Saturday, 6 February 2016

The 1952 barley crop (part two)

As promised, a report on the price of barley in various bits of the UK in early 1953.  I had a strange feeling writing that. What was it despair? Resignation? Defiance? Probably a bit of all three. I’m realistic enough to realise that there aren’t millions of readers waiting for this.

We start in Scotland:

“In Scotland at that period moderate supplies were on offer. Barley for distilling changed hands at 110s. to 112s 6d per qr., while brewing types moved slowly at 125s. to 130s. per qr. at farm.  As the month advanced the malting barley trade throughout the country was quiet with prices in the main unchanged at former levels, interest was centred more on barley for other purposes than brewing at up to 110s per qr. ex farm; but little was to be had of the feeding sorts at the maximum of 104s. per qr. at farm. There were isolated enquiries for spring seed lots at 130s. to 150s. per qr. ex farm.”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 13.

Scotland was an important producer of barley. For a few reasons. Partly connected with climate. Barley, being fairly tough, is more suited to the Scottish climate that some other grains, such as wheat. Then there was the demand. In addition to being used as animal feed, barley was also needed by the brewing and distilling industries. At the time, Scotland’s brewing industry was much more significant than it is today, with Edinburgh being one of the main brewing centres in the UK.

I’m not surprised that the barley destined for distilling was cheaper than that for brewing. They didn’t need such high-quality barley because of the process. I was shocked to discover how rough and ready the fermentation of the wash is in a whisky distillery. Unlike in a brewery, where you could never produce a top-class beer lie a good Pale Ale from crap barley.

The best malt was reserved for brewing:

“Prime qualities are scarcer and the bulk on offer is not up to maltsters' standard. The basis of the small business done was from 120s. to 135s. while up to 145s. was paid for barley of really exceptional merit. For other than malting grain there was a steady  trade at 110s. to 115s. per 4 cwt. Ex farm.”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 13.

Now for England:

“Towards the end of January interest hardened considerably. No improvement was evident in the amount of choice malting lots, but parcels of feeding quality were taken up quickly. For medium quality malting grades there was a slightly better demand in the Eastern Counties but other centres reported a slow trade. Barleys on offer at Mark Lane were mostly unattractive. The pick of malting lots made up to 155s. per qr. but for lower grades 120s. was usually the best price. ”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 13.

By Eastern counties I assume they mean East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. The main barley growing region in the UK and also one containing many maltsters. The next paragraph confirms that – most of the towns named are in the East of England:

“In Bedford, malting barley fetched up to 135s. per qr. Trade in Colchester and Norwich was steady at former prices; but demand improved in Horncastle, Diss, Lincoln, Devizes, Salisbury and Sudbury, where little really high quality barley was obtainable. Information from Edinburgh was that ample supplies were available, and brewing qualities sold fairly well at the wide margin of 115s. pet qr. up to 130s. ex farm. There were brisk sales of distilling sorts at 110s.— 112s. per qr. ex farm. ”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 13.

I must see if I can track down any information of barley production by region. I’m trying to recall some maps I saw when visiting Crisp’s malting last year. Parts of the Southwest grew large amounts of barley, too.

I’ll finish with a table of barley prices:

Barley price 1939 - 1960
Year ended Dec. 31. Average price per quarter (400 lbs.)
s d
1939 31 7
1940 64 11
1941 85 9
1942 163 1
1943 112 2
1944 94 4
1945 87 2
1946 86 7
1947 85 9
1948 95 10
1949 92 3
1950 99 8
1951 138 8
1952 116 4
1953 107 5
1954 91 12
1955 92 10
1956 91 8
1957 82 9
1958 81 10
1959 80 8
1960 75 11
1971 Brewers' Almanack, page 61.

You can see that after a peak in 1951, barley prices had started to fall again. But remained far above their 1939 level. The high price in 1942 was doubtless in response to the high demand for barley from various sources during the war. In addition to its use as fodder and in brewing and distilling, barley was also employed in the national loaf, the only type of bread available.

Next we’ll be looking at barley in Ireland, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.


Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of National Loaf until now; It sounds pretty dreary:

Was there much move during the War to encourage people to eat cooked whole barley? It seems like it would taste a lot better than National Loaf, although I guess the cooking time would be a big disadvantage.

Ron Pattinson said...


dreary, but nutritious. I don't know what else they used barley for. I'm sure there was some other food uses.