Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road, by Roger Protz

Coaching InnsI learnt to drive on the Great North Road, or rather its modern incarnation, the A1. My soon-to-be wife taught me. Her technique was to sit patiently while I crunched the four troublesome gears of her elderly Austin Metro, a tiny city car not intended for long distance travel. It was noisy, cramped, twitchy at speed, and lost power when it rained. It wasn’t much fun at the time, but I see now that we were lucky to be travelling in the 1990s: a journey along the Great North Road by mail coach from London to Edinburgh, took eight or nine days. Coaching inns made an arduous journey just about bearable.

Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Roada sturdy paperback tough enough for the glovebox or door pocket–is published by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, and arranged linearly, as a journey, starting in London. The holloways and open roads of the past have long since given way to tarmac and motor traffic, and part of the appeal of this book—and the pubs it describes—is in the glimpses it offers of a slower-paced world now bypassed, and in many cases almost entirely erased. These twenty-first century pubs in all their variety–including those, like the Queen’s Head at Morpeth, Northumberland, that have closed down—carry in their long histories a collective memory, of old battles, famous visitors, and journeys taken, when to travel was to endure hardship barely imaginable today.

It is difficult now to visualise the road as it was—terrorised by highwaymen, all but unusable in winter—but some of it is still visible. Much of the old road between London and York, away from the modern A1, was based on the Roman road known as Ermine Street, laid down in dead straight miles made for marching soldiers. And many of the coaching inns along the way have also travelled to the future with us. There is the Bull and Last, on Highgate Road, so-called because it was once the last stop before London; and the George of Stamford, an inn with a six hundred year history that grew, Roger Protz tells us, to “it’s present pomp and glory” in the eighteenth century. Back then it handled 20 coaches, and their horses, each way, every day—the stables must have been enormous. Others have been less fortunate: The Golden Lion, at Ferrybridge, West Yorkshire, is the last remaining coaching inn in a village that once thrived as a crossing place on the River Aire. Now, completing its fall from grace, the only beer it serves is “John Smiths keg ale”. When I checked this last point for the purpose of this review, I discovered it currently serves Greene King IPA, which many people will not consider a great improvement.

Protz’s descriptions of the inns are vivid and opinionated. The sin of being a gastropub is absolved by a good range of cask ales, while the historic and preserved are celebrated generously. The ancient and splendid Angel and Royal at Grantham—perhaps the oldest coaching inn in Britain—gets a potted history going back to 1203, though the obvious enthusiasm and affection in the description includes what might be a slightly waspish mention of “Bertie’s Bistro,” named after King Edward VII. The Yorkshire town of Doncaster is not so easy to like. Protz says that its “importance as a Roman camp, and an Anglo-Saxon fortress, lie buried” under car parks and a shopping centre. Thankfully, marks are awarded for effort, and the Red Lion, a Wetherspoons pub dedicated to the St Leger horse race, and to Thomas Crapper, inventor of the ballcock valve system, sounds comfortable and unpretentious.

Historic Coaching Inns includes 46 featured pubs, charting a wavy course up the East Coast of Britain from London to Edinburgh, and taking in York (204 miles from London, 219 miles from Edinburgh), where every pub seems either to have a connection with highwayman Dick Turpin, a ghost, or a combination of the two. An old favourite of mine in York is the Olde Starre, off the Shambles. The collection of pubs in the book seems ready-made for people ticking things off lists, but there is plenty of background material too, on the history of the road, the people who used it, famous or otherwise, and topics such as how the Great North Road was built, the types of mail coach that used it, and the process of making Stilton cheese. Shorter sidebars offer places to visit during your stay at one of these historic inns.

I don’t recommend learning to drive on the A1. When I finally had a proper driving lesson in a modern car, after thousands of miles of practice, the instructor reminded me gently, as we joined a dual carriageway at an ear-bursting 70mph, that his car had five gears, and I should use them all. And that goes for pubs too. For its role in commerce, and the transmission of ideas between North and South, the Great North Road is just as important to British history as the great cathedrals. The coaching inns that punctuate it–the cared for, and the neglected–are as significant, in some cases, as any cloister.  Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road is not going to make the modern A1 a tourist destination, but if you ever find yourself driving on the Great North Road, and looking for somewhere interesting to rest, this book should be with you. You can buy it direct from CAMRA:

Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road: A Guide to Travelling the Legendary Highway, by Roger Protz. St. Albans, Hertfordshire: The Campaign for Real Ale, 2017.


European Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference 2015: Brussels

Omer Blond

It is almost a month now since I attended the European Beer Bloggers’ and Writers’ Conference (EBBC) in Brussels and a blog post about it is long overdue. EBBC15 is the fourth conference of its type that I’ve attended (there have been five altogether) and the first to take place in continental Europe. The opportunity to learn about Belgian beer was irresistible.

Probably the best thing about these conferences is the opportunity to try a lot of different beers from a single geographic location, and of course to discuss them with knowledgeable, enthusiastic people. That’s probably why most of my photographs from the weekend are of people talking in bars, and people pouring beer. The few seconds it takes to pour beer into a glass are are always filled with joyful anticipation, so watching people doing it with skill and evident pride in what they are pouring is a great pleasure.

For the Belgian Family Brewers this was an opportunity to tell the world about their new cooperative venture, bringing together 22 longstanding brewing families to promote their beer and to show us “the rich diversity in our beer scenery.” As recent convert to Belgian beer, being able to taste many different beers close together, and to hear about them from the people who make them, was a great learning experience.

Lambic Visitor Centre

Arend Triple

Of course the beer itself is what we were there for and throughout the weekend we were treated to the full range of what Belgium has to offer, from the fruitiest Kriek to the sourest Lambic. De Brabandere Browerij, producers of Petrus even showed us how they are reinventing the Belgian tradition of blending by suggesting drinkers do it themselves. All conference organisers should consider doing something similar to this. I’m looking forward to these blending packs appearing in the UK.

Petrus Blending

For me though, the highlight of the trip was the excursion to the Lambic breweries. Even though we had to cut it short to catch the train to the airport, the visits to Drie Fontainen and Boon breweries were an education and a privilege. Thanks to everyone who made the conference so enjoyable; it was great meeting old beer friends again, and making new ones. Reuben Grey at Tale of Ale has a great roundup. Here’s to next year.

Armand De Belder

Armand De Belder with some of his life’s work.

A thoughtful Frank Boon.

A thoughtful Frank Boon.

Palm

3Fontainen

Boon Barrel


Thomas Hardy’s Ale

Photo by Chris Routledge

In 1968, Dorchester brewer Eldridge, Pope brewed a special ale to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of Thomas Hardy, the novelist and poet who lived nearby. I’ve always had a vexed relationship with Thomas Hardy. The Trumpet Major, the novel quoted on the label of the bottle in the picture above, was one of my set texts for ‘O’ Level English Literature and I found it so tedious and infuriatingly slow that I gave up on it, preferring to read horror and crime novels instead. It’s not a strategy I would recommend for passing exams, though I must say that fifteen year-old me enjoyed it at the time. I like to think I’ve settled my differences with Thomas Hardy since then, but on the whole I still prefer his poetry to his prose. The Trumpet Major, incidentally, was first published in 1880, the year before Eldridge, Pope’s “new” Dorchester brewery opened.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale is a 12 percent ale intended to be reminiscent of the “Casterbridge ‘strong beer'” Hardy describes in The Trumpet Major. Of this beer Hardy writes:

The masses worshipped it, the minor gentry loved it more than wine, and by the most illustrious county families it was not despised.  Anybody brought up for being drunk and disorderly in the streets of its natal borough, had only to prove that he was a stranger to the place and its liquor to be honourably dismissed by the magistrates, as one overtaken in a fault that no man could guard against who entered the town unawares.

According to thomashardysale.org.uk in 1968 Thomas Hardy’s Ale was matured in sherry casks for nine months and sold in three bottle sizes: pint and half pint, sealed with a cork, and ‘nip’ which was sealed with foil over a crown cap. Taking into account the cost of brewing and maturing the beer itself, numbered labels, a ribbon round the neck of the bottle, and a medallion showing a silhouette of Thomas Hardy, this beer must have been a marginal proposition from a business point of view, so marketing was important. Thomas Hardy’s Ale was sold as Britain’s strongest ale and because of its rarity, and the advice that it would last for 25 years, it acquired a mythology all of its own. The 1990-vintage bottle pictured above states on the label that it is “one of the few British beers bottled with its natural yeast.”. It was being sold to the few remaining beer drinkers who cared. Eldridge, Pope brewed it again in 1974 and 1975 and then every year from 1977 until 1999.

