V-E Day in Halifax, NS May 7-8, 1945

With Nowhere To Drink, Public Beer Gardens Were Improvised

Canadians haven’t been exempt from the volatile combination of restive military personnel and alcohol. The military fracas in Brisbane,1940 was more than matched in Halifax, Nova Scotia after the German defeat was announced on May 7, 1945. A two-day riot ensued in Halifax in which the Canadian Navy played a prominent role but members of the other services, as well as many civilians, were also represented.

Many people were injured, often by falls into shattered glass. Three died, two from alcohol poisoning and one, a naval officer, under circumstances never fully understood. The city was looted and numerous fires were started, some by arson.

A catalytic event was the raiding of city liquor stores and Alexander Keith’s brewery on Lower Water Street. As in Brisbane, official news accounts reflected shock at the breakdown of civil order and discipline.

The incident, often considered as the celebration Halifax would prefer to forget, has been discussed many times, in books, magazines, television, and in blogs. This two-part article by Bob Gordon of Esprit de Corps magazine gives a succinct overview and suggests a plausible, immediate cause: letting  thousands of personnel into the city without entertainment facilities and not arresting the first miscreants.

This blog piece by George Burden is another excellent survey, and offers more of a psychological interpretation, basically how extreme circumstances can lead to abandonment of normal reflexes and habits.

Today, Canada projects an image of amiability and near-pacifism. We did participate in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and until recently had jets bombing ISIS in Syria. But most military efforts in recent decades have been in the peacekeeping mode pioneered by Lester B. Pearson, the former Liberal Prime Minister and diplomat. Canadians did this work in Suez, Cyprus, Bosnia, and elsewhere.

In the mid-1940s though, Canada formed a significant part of Allied armies. Its navy in particular was among the biggest in the world. Despite the Conscription Crisis and the reluctance of Quebec fully to join the war effort, Canada played a significant role in the fighting. It participated fully, for example,  in the Italian campaign, Normandy invasion, and liberation of The Netherlands.

The development of war-like habits cannot be turned off and on like a spigot. Halifax in particular was a focal point of Canada’s participation in the Battle of the Atlantic. The city saw plenty of travail, any city does involved in a major war effort, but Halifax was the first receiving point for the damaged ships and wounded men who came back from the sinkings.

In a situation like that, normal sensitivities and courtesies are blunted and even outside the war theatre proper people will act more like soldiers do. That said, as bad as it was, there was only one death and the injured were mostly a result of their own haplessness.

The role of alcohol and specifically beer was a huge part of what happened. Why did the men feel emboldened to loot and steal thousands of cases of beer from Keith’s brewery and break into Nova Scotia Liquor Commission stores?

First, there were no bars in Halifax then, no taverns. There were restaurants, but they had closed so operators and staff could enjoy V-E celebrations – not that the city had planned had very much, some fireworks and a few parades. Movie theatres were shut. Liquor stores were shut for the two days, a Monday and Tuesday, over which the V-E was celebrated.

Yet, 9,000 military came into town from bases and their ships – with almost nothing to do. And the navy (the admiral in charge of that theatre) let another few thousand ratings into the city the second day, after it was clear disturbances had occurred.

Some accounts stress long-standing resentments by the military in a town that had difficulty absorbing them over the six-year war. Some soldiers and sailors, “uninvited guests“ as frequently termed, felt they were being gouged and in general disrespected by local merchants. Townspeople for their part were (understandably) fed up with the periodic small riots that occurred on naval paydays throughout the war. Halifax was a small port city before the war, not an international one and it offered no amenities of the type sailors and other military were accustomed to on postings.

This article by Jay White about the ill-fated Ajax Club says much, in my view, about the real cause of the rioting. A society figure had opened a club which sold beer to members of all services. It served thousands a month. But it was closed in 1942 due to apparent pressure and influence of a nearby church. After the closing, the only drinking service members could do was at a wet canteen, and indeed it operated (with no trouble) during V-E but it wasn’t nearly sufficient to serve the many thousands in town and ran out of beer anyway.

