Friday, 11 January 2013

The Price of Fourpenny

It seems pretty obvious how much Fourpenny should cost - fourpence. Things weren't quite that simple in WW I.

This highlights one of the basic flaws in naming beers by their price. What happens when that price changes?

You'll notice that the term "four ale" is thrown about in the article. That's the pre-war name for Ordinary Mild, deriving from the price per quart, which was fourpence. By the later war years fourpence had become the price per pint. For a weak Mild. If you were lucky enough to be able to find it.

The Chelmsford Rural Food Committee met yesterday, Mr. E. A. Hunt, presiding.—A letter was read from the Divisional Food Commissioner stating that there was reason to believe that the Beer (Prices and Description) Order was being generally evaded, and asked the Committee bring the matter to the notice their inspectors.—A letter was read alleging that licensed victuallers in the writer's district refused serve him with "four ale." He alleged publicans evaded the Act by calling it "old and mild," and charging 6d., at the same time saying they had not got any mild ale The writer asked if the Committee stop publicans charging 6d. per pint for beer? A postscript to the letter asked if four-ale could be dealt with the ration-book? (Laughter).—Mr. Neill: Everything is the P.S. (Laughter;. —It was decided to ask for the names of the publicans."
Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday 19 July 1918, page 4.

In the summer of 1918, there were price control orders in place for some categories of beer.  Anything with a gravity of under 1030º retailed for 4d a pint. Beer of 1030-1034º was 5d a pint.

Passing off a weaker beer as a stronger one as in this case seems to have been rife during WW I. Like selling Porter as Stout. It's no wonder that publicans became the object of suspicion. Many thought that they were profiteering from the war by practices such as this.

The postscript about the ration book is referring to the fact that, unlike many foodstuffs, beer was never rationed. In neither WW I nor WW II. The amount that was brewed was limited by the government and there was often not enough to go around, but it was never officially rationed.

Which meant that beer supply was patchy. As pubs were mostly allocated an amount of beer based on their pre-war trade, those in areas where a growth in the munitions industry had dragged in workers were often under-supplied. While those in rural areas, where many men had left to join the armed forces, there was plenty.


ts said...

Generally speaking, when did prices go from per quart to per pint?

Ron Pattinson said...

I'm pretty sure that the quart had stopped being the standard measure before 1900. Calling Mild "Four Ale" was an archaism.

I suspect pinning an exact date on the change would be difficult, as it would have varied from location to location.