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Published on August 28th, 2013 | by Nottingham Drinker


40 Years of Campaigning

Nottingham Branch of CAMRA celebrating its 40th anniversary.  We are therefore taking a nostalgic look back at four decades of fighting to protect real ale in the East Midlands and the real pubs in which it is served.

It all began with a small ad in the Nottingham Evening Post.  Any beer drinkers interested in forming a local branch of the fledgling Campaign for Real Ale please meet at the Barley Mow in Basford on Wednesday 13th August 1973.  Approximately 15 attendees turned up, after much debate a chairman was eventually chosen and before we all went home, a vote was held as to whether or not cheese sandwiches should be provided at the next meeting.  Well, at least it was a start!

All those years ago Nottingham could still boast three family breweries: Home Brewery in Daybrook; James Shipstone and Sons’ iconic Star Brewery in Basford and the Kimberley Brewery of Hardys & Hansons – not to mention the Mansfield Brewery just up the A60.  However, it would not be long before we were to start vigorously campaigning against each one of these being swallowed up in turn by larger, predatory brewing companies, ultimately with not a lot of success it has to be said.  Certain members of the Shipstone family sold out to Warrington based Greenall Whitley, Home Ales was similarly sold down the river to Scottish & Newcastle, a boardroom debacle saw Mansfield subsumed into Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries (now known as Marstons who they also took over but didn’t close) whilst, more recently, the directors of Kimberley simply offered themselves up to Suffolk based Greene King.

In those days licensing hours were also much more restrictive than they are today.  Most pubs would open at 10.30 am, close for the afternoon between 2.30 and 6.00, with last orders finally called for service to end promptly at 10.30 pm, with even more limited drinking time on Sundays.  However, pubs in both Derbyshire and Leicestershire could stay open until 11.00 pm, which led to the inevitable late evening cross-border scramble.  The local Licensed Victuallers Association (LVA) wanted 11.00 pm closing on Fridays and Saturdays but opposed it for the rest of the week, whereas we wanted equality, with later closing every day except Sundays.  Petitions were raised and we took our case to the local licensing justices, where we won the day in every licensing area, with the unfortunate exception of Mansfield, where the authorities seemed to resent being harangued by folk from down the road in Nottingham!
One of the earliest chairman of the Branch was a business studies lecturer from Trent Polytechnic by the name of Chris Holmes, who eventually went on to be elected national chairman of the Campaign for several years, during which time he came to realise the potential for exploiting real ale as a means of irrigating communities dominated by keg only pubs.  One glaring example at the time was Newark, where virtually every pub sold only keg or bright beers supplied by Courage, who in the preceding years had acquired the two local breweries of James Hole and Warwicks & Richardsons.

Chris, with the energetic backing of the Nottingham Branch of CAMRA, applied to open a free house, the Old King’s Arms, but was strongly opposed by the local LVA who, fearing the threat of competition, argued the town already had more than enough public houses.  Fortunately the licensing magistrates disagreed and the business soon flourished, so much so that when Chris eventually sold the pub to Marstons, it provided the finance to help establish the Tynemill chain of free houses, which nowadays operate under the Castle Rock banner.

Castle Rock are, of course, one of our most successful local breweries, but back in the 1970s, following decades of aggressive takeovers and closures, the industry was utterly dominated by just six companies such as Bass and Whitbread.  Indeed, out of the many hundreds of brewpubs that were once the backbone of the industry, just four remained.

The first new brewery in Nottingham was set up by Phil Mallard in the garden of his house in Carlton in 1995 producing superb Mallard beers for well over ten years before retiring, with the brewery then relocating to Southwell. But two other names that must be mentioned are Philip Darby and Niven Balfour who established their Bramcote Brewery in the double garage of brother Peter Darby’s house in Bramcote. Due to planning difficulties they were forced to relocate a year later to the building at the side of the Vat and Fiddle, renaming the business in the process as Castle Rock which they ran in partnership with Chris Holmes’ Tynemill pub chain. After a few years Philip and Niven parted company with Tynemill and set up their own Nottingham Brewery in 2002 behind the Plough in Radford, which they already owned.

Today there are over 1,000 small brewers firing up their mash tuns in Britain, with new ones opening almost every week, and Nottingham has certainly seen its fair share of all this activity: Blue Monkey; Navigation; Flipside; Caythorpe; Magpie; Lincoln Green; Full Mash… – to name but a few!

In 1975, Nottingham Branch played host to one of the earliest national AGMs of the Campaign, an honour, incidentally, that we will be repeating in 2015, which entailed staging a real ale beer festival for thirsty delegates.  This in turn led to the establishment of an annual event thrown open to the general public, which for many years was held at the Victoria Leisure Centre in Sneinton, prior to its highly successful relocation to the Nottingham Castle grounds.

The late 1970s also saw the birth of this worthy, multi-award winning publication, originally called the Notts & Derby Drinker, an A5, eight page, black and white affair somewhat amateurishly cobbled together with the high tech use of Letraset and sold (yes, sold) for the princely sum of five new pence each!  The ever-improving development of the Nottingham Drinker during the intervening years has mirrored the progress the Nottingham Branch of CAMRA itself has achieved in this time to become not only the largest by membership within the Campaign but also, with initiatives such as the LocAle scheme and an award-winning online presence, one of the most innovative and successful.

One fact that has remained steadfast over the years is the support, hardwork and commitment, from the members and volunteers who make up Nottingham CAMRA. Without you we would not be able to celebrate our 40th birthday.

Thank you all.

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