Report of the Committee Appointed to Consider the Existing Conditions under which Canteens and Regimental Institutes are Conducted; Together With Minority Report and Appendices (1903)

Cellarmanship a la 1903 – and More

The military and alcohol is a vast subject. There have been hundreds and perhaps thousands of specialist, often academic, studies. They look at alcoholism rates, health and mortality, alcohol policy in peacetime or specific wars, and so on. Most of my examinations have involved the reaction of the soldiery, including when stationed in another country, to types of beer available.

The subject comes up incidentally in many other types of studies including general military histories.

As far as I know, there are few book-length studies. Brian Glover wrote a book on beer and WW II (Brewing for Victory: Brewers, Beer and Pubs in World War II). Ron Pattinson’s two books on the world wars, which study beer recipes and other aspects of wartime beer policy, should be noted as well. At least one book was written on the history of the naval rum ration.

A complementary area is drug use and the military. Norman Ohler wrote a well-received book some years ago on drugs in the German army and officialdom during the Nazi regime. He stated that alcohol is little addressed in the book simply because it deserves a separate study.

Today I will draw attention to a document of great interest as regards the British military and alcohol. It is the Report of the Committee Appointed to Consider the Existing Conditions under which Canteens and Regimental Institutes are Conducted; Together With Minority Report and Appendices.

The 400-page Report was published in 1903 in London by Eyre & Spottiswoode. It was part of an increased focus since the 1860s on soldiers’ leisure options to improve their health and fitness for duty. The Report deals with every conceivable aspect of beer consumption and supply to canteens, the detail is superb. Aldershot was often the source of witnesses, but some came from as far as Ireland.

A first stage of reform was creation of the Regimental Institutes in the prior 20 years. This was an initiative of Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, V.C. (and many other honours). He first implemented the plan in the British Indian Army where he had long served.

Under the Regimental Institutes, the liquor bar was adjoined to a coffee and meals room, recreation area, library, and a retail shop, to lessen the focus on drinking. But various problems arose in this regard too, which led to an inquiry at Pall Mall. After extensive hearings and consultations, the Report was issued. Soldiers of all ranks were examined including private and other non-commissioned ranks.

My interest for present purposes is the parts that deal with beer as such. There is considerable detail, including a chart of cellaring practice, “The Treatment of Malt Liquor”. Quite a fascinating document, I think.

Minimum gravities, deriving from garrison regulations, were stipulated in contracts to supply beer, or in tenancy contracts to manage canteens or Institutes.

Mild, bitter, porter, and stout are the main types mentioned, in ascending strength, although stronger beers were sometimes purchased. It appears that in 1903, 1045-1065 OG was the range, 1045 was for mild ale, the top end for stout.  At least one contract form is included that requires all-malt brewing, no “substitutes”, and I believe all-malt brewing in fact was required by the rules, deriving from Queen’s Regulations, that governed the tender

There is much learning imparted, say, on the proper size of head. For dry-hopping: testimony suggested it was typically .5 lb, for bitter ale, of course.

Various swindles are described, regimental stewards managing canteens would feather their nests according to some testimonies. This took a number of forms, including receiving payments (“perquisites”) from brewers supplying the canteen. Stewards had ways to make brewers compliant. Kicking a settled barrel to distribute the sediment, and then complaining of muddy beer, was an example.

Brewers are sometimes mentioned by name for particular quality. Many regiments followed a practise of designating men from the ranks to vote blind on beers proposed for tender. A witness familiar with these tasting panels named one brewer whose performance was consistently outstanding: Warwicks & Richardsons of Newark. For a timeline on this firm, see here.

Many men preferred a mix of beers: mild-and-bitter especially, with concomitant complaints that there was too much mild, not enough bitter (more expensive) in the glass! A “quart of four” was a pint each of mild and bitter mixed, so fourpence the quart, mild ale was threepence and the bitter fivepence.

Generally, prices at the bar were under public house prices but high enough to render a profit to the bar. The money was used for regimental sports, and various other social purposes.

Different supply arrangements were canvassed including the role of Lipton, Ltd. a household name today. It would lease canteens for management and subcontract the beer supply. Simonds Brewery in Reading sometimes dealt with Lipton, sometimes directly with the canteen or Institute.

Louis de Luze Simonds (1852-1916) was a particularly good witness, evidently very capable and a good steward of this venerable firm. It supplied pale ale to India early on, hence probably its military connections.

Simonds in an amusing parenthesis was confounded by the Scots regiments – almost without exception they would drink only Scotch beer! But he kept trying to sell them. A good businessman, his American upbringing may explain some of this.

The cellaring guide, to return to that, is extremely interesting. Porter and stout evidently were treated to be gassier than pale ale and mild ale – no venting. To favour a good head, surely. Bitter ale practice is pretty clear, too.

The kept in and out headings are somewhat unclear though, to me. And the mild ale part seems singular, compared to bitter, that is. Perhaps CAMRA or other cellar specialists reading can enlighten?

The Report’s recommendations for improvement were implemented but finally, after WW I, a new system was put in place – the NAAFI.

Anyway, peruse at your leisure, quite a lot there. I will return soon to Lord Roberts, a compelling figure on numerous accounts.

Note re images: the source of the first image above is the Report linked in the text, via HathiTrust. The second image was sourced from the website of the Brewery History Society, here, and is copyright The Stilltime Collection – www.stilltimecollection.co.uk. All intellectual property respectively therein belong solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.