Sunday, 17 January 2016

The past is a foreign country

In May 1988, I went on a CAMRA-organised march to protest against the closure of Oldham Brewery by Boddingtons, who had taken it over in 1982. This moment was captured forever in the picture above, which appears in the 1989 Good Beer Guide. The gormless speccy twat second from the right is me, looking considerably more fresh-faced than now. The gnome-like fellow in the foreground is the late stalwart of North Manchester CAMRA Pete Cash.

I remember it being a fairly balmy Spring day in Manchester, but once the ancient diesel unit had climbed the five hundred feet to Oldham it was bitterly cold with intermittent snow showers. We eventually managed to find some of the remaining stocks of OB ales in a couple of pubs. To be honest, nobody imagined that the march would change Boddingtons’ mind – it was more a question of bearing witness to the cause and marking the passing of the brewery.

Veteran pub-crawler Alan Winfield, who has contributed many photos and pub descriptions to Pubs Galore, has recently started his own blog The Never Ending Pub Crawl to record his various expeditions over the years. In February 1987 he undertook a pub crawl of Oldham to experience Oldham Brewery pubs before being “Boddingtonised”. He covered 13 pubs in one lunchtime, accompanied by his long-suffering wife, to whom he is apparently still happily married. Why have I never found a woman like that?

These pubs were mostly basic inner-urban boozers, but most served real ale and had their own distinctive character. Today, most are probably closed, and those that remain are unlikely to have cask beer. I remember doing crawls like that in the 1980s in places such as Eccles and Stourbridge, but you couldn’t do it now. I don’t think I ever went to 13 pubs in one lunchtime, though. When you consider that kind of pub devastation, which is paralleled in many other areas, all these claims that “it has never been a better time to be a beer drinker in Britain” ring very hollow.

Ironically, after the takeover, Boddingtons gave the OB pubs a much more stylish livery. But the brewery’s identity didn’t last, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that over half of the OB pubs in existence in 1987 have since closed. They had a very tight-knit estate, with few pubs more than five miles from the brewery in the town centre.


  1. Most people under 40 probably haven't a clue what Cask beer/Real ale is, much like Shove Ha'penny,Cribbage,skittles.

    Pubs have had their day, its now Wetherspoons lookalikes that are poor mans restuarants that serve beer as an extra.

    If the public were given a referendum to choose to replace half the pubs in the country with a local CO-OP store they wouldn't hesitate...Pubs mean next to nothing to almost everyone I know.



  2. “I remember it being a fairly balmy spring day in Manchester, but once the ancient diesel unit had climbed the five hundred feet to Oldham it was bitterly cold with intermittent snow showers.”

    As I commented on Tandleman’s blog, “I also travelled to Oldham by train once, with my then girlfriend. I don’t think either of us particularly enjoyed the experience!” And the least said the better about those slow, noisy and decrepit old DMU’s which British Rail used over much of the North-West region during the 1980’s.

    Sums up all there is to say about Oldham, really; damp and foggy, with a bitterly cold north-easterly wind which cut right through you. It certainly wasn’t worth making the journey there to sample Oldham Ales, as many of the brewery’s