Friday, 13 May 2011

Mild ascendant in 1930's Bolton

Mass Observation. We owe them a great debt. Now I can see exactly how much beer a backstreet Bolton beerhouse was selling in the 1930's. It's something I'd dreamt of discovering for decades.

"We tried the barmen. One, in a typical, small corner beerhouse, said that their sales of bottled beer were about a third of those of draught beer, and gave the following figures:

2.5 barrels of mild.
16 doz. of bottled ale.
12 doz. of Guiness.
4 doz. small bottles stout.
1 doz. minerals.

. . . . .

YEAR'S TOTAL,  139 barrels [of Mild]."
"The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), page 32.

The first thought that strikes me, much like a kipper in the face, is: "How on earth could anyone live from that tiny turnover?". Let's work out, shall we, exactly how much markup the landlord would have made on that level of sales. Assuming the Guinness and bottled Ale were pints, I make that 7,344 gallons of beer sold in a year. It breaks down like this:

 Beer units sold unit size (gallons) gallons sold price per unit % profit unit profit (pence) total profit (pence) total profit (pounds) % of beer sales
Mild 139 36 5,004 5 27 1.35 54,043.2 225.18 68.14%
bottled ale 832 1.5 1,248 7.5 30 2.25 22,464.0 93.6 16.99%
Guinness 624 1.5 936 11 30 3.3 24,710.4 102.96 12.75%
small bottles stout 208 0.75 156 4.5 30 1.35 1,684.8 7.02 2.12%
total 7,344 102,902.4 428.76

The unit prices are taken from other parts of "The Pub and the People", except for Guinness. I've guestimated the price based on a later Barclay Perkins price list. There Guinness was about 50% more expensive than standard bottled beer. The percentage profit comes from "The Brewers' Journal 1940" page 555, which gives the profit margin on various drinks in an average London pub before and after the outbreak of war.

So a little over 400 quid a year in gross profit. Or eight pounds 5 shillings a week. That's without rent, wages, coal and every other expense. To put this into context, the average wage in Bolton at the time was £1 12s a week, for bar staff £1 5s, for a head barman in a large pub, £3. I think it's clear that the landlord of that beerhouse couldn't have been making much more than the average wage. Unless he had free labour which was, for those with a large family, sometimes the case.

Contrast that with a large, fully-licensed, town-centre pub:

"Town centre pub, landlord takes observer into cellar, to reckon up sales by inspection of empties. This is the landlord's estimate.

Mild. 7 loads a week. (A load is 36 gallon barrel.)
Bitter. 1 load.
Old. 2 quarter loads.
Blue Label and Oatmeal stout. 150-200 bottles.
Guinness. "Very poor selling."
Whiskey. 7 or 8 to 10 bottles.
Gin. 4 bottles.
Rum. 4 bottles. (Sold in bottle—"Mostly a sailor and an old woman".)
Port. 8 bottles.
Sherry. 9 bottles. "I drink a lot myself."

This is a pub with a rather special type of custom. It is not used by the ordinary working class pub-goer and many women non-beer drinkers go there. Relatively more spirits are drunk here than in almost any other local pub. Yet to approximately 330 gallons of beer only 35 bottles of wine and spirits are drunk. That is over 5,000 gills to between five and six hundred drinks of wine and spirits. (18-20 single whiskeys are got from a bottle, and about 12 glasses of wine.) That is, the chances are ten to one that anyone will order not-beer in this pub."
"The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), page 49.

Let's break those beer sales down:

 Beer units sold unit size (gallons) gallons sold % of beer sales
Mild 7 36 252 76.13%
Bitter 1 36 36 10.88%
Old 0.5 36 18 5.44%
Blue Label and Oatmeal stout 200 0.125 25 7.55%
total 331

A very different type of pub to the corner beerhouse. Yet, oddly enough, the percentage of beer sales that were Mild was higher: 76% as opposed to 68%. Not sure how you explain that one. Perhaps it's that customers with more cash drank spirits in the town-centre pub, but bottled beer in the beerhouse.

This stuff fascinates me. Probably because it's the closest you can get to time travel without harnessing the awesome might of a black hole.


dave said...

I like the bit about "Rum. 4 bottles. (Sold in bottle—"Mostly a sailor and an old woman".)" 4 bottles a week for a sailor and an old woman is pretty good drinking right there!

Thomas Barnes said...

Did 1930s-era pubs sell things besides alcohol, like food, cigarettes or lottery tickets? Those could have been significant revenue sources.

Ron Pattinson said...

Thomas Barnes, there was no lottery in the 1930's. Betting was illegal in pubs, except for a handful of games played for small stakes. And that was just amongst customers. so no source of revenue for the landlord.

They did sell fags. I doubt beer houses sold anything more than sandwiches. If even that.

Rod said...

"Sherry. 9 bottles. "I drink a lot myself." Love it!