This is a story of that arid zone euphemistically called the “Red Barrel
Revolution” but which might more aptly have been known as “The Suppression of
the Breweries”, ranking as it did, high on the list of plagues visited on the beer
drinking community over the years. It was a time when the larger brewers were
buying up smaller local breweries and closing them down, forcing clientele to
drink the larger brewers’ “keg” beer, which was bland with an inch of fizzy froth
on the top of each pint pot.
Those as hard hit as any by this real ale drought were club cricketers. During the nineteen fifties and sixties when all matches were ‘friendly’ I was a member of an up and coming cricket club that wanted to better itself by strengthening its fixture card. The best way to do so was that, if your club was lucky enough to get a plum fixture by virtue of a senior club having been subjected to a last minute cancellation, your ‘more junior club’ needed to ingratiate itself to their prestigious hosts firstly and foremost by beating your hosts. This would impress them but, if failing to win, by putting on a good performance on the pitch after giving them an appropriate run for their money!
However, if you bombed on the pitch, you simply had to remain in your hosts’ clubhouse after stumps were drawn, drinking late into the night, hoping that the home club would consider you to be ‘good eggs’ and therefore worthy of having the fixture renewed for the following season and into the future. This ploy was called ‘drinking the fixture back’ and, being in times when we none of us had cars and had to travel by public transport, the journey home was safe but often long and troublesome, with the total lack of toilet accommodation on non-corridor British Rail trains and the London Underground representing a major problem.
This procedure could also on
occasion have the additional encumbrance of a fellow traveler, out dead on his
feet and unable to totter in any direction let alone the one in which we were trying
to travel. The ‘stiff’ would be stretched out recumbent, laid in state on top
of the club bag to be lugged to the nearest station as if by sedan chair with a
footman holding each of the four convenient straps at the front and back and on
either side of the bag. This dead weight would have to be leavened by the
rotation of the footmen at regular intervals.
Hence, a typical mid-week conversation would go:
“Where are we on Saturday?” The reply would be, “So and So, and we’re in for a stuffing.
Thank God they’ve got Marston’s in the bar!” Thus, not only were opposing clubs
judged by the beer in their bars, but the quality of the brew could assuage the
pain of defeat, enabling you to take your medicine or drink ‘humble pie’, as it
were. Even so, the dwindling pool of beers available in cricket club bars during
the sixties was therefore hard to take for those used to a previous luxury of
choice. It was with considerable pleasure and avid hopes that I read in the early
seventies an article in the Guardian newspaper by Richard Boston telling of a
bar in Southwark, south of the river just upstream of
Here in a veritable
With a nothing ventured,
nothing gain attitude, I decided to pay a visit to this bar one lunch hour,
taking with me a youngster from the office. This chosen office companion was Peter,
who was in his early twenties, a rather callow youth, just down from ‘t’North’
and truly agog with the ‘Metropolis’.
As we neared the end of
Southwark Street at the junction with Borough High Street, we spotted a
ramshackle wooden sign over double doors leading down to the basement of a Victorian
‘brown tiled’ building adjoining the old Hop Market, accommodation which, I
believe, had previously housed Lyons’ wine cellars. As if descending into
Semi-Stygian Dickensian Depths we carefully made our way rather gingerly down
the rickety stairs where, at the bottom, we found ourselves, thankfully, not in
Livyan Hades, but in a dingy room some thirty feet by thirty feet with a bar
facing us. It was hardly salubrious and the floor felt as if it were being held
up by the moth-eaten carpet but there were about eight people conversing
comfortably seated, drinking at serviceable tables.
Behind the bar was, we
presumed, Becky, a lady of doubtful provenance who could have been a dead ringer
for ‘Elynour Rummyng’ whose ‘tunnyng’, or in plain English,‘brew’ was celebrated
by John Skelton, a 15th/16th century Poet Laureate and tutor to the
youthful Henry VIII before the latter became heir to the throne. Elynour
Rummyng’s somewhat warty ‘physog’ illustrating one of Skelton’s poems suggests
that she could have been a forerunner presaging the later and very probably
less faithful but more famed (warty) portrait of Oliver Cromwell. Skelton
himself may not have been the right person to mentor the young Prince Henry as,
in another line from his written work, referring to his Royal Charge, he
recorded, “I yave (sic) him drynke of the sugryde welle.” But that’s enough of
that sort of talk, if one wants to keep one’s head on one’s shoulders!
Behind Becky who was eyeing our suits
with the deep suspicion of someone expecting a visit from the Council Public Health
Department, were also about (un-ratified) two hundred different bottled beers
from all over
With a visible start and inward
sigh of relief, I ordered up two pints of Shepherd Neame whereupon Peter, betraying
his youthful inexperience and not knowing any better, looked at his and said,
in a decidedly woebegone tone, “It’s flat!” At this, I pointed out that a decent
pint of beer was not supposed to have an inch of froth on the top. He then held
his glass up to the dim light and said, “It’s got foreign bodies in it!” “No,”
I averred sternly, “They’re English!” and
we drank deeply and gratefully.