the market at an asking price of more than a million pounds. It has been bought, no surprise, by Wadworths and is currently being refurbished and run in tandem by the landlord of the nearby Red Shoot. We are told that the refurb' will "not alter the essential character of the pub."

The New Forest Hotel at Ashurst has reopened after refurbishment following its purchase by Fullers, the London brewers. We are pleased to report that there are no sparklers on the beers and that the brewery's excellent Chiswick Bitter and seasonal beers are on offer alongside the more usual London Pride and ESB. The pub has a more open feel than before and although the new decor is fairly attractive, there are the obligatory old books and knick-knacks on shelves. A large patio has also been added as part of the £600,000 makeover.

We mentioned in the last Hop Press that the Drummond Arms in Hythe was to be converted into flats. Only three of the flats, with prices from £129,950, in "Waterside Mews" now remain to be sold.

Another large Victorian pub, the ex-Whitbread's Golden Hind in Eastleigh, has been demolished after it was sold by Innspired Inns. Attempts to get the building listed failed and it is to be replaced by housing. Also in Eastleigh a pub was almost lost when the Barge at Bishopstoke was hit by fire in April last year and had to be closed for redecoration. It has since reopened under its former name, the Prince of Wales.

In Eastleigh town centre, the Chamberlain Arms, near the Swan Centre, has had a makeover that has left it with a 'Changing Rooms' paint style! However, some of the dreadful purple paint on the outside of the Indigo Room Club has now become pale green as it changed its name to Earth, whatever that signifies we do not know.

On the North side of Eastleigh, at Allbrook, the Victoria is under threat. A grandiose plan has been submitted to the Council that would involve developing areas both sides of the main road for housing with the pub being demolished. One would have thought that the addition of substantial housing would have been a good reason for keeping and enhancing the pub...

Another pub that had to close for redecoration was the White Swan in Swaythling. The riverside pub was flooded on Christmas Eve 1999 and reopened in April 2000. This flooding may have influenced Southampton planners as an application submitted to build a 40 bedroom Travel Lodge next to the pub was turned down because of the flood risk. The Environment Agency had compiled a report which concluded that the building would always be under threat of flooding and there would not be suitable escape routes to higher ground. The pub was flooded again in this October and December. We imagine the novelty is beginning to wear off!

Following on from fire and flood, it looked like an earthquake had hit the White Horse at Otterbourne when large holes appeared in the car park during the extensive redecoration. Happily it was all part of the planned changes to the car park and the pub itself. Perhaps the opening of the nearby Old Forge had something to do with the extent of the refurbishment.

Another substantial refit took place at the Porthouse, Winchester, which banned under-21s as part of an attempt to improve its image. A major change took place at the Exchange during the summer when licensee Steve Sankey left after 13 years at the pub. He was replaced by Colin Clarke, from Maidenhead, who previously ran a pub in Twickenham. However disaster has now struck for the pub was recently engulfed in flames as a kitchen fryer caught light. Extensive damage was done and it is not yet clear when things will return to normal. It is ironical that the outside wall of the pub still bears a Georgian lead fire insurance plate!

The licensees of another well known Winchester city pub have taken on a second licence in the area. Janet Graham and Gary Swan have run the King Alfred since 1997 and have now, in addition, become tenants of another Greene King ex-Marston pub, the Trout at Itchen Abbas.

News of two other Winchester ex-Marston pubs. The India Arms, in the Broadway has had a refurbishment and has reopened under new management and with a somewhat food and family oriented style and a 'minor amount of refurbishment' is due to begin at the Green Man in Southgate Street

The news that Winchester's Bass-owned Fugue and Firkin is no more we would normally greet with some satisfaction, but its revamp into yet another O'Neills crass 'oirish' pastiche gives us pause...

Good news reaches us from Crawley, where the Fox and Hounds, which since 1997 had been trading under the name of Vistro Restaurant, with French cuisine, is now under the control of Richard and Kathryn Crawford. The couple have run the Plough at Sparsholt for a number of years and like the Plough, the Fox and Hounds offers Wadworth's beers.