From the start, bottles of Thomas Hardy’s Ale carried a quotation from chapter 16 of The Trumpet Major: “It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste; but, finally, rather heady.” This bottle belonged to my late father in law, Raymond Chapman, who wrote a book about Hardy, and it lay undisturbed in the cellar of his house for almost 25 years. Opening it in 2015, any headiness it once had was gone, but it poured a syrupy dark brown, releasing aromas of dark chocolate and caramelised sugar. It was delicious: slow moving and relaxed, with the soft bitter sweetness of molasses. It had been spending its time profitably, lying there in the dark, and it was a real pleasure to share it with The Ormskirk Baron. The lines that precede the quotation on the bottle put it better than I can:

This renowned drink—now almost as much a thing of the past as Falstaff’s favourite beverage—was not only well calculated to win the hearts of soldiers blown dry and dusty by residence in tents on a hill-top, but of any wayfarer whatever in that land.

Like Sack and Thomas Hardy’s Ale, Eldridge, Pope are also a thing of the past. The brewery went out of business after a failed attempt to become a pub retail chain. Devon brewer O’Hanlon’s carried on with brewing Thomas Hardy’s Ale between 2003-2009, before giving up because of the cost. The once impressive nineteenth-century Eldridge, Pope brewery is now a retail and apartment complex known as Brewery Square.


European Beer Bloggers’ Conference 2014

Beer Bloggers Bucket This past weekend I attended the European Beer Bloggers’ Conference in Dublin. It’s the third year I’ve been to the event and as usual it offered a good mix of regular conference sessions with beer tasting, brewers’ receptions and social gatherings. The major sponsors Guinness, Pilsner Urquell and Molson Coors (represented by Franciscan Well) might not be approved of in some quarters, but their generous help meant the conference could take place. The evening at the Guinness Storehouse was refreshingly free of corporate pushiness and the brewer I spoke to was genuinely enthusiastic about his job. The impressive Smithwick’s Night Porter, winner of an internal competition between brewers, of which only 120 bottles were brewed, showed just how much talent they have despite the ubiquity of the beers they brew every day. Pilsner Urquell Apart from tasting their beers in near perfect condition (the Guinness served at St. James’s Gate had better be as intended, right?) it meant that we could be introduced to small Irish brewers like Mountain Man, the Carlow Brewing Company, Galway Bay Brewery, Trouble Brewing, Black Donkey, Rascal’s, N17 and others (who have I missed?). N17’s small batch of Oatmeal Stout was a highlight for me. Rascal's Taps Galway Hooker Every Last Drop N17 It’s a sign of how quickly brewing in Ireland is changing that these last two have been brewing for only a matter of months, in contrast to Guinness, whose shiny new and vast €160 million Brewhouse No. 4 we visited on Friday night. How vast? One of the company’s representatives told me at full capacity it is capable of brewing 180,000 pints per brew and nine brews per day. It’s a truly impressive place, although it did come at the expense of closing two other breweries, at Dundalk and Kilkenny. Quite a few of us learned how to pour a pint of Guinness that night, but the barman refused to show me how to put a shamrock on top. Guinness Pouring It wasn’t all beer and food, though there was an awful lot of both. Derek Springer, representing WordPress, gave a fascinating talk on how to get the most from WordPress and other blogging platforms, and handed out sunglasses that seem to have inspired the formation of a completely silent and beer-related tribute band: CraftWerker. CraftWerk I switched from WordPress.org to WordPress.com several years ago after being hacked a couple of times, but Derek’s talk has left me wondering whether Jetpack and Vaultpress might just give me the confidence I need to switch back. As in past years, what made the conference for me was the people and I spent a lot of my time wandering around with my camera and a dodgy old lens. Here’s a carousel gallery of images from the various receptions, parties and conference sessions over the weekend. And the frightening offspring of the unholy union between a gnome and a leprechaun.

