Thursday, 2 June 2016

The first beer festival

I'm always stumbling across unexpected stuff in the newspaper archive. Like this one about what sound like an early beer festival.

See what you think:
The manager of the North Woolwich Gardens is above all things entitled to credit for untiring energy and inexhaustible invention. Season after season he has startled the public with announcements of shows of which probably the great Barnum never dreamt in his showman philosophy. Monkeys, barmaids, babies, this year give way to beer — an exhibition interesting as it is original. Yesterday the show was opened in the beautiful grounds that border the banks of the Thames, for too short a distance, with trees arrayed in their early summer robes waving above the carpet of green grass which is spread so as almost to meet high-water mark.

Close to the entrance, beneath a canvas tent, are arranged parallel lines of stands supporting barrels of beer of every brew known in our time. There are contributions not only from 35 well-known brewers throughout England, bnt also exhibitions of dranght and bottle excellence from various parts of the Continent, including India pale ale from Bremen, Bavarian beer from Erlangen, and lager beer from Vienna. The visitors to the gardens, on payment of a certain fee, are furnished with a tasting order, which entitles them to make a tour of the tent, and taste any or all of the beers offered for competition, after doing which they are rather unreasonably expected to register their votes in favour of that which they consider the best. The innocence of expecting a person, after passing such an ordeal, to be able to form any judgment, is simply sublime. But there the beers are, pale, dark, mild, bitter — in all the innumerable varieties of colour and taste to tempt the palate and the eye. The prizes, when awarded, are to consist of gold, silver, and bronze medals, the gold medal for the first prize being valued at 10l., and the other medals graduating in value, according to the quality of the article for which it is awarded, being struck from a model invented by Mr. Holland. The prizes will be awarded on Saturday next which will be the last day of this exhibition. Of course Mr. William Holland, who is advertised as "the People's Caterer," and who, if his popularity Increases at the present pace, bids fair to inherit the title of "the People's William," presides over the Bacchanalian banquet, beaming welcome in his beard of Napoleonic cut. He is evidently proud of this last idea of his which is unlike anything hitherto known, if it bears no resemblance to a wine-tasting order for the Docks. And surely since beer was first brewed, it never has been put to such a teet as that which it will have to undergo in &oith Woolwich Gardens this week.

Nor even whilst this engrossing care was upon him did Mr. Holland neglect to provide other fresh inducements to visitors. The grounds We been retrimmed redecorated with the greatest care and so aesthetic is the tone of the lessee's mind that he has reproduced in a prominent position that celebrated work of art which so lately disappeared from Leicester-square - the famous horse rampant, as he appeared in his last moments - wooden tail and wooden hind leg broken off short, flanks freshly papered and newly whiteiwashed all over; so that if Londoners desire to refresh their memories as to the glory of Leicester-square in its days of decadence, they have only to visit North Woolwich Gardens during the present season." 
London Evening Standard - Tuesday 20 May 1873, page 6.
A tent in a park with rows of barrels inside? It sounds like Peterborough Beer Festival. Beers from 35 breweries in one place must have been a real novelty. Especially as there were foreign beers, too. Drinkers having to pick a favourite sounds like some modern festivals. It really does sound like the first beer festival.

And before anyone mentions Oktoberfest, that was - and still is - a very different kind of festival. One where the beer itself isn't really the focus. The various big exhibitions like in Paris and London don't count, either, because beer was only a small part of the event.

The North Woolwich Gardens are now known as the Royal Victoria Gardens and are located close to London City Airport.


Barm said...

Wonder if the India pale ale from Bremen was made by our pals the Erste Norddeutsche Actien Ale-und-Porter-Brauerei ?

Ron Pattinson said...


I wondered about that, too.

Barm said...

I bet you could pick up that trademark for next to nothing, too.

J. Karanka said...

1873 beer wasn't particularly weak either so I can see the bemusement of the writer when it cones to sampling them. I would have had a whale of a time there.