Wednesday, 4 May 2011

What they drank in Worktown

I'd expected Mild to be popular in 1930's Bolton. Hoped even, as a committed Mild drinker myself. But I hadn't expected the near total domination of Mild. Basically all the men drank either Mild or Best Mild. It really does bring a tear to my eye, thinking of all those flat caps, glasses of Mild and spittoons.

This barman wrote "There is so little demand for bitter and draught stout that difficulty is experienced in obtaining them in the meaner quarters of the town".

Some landlords' statements about the relative quantities of beer drunk are:

(a) "I should reckon 93 per cent—no, 92 per cent mild."

(b) "We have plenty of women at night—they drink stout, Guinness, or Brown Pete. I should reckon 60 per cent of the women drink Guinness. Some men drink Guinness as well, but not many." ..." No best mild; we mix the mild and the bitter."

(c) "I should reckon 60 per cent drink mild."

(d) "The people here drink more best mild than mild—only women drink the Guinness—and port—very little I.P.A. and strong ale drunk—whiskey when they can get it."

(e) "Re proportions of various drinks consumed, I think 90 per cent mild, the other 10 you can work out, but I should give Guinness 5 per cent. You see, the heavy drinker is the man in the vault and taproom, and he consumes 200 per cent more than the customer in the best rooms."

The Brown Pete referred to above is the usual term for Walker's Brown Peter, a bottled brown ale. Their light ale is called Falstaff, and popular with Worktown Irishmen; and they also sell a bottled stout. Magee's bottled beers cover a similar range, the light ale being called Crown. Landlords are not supposed to split pint bottles between customers (prices being 7.5d. a pint bottle, 4.5d. a half bottle) but it is often done.

The general estimate of about 90 per cent mild is borne out by all our observations. The gill is the common unit of drink, the only Worktown term for a half-pint.


Choice of brand and type of beer is limited. Most pubs stock only mild, and bottled ales and stout. And most people live within walking distance of only Magees' or Walkers' pubs. (Later we show that 90 per cent of pub regulars don't walk more than 300 yards to get to their usual pubs.)

That most people drink the cheapest beer points to price rather than taste or quality being the deciding factor of their choice. At week-ends, when drinkers have most money, more bottled beer is drunk. We have plenty of observations on men starting off their Saturday night drinking with a round of bottled Crown or Falstaff, before going onto draught. And nationally the consumption of bottled beer has gone up 300 per cent in the past ten years. This shift has tended to alter brewery work, and is an increasing factor in pub organization. So far in Worktown, bottled beer has made no major inroads on the dominance of draught.

Men are guided by price first. Women, who often have men pay for them, go more for taste and the externals. It is more "respectable" for women to drink bottled beer, mostly bottled stout or Guinness, seldom mild. Brewers have found nationally a preference for beer in amber bottles, rather than green bottles. They don't know the reason. An important factor is the tradition of beer, tradition's drink, as amber-coloured; looking green through the bottle, it isn't absolutely beer. In a random count (May), 43 per cent women were drinking beer or spirits, 57 per cent bottled stout or Guinness.
"The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), pages 33 - 34.

Some of the drink choices do surprise me. I'd have expected the Irish workmen to drink Guinness, not Light Ale. And who would have thought Guinness would be principally a woman's drink? The standard measure being a half pint was unexpected, too. A sign of lack of money, I suppose.

The domination of a town by a couple of brewers I can remember from the 1970's. It was John Smiths who owned all the pubs in Newark. Though they did offer a little more than draught Mild and bottled Stout. Walker is Peter Walker of Warrington, later part of Allied Breweries. I've drunk beer from that brewery. Tetley's Mild, probably, in the days when they brewed that. Magees disappeared too long ago, into the black pit of Greenhall Whitley, for me to have try their beers. I'm getting all intrigued now. Brown Peter. I do have a couple of analyses of that, from 1951 and 1952. It was mid-brown in colour, OG 1039º, 4% ABV. That's quite strong for the period. In the early 1950's, most Brown Ales were below 1035º. The 1930's version would almost certainly have had an OG of at least 1045º.

Interesting that the 1930's boom in bottled beer passed Bolton by. Shortage of cash was probably the main reason. As borne out by men drinking bottled beer when they had more money.

Brewers don't know the reason why beer was in amber bottles? Course they bloody did. And it wasn't for aesthetic reasons. This is an illustration of a point which will come up frequently as I analyse this book. The authors seem incredibly ignorant in some areas. Not just beer, but other aspects of working class life, too.


Tandleman said...

I used to drink Brown Peter regularly as a mix with keg bitter when the beer wasn't cask - often in social clubs - in Liverpool.

Brown Bitter was a well known Scouse tipple.

Gary Gillman said...

There is a certain tone to Mass Observation writing that is instantly recognisable. I recognize it from other writings of the group, notably on the reaction of East Londoners to the Blitz attacks. It's a clipped, neutral-sounding tone, sociological but avoiding jargon or ornate phrases.

The tone echoes into work done decades after, and I think principally of 7 Up, the ongoing study of the lives of a disparate group of people (not just working people) by an acclaimed English documentary film-maker. (Michael.... , can't recall the second name).

He studies the lives of people every 7 years, it started in the early 60's. The moment I read these extracts it made me think of this work.

I didn't get any condescension from Mass Observation. There is an earnestness to it, but I think it was just a form of sociology at work. I agree about the brown bottles, but the writers could not have had the technical knowledge, even a glimmer of it, to get at the real reason.

There was a tradition of women drinking stout but as the study noted, it was usually with port. Stout-and-port in the snug, it was a winter drink for many women then.


The Beer Wrangler said...

Hi Ron

what would the Brown Pete Ale been like - more like a Mann's in style or paler?

Gary Gillman said...

It is Michael Apted (who does the famous Up documentary film series). For anyone interested, Wikipedia has an excellent article on it.

Particularly in the early films, the narration - I assume by Apted - sounds similar to the tone in Mass Observation's reports. Cool, quiet, confident, informed but curious. 1960's Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news and documentary tv was often similar.

The idea was to sense the public mood, uncover what the average person thought and hoped for.

It's a deservedly acclaimed series, Up is. Wikipedia informs us the next in the series, 56 Up, will be released in one year.

Tonight I'll mix craft brown ale and bottled English pale to salute Michael Apted and the fascinating group of people profiled in his series.


Mike said...

I grew up in Manchester, 1960's, my favourite tipple's were; Wilson's Mild, Chester's Best Mild, Tetley's Mild (but only in the Middle Kings on Oldham St,Mcr). When I was a yoof there were more pubs selling mild.
Thwaites from Blackburn, Hydes, Robinsons and the micros still knock out some really tasty milds. The Whim Brewery from Derbyshire had Magic Mushroom Mild, no weird dreams but very tasty and very sessionable.

Matt said...

Wilson's Mild. I drank it as a teenager in Manchester in the late 80's before the brewery closed. Still one of the best pints I've ever drunk.