 


The Normality of Beer: Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay

The_Haywain

At the European beer Bloggers’ Conference this past weekend there was a lot of talk about moving on from discussing the ingredients and statistics of beer and concentrating on the people. Beer is a social drink. It needs to be tasty, and that’s all; what matters is the company. I’ve been thinking similar thoughts for a while now and have reached a conclusion that one of the problems beer has is that it’s not normal enough. There are lots of times when drinking beer would be a bad idea, but it struck me reading George Ewart Evans’s Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, that there was a time when beer held the same position in family life as tea or coffee does now, and that it has somehow become too special: not quite a luxury, but not a staple food either. By becoming a “leisure drink” beer has to compete with other drinks, such as WKD; drinks that make no sense at all outside a marketing meeting. In that context, trying to be “special” might not be doing beer any good.

Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay was compiled by Evans from interviews he conducted with the inhabitants of Blaxhall, Suffolk in the 1950s, and looks back a further 50 years or more from there, to the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Farming in postwar England was mechanising rapidly, changing both the work, and the culture of English villages. Evans believed it was important to record the memories of those who had lived and worked in such villages before these changes took place, to make sure that the customs and activities of an era in farming that had lasted several hundred years would not be lost forever.

The book covers many aspects of English village life, from the social structures of masters, servants and agricultural workers, to sheep shearing, bell ringing, superstitions, the church, and the old farming methods. What struck me, reading Evans, was how communal life was in the few decades before World War I, and how interdependent people were. That interdependence still exists of course, but it is less with our neighbours and more through formal infrastructures provided by corporations and governments. We pay our dues largely in cash, rather than sharing effort, and although we depend absolutely on the electricity supply and the stream of trucks supplying  the supermarket, it feels at least as if these things are not precarious. You take a can of beans from the shelf, and before long another will appear.

And that brings me to what Evans has to say about beer. The people he spoke to, mostly born in the late nineteenth century, made or grew almost everything they owned or consumed. What happened on the farm, or in the kitchens of cottages, affected everyone. Surrounded as they were by fields of barley, beer was the usual drink for most people in the village. Sometimes the farm brewed beer centrally for the men who worked there, but most families brewed beer too, a task that fell to “the wife” of the household. The yeast was shared between households, each brewing in turn and taking yeast from whoever had brewed most recently and had the freshest supply:

…home-brewing was an important event, demanding the utmost care and vigilance; for there would be a great loss to the household if the brew went wrong. Moreover, beer at that time was recognized as an essential part of the farm-worker’s diet; and at times of extra work on the farm allowances of hops and malt were made by the farmer to his men. Robert Savage, for instance, got a “lambing ‘lowance” of two bushels of malt and two pounds of hops so that Prissy often made two brews during the lambing season.

One lady from a nearby village remembers how, as a child, she hurried down with her brothers and sisters on the morning after brewing to see whether the crown of yeast had spread all over the top of the beer. The children that if they saw the welcome froth of yeast the brew had been successful; and they were glad …

Back in the nineteenth century the status of beer was different from what it is now; it was drunk by just about everyone. It was a drink for the workplace and the family table, and a staple part of the diet. Imagine the joy of seeing that “the beer was smiling” on the morning after brewday, and knowing that the ingredients you had grown yourself, or shared with your neighbours, had not gone to waste. Quite a different experience from dropping a few bottles in a shopping trolley. What we gained in convenience we’ve lost in magic.

Curiously, beer was replaced as a family staple, according to Evans, not by another alcoholic drink, but by tea. Tea became cheaper in the late nineteenth century and was promoted by the Temperance movement. It is an intriguing idea that if things had gone differently commuters who now carry takeout tea and coffee might instead be toting mugs of bitter beer.

By Chris Routledge


The Last Drop (Again): Cain’s Closes

Label from a special beer brewed by Higson's when it closed down the Cain's brewery in 1990.

Label from a special beer brewed by Higson’s when it closed down the Cain’s brewery in 1990.

