Saturday, 5 October 2013

Bottled beer and WW II

Between the wars, the rise of bottled beer seemed unstoppable. At some breweries over 50% of output was in bottled form, much of it consumed in pubs. Than along came WW II.

The war had made life difficult for brewers in many ways: shortages of material and labour, limited amounts of fuel and power, not forgetting much more direct impacts such as bombing and the destruction and disruption that caused. In such circumstances. waste couldn't be tolerated. The government ran campaigns to stop the public wasting food and resources. Breweries had to do their bit, too.

It's pretty obvious that bottled beer consumes far more resources than draught. From the extra equipment and manpower needed to produce it to the extra fuel needed to transport it. Brewers struggled to keep themselves supplied with sufficient bottles and crates and that alone was enough to force them to reduce supplies to their pubs. That and keep begging their publicans to return the empties.

That's why you got stories like this:


The time when bottled beer is unobtainable was foreshadowed at the sitting of the Essex Licensing Committee at Chelmsford on Wednesday, when Mr. F. L. Mullis applied, on behalf of Mr. Alec William Spouse, for the continuation of a conditional "on" licence in respect of Jerrard's Restaurant, High Road, Ilford, for a further 5.25 years. Mr. Mullis said that the chairman of the Licensed Victuallers' Association had just stated that it was possible that quite shortly there would probably be no bottled beer — because of the shortage of bottles and the shortage of labour. Under the present licence granted to Mr. Spouse, he was unable to sell draught beer. In the circumstances, Mr. Mullis asked the Committee to grant a variation entitling the applicant to sell draught beer while bottled beer is unobtainable.

The Chairman (Mr. H. L. Usborne, J.P.) said the licence would be confirmed and alteration asked for approved, subject to the consent of the Licensing Justices at Becontree.

Mr. Christmas Humphreys, counsel: If the time does come when bottled beer is unobtainable, it is obvious that there must be some legislation to allow all "off" licensees who are restricted to bottled beer to sell draught beer.

Clr. Win. Owen White applied for confirmation of conditional "off" annual licence in respect 225 Clay hall Avenue, Ilford.

Mr Christmas Humphreys, for the applicant, said the original premises for which the licence was intended had been wrecked by a bomb. There was, at the rear of the premises, a large double garage, and the applicant asked that, in the peculiar circumstances, the licence should apply to this building, where adequate construcuon and supervision would be made. There was, said Counsel, a demand few this licence in the district.

Opposition to the licence was forthcoming on behalf of the owners and tenant of the Dr. Johnson Public-house, who were represented by Mr. C. B. Catnach. who observed: I think this application is put forward under a misapprehension. I was at the site this morning and the garage was not there. The whole site Is just rubble: there was only one badly cracked wall standing. In these circumstances, the Committee have no power to grant this licence.

Mr. Christmas Humphreys called a witness who said that on Sunday the two walls and the roof of the garage were standing.

A witness called by Mr. Catnach said when he visited the site that morning it was "perfectly flat." with the exception of a small piece of wall. There was no sign of a garage.

Mr. Catchnach. urging the Committee to refuse the licence, said much of the trade of the Dr. Johnson was its off licence. Over £31,000 had been spent on the premises, and the monopoly value was £4,250. Surely, they were entitled to some measure of protection from undue competition?

The Committee refused to confirm the licence."
Essex Newsman - Saturday 24 May 1941, page 4.

I left in the second part of the article just for a laugh. What a cheek trying to get a pile of rubble licensed.

Interesting to see that some licences only allowed the sale of bottled beer. I wonder why that was? Were some others, conversely, only allowed to sell draught beer?

By the middle of the war, bottled beer was effectively being rationed:

Supplies of bottled beer have been reduced by ten per cent with the result that Derby's public houses may soon have to restrict their sales.

Mr. A. E. Butler, secretary to Derby and District Licensed Victuallers' Association, said that it was unlikely there would be a general reduction in ordinary draught beer supplies within the next few months.

Many licensees had already experienced difficulty in supplying their customers, but by restricting opening hours they had considerably eased the situation.
Derby Daily Telegraph - Wednesday 14 January 1942, page 2.

From the circular letters Barclay Perkins sent to their tenants, I know that they strictly limited supplies of bottled. And would only continue the supply as long as the empties were returned. Opening fewer hours might help an individual pub's stocking levels, but was really just another form of rationing.

It irked the temperance nutters greatly that beer wasn't rationed when bread was. But there wasn't enough beer to go around, with brewers having access to limited quantities of raw materials and only being allowed to produce a specific volume of beer. I see that as being quite different to the way the temperance campaigners portrayed the situation: bread rationed and grain being wasted on supplying as much beer as was wanted.


Curmudgeon said...

Bottled beer did make a strong comeback in the 1950s, though, and there were the same forecasts that it would eventually supersede draught. Then, of course, the brewers invented keg.

Anonymous said...

There must have been lots of ropey beer around at the time, hence the demand for bottles even in pubs.And this was probably the impetus for the introduction of keg.

Martyn Cornell said...

Christmas Humphreys, the lawyer involved in the two cases in Essex, was later a famous crown prosecutor involved in cases such as Ruth Ellis and Timothy Evans, and became a judge: he was a well-known Buddhist. Seems a pretty small-beer (pun intended) pair of affairs to call in a man who had been appointed in 1934 to the prestigious position of First Junior Treasury Counsel, a top post for abarrister.

Ron Pattinson said...


that's interesting. Doid his career hit a bad patch in the late 1930's?