Halifax, at that period, just wasn’t up to the demands placed on it to accomodate the “r & r” of service personnel and, in my view again, it paid the price by seeing the city trashed at the war’s end. It just couldn’t make the transition needed from the 1930s when it was a small place dominated by a local elite and not many years away from the prohibition period of the 1920s. It was impossible to apply a small city’s mores to an unprecedented situation, the great growth of the military presence and in particular the influx of many from Toronto, Montreal, and other areas where social and cultural habits were different.

Some stories on the riots, both contemporary (1945) and recent, make much of hostility between “Upper Canadians” and the local people of Halifax and Dartmouth.  At a minimum, it was probably an exacerbating factor. Of course, Halifax had performed well in WW I (and suffered greatly from the 1917 Explosion), but there was an “international“, or cross-cultural, factor present in the 1940s that didn`t exist earlier. The fate of the Ajax Club shows this clearly. Something else that shows it is the rapidity of communications by 1945.

The news of victory came on an AP wire. The federal government hadn`t announced the end of the war but events overtook it and people decided to celebrate anyway. In 1918, there would have been a more orderly way to announce victory and more time would have been available to plan properly.

Of course, nothing is simple. Had the personel been kept on their bases, had the province and city planned earlier and more effectively for V-E, had early contravenants been arrested, the riot probably wouldn’t have occurred. But if you are looking for one evident cause, I think it was the lack of places to eat and drink in town on those two days. When you see pictures of sailors drinking in public parks, in effect making them makeshift pubs, it is evident that had normal facilities been available the tumult would not have occurred, or been much less impactful.

The admiral who allowed his men into town, Leonard Warren Murray, was relieved of his command in 1946. There is an odd coda to his story. Despite having had a full career in the Canadian navy from the age of only 15 in 1911, he emigrated to England in 1946 and qualified as a solicitor three years later.

As one who knows the trade, I can say it’s a little late to make the transition, but he did. I guess immersion in the hearings gave him a taste for a life in the law, or the twilight of one’s working life at any rate.

The chair of the Royal Commission of Inquiry was the Honourable Roy Kellock, a well-known Supreme Court of Canada justice. You can read his report here.

N.B. Numerous statements herein drew on the numerous 1945 press accounts collected at this link.

Note re images: The first image was sourced from George Burden`s article linked above. The second, from The Chronicle Herald`s archive pages, here. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Brisbane Beer Riot

My last post discussed a news story from 1945 remarking on differences between Australian and British beer cultures. The account, by a British naval officer, reflected the amity and warmth that generally existed between the British and Australian peoples.

This was not alway so for the (substantial) American forces in Brisbane, however. In a major riot in 1942, generally called the “Battle of Brisbane”, Australian and U.S. personnel fought tooth and nail. Many injuries ensued and at least one death, a hardly creditable episode in Allied war relations.

While it is the best remembered, the Battle of Brisbane wasn’t the only such incident. Smaller disturbances between the same factions occurred later in Brisbane, and elsewhere in Australia.

An October 1940 riot, an all-Australian matter in this case – America wasn’t in the war yet- was known as the Brisbane Beer Riot or Brisbane Beer Barrage. The image above is from a later period when American forces were in town but conveys the atmosphere of a Queensland hotel in 1940.

The Brisbane Truth described the Brisbane Beer riot in graphic terms and the reasons: not enough beer for the soldiery, or not at the right times. Queensland licensing law required that hotels close by 8:00 p.m. with no Sunday opening. The authorities did not enforce the rules though, and a practice developed to keep the hotels in full swing until 11:00 p.m.

With the war going badly and a long struggle in sight there was a clamp-down, and finally the law was applied as written. The soldiers rebelled by taking over part of the downtown. They snatched a keg through a smashed window and rolled it down Queen Street to the lusty a capella of Roll Out The Barrel.