As seemed likely in May, the Liverpool brewer Cain’s has been wound up. It was forced into liquidation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, owing around £5 million in unpaid taxes and, according to the BBC a further £3 million to 44 other creditors, some of which are likely to be small suppliers. All the brewery staff were laid off a month ago, and because the RC Brewery company was insolvent they were referred to the Redundancy Payment Service, leaving British taxpayers to pay their statutory redundancy compensation.

By my reckoning, since 1980 Robert Cain’s Mersey Brewery has been operated by five separate owners: Higson’s, Boddington’s, GB Breweries, Danish Brewery Group, and the Dusanj’s. In fact the Dusanj brothers have run it as a brewery for longer than anyone apart from Higson’s (1923-1985) and Robert Cain himself (1858-1907).

When they regained control of the brewing business in 2008 creditors were left high and dry, but despite the sour taste it left, the revival of the company was seen by many at the time as a ray of hope for Liverpool during the financial crisis. Now they are doing the same thing a second time and it’s starting to look like a business model. Although the brewing business has gone bust, the Dusanj family business which owns the brewery and the assets, but is liable for none of the debts, plans to create a ‘brewery village’ with apartments, shops, bars and restaurants. The plans were already well under way even as HMRC was taking the brewing company, RC Brewery, to the High Court for its winding up order. This kind of cynical behaviour embodies all that is rotten in British corporate culture: making a fortune for themselves but allowing the state to carry the risk. That £5 million in unpaid taxes, by the way, adds up to around nine NHS intensive care beds for a whole year at 2010 prices.

When the brewing of Higson’s ales moved from Liverpool to Sheffield in 1990 they bottled a final beer at the Mersey Brewery and called it “The Last Drop” to commemorate the occasion. This time there is apparently £100,000-worth of unfinished ale left rotting in the brewery. If you could psychoanalyse a company, what would that tell you?


Cain’s: the final chapter?

Back in December 2007 I submitted the manuscript of my book Cains: The Story of Liverpool in a Pint, to my publisher, Liverpool University Press. The book is a history of Robert Cain and his brewery going back to the eighteenth century, and the plan was to publish it in the autumn of 2008, as Liverpool basked in the warm glow left over from its Capital of Culture summer. It would hit the bookshop shelves just as the Christmas market began to gather momentum.

Of course it didn’t work out that way. On August 7, 2008, after several months of speculation, administrators were called in to manage the Cain’s brewing company, which had collapsed under the weight of its debts and unpaid taxes. Taking over the loss-making Honeycombe Leisure pub chain a year earlier was a near-fatal mistake for the brewery, but it also meant I had to rewrite the final chapter of my book. And I had to do so in September and October of 2008, which was when the book should have been published. You can read my revised final chapter here in its unedited form.

Looking at it now, the takeover of Honeycombe was reckless and foolish, but it is easy to forget the difference in economic climate between 2007 and 2008. Here is the statement made by Bank of Scotland in May 2007, after the deal was struck to take over Honeycombe, when the bank had agreed to lend Cain’s £40 million to support the business:

“Bank of Scotland is delighted to be supporting a highly reputable and well-known local business with national ambitions to make its mark with the UK brewery sector.

Throughout the course of our discussions with Cains, we’ve been consistently impressed by the strong management demonstrated by the Dusanj brothers. Their entrepreneurial aspirations for the business closely reflect Bank of Scotland’s own commitment to funding ambitious and fast-growing companies throughout the UK.”

Of course Bank of Scotland itself had to be rescued and was taken over by Lloyds, so its pronouncements on good business should not be taken too seriously, but this statement gives a flavour of the gung-ho economic climate of the time. Some businesses got away with it; others didn’t.

In the month or so following the company going into administration there was talk of a takeover from another brewer, Marston’s being the favourite, and of the possibility of total collapse. In the end the Dusanj brothers managed to extricate themselves and the brewery from the mess by a combination of weapons-grade forward planning (the brewery turned out not to have been owned by the collapsed company but by a Dusanj family trust) and pre-pack administration rules, leaving creditors with nothing.

A new company was formed to take over where the previous one left off, but this time, rather than focus on a large pub estate, the company supported itself with a push into supplying supermarkets, and an ambitious move into exports which saw Cain’s beers on sale in the United States, and more recently Asia. The quality of the beer at home in Liverpool, most pundits agree, took a dive.

