Monday, 3 September 2007


I grew up in the brewing town of Newark-upon-Trent. When I was a boy, there were two decent-sized breweries: Hole's and Warwick's and Richardson's. Both fell under the control of Courage and by the 1970's just one remained. And it didn't brew any cask beer, just bright beer (AK, IPA, Old Tom).

What am I burbling on about? Have I run out of ideas? No. There is a point, that I will eventually get to. Just bear with me.

One of the main results of Courage getting hold of both the local breweries was that they owned almost every pub in town. Of the 35 pubs, 30 were Courage houses, 4 Home Ales and one Watneys. Which meant that the only cask beers available were Home Bitter and Home Mild. This was the situation when I came of drinking age in 1974. Sorry, I tell a lie. The Wing Tavern (owned by Courage) was still selling the legendary Barnsley Bitter, the first cask beer I ever tasted.

What's happened since is indicative of the drastic changes that have taken place in British brewing. A couple of cask beer freehouses opened up in the late 1970's, the first new pubs in the town centre in the 20th century, though both were in buildings that had once been pubs. That added a couple more cask beers: Ruddles in Kirrages and Hardy and Hanson's in the Old King's Arms.

Pub swaps between the Big Six brewers (Bass Charrington, Courage, Allied Breweries, Watney Mann, Whitbread and Scottish and Newcastle) in the early 1980's gave Newark a couple of Bass pubs, selling their eponymous cask ale. But the last industrial brewery, Hole's, closed in the same decade and most pubs sold John Smith's, sometimes in cask form.

I was back in Newark at the weekend. The last two unspoilt pubs - the Woolpack and the Wing Tavern - were both boarded up (as were three others). There are still about 35 pubs. But only about half a dozen are still open and trading under the same name. A Weatherspoon's has appeared in a former shop. A similar chain circuit pub occupies what was once the post office.

In the space of thirty years the pub scene has been changed beyond recognition. None of the beers on sale in 1974 is still available: the Hole's beers, Home Ales, Watney's Red - all gone. Not only have the beers disappeared, all the breweries that supplied them have closed, too. And the ownership of every pub has changed. All had been brewery-owned. Now they all belong to pub chains.

The choice of cask ales today is far greater than the slender three available in 1974. I would guess between 20 and 30. That's an improvement, I guess. But there isn't a single pub that hasn't had its interior (quite literally) knocked about.

Are things better or worse than they were 30 years ago? I can't really say. Just totally different.

Here are photos of some of the pubs I mentioned:


terrycollmann said...

Lovely old Warwick's price list, Ron, what''s the date? Around 1948 would be my guess, from the prices. I notice the bitter was called IPA - any crystal malt in the grist?

The price of the Home Brewed seems to suggest this was one of the versions of beers under this name that was the bottled mild, rather than the strong brown ale found at, say, George's of Bristol. The Ole Bill looks quite powerful, though - twice as expensive as a glass of mild, for only, what, 65 per cent of the quantity, if I recall "nip" properly as six and a half fluid ounces ...

John Clarke said...

Ah Kirrages! I remember one memorable Chrstmas or New Year (age and alocohol blur the memory)- 1975 possibly, spending the night on Ruddles County and then topping up with some barley wine from a cask (possibly a pin) perched on the bar counter. I'm not sure whether or not you were there but your brother certainly was. Happy days!

Ron Pattinson said...

I'm not sure what date the Warwick's price list is. 1940's sometime I reckon. My guess would be a little earlier - about 1943.

I can remember filling kegs with IPA in my brief time working at Hole's. Sadly I never got to see any of the recipes. But I would say almost certainly yes to the crystal malt. It is a Bitter after all, isn't it?

I haven't been able to track down any brewing records for either Warwick's or Hole's so we may never know

Home Brewed has aleways intrigued me. I've seen the name in several places, but no evidence of exactly what sort of beer it signified. Logically, given the price, strength abd the lack of a Brown Ale elsewhere on the price list, I would agree on bottled Mild.

I think Ole Bill was an Old Ale My memory is fading. I can remeber there was a beer called Ole or Old something brewed at Hole's that was like a strong Mild, I think in the low 1040's. Because they didn't brew any cask beer, you can't check it up in old Good Beer Guides.

Where have strong beers in nip bottles gone? In Newark the only strong bottled beers I could find were Chimay, Duvel and Westmalle. Why wasn't there a Barley Wine or strong Stout? I really think real ale pubs are neglecting the possibilities of good British bottled beer. Having lived on the Continent for a couple of decades, I would prefer 3 or 4 well-kept cask beers and a dozen good bottled ones to 8 iffy real ales.

Ron Pattinson said...

John, after a combinnation of County and Barley Wine I doubt I would be able to remember anything. Was Kirrages already open in 1975?

Do you remember Ole Bill or was it a similar name. I've even forgotten what the Holes's Mild was called.

I spotted a keg Chestnut Mild pump in The Turk's Head. They didn't have any, though. Give me a few minutes and I'll post a photo of it. (How sad is that, posting snaps of Mild pumps?)

John Clarke said...


According to a book I have, Ole Bill was a Warwicks beer and they closed down in 1966 - I would be surprised if it eventually fetched up at Holes. I've seen some old bottle labels and Holes produced something called (unimaginatively) Strong Ale. My old dad always used to say that Warwicks made the best mild and Holes the best bitter.

I don't know what Holes Mild was called - I'm pretty sure the Chestnut was in fact a John Smiths brand.

I also once had a long chat with the last Head Brewer at Holes who ended up at Simpkiss in the Black Country. He told me that AK was only very rough filtered and in some pubs was amost served under its own pressure. Sort of quasi-real ale.

"Home Brewed" is an intersting subject as it's a name that crops up all over the place. I'm sure I've got some information about this somewhere - if I can dig it out I'll send it to you.

I'm sure Kirrages was open in 1975. The earliest Good Beer Guide I own is for 1976 and it appears in that.

Ron Pattinson said...

John, Hole's did brew at least one Warwick's brand, IPA. Though wheen I was working there only one pub in Newark stocked it: The Vine.

There was definitely a dark draught beer called Ole or Old something.

Electric-pumped, bright Hole's beer wasn't that bad, as I remember. It wasn't usually any gassier than cask beer.

I would be very grateful for anything you have on "Home Brewed". I've only seen a few labels and the odd mention of it.

It's a shame that all the brewing records seem to have gone for both breweries. I once saw a brewing log in a display at the Mill Gate museum. I got in touch with them last year to see if they still had it, but they didn't seem to have any knowledge of it.

terrycollmann said...

Coincidentally, a pub just round the corner from where I am now, the Old Rose on Ratcliff Highway, sells Gold Label in nip-sized bottles at, IIRC, £2 a bottle - about the only barley wine I've seen in a London "local" for years ... it's actually not too bad a brew, nicer than the tinned version. It still, of course, carries the old Tennant's logo on the label, tho' gawd knows where it's brewed now - for a while after Tennant's closed it was made in Luton (!) Curious fact - the magtnificent revolving doors that were once the entrance to Tennant's brewery in Sheffield are now installed in a large hotel in Jersey ...

Ron Pattinson said...

I've seen nips of Gold Label once or twice in the last couple of years. Last time in an awful pub with no cask ale in Mablethorpe. Compared to smoothflow John Smith's, it was nectar.

I really miss having the option of that sort of beer in English pubs. In my opinion Gold Label is far better than some Belgian beers - Leffe comes to mind - that turn up in pubs.

A history of Pripps published in 1928 arribed today. It has some interesting stuff about the types of beer they brewed 1864-1928. I may post about it soon.

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