Truth described the initial stage:

The trouble is believed to have originated when the soldiers were ordered out of a Queen street hotel at closing time— 8 o’clock— and was still fermenting three hours later. Military police were called in from the camps to assist the police, but the demonstrators remained out of hand. Complete control over the men was not gained until 2 o’clock this morning. Trouble began in Queen-street shortly after 8 o’clock, when soldiers were removed from the hotel. Fights broke out among the uniformed men. When other uniformed men joined in, the quarrel spread, and soon civilians gathered around the disputants, police came on the run, and hurried calls were sent out for reinforcements of both civilian and military police. Civilian police acted with restraint, and endeavored to calm the men, while officers who were rushed to the city in big military trucks, also added their persuasive efforts, but failed to quieten the men. Officers then went into consultation with the men, and hot arguments ensued, some of the men hooting their superiors, while others cheered. Eventually, some arrangement was apparently reached— there was no chance of any civilian getting near enough to hear the tenor of the conference— and the officer blew his whistle. The men forming up in marching order, and went from Queen-street to Edward-street. The march proceeded as far as Charlotte-street, when somebody suddenly started the cry, “About turn!”. It was taken up by numbers of the men, and soon swelled into a tremendous chorus. Almost as a solid body, the men obeyed the order, turned, and marched back into Queen street, led by a soldier who set the march tune with an accordion, which could scarcely be heard above the din of the shouts, “Roll out the barrel, we want beer!” and the cheering and hooting of the men. By this time, extra pickets had been rushed in from the suburban camps. The march proceeded into George-street, but eventually came back into Queen-street, where amazing scenes developed.

The press accounts show the shock of the populace at this breakdown of morale and discipline. Terms such as “unprecedented” and “sensational” fill the stories. If anything the papers underplayed the gravity, due probably to military or self-censorship. Modern historical assessments, such as this one, give a fuller picture. Note the many interesting photos, including one showing a special dispense system to serve beer without a head, a preoccupation of Australians in this period, it seems.

Official inquiries followed. One result was that Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) canteens, formerly dry, could henceforth sell beer until 9:00 p.m. The 8:00 p.m. rule continued for civilians. This demonstrated to the forces a degree of public solidarity that earlier seemed lacking.

In his reversed picture of English pubs and drinking customs in 1943, Australian Godfrey Blunden wrote that beer was essential to the war effort. The alcohol level was moderate and beer supplies were unreliable, but there was enough to go around or so people judged.

In Queensland, drink shortages and narrow trading hours were accepted by the population but the soldiers made it clear you could only go so far, in their regard.

I am careful to restrict the above remarks to Queensland. The States in Australia, due to their separate history before the Federation, had differing laws on breweries and drinking and this continued even after 1939.

Given the strains of any war and Western traditions, a reasonably permissive policy on alcohol seemed necessary, or so it was viewed then.

Note re images: the image first above is from the Wikipedia account of the Battle of Brisbane linked in the text and the ultimate source is credited therein. The second is from this Wikipedia story on the history of the AIF. Copyright belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


Britons, Beer, and Brisbane

Recently, I looked at an Australian’s benign consideration in 1943 of the English pub.

An Englishman returned the favour in 1945 by examining drinking in Brisbane, the account appearing in its press just after the war. The writer was a journalist turned naval officer. He reported his mens’ impressions, all favourable.

Yet, there was no parallel to the Australian’s brusque dismissal of his own country’s bars. The British sailors in Brisbane fondly recalled their native pubs, each with its own clientele, particular atmosphere, and choice of mild or bitter ale. As the officer put it simply, “Some like mild and some like bitter”.

Still, since beer was weak in England during the war and often unavailable the comparative normality of Brisbane bars beckoned to Britishers. In this sense, the two articles are complementary.

Still, in Brisbane, line-ups and stratagems were often necessary to find beer, but the men didn’t mind. They liked the beer, fortunately since only one brand was available, probably Castlemaine XXXX or a lager from Queensland Breweries in Bulimba. The officer mentioned a “tang” in the Queensland beer, maybe it was a sulphury yeast smell, or a different taste due to Australian malt.

This 1931 article states that all beer in Queensland was made with 100% malt. So a pronounced flavour of local barley may have been a factor unless malt substitutes were used during the war. Adjuncts are today, certainly used in mass market Australian beer. I suspect that XXXX back then was a better beer than the current XXXX Gold.

