Thursday 30 March 2023

Looking back: Newark breweries

I was thinking about the questions I wished I'd asked older people when I was younger. Not about anything really important. Just what beer had been like when they were young.

Then I jumped forward. Maybe I should do that. Answer the questions I would have like to have asked. But about my experiences 40 or 50 years ago. Because things have changed a lot.

The former Warwick & Richardson brewery

Let's go back to my childhood.

When my family moved to Newark in the early 1960s, the town boasted two decent-sized regional breweries: Warwick & Richardson and Holes. As well as several substantial maltings. Both breweries owned 200 or so tied houses. Including almost all the pubs in town. We'll be gt5ting back to that later.

In 1962, John Smith bought Warwick & Richardson. After brewing ceased in 1966, the pubs were rebranded as Barnsley, another brewery owned by John Smith. Holes was snapped up by Courage in 1967. But the cataclysmic event was in 1970, when Courage took over John Smith. Leaving Courage owning 30 of the 35 pubs in Newark. And all four of the pubs in Balderton, the village bordering Newark where we lived.

When I started visiting pubs around 1972, most of the pubs in town were supplied by the former Holes brewery. But a couple were still supplied by Barnsley: the King William IV and the Wing Tavern. The latter being the only pub in town with handpumps. Well, working ones. It served one cask beer, the magnificent Barnsley Bitter.

The only other pubs selling cask were the four Home Ales pubs: Newcastle Arms, the Ram Hotel, the Clinton Hotel and the Cardinal's Hat. Though the last named was in the middle of a post-war council estate and, because of the weird street pattern, quite difficult to find. All of their pubs served cask Bitter and Mil through electric pumps.

If you've been paying attention you'll have noticed that I've only got to 34 pubs. The 35th was a former Steward & Patteson pub, the Olde White Hart. Which was in the hands of Watney. Meaning the town had no free houses whatsoever. Every pub was tied.

The vast majority of pubs sold bright Holes beer. That is, rough-filtered, but not pasteurised and served through electric pumps, without extra CO2 pressure. The result was a halfway house between cask and keg. Poorly handled cask beer was often hard to distinguish from bright beer. The confusion being increased by most cask being served through electric pumps.

The Courage beers served in most pubs were AK, the main Bitter of Holes, and Mild. I'm sure the Mild had a name, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. A couple of former Warwick's houses sole IPA, which had been the flagship Bitter of Warwick & Richardson.

Other than Skol, then the main Lager of Courage, and Tavern, their premium keg beer, only seven draught beer were available: Courage AK, Mild and IPA; Home Bitter, Mild and whatever their Lager was; Barnsley Bitter. Oh, and whatever shit was on offer in the Watneys pub. Probably Red Barrel. I don't know for sure because I never went in the Olde White Hart. Still never have been.

Not exactly spoilt for choice.Newark was one of many local monopolies, of varying sizes, which were found around the country. Usually where one of the Big Six had bought up all the local breweries. The situation was totally different in many of the towns around Newark.

Nottingham, for example, was dominated by the three local breweries: Home Ales, Shipstone and Hardy & Hanson. The owned the lion's share of pubs in the city. And 99% of then sold cask beer. Though only a handful of pubs retained beer engines. The vast majority of beer was served by metered electric dispense.

I've looked for an image of a typical electric pump, but can't find one. These things used to be so common, but I suppose have totally disappeared. If you have an image, please let me know.

I'll be continuing these reminiscences until, well, I get bored or my memories run out. Which probably won't be long, as I can recall so little.


Matt said...

When I started drinking in local pubs as a teenager in the late eighties, the main one we went to was a thirties roadhouse built by Chester's Brewery, by then owned by Whitbread, which sold keg Trophy bitter and bottles of Mackeson Stout. When I last went in a few weeks ago, it had a pump clip for Doom Bar turned round and most people were drinking Carling Black Label or Guinness rather than the smoothflow Worthington Bitter. The other two we drank in were a Greenall Whitley house of a similar age and style, now owned by Greene King, but keg only, and with a similar Carling/Guinness split, on my last visit, and a sixties estate pub owned by Holt's that later became my local, which sold pretty even amounts of their cask bitter and mild, but now only sells the former.

swigging-pig said...

Is this the pump you're referring to ?

Phil said...

When you say "a typical electric pump", do you mean those clear plastic cylinder/piston arrangements that dispensed a metred half? I remember seeing them in (I think) Hyde's pubs in Manchester in the mid-80s, although they were on their way out.

But no, I haven't got a picture.

Ron Pattinson said...


yes, that's it.

Anonymous said...

I know that remembering tastes over time is awfully tricky, but if you or commenters have memories, it would be interesting for this American to see them.

It's surprisingly difficult to get a sense of what beers of that era were like -- how much body, how much carbonation, how lively the hopping seemed, whether there was much difference between brands, etc.

Descriptions seem to come down to things like good or bad, strong or weak, fresh or stale, which don't say much to someone on the outside without a good frame of reference.

Christoph Riedel said...

I recently read Roger Protz's 1978 "Pulling a fast one" where he describes and condemns the practices of the Big Six. I did not find a good summary of what happened afterwards with the rise of Camra and such.

Did most of the Big Six leave brewing? I know Whitbread did, while others still exist.

Ron Pattinson said...

Christoph Riedel,

the Big Six all just gave up and sold up. Or pulled out of brewing. Beer orders, is the answer to your question. And not being allowed to take each other over.

Chris Pickles said...

Allied were taken over by Carlsberg who sold Ind Coope Burton closed all their other breweries except the big Carlsberg brewery in Northampton. The pathetic remnant of Allied's beers are all brewed by contract.

Bass were taken over by Molson-Coors, they still have active breweries in Burton and Tadcaster but Draught Bass itself is brewed under contract by Marstons.

S&N and Courage merged before being taken over by Heineken. The John Smiths brewery is still there at Tadcaster but cask John Smiths is brewed by Camerons under license.

I don't know what happened to Watney Mann but I don't think any of their former breweries are still active.

Above info may be out of date!

The Big Six may have indulged in all kinds of dodgy practices, but they did know how to make some excellent beers when they could be arsed.

Matt said...

The other member of the Big Six, Whitbread, also got out of brewing about twenty years ago and became a hotel and leisure business.

Anonymous said...

Interesting mild is sold over bitter

Anonymous said...

Ron speaking of tied houses Dublin has a few