In Alresford permission has been granted by planners for the first floor of the Running Horse (Greene King) to be converted into five hotel bedrooms.

Moving to Romsey, in the summer the lease of Judges, which is named after the nickname of Hampshire captain Robin Smith, was available at an asking price of £220,000. A more recent advertisement for staff started, "Following the ongoing success of our brasserie and wine bar..." The Dolphin Hotel, and adjacent La Piazza restaurant, has been sold by Whitbread to local department store group Smith Bradbeer but continues to trade as a pub, for the moment.

Moving back to the Forest, the Old Well Restaurant at Copythorne has been renamed the Old Well Inn. Although no real ale was available following the change, it is hoped to introduce it when the bar trade has been built up. A nearby pub was accused of wanting to covert to a hotel by some councillors recently. The proposal to add a two storey extension to the Mortimer Arms at Ower, increasing the number of bedrooms from four to eleven, was rejected by New Forest councillors. Earlier last year the Vine, not many yards away was given permission to add 14 extra bedrooms.

In the South West, the Crown Inn at Everton is now under the control of Peter and Pippa Roberts. Peter is a former head chef of the David Lloyd sports centre in Bournemouth. The Waggon and Horses, close to the ferry terminal in Lymington, also has new licensees in Rob and Jill. These new pint pullers will be aspiring to achieve the level of success of Chas and Linda Stone of the Ashley Hotel who have won the "Newcomer of the Year" award in a national competition run by Whitbread. In the extreme North West of our area, we understand that the landlord of the Tally Ho! in Broughton is planning to leave in the spring.

A number of pubs in Southampton have reopened in different guises. At 42 High Street, the former Nags Head, Fiddlers and Loft is now open as 42THS, but no real ale is on offer. Real ale is still available at Cafe Sol in Commercial Road, which is the new name for the former church, Cloisters. The name remains the same at the Boson's Locker, where new licensees John and Joan Shearer have reintroduced a selection of real ales and are working hard to turn the pub round and return it to the decent pub it was a few years ago.

In London Road, the Bier Kellar, which was later foreshortened to the Kellar is now Kelly's. Nearby the former T&GWU offices in London Road is now the Varsity. It is one of a chain of similarly named pubs that Wolverhampton and Dudley Brewery have opened across the country, including outlets in such well know university locations as Lincoln, Bolton and Walsall. After the brewery bought Marstons it sold all of its pubs in Hampshire so it is strange that it has now opened this southern outpost. The beers on offer are Banks Bitter and the increasingly rare Pedigree. The pub is smartly decorated and although aimed mainly at the younger market, those of more mature years will be made welcome, especially during the day in the upstairs bar, where the background music is less intrusive.

Staying with educational matters, the former Albion in Bevois Valley has reopened as the Study. It is now run by the company that owns Swindon's Archers Brewery, but no real ale is on sale. On the same theme, the former Graduate in New Road, most recently named the Sorcerer but still best known to locals as the Bay Tree, is closed and for sale. The Bay Tree was a former Gales pub where the first meeting of the South Hants Branch of CAMRA was held in 1974. The licensees of another Gales pub, the New Inn, have moved to pastures new. Mick Jones and Linda Thompson will be working as relief managers in the West Country, having been at the New Inn in Bevois Valley for three years.

Another pub aiming for a younger clientele is the Hogshead in Above Bar. The previous bare boards and brickwork have been replaced by brightly coloured paint work, which can be viewed from big, comfortably settees. The beer range remains as before, with beers from both handpumps and casks behind the bar. Another large outlet in the city is up for sale. The Cork and Bottle next to Ocean Village has been put on the market for £275,000 by Surrey Free Inns, who are looking for outlets in the city centre for one of their Litten Tree chain. The nearby former Oriental has now been converted into seven, two-bedroom apartments. A more unusual use is to be made of the site of another city pub. The now demolished Sailors Return in Millbrook Road is to become a headquarters for the St. Johns Ambulance.

