In 1976, the slim booklet seen above made its appearance. Its author, Fred Pearce, who appears on the cover, described it as ‘a guide for those adventurous citizens looking for variety in their drinking habits’, and he did not pull any punches. If he thought a pub was great he said so, and if he thought a pub was rubbish he said so too, presumably on the basis that he wouldn’t be making a return trip to discover the landlord’s reaction to his comments.
Forty years on, it makes entertaining reading. He rated pubs on a star system – 4 stars for a great pub, 1 star for a rubbish one. Among those awarded a single star were the Kings Arms in Monmouth Place, memorable solely for ‘that peculiar pub aroma of loo disinfectant’.
Other 1star pubs included the Oliver in Green Street – a ‘particularly nasty Berni lounge’; the Roundhouse in Stall Street (now Pret a Manger), another ‘nasty pub’ with a ‘small selection of expensive lunchtime food served in cardboard plates’; and the Chequers on Rivers Street, guilty of ‘ridiculously inflated beer prices’. And what were these inflated prices, you might ask? Ushers Best at 27p, Watneys Pale at 25p and Worthington E at 30p – ‘for no apparent reason other than profiteering’ according to Fred.
Although these prices may seem extraordinary today, what is more remarkable is how little choice there was. Fred Pearce was a wholehearted supporter of the fledgling real ale movement, and his booklet was largely aimed at discerning real ale drinkers. So what did they have to choose from?
Of 44 Watneys’ pubs surveyed, only 15 served real ale, mostly Ushers Pale, although a few also served ‘the locally popular Worthington E’. Of the 78 Courage’s pub surveyed – almost half the total – only 37 served real ale, mostly Courage Ordinary, as well as Courage Best and Worthington E. Seven pubs were owned by Wadworths, while Whitbread, Bass Charrington and Allied Breweries each owned a handful of pubs between them. There were also 18 free houses, plus ‘a rare example of Devenish beer (brewed in Weymouth) served on a handpump at the Coeur de Lion’ and Eldridge Pope’s ‘new and excellent Royal Oak’ available at the brewery’s only Bath pub, the Huntsman. One of the highlights of the real ale scene in the city was ‘the availability of the highly regarded Marston’s Pedigree Bitter all the way from Burton on Trent’ at ‘two central Bath outlets’.
Many drinkers, myself included, will remember what drinking in the 1970s was like, but it still comes as something of a shock to be reminded just how little choice there was. One of Fred Pearce’s favourite Bath pubs was Broadley’s in the Sawclose (now Gascoyne Place), which he described as ‘a real ale drinker’s paradise. And what was on offer? ‘Marston’s Pedigree Bitter from the wood at 23p a pint, Mitchells & Butlers and E on handpump, plus Brew XI, Tartan, Trophy, Tankard and bottled White Shield’.
Another 4-star pub was the Coeur de Lion, on the strength of its Devenish Bitter and IPA. The Huntsman also scored 4 points, largely because of its premium bitter, Royal Oak, which Fred described as ‘a very strong pint served direct from the barrel (28p in the public, 30p in the other bars)’. ‘Very strong’ actually equated to 5%, and in 1976 it was very much the exception; today, the chances are that you will find produce at least one beer stronger than 5% – sometimes much stronger – in all of the city’s top real or craft ale pubs.
There was also a new pub on St James Parade in 1976 – long since closed – called the Heath Robinson. This, according to Fred, was a ‘brand new real ale bar set up to take advantage of the boom’. Presumably at the cutting edge of the real ale scene, it served Wadworth’s 6X, Worthington E and South Wales Club Best Bitter, all at 26p, and Wadworth’s Old Timer (which weighed in at a hefty 5.8%) in winter at 30p.
Fred’s other top recommendations included the Old Green Tree (Ushers Pale and Worthington E on draught), the Midland (now the Bath Brew House) with ‘well-kept Courage Best and Ordinary on handpump’. Well-kept Courage Best and Ordinary could also be found in the Volunteer Rifleman’s Arms, the Saracen’s Head, and the late-lamented Hat & Feather (which Fred awarded 4 stars despite describing it as ‘tatty’ and filled with ‘nasty long-haired hippies’!). He was also keen on the Star, and his description of it is worth quoting in full:
When the lights are off inside you’d be forgiven for passing the Star by thinking it long abandoned. But thankfully it lives on. Entirely panelled in wood the 3 small old bars (including one called the Glass Room) have a unique atmosphere. Real Bass and E are served direct from the barrel – the array of six handpumps that occupy the entire length of the main bar are disused. There’s no music or games but beer for CAMRA men to rave over, a thigh-high communal trough in the men’s loo, old Punch-type cartoons in the Glass Room and some photos of the pub’s exterior in the heady days of 1917 and a ‘Guinness Time’ clock in the main bar. A star pub indeed.
Although the handpumps at the Star have long been reinstated, the tradition of serving Bass straight from the barrel was kept up until a few weeks ago. It has now sadly been discontinued due to a decision by InBev (who now brew Bass) to stop supplying it in kilderkins but instead to use 10 gallon barrels, which are incompatible with the Star’s racking system (see previous post). Elsewhere the availability of Marston’s Pedigree served from the wood is but a distant memory. But, while the range of beers on offer in many of Bath’s pubs is as predictable as it was 40 years ago – even though the brews may be different from those back then – in the city’s top real ale and craft beer pubs, the choice – and the rapidity with which guest beers succeed each other – is one that would have seemed unimaginable in 1976. Whether Fred would have approved or not is another matter.