Opening Times

Issue 137 Winter 2008

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John Smiths brewery re-introduced cask-conditioned ale in December 1983, seven years after it had been phased out. This was seen as one of CAMRA’s greatest success stories; John Smiths, part of the national Courage group, was the last major national brewery in the UK that had refused to supply real ale.

Theakstons, the famous North Yorkshire real ale brewery, was taken over by Matthew Brown brewery of Blackburn at the invitation of chairman Paul Theakston to thwart an unwelcome bid by textile millionaire Michael Abrahams. Matthew Brown thereby became the operator of four sizeable breweries in Masham, Carlisle, Blackburn and Workington. In 2008, Theakston’s Masham brewery is the only survivor, owned by four Theakston brewers who bought the brewery back in 2003 after 20 years under the ownership of Scottish and Newcastle.

In Norfolk the Reepham brewery was set up by Ted Willems, a research engineer then recently made redundant by the national Watney brewing group. The new brewing plant was a purpose built plant installed in a new industrial unit in the small town made famous by Norfolk’s legendary toper, Parson Woodforde.

At the end of 1983, breweries Tolly Cobbold of Ipswich and Cameron of Hartlepool were bought by hotel entrepreneur twins David and Frederick Barclay in a bargain buy of the Ellerman Lines shipping and brewing empire for £47 million. The brothers promised not to sell on either of the breweries.

One of the earliest cask beer accreditation schemes for pubs was Ind Coupe’s Guild of Master Cellarman scheme, launched for its cask Burton Ale in October 1983. Burton Ale stockists needed to demonstrate that they were serving a sound pint of the ale to the technical and area managers of Ind Coope, part of the national Allied Breweries group.

St Neots CAMRA held meetings in Manns pub the Exhibition in Godmanchester, the Hardwick, Gamlingay and the Coneygeare at Eynesbury. There were socials at Manns pub the White Lion at Bury and Tolly Cobbold pub the King William at Fenstanton, a Christmas social at the Axe and Compass, Hemingford Abbots and a pub crawl starting at the Kings Head in St Neots.

The national Watney group introduced new plans for its managed pub sector, known as the Host Group. Its Chef and Brewer estate was divided into a number of themes including ‘The English Ale House’ and ‘The Local’, and the other half of the chain, known as ‘Open House’, included ‘Slots of Fun’, ‘Drive Inns’ and ‘Mid Atlantic – the ultimate family leisure experience’.


Burton brewer Marstons faced a takeover bid from Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries after opposition from Marstons shareholders to an earlier company proposal to securitise its tenanted pub estate by selling it to Japanese bank Nomura. This followed the replacement in 1998 of Marstons managing Director David Gordon by Nick Letchett from Bass. CAMRA called for the W & D merger to be rejected because of the potential knock-on effect of other regionals rushing to merge and close breweries.

‘Ale’, the newsletter of Cambridge CAMRA, was anticipating the arrival of Wetherspoons in the city fairly favourably but appeared dubious on the subject of other drinking circuit pub chains and themed bars that had arrived there, including Bass’s ‘All Bar One’, Greene King’s ‘Rattle and Hum’, Scottish Courage’s ‘Rat and Parrot’ with plans for a second, and Whitbread’s Hogshead.

St Neots CAMRA held its late Christmas social at the Green Man, Leighton Bromswold and earlier there was a December pub crawl in Huntingdon, starting at the George Hotel. Open committee meetings were at the Millers Arms, Eaton Socon, and the White Hart in St Ives.

Cambridgeshire brewer Elgoods launched a new cask stout with yet another dog-orientated name, Old Black Shuck, 4.5% alcohol by volume, named after a mythical hound of hell. Meanwhile Elgoods Black Dog was crowned CAMRA’s East Anglia Beer of the Year. CAMRA’s Paul Ainsworth said’ Anyone who thinks mild is a wishy-washy drink should try this. It simply explodes with flavour’.

Rural pubs in East Anglia began to benefit from new rules allowing councils to cut the business rates of small rural pubs in single-pub villages in an effort to slow the rate of closures. South Norfolk District Council was one of the first to announce rate cuts for pubs.

The former chief executive of Oxford brewers Morrells, Charles Eld, went to an industrial tribunal with a case for unfair dismissal after he was sacked for opposing plans to sell the family brewery. Mr Eld had wanted to retain the brewery and invest in it, but other directors and shareholders had called for the company to be sold according to the recommendation of a strategic review conducted by Price Waterhouse. The brewery had closed in late 1998, soon after the sale of Morrells and its pubs to pub tycoon Michael cannon, formerly of Devenish brewery.

Greene King launched a seasonal real cask version of its bottled Strong Suffolk ale, 6% alcohol by volume, famously produced by a blending process more usually seen in the breweries of Belgium, and involving a 12% alcohol beer, ‘5X’, matured for two years in large wooden vats at Greene King’s Bury St Edmunds brewery. In 2008 the bottled version is still produced in this way and, although not a real ale, is nevertheless an impressive beer, unique in the UK.