I once read that out of the country the British will drink any beer with nonchalence. This is true in my experience, and well predates the rise of lager in the U.K.

Anyway the British Jacks got on well with the Aussies, and their beer. Occasional rifts between the British and Australians are well-known, but wartime solidarity trumped all and a united spirit informs the 1945 account. As the writer put it:

‘Jack’ likes your hotels, and he likes most of all the ‘blokes’ he meets inside. The spirit of the bar is just the same as back in England. Hail-fellow-well-met is the order of the day, and that suits us.

When you read the fine points of actually getting beer in wartime Australia it could be a chore though. Read this piece from 1944, “How Brisbane Drinks Beer”. It doesn’t sound like much fun. But the English sailors were good with it, probably viewing the hunt as a bit of sport. Maybe too military personnel got favoured treatment, this seems likely in fact.

The Jacks once homeward-bound on vessel argued whether Queensland’s beer was “bitter” or “mild”, but the Aussie stuff probably cut across these ancient English categories. After all, some years later Cairns Brewery further north in the state issued a new beer typed (presumably by the brewery) as a “lager type mild bitter ale” in this story. Well, that covers all the bases, in baseball anyway.

Note re images: the first image above, of 1940s Brisbane, is drawn from Pinterest, here, and the second from the historical page of the famed Breakfast Creek Hotel in Brisbane, here. Copyright belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users. Images believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Mashing Without Malt

Can raw grains produce fermentable sugar without using malted barley or another malted grain? Yes. While malt greatly facilitates the process, unmalted barley, rye too, can produce a fermentable mash.

See Edward Skeates White, a 19th century authority on malts and malting, here, at 46-47 (The Maltster’s Guide, 1860).

Numerous books confirm this including Brewing With Raw Grain: A Practical Guide (1883) by Thomas Lovibond, well-known brewing scientist of the same era. See the table at p. 73 where he states he made a mash from 100% raw barley (“barley 100”). He gives the respective yields of barley 100 and mashes of mixed malted and unmalted grains. It is no surprise the 100% unmalted version is lowest in yield, but a wort is produced and alcohol results.

See the extracts below (pp 133-134) from Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders, an early (1913) ethnographic study of the mountain people of the Appalachians, viz the mash for mountain whiskey. If malt was available they used it with the raw grains. If it wasn’t, e.g., due to the “blockade” or British embargo during the Revolutionary War, they made a whiskey mash anyway.*

Raw grains have enzyme, b-amylaze, in small amounts but this can convert polymer starches to maltose.

White explains why it generally isn’t done in brewing: rawness of taste, instability of the wort. Stewart & Thomson make a similar point  (see pp 15-16) in their 1849 text on brewing and distilling. Lovibond claims in his book to offer methods which palliate the disadvantages of raw grain, but he clearly opts for a mixture approach and indeed that is the basis of large-scale brewing today of adjunct lager.

Whether one approves of mixed mashes is a question of taste. I generally plump for all-malt based on some 40 years experience tasting beer. However, adjunct used in small amount can produce excellent beer, too.


*Re-reading the Kephart account, perhaps really the mountaineers were making their own malt as there was a sprouting, drying, and grinding of moistened corn. Perhap corn is different, but the other authorities mentioned are clear that raw barley, for example, can produce a fermentable mash. Raw corn must be cooked, too, to hydrolize the starches. Nonetheless the account is valid IMO as showing an artisan practice – no very sophisticated knowledge or equipment is needed to mash without commercial malt. It may be noted too he explains fermentation can be achieved without adding yeast. Last year I devoted numerous posts to this aspect of “wild” fermentation.


1837 Sydney India Ale

The Beer For India That Never Was*

On December 25, 1837, a detailed proposal was published in the Sydney Herald to set up a brewery to export beer to India. The story is of interest not just on general historical grounds, but because it contains a suggested recipe for the beer.