Unfortunately, neither of those outlets seems to have been enough. The squeeze on consumer incomes, high commodity prices, and a depressed economy made already tight margins on supermarket beer unsustainable. As we discovered this week, with production at the brewery stopped, Cain’s was not competitive as a budget brewer. Nor was it producing beer to high enough quality, or of sufficient interest, for the booming ‘craft’ market. The consequence of such failure, of course, is a human one, counted in the misery of unemployment in a city with few enough jobs as it is.

Yet despite all the mis-steps, misinformation and marketing flim-flam, despite the effect all this had on my own livelihood, I still have some sympathy for the Dusanjs. Over the past half century many brewers and managers have tried to make Robert Cain’s brewery profitable, with varying degrees of success. The fact that it was in production until only a week or so ago is a testament to the effort put in against the odds by the current owners. Looking back over the many articles about Cains over the past decade one thing becomes clear: the Dusanj brothers wanted to build a regional brewery to compete with the likes of Thwaites, J.W Lees, and Moorhouses. That they have failed in the worst economic conditions for 100 years should not be held against them. I will no doubt take some flak for that view, but there it is. Of course what most object to, myself included, is the ruthless and seemingly unprincipled manner in which they have been seen to do business, particularly in 2008. Few people other than Lord Young openly admire callousness in business, but as the example of Brewdog shows, they don’t mind so much when it comes wrapped in a squirrel and giggling into its overpriced pint. Perhaps the Dusanj brothers’ mistake is not that they have hidden their private ambitions, but that their motives have been all too much in evidence. For example, until 2011 the Independent Family Brewers of Britain, at least, thought they were just not the right sort.

The story of the historic brewery takes up most of my book, but is naturally overshadowed by the drama of the Dusanj-era final chapter. I have no intention of returning to the subject in print–the Robert Cain period is far more interesting to me–but the new plan for the site is to make a market-style ‘brewery village’, a retail and residential complex which also includes a small-scale ‘craft’ brewery. Whether the Dusanj brothers will be able to raise the £50 million required to do this is debatable. I still think there is a role here for a bigger brewer, either as owner of the Cain’s brand, or perhaps even taking over the brewery itself. What seems more likely is that property speculators will move in and, after more than 200 years, brewing on the site will cease for good. After speaking with the Dusanj brothers during the crisis of 2008 I got the feeling they would have sold up and left then if they could. I think that time could well be soon.

Update, May 16, 2013: The Liverpool Daily Post is reporting that brewing has been declared ‘not viable or sustainable’ at Cain’s by the board. The workers are being treated very badly too. According to the article Sudarghara Dusanj has refused to pay redundancy compensation or back pay, instead referring now former employees to the Redundancy Payment Service. That is usually what happens when a company is insolvent. If that isn’t the case, or there is another Dusanj company waiting to step in, then it is a cynical move to  sidestep responsibilities and pass them on to the taxpayer.

Here’s the final chapter of my book again.

Please note. Back in 2008 quite a few comments about the Dusanj brothers on this blog had to be edited or deleted because they were libellous. If you want to comment be nice and be careful.


How old is Liverpool’s Cain’s Brewery?

There seem to be three main, and sometimes overlapping, trends in the self-image of British brewers: the traditional, the modern, and the ill-advised. Of these, the older brewers usually go for the first. They like to be seen as brewers of traditional ales, and it helps to let everyone know just how long they have been doing it. Some examples are brewers such as Young’s (1831), Fuller’s (1845), and Daniel Thwaites (1807), but there are many others keen to make the point that they have been around for a very long time. Shepherd Neame proudly declares itself Britain’s oldest brewer, trumping them all with the date “1698”, but hinting that brewing has been going on in their home town of Faversham much longer than that. Who would have thought it?

