Tony Skinner writing in the Lancaster Guardian in August 1977 found it quite remarkable for an area of its size, that Lancaster should have two local independent breweries”, Yates & Jackson and Mitchells. Well, Camra thought so too, which is why we have a local branch here. A system of Brewery Liaison Officers reporting to Camra HQ on each brewery was set up in 1976. It is a way of recording the health of the industry, the history of each company and focussing campaigns where there is a danger of takeover or closure.
In the early days of Camra, brewery visits were an essential part of getting to know the company, the people that work in them and the products they were producing and promoting. This side of the campaign continues and over the years the relationships are developed and matured. Respect and trust should be reflected on both sides. Lunesdale Branch lost no time in visiting both breweries in the early ‘70s and it was Roger Barker who took us round Mitchells at their Central Brewery on Church Street. The Brewery looked a fairly functional 1950s five storey concrete clad rebuild from a three storey former building on the same site, but it was neat and tidy with a splendid 1950s six-roller Porteous Malt Mill, two mash tuns and two fermentation rooms holding several small copper lined rectangular vessels. Underneath was the racking area and conditioning cellar full of wooden casks. A cask washing shed and filtering and carbonation site for the small amount of keg beer produced completed this small site at the back of the New Inn which acted as the brewery tap. On our first visit we were treated to one free pint.
Mitchells presence in the community had always had a higher profile than Yates & Jackson whose advertising was virtually non-existent [a few beer mats and some black and white glass roundels with their initials on was all the advertising we saw].Mitchells advertised on the busses pre 1974 with “Mitchells Bitter” and “After a busy day Mitchells Stout” on banner advertising on the upper sides of the double-deckers. They also supported pictorial signs of a very high quality using Frank Perkins’ Lancaster Fine Arts Studio and these designs can still be seen at the Ring ’O Bells, and the Three Mariners,for instance, but sadly, the Rose Tavern has faded into memory. But what of the beers? In the 1970s and 1980s there was a light Bitter at 3.5%ABV, a soft malty, quite sweet Mild at 3.3%ABV and ESB at a decent 5%ABV. All these were also bottled and later, briefly, canned. Experimentation with a wider portfolio didn’t appear till after the move to Brewery Lane in 1985 when Yates & Jackson retired from brewing and Brain Moss joined the Company as Head Brewer in 1991 from Vaux and before that Matthew Brown and Greene King. The closure of Central Brewery and the move from Church Street to Brewery Lane enable Keith Greenhalgh and myself to sample the last bitter brew from the old brewery, which used towns water, to its new site with the spring water brewed at Brewery Lane. There was very little difference – perhaps a perception of a dryer less fruity palate. Brian Moss was very a “can do” brewer with an enthusiasm for his craft that was expressed with a bottled “Lancaster Charter 800” brew at 8.0%ABVand a single malt pale ale 7.2% that was deceptively drinkable. This was crowned with his very successful “Lancaster Bomber”at 4.4%ABV to celebrate D-Day. Mitchells were quite happy with Pipkin as their usual malt, but Brian wanted expensive Maris Otter and, along with extra metal casks, this beer took off with a flourish and has been flying ever since [although not to quite the same specifications from when it was first launched.] Mitchells could see that with a broader portfolio of beers, the continuing interest in real ale and the burgeoning expansion of microbrewers, the free trade was beckoning but a brief liaison with Tavern Wholesale, part of the Greenalls Company, did not bear fruit as many depots and wagons did not have chilled storage and quality problems arose on presentation. Cask return was also a problem. A brief holiday I had in Gloucestershire confirmed this disappointing expansion. After Brian’s early death at 52 to cancer in 1996, Alan Cox, briefly, and Ian Kendal, both brewers from Boddingtons continued the pattern of themed and seasonal brews. It was not enough to convince the board and brewing ceased in August 1999.
Since then, Mitchells have supported their houses with a range of guest beers, initially only Tetleys and Boddingtons, but later with a wider portfolio of beers we could never have hoped for back in 1999. With the purchase of York Brewery, to provide a house range and a changing list from micro-brewers, Lunesdale Camra is certainly spoilt for choice. The pubs are still with us thank goodness, and the engaging company of licensees. Before the current legislation, any changes in pub tenancies and managers were dealt with in monthly Transfer Sessions with a list of prospective licensees pinned up next to the door of Court 4 in Lancaster’s Magistrates Court. Any member of the public could attend these as spectators only unless one wished to comment in which case one had to alert the Clerk to the Court that you wished to speak. There was always a police presence in case any licensee had a history of “previous” which one had to admit to before proceedings began. Keith Greenhalgh and I would sometimes sit in on these proceedings if allowed time off from work. The other source of information was from a long time serving licensee at the Ring ‘O Bells and sometime Chairman of the local LVA, Arthur Wild. He was a fund of information and many a tale and a happy pint was enjoyed at the “Ring”, before we pottered off to which ever new incumbent had swapped the day job for this worthy profession. In this way we were able to keep up to date with licensee changes. Mitchells had several faithful long serving licensees. Fred Jackson at the Golden Ball at Snatchems was one who tested the Camra branch in its early days.”You know all about beer do you”, he said to a group of us one Saturday.“Go and look out of the window for a while”. “Right”, he said, “Come back and taste these. Which is the better pint?” We tasted and indicated which one we preferred. “Well”, he said” they are both the same beer, but one has been pulled without the sparkler”. We had a lot to learn about beer. One or two of Mitchells pubs would serve beer straight from the cask, on request and the Bridge at Wennington would certainly do this as the cellar was only a couple of steps down from the bar. The beer arrived in a large white enamelled jug. Handpumps have long replaced this service.
In a rural community, we are very lucky the Mitchells recognise the social necessity of the pub and we should do our best to support them. We have some truly lovely gems, but it’s hard to make a living from these small houses so some licensees do have other forms of income to supplement them. So Happy Birthday Mitchells – North Lancashire is lucky to have you!