Sunday 16 December 2018

Draught beer prices 1939 - 1948

As with every conflict since the English Civil War in the 17th century, WW II saw a big increase in the tax on beer. It’s the traditional war for British governments to pay for warfare.

WW I must have been a big shock for beer drinkers. Beer prices, which had been constant for four or five decades, increased dramatically. A pint of Mild, which had been 2d in 1914 was 6d in 1920. And for a beer of much lower gravity.

In 1939, gravities and prices were pretty much as they had been in 1921. The war soon changed that, with the first tax increase hitting brewers just a few months in. But it wasn’t quite the shock it had been during WW I. Further tax increases followed, even past the end of the war.

As in WW I, the effect of the war was an approximate trebling of draught beer prices. Though, once again, a pint was considerably weaker in 1948 than in 1939.

If you’re wondering why Best Bitter became cheaper in the later war years, it’s because there was a big reduction in gravity. Larger than that Burton and Stout endured. Though I had trouble finding numbers because some of the breweries I was using a yardstick, for example, Barclay Perkins, stopped brewing Best Bitter early on in the war.

Still, I’ve lived through just a bad beer price inflation. In the mid-1970s beer increased in price several times a year when inflation was running at 25-30% annually.

Draught beer prices per pint (d) 1939 - 1948
Month Year Ale Mild Best Mild Ordinary Bitter Best Bitter Burton Stout
Sept 1939 4 5 6 7 8 8 8
April 1940 5 6 7 8 9 9 9
April 1941 7 8 9 10 12 12 12
April 1942 9 10 11 12 15 15 15
April 1943 10 11 12 13 17 17 17
April 1944 11 13 15 17 17
April 1945 11 13 15 17 17
April 1946 11 12 13 16 17 17
April 1947 11 12 13 16 17 17
April 1948 12 13 14 19 19 19
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001.
Barclay Perkins Circular Letters held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number ACC/2305/01/521/1.


Matt said...

Any idea why prices stabilised between 1943 and 1947 and then went up again in 1948? If I was guessing, I'd say the former had something to do with the war turning in the Allies favour then, and the latter the cost of fighting it really kicking in. Also seems a bit strange that Burton and Stout were the same price given that, even with gravity cuts, the former must always have been quite a bit stronger than the latter.

Ron Pattinson said...


dead simple: the tax remained around the same in those years, then went up quite a bit after the war ended. Why do you think Burton was stronger than Stout? The draught versions were the same strength all through the interwar period.

Matt said...

Hi Ron, I suppose from reading back from now, where stout is usually a session beer around 4% and Burton a strong ale around 7%. I know the gravities of both would have been cut in WWII, but assumed that the latter would still have been a bit stronger than the former.