First, it should be said that while Australia periodically was suggested in the 1800s as a source of supply for India, no beer of any significance was sent there until WW I when a sizeable contract was landed due to interruptions of supply from Britain. At that time, Indian breweries, in Muree and elsewhere, were established, indeed since the last decades of the 1800s, so the market would never be what it was when the Burton brewers dominated the trade. Also, the beer sent finally was lager, not the pale ale which was legend of the Indiamen trade.

The rationale in the article was that the beer in India was too expensive and the quality could be bettered. This kind of statement, written by a hard-headed trader, tends to counter further the inherited perception that pale ale in India was some kind of madrigal of the Indian drinks cabinet. In fact, it sometimes came sour or cloudy (this has been documented by beer historians) and was sold at a loss.

Still, the popular, or informed-popular, view persists that the beer was something special when perhaps the truth was more that people took what they could get.

Sydney is about 5000 miles from Calcutta, further than the London trip as the crow flies, but the trip was likely cheaper due to being a “straight shot” versus the long trip from England to and under Africa to get to Australasia before the days of the Suez canal.

Here is the introduction, from the editor (clearly):

Some time ago, we published an extract from a Calcutta paper containing a proposal to capitalists there, to establish a brewery at Sydney, for the supply, principally, of the India market. It appears that the malt liquor used in Calcutta is imported exclusively from England, and the writer of the article which has already appeared in our columns undertook to show, from a professed intimate knowledge of the subject, that, as the climate of India will not admit of the brewing of beer, that article could be had much cheaper and better than any imported from England (where it is made up for the market) by establishing a brewery at Sydney. The suggestion appears, not unnaturally, to have been unpleasing to the Calcutta beer merchants; and, accordingly, in reply to some adverse remarks, the writer of the former article again appears, in a rejoinder, published in the Englishman of the 5th July last. Without at present offering any opinion of our own, as to details, we will merely observe that the discussion itself goes, so far, to prove our repeated assertion that the attention of other countries is daily directed to this Colony, in some shape or other. The following is the article…

I expected to see a mid-1800s pale ale formulation, thus insisting on pale malt, a fairly high fermenting-out range (attenuation), very high hopping, and the other markers which W.H. Roberts in his Scottish Ale-Brewer book shows (1846) and also Ron Pattinson in his books, and others.

In fact, the recipe is not a pale ale recipe, at least as I apprehend it, but it has some elements of a pale ale recipe. The key to it is when the writer says he wants a beer which is “not particularly pale”. Reading the recipe as a whole, it is clear that the meaning of this is, not that he wants (necessarily) a darkish beer, but that he wants an ale attenuated less than pale ale, and possibly stronger. “Pale” meant dry, in other words.

When you look at his gravities and fermenting heats, he is making a mild ale, a XXX, IMO. Pattinson documents the type here, see especially p 29.

The recipe ferments at 34 brewers pounds per barrel, using 13 barrels of strong wort resulting from combining the first two mashes. It ends at about 10 pounds (inferred after the cleansing stage which starts at 16 pounds), which in gravity terms is OG 1095, cleanse at 1044, finish at 1027, respectively. In alcohol, that’s about 9.32% abv with a lower attenuation than pale ale, 71%. But he wants a beer – and says as much – that would equal or better the Indian average on abv. Presumably the voyage would add a bit of alcohol and take down the rich taste a bit, perhaps to a level he envisioned as ideal for the destination.

I think he was looking for a much richer taste than the lean, brett-influenced taste of long-stored and shipped IPA. The richness of English ale was probably a cherished memory for many who tasted Hodgson’s and Bass’s produce and they yearned for something different, or at least, an alternative.

This recipe would provide that, however, would it fret – re-ferment and spoil –  on the trip over? He doesn’t address that other than to require a few days working out so the beer would purge of yeast. This was to ensure a relatively stable product when loaded on the ships. But still.

No hops information is given, the boil stage is omitted, probably from space limitations. We can only guess whether a level suitable for mild ale or pale ale was used. I’d think the former given he says “not too pale” and the dislike of the “made-up” taste.

Finally, his grist is all-malted wheat. This is unusual and would not of course have been seen in England. Perhaps there wasn’t enough malting barley handy to Sydney then. Australia did later grow good malting barley, and still does. Working with an all-wheat mash would surely have entailed problems of mash drainage given wheat doesn’t have the thick husk of barley. But presumably he had a way around that. The article stresses the experience of this brewer and the recipe certainly shows that.

Who will brew the Aussie beer for India that never was? Call it 1837 Sydney India Ale.


*Due to Ron Pattinson’s suggestion (see comments) that the 16 pounds of cleansing gravity would likely fall to about 10 on racking, I’ve adjusted the text from the earlier version to reflect this. Thanks Ron.





The English Pub Then and Now

“The Quiet Pub is the Mirror of England”

Godfrey Blunden was an Australian war correspondent who was in the thick of key campaigns in WW II. In October 1943, temporarily in England, he painted a vivid portrait of the English pub. When not in the field some of his work was of this “domestic” nature, reporting on local life. As an Australian, he brings a unique perspective to England of the 1940s. His incidental comments about drinking in Australia are of interest too.

Blunden saw the importance of the pub to morale, and in fact his is one of a number of sympathetic treatments which appeared in the press in the last years of the war.

The pub was seen, in this perspective, as  something to stand for, an inherent part of English social life.

Showing the pub as a friend to the community rather than the insidious evil depicted, say, in Victorian temperance literature would remind people what they were fighting for, and help stay defeatism.

George Orwell’s famous essay on the ideal pub, The Moon Under Water, written shortly after the war ended, is another example in more literary form. Blunden’s essay combines literary flashes with the investigative tone reminiscent of the sociological studies of the English by Mass-Observation.

Sample quotes from the piece:

The life of London today is very thin beer. By that I mean to submit that British morale would long ago have collapsed without the English pub. That English pub has no connection with the rowdy beer halls of Australia, where a beer monopoly stooge throws you a drink, and tells you to get out before the police arrive. The English pub does not have [as the Australian hotel] buff-coloured tiles and miles of glittering mirrors. It is very small, very old, and very quiet. The pub I am thinking about has a bar not more than 12 feet long. Its top is a piece of polished jarrah, which has a deep red lustre as a result of many decades of polishing. Handles of beer pumps are big and white, and stick above the bar top…. Your order is half a pint of bitter, which is a darkish fluid, said to contain a percentage of alcohol. That percentage, of course, is fixed by the Government, and one can imagine the profound discussion and wide exercise of statesmanship which counsels just how little alcohol can be left in English beer without undermining British confidence. That is not intended to be funny. It is part of my submission that the principal factor which has held the British together, kept them sane during long, dreary years of blackout, has been the English pub, and that the British Government knows that very well, and is wise and judicious in its regulation.

Much has changed since then. To read the customary New Year’s eve reports of public drunkenness in the English high streets is to enter a different world. Blunden’s pub is characterized by sobriety and high prices, which as he notes were interrelated. The beer during the war was about 3.5% abv (see Ron Pattinson’s many analyses to this effect), and this encouraged restraint.

In 1943, most of the coloured bottles behind the bar (spirits) were empty.

Blunden later never returned to Australia. He married a Frenchwoman and lived in New York working for Time magazine. He issued numerous novels and made his final home in France before passing at 90 in 1996. One wonders what he thought of the Bacchanalian scenes depicted in the press over the holiday period, or of English revels on the Iberian coast, as these were already evident in his last years.

Of course, riotous behaviour and unhinged drinking are nothing new in England. Periodically the country seems to go through these bouts, one can trace it intermittently from Tudor times at least until today. Hogarth’s etching of destructive gin boozing is only one of the best known examples. Beer in the 1800s was plenty strong and Henry Mayhew, among others, noted its toll.

Lloyd George in WW I and the Depression, however, encouraged a long period of relative restraint which reached its apogee in the Second War.

What the wartime pub does show is that behaviour can be adjusted by taxation and rules on alcohol strength. Today, the typical pint is closer to 5% abv and vodka coolers and other alcohol are easily obtained.

None of this is to say the 1943 pub does not exist anywhere in Britain today. Of course it does, and not every pub permits over-drinking and rough customers. But many more do than existed in the straightened war era.