Finally, two tales of famous people who had unfortunate experiences in local hostelries. A group from Ardent Productions was filming recently at Southampton General Hospital. The crew decided to visit a pub for lunch and so rang the Cowherds on the Common to make a reservation. The pub has a policy of not taking reservations and stood by this rule even when it was mentioned that the party included Prince Edward. Fortunately for the prince and his colleagues they did manage to find a table when they arrived. The pub's licensee said that when he answered the phone he didn't know whether to believe the caller.

The most famous non-believer in the country was also seen at a local hostelry recently. Victor Meldrew, now has two feet in the grave after being knocked down by a passing car outside the Bridge Hotel in Shawford. Following the broadcast of this terminal episode the pub became a place of pilgrimage for fans of the show and wreaths were left at the place where the character met his end!

HOW DID WE GET HERE? Hop Press index

Rob Whatley

The last Queen's speech had one major omission for drinkers: the lack of any proposals to liberalise pub opening hours and the whole licensing system, even though these had been promised in Jack Straw's summer white paper. CAMRA will continue to press for such reforms to be introduced after the next election.

But how did we arrive at the current state of our licensing laws?

The history of modern liquor licensing begins in 1828 with Thomas Estcourt's Alehouse Act, which was meant to consolidate all of the disparate licensing statutes of the previous 300 years. Estcourt's Act, which put all premises selling alcohol on an equal footing - able to sell any drink at virtually any time (except during divine service) - was supposed, at the time, to have finally settled the licensing question.

But, only two years later the Duke of Wellington's Tory Government pushed through the 1830 Beerhouse Act. It was at least in part a move by a struggling administration to try to increase its popularity before the approaching death of the king, George IV, forced a general election. The Act, which came into effect on 11 October 1830 in England and Wales (Scotland and Ireland were left out), brought into existence a new class of on-license not controlled by local magistrates. Any ratepayer, for a two guinea a year payment to the excise authorities, could sell beer on or off the premises. Opening hours for beerhouses were "restricted" to between 5 in the morning and 10 at night, excepting Sundays when the hours of devine service were to be avoided. These were more restrictive than those for other public houses, which could open until midnight and beyond.

In passing this Act Parliament deemed that it was "...expedient for the better supplying of the public with beer in England, to give greater facilities for the sale thereof than are at present afforded by licences to keepers of inns, alehouses and victualling houses." Fine sentiments!

The result, not surprisingly, was a huge explosion in the number of licensed houses, with 46,000 beer houses opening within eight years after 1830, almost equalling the 51,000 licensed premises in existence before the Beerhouse Act. Many of then were named after the new king, William IV, making him one of the most popular royals on signboards. One local example still exists in Romsey.

The history of licensing legislation for the next 80 years would be largely a series of attempts to control this tidal wave of beerhouses, created by the Wellington Government, and to lessen some of the evils that arose from it. An Act passed by the Liberal Government in 1869 handed the issuing of future beer and wine on-licences to magistrates, giving control back to the Justices of the Peace after 39 years since the 1830 Act.

The new law required beerhouses to apply to the justices for a certificate of permission to obtain an excise licence. New applicants could be refused outright and applications from beerhouses in existence before 1869 could be refused if the applicant was guilty of bad conduct, if the house was disorderly or frequented by thieves or prostitutes, or if the applicant had previously had a licence refused. Licensing magistrates wielded their new powers vigorously: between 1871 and 1881 7,500 beerhouses in England and Wales were closed, more than one in six of the total.

Throughout the Victorian period, moral and social values were slow to come to prominence, but by the end of the century there were a number of Acts limiting the perceived damage from alcohol. In 1901 the sale to children under 14 was prohibited. In 1902 powers were given to arrest persons found drunk in public, drunk on licensed premises or drunk in charge of an infant. Drunken wives (sic) could be detained in "inebriate's retreats!"

