Friday, 15 February 2013

Confusion at Chelmsford

This might sound odd to modern ears. We're used to prices varying from pub to pub. That wasn't so much the case in the old days. Beer prices were much more standardised. Drinkers found different prices in different pubs, well, confusing.

The war years, with their accompanying restrictions of beer strength and raised taxes, had tended to make prices even more standardised. The same had happened in WW I. Especially when maximum prices were enforced for beer in various gravity bands.

Judging from the first two paragraphs, the war had also removed skilled journalists from the Chelmsford Chronicle:

"ODD BEER PRICES
CONFUSION AT CHELMSFORD

CONFUSION exists in the price of beer in Chelmsford. It started on Monday, when the increased duty came into force. There is no uniformity in prices. For instance, at one licensed house the saloon price for half a pint of mild ale is 6d.; at another 5.5d.; another 5d.; another 4.5d.

There is a beer price muddle in Chelmsford. It started on Monday, when the increased duty came into force. There is no uniformity in prices. For instance, at one licensed house the saloon price for half a pint of mild ale is 6d.; at another, 5.5d,; at another 5d.; at another, 4.5d.

Then there is the bitter beer. Although London-brewed bitter has increased by 3d., because its "higher gravity," Essex-brewed bitter, also some from Suffolk and Norfolk, has gone up only 2d. "It is all a matter of the gravity of the beer," The Essex Chronicle was told.

Inquiries on Monday showed that in Chelmsford the general increase in the price of bitter is 2d. pint. In houses owned by London brewers, however, the price of bitter has been increased 3d. But it is still possible to get a pint of mild and bitter and 11.5d. in the saloon bar. In one saloon bar a half-pint of mild beer cost 6d.

For Bass and Guinness, 11d. is the price in public bars and 1s. in most saloons. In some saloons, however, 11d. is the price. Similarly high gravity bottled and draught beers have also increased by 3d. a pint. But the average man locally is finding some solace in the fact that his bitter will, in certain houses, cost him only 2d. more. He was annoyed, however, when charged 6d. for half pint of mild ale.

In many houses in Chelmsford 1s. 3d. is being charged for a "nip" of whisky, although it is possible to get in some at 1s. 2d. In others the price is 1s. 4d. The Essex Chronicle is informed that "the original proposal to sell whisky at 1s. 2d., has been found, upon examination, to be an uneconomical proposition. To the licensed trade, whisky has advanced by 5s. 6d. a bottle — from 17s. 6d. to 23s."

Mr. W. J. N. Scott, chairman of the Chelmsford and District Licensed Victuallers' Association, said: "We should be losing at least a shilling on each bottle of whisky by selling at 1s. 2d. a nip."

WHAT LICENSEES SAY.
Licensees generally consider there should have been some reduction in the Licence Duty which they pay. Their rates, taxes and  overheads have increased almost beyond recognition, and the prices of the commodities they sell have also leaped high. Yet the margin of profit received by the licensee is substantially the same as it was some time before the war. For instance, the profit on the sale of a barrel of mild ale which before the war was sold at 4d. a pint and is now 9d remains the same.

Trade is not so brisk in many houses as it was. One licensee said: They'll still have their beer, but they will have less of it. They will drink a pint or so less a day. Perhaps that is what the Government wants."

TRADE HARDSHIPS.
"I think that we licensees should have an official cap with gold braid, stating 'Collector of Taxes,'" said Mr. W. J. N. Scott, presiding at the annual meeting of the Chelmsford and District Licensed Victuallers' Association. He complained of the "great hardships" imposed on the trade, and made reference to the increased taxation of beer.

"Taxation of our commodities has been very heavy in the last few years," he said. "We don't want to grumble unnecessarily; we are quite prepared to face our dues and demands, but there is limit."

Mr. Smith (Bicknacre): The Government apparently not care whether we sell our beer or whisky or not. It seems that they don't want us to sell it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said so. The Government want people to buy warships, not beer.

ANOTHER £50,000,000 A YEAR.
Mr. Brewer, of the National Trade Defence Association, declared: "It is a damn shame that the beer and whisky drinker should be singled out to pay another £50,000,000 or so, especially after suffering three penny a pint increases on beer since the war began. We had hoped that the level of the beer duty had reached its limit. But I don't think can do anything about it.

The Chairman welcomed the new secretary, Mr. W. A. Langhorne, of Great Baddow. Mr. Scott mentioned that Mr. Langhorne was in no way connected with the licensed trade.

A voice: He has too much sense. (Laughter.)
Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday 24 April 1942, page 7.

I'm not sure that increased price really had much impact on demand. There often wasn't enough beer to go around, due to shortages of raw materials and limits on production.

If it was true that a landlord made the same profit on a barrel of Mild as before the war, that would in effect have been a reduction in income. The war drove up the price of everything, not just beer. But I don't know if that profit assertion is correct. Do I have any way of checking it? I think I might.

Because I've price lists from before and during the war that include both the wholesale and the retail price.

Let's start with pre-war:

Whitbread beers in 1934
Beer Type wholesale price barrel (shillings) retail price pint (pence) retail price barrel (shillings) profit (shillings) % profit
Porter Porter 94 5 120 26 21.67%
Stout Stout 134 7 168 34 20.24%
Light Ale Mild 76 4 96 20 20.83%
X Ale Mild 94 5 120 26 21.67%
Pale Ale Pale Ale 134 7 168 34 20.24%
33 Burton 160 8 192 32 16.67%
Source:
Whitbread price list

On their standard Mild Ale, X Ale, Whitbread publicans made a profit of 26/- a barrel (based on  public bar prices).

Now for the war years:

Barclay Perkins beers in 1943
Beer Type wholesale price barrel (shillings) retail price pint (pence) retail price barrel (shillings) profit (shillings) % profit
A Mild 208 10 240 32 13.33%
X Mild 226 11 264 38 14.39%
XX Mild 250 12 288 38 13.19%
XLK Pale Ale 270 13 312 42 13.46%
KK Burton 350 17 408 58 14.22%
KKKK Old Burton Extra 458 26 624 166 26.60%
Best Stout Stout 350 17 408 58 14.22%
Source:
Barclay Perkins price list

The profit on a barrel of Mild Ale had increased to 38/-, but that hadn't kept pace with the increase in retail price and the percentage profit had fallen. That markup looks pathetically small. Under 15%. What retail business works on such small margins today?

It looks as if that assertion, that the profit a publican made on a barrel of Mild had remained the same, is not true. However, the percentage profit had fallen considerably.

2 comments:

marquis said...

I don't know whether or not this is relevant to the circumstances in the article, but duty rises apply to beer as it leaves the brewery gates, not to the beer already in the pubs.
Prices charged therefore should only rise as fresh deliveries are tapped but some licensees may well have applied the increases before this.It all depended on the honesty and circumstances of the landlords but one would expect prices to vary from pub to pub just after a duty rise.

Ron Pattinson said...

Marquis, that's true, but in both wars the prices seem to have been increased almost immediately after a duty increase was announced.

In a few days I'll be posting about a price increase that was in anticpation of a duty rise. A duty rise that never actually took place.

The prices in pubs tended to be the same and for a good reason. There were landlords' organisations that fixed the prices. There was a lot of tension if some landlords chose to charge lower prices than agreed.