In the past when alcohol use became viewed as a public threat, various measures were introduced to rein it back. That day may come again, especially if Brexit results in an independent United Kingdom.

One thing unlikely to come again is the submissive behaviour to government and the civic order demonstrated in the article. The average Briton then accepted things as they are, mostly. However, the problems of coal supply adverted to in the piece were related to ongoing labour disturbances which became more common after the war. They were a harbinger of the extremes of politics and sociology one sees in the country today.

There was something to be said for the country being guided by the sure hand of the great and the good. We have gained a lot since the 40s, but also lost a lot.

Note re images: the images above of World War II war correspondents is drawn from this Australian military history website and profile of Godfrey Blunden. In the first image, he is depicted second from left. In the second image, he is second from right. Copyright belongs solely to the lawful owner. Images believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


“Ale and Art is the New Slogan…”

British Brewers’ Initiative Early Post-War

An innovative program ahead of its time by a few decades was Ale and Art, introduced in 1946. It was a joint effort of the Central Institute for Art and Design and four brewers in the capital.

The idea was to give work to London artists who would paint original works to brighten the brewers’ pubs.

The story, reported by the Associated Press, was reprinted in at least two Australian newspapers as there was an indirect connection to the pub where the program was launched.


The nub:

During the next 80 weeks, as he sits in his favourite pub, the Englishman will gaze at the work of over 30 artists, many of whose pictures are well known in the London art galleries. And the pictures are not just “extra-special” advertisements of public houses, quite the contrary. Although the brewers financed the scheme and made some suggestions as to subjects, the artists had a more-or-less free hand. They ranged far and wide through London and the Home Counties, painting churches and villages, hop fields and country market places, maltings and the River Thames.

The story has a concise, even tone typical of British journalism in the 1900s. Withal the style conveys a quiet authority. And the accuracy should be noted. When it was stated art did not generally festoon the English pub, an exception was made for Chelsea, then an artists’ quarter.

Augustus John was the leading artist in the group and was quoted by the journalist at the launch. John’s comment that brewers should support art because artists are some of their best customers was doubtless a bit of drollery, but rounded the story nicely.

Brave London which fought so hard against the Nazis! Grey, half-destroyed, exhausted London, still to be on rations for years. Despite these challenges, the government and brewing chiefs had the foresight and spirit to brighten the post-war pub and provide paid work to the art sector, who can usually use it.

Art and Ale would have cost relatively and was an early example of public-private cooperation.

The Cogers pub mentioned is today, as far as I can tell, the modern St. Brides Tavern, pictured above, see also here for more informationCogers was – is – the name of a storied debating society.

The term “coger” comes from cogitate, not codger. The club used to meet at this pub, apparently. I am not clear if St. Brides pub was the actual meeting place or a pub behind it called the White Hart.

Both pubs were located in a stylish Edward Luteyns block of the 1930s.

Formerly, the pubs were independent, older, structures, elements of which were retained by Luteyns. The club met in one of these but I think it was St. Brides pub, which faces Salisbury Square. The second pub mentioned is now an airy City restaurant, Luteyns.

One wonders what happened to John’s paintings done for the scheme. Perhaps some still hang in St. Brides pub. In this gallery page of the pub’s website, a number of paintings are shown adorning the walls. Some seem of the vintage required. Could they be by the famous Augustus John, or other artists part of the scheme?

John’s name is, appropriately, remembered by a pub in Hampshire, in the village where he lived, you see it pictured.

Why doesn’t a brewery or pub group create a plan like this now, does anyone think of these things? I’d guess in a time when family descendants still ran big breweries and perhaps were art lovers or who had a son in that line, it occurred to one to chat with a senior bureaucrat and make this happen.

I know that some craft breweries have encouraged artists in similar ways but it would be good to see it done on a wider scale, say all the Fuller managed pubs, or Wells Youngs’.

Note re images: The first two images were sourced from the brewery history site linked in the text. The third, at this bed and inns site. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to their lawful owner or authorized user. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.