The House of Lords ruled in 1891 that under the 1828 Licensing Act magistrates could, in effect, refuse licences to pubs they felt were not required, without compensation and benches started to cut back further on the stock of licensed establishments. For example, in 1903, 240 licences were refused in England and Wales. The next year, after pressure from the brewers, well represented in the Conservative Government, a new Licensing Act was passed. This provided for payments to brewers or landlords if magistrates closed a pub as "superfluous", the money to come out of a fund levied on the trade. Over the next 20 years some 12,000 pubs were closed under the provisions of this Act.

The Liberals, who were now allied to the temperance cause, felt the 1904 act went nowhere near far enough. In 1907, when they were back in power, they published a bill that would have increased the cost of an on-licence enormously, and made it much more likely that a pub would be closed.

The bill also provided for the refusal of a licence to a "tied" house, and banned the employment of women in pubs. It attracted huge public opposition, with massive meetings in Hyde Park and big demonstrations in Kent and East London. Though the bill passed the Commons, it was thrown out by the Lords in November 1908.

Six years later, however, the repressionists were presented with a golden opportunity to restrict public drinking, with the outbreak of the First World War. War was declared on 5 August 1914, and on 8 August Asquith's Liberal government passed the Defence of the Realm Act, better known as DORA, which included powers for the Home Secretary to make orders dealing with the production and sale of all alcoholic drinks. A month later a closing time of 10pm was imposed.

By the end of January 1915 more than 420 of the country's 1,000 licensing districts had imposed even stricter hours, generally letting pubs open for a couple of hours around 6am to 8am and then not again until 12.30pm.

If this seemed draconian enough, there were those who declared alcohol was still hampering the war effort. Under pressure, the government established the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) in June 1915. Opening hours in many parts of the country were slashed to a total of five and a half hours on weekdays and five hours on Sundays. An "afternoon break" in serving was imposed and closing had to be at 9pm or 9.30pm. "Treating" - buying a drink for someone else - was banned, thus outlawing the round. (We all know a few people who are still upholding this wartime tradition.)

After the war ended in 1918, things did not revert to the status ante. Controls were continued and it was not until 1921 that a new Act was brought in.

The formal easing of restrictions on drinkers, through the Licensing Act 1921 was a long way from a return to the 19-hour drinking day available in August 1914. Pubs could only open for eight hours, shutting by 10pm, again with a minimum two-hour afternoon break. On Sundays pubs could still only open for just five hours, again with a compulsory afternoon shutdown.

Moreover, the whole concept of during which hours drinking was to be an allowable activity was turned on its head. Throughout the nineteenth century the emphasis was on a (few) specific times when a pub should stay closed - during Sunday services for example. After 1921 the new concept of "permitted hours" only allowed opening on very restricted periods. In essence the moralists had set the agenda.

The 1921 Act effectively set in stone many of the First World War's restrictions on licensed hours for the next half-century. Forty years after the 1921 Act, the 1961 Licensing Act was the first general revision - and a feeble one at that. Total hours were barely changed although some later opening was allowed for premises granted "supper licences" and the Act introduced the (then) 10-minute period of grace after the end of permitted hours in the afternoon and evening, quickly dubbed "drinking-up time".

A Monopolies Commission probe into the brewing industry in 1969 sparked the Errol Committee investigation into licensing law in England and Wales in 1972. The Errol report, backing liberalised licensing hours and the lowering of the age limit for drinkers to 17, disappeared into the Home Office, never to be seen again.

Only in September 1988 did a new Licensing Act come in with substantial changes, allowing pubs to stay open from 11am to 11pm without a break, six days of the week. A House of Lords amendment extending Sunday lunchtime opening to 3pm was slipped in, while drinking up time was lengthened to 20 minutes. It took until August 1995 before pubs in England and Wales were allowed to open again all afternoon on Sundays.

Hop Press issue number 49 – April 2001

Editor: Pat O'Neill
1 Surbiton Road
Eastleigh
Hants.
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023 8064 2246
hop-press@shantscamra.org.uk

© CAMRA Ltd. 2001

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