Cain’s, Liverpool’s biggest, and of late most controversial, brewer has the phrase “Established 1850” positioned prominently on its branding. That was the year that founder Robert Cain bought his first brewery, in Limekiln Lane; he bought the current brewery, on the other side of the city, as a going concern in 1858. When I was writing my book about Robert Cain and his brewery the question of how old the brewery is came up a lot, and I was unable to find a definitive answer. So I was only mildly surprised to hear yesterday from Sudarghara Dusanj from Cain’s, asking if I could tell him definitively how long there had been a brewery on the current site. Here’s what I wrote in my book:

“Cain bought the Stanhope Street brewery from George Hindley, the vicar of St. George’s Church, Everton. George and Robert Hindley had inherited the brewery from their father. After his father’s death Robert Hindley had tried and failed to make the brewery a success and was followed by Messrs. Hyde and Rust, brewers, who rented the premises but lasted only a few months before they were forced out of business. Soon after acquiring the brewery Cain set about modernizing and improving his investment:

“During the first two years of Mr. Cain’s occupancy all the old brewing utensils and machinery were taken out and replaced with the most modern appliances. The place was thus carried on for some years when further increase of business necessitated an extension. This was effected by purchasing some of the adjoining property called ‘Cotter’s Terrace’ and throwing it into the brewery. An old building, containing offices and a warehouse, which originally stood in the yard was removed, and a new building, fronting Stanhope-street, was erected in its place. From the earliest time in Stanhope-street till the present moment Mr. Cain has been adding to and improving his brewing plant and machinery, and everything new which comes out and which is better than older machinery he buys without hesitation.”(Liverpool Review, September 17, 1887)

Cain’s willingness to keep up with developments and his commitment to relentless expansion and ‘improvement’ made the brewery a success where others floundered.  The brewery itself had been bought by ‘old Mr. Hindley’ as a going concern 72 years earlier in 1786 so its long-term viability was not in doubt. But knowing its recent history of failure, Cain must have been very confident in his own ability to make it work. He was certainly helped by Liverpool’s own growing success story.”

That was the best I could do at the time, concluding that there had been a brewery on the Stanhope Street site since at least 1786, which is actually quite impressive. But after my conversation yesterday, the following snippet jumped out at me from something I was reading for my book on William Scoresby. This is from James Picton’s Memorials of Liverpool, published in 1873:

Returning to St. James’s Church, I will now ask the courteous reader to accompany me in a walk along the Old Park Road. This road, with Smithdown Lane, Lodge Lane, and the eastern part of Ullet Lane, down to 1775 were the only roads in the township. The house and outbuildings at the corner of Stanhope Street — now greatly metamorphosed — were built in 1775, about the time when Harrington was planned out. They were long the residence of Lord Sefton’s land-agent. In 1803 three houses had been built on the west side, near the corner of Mill Street, With this exception, and one or two shortly to be mentioned, no houses existed in the entire length of the road.

Swire’s Map of Liverpool, based on a survey made in 1823 and 1824, shows the area looking like this (click for a large version in another tab):

I’ve outlined in yellow the area referred to above as “Harrington” which, before the street layout was settled in 1775, was open fields and parkland, belonging to Lord Sefton. Until 1775 it was even beyond the limits of the town of Liverpool, which at that time reached only as far as Parliament Street, the borough boundary (marked by my vertical yellow line). I have also indicated on the map the site of Cain’s brewery, on Stanhope Street, and from this we can conclude that brewing on the site began some time between 1775 and 1786, but certainly no earlier than that. It makes it one of the oldest brewing sites in (more or less) continuous use in Britain, but the marketing department at Shepherd Neame can relax.

Read more about Cains: The Story of Liverpool in a Pint, listen to me reading from Chapter 1, or buy the book here.


Photos from the European Beer Bloggers’ Conference 2012

I’ve just arrived home from Leeds, where I have been attending the European Beer Bloggers’ Conference. It’s been a fascinating and entertaining weekend hearing peoples’ stories, learning about things I don’t know much about, such as the hop business, and making some discoveries. The session run by glassware maker Spiegelau was probably the highlight of the conference proper for me. Tasting the same beer in four or five different-shaped glasses, and finding it was different in each, challenged my own sense ofhow we taste beers, and whether we are doing them justice. Most of all though, the weekend has been about mixing with a great bunch of people, all with different levels of experience and knowledge of beer and brewing, but sharing a passion for writing and talking about this diverse, and often misunderstood drink.

Others have already done a great job of outlining the event, so I thought I would put up this little gallery of photos from the past couple of days: