Sunday, 18 December 2011

Theft of beer

I've found out something else about Aitken's brewery. Again obliquely, this time by means of a short crime report.

Theft of Beer. - James Duffy, lorryman, Howgate, was charged with having on 6th March stolen a quantity of beer from a barrel in the yard of the Falkirk Brewery, belonging to Messrs James Aitken and Company. Accused pleaded guilty. The Fiscal said that there were barrels full of beer placed upon stands, and to these barrels spiles were attached so that if any persons connected with the works wanted a drink they had only to take out the spile. One of the brewery workmen on Sunday while near the place saw two men tampering with the barrels. Both decamped at the time, but the man was able to supply the police with a description of one of them, and Duffy was apprehended and identified at once. The other man, however, could not be identified. The accused was found lying with, his face close to the barrel, and about threefourths of the contents of the hogshead had run to waste before the spile was got in. As far as he could see, it was a premeditated theft. Accused had no right whatever to be on the premises, as he was not in the employment of the brewery. The Bailie said that according to tho explanation of the Fiscal, it was not what the accused had taken, but the quantity he had destroyed. Accused in with the intention of stealing this beer, and that was a bad feature in the case. There was an amount of premeditation about it, and although the quantity of the beer was not very costly, still the intention to steal was there. Accused was fined 15s, or ten days."Falkirk Herald - Wednesday 9 March 1898, page 5.

What was it I learned? That Aitken was a "wet" brewery. That is, one where the workers were allowed to drink beer during the day. I suspect that in the 19th century virtually every brewery was wet. Draymen were notorious pissheads. My Mum told me that when she was a young girl in Birmingham in the 1920's and 1930's that the horses used to find the route themselves because the draymen were often too drunk to drive properly. See, there's an advantage of having horse-drawn drays: a built-in autopilot.

It's an odd system that they used, just having the barrels out in the open in the brewery yard. If only because it would form an obvious temptation to anyone who saw the barrels. I can imagine the conversation, James Duffy saying to his mate: "I know where we can get free beer." Who can resist that? I know I can't.

That 15s or ten days is part of a standard formula. Each day in prison could be bought off with a fine of 1s 6d. The papers are full of drunk and incapable cases. The standard rate for that a 7s 6d fine of 5 days. Which seems a little harsh. Depending on how incapable you had to be to get arrested. 7s 6d was about a day's wage at the time.

I wonder what beer was in the barrels? That there were two suggests that there might have been more than one type available.


Rod said...

The tradition of draymen being utter pissheads is not dead in Freiburg, you'll be glad to hear. Ganter deliver their beer throughout Freiburg's Altstadt by dray once a week (one of the draymen described this to me as "die beste Verbung fuer's Bier")and get at least half a liter at each pub they deliver to. Which all adds up during the day.
William Hague referred to this practice, and was widely mocked for it, but, reluctant as I am to trust anything a politician says, actually I believe him.

I agree that putting barrels out in the yard was putting temptation in people's way - also, couldn't they have come up with some better system of dispense, like a tap? Just having a spile was bound to create waste - getting dangerously close to not being able to organise a pissup in a brewery.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, stacking the barrels outdoors, even over many months in some cases, was one kind of stocking room so to speak. I believe you noted this earlier of certain Burton breweries. Certainly Guinness used it into the 1900's.

One would think the weather must have gotten into the beer where long kept, which may have lent an inimitable house character to some of the "standard" Victorian brews.


Gary Gillman said...

Here's Southby on outdoor storage, he says only the best type of pale ale can stand up to it:

Photos I've seen of Guinness's method seem to indicate no covering was placed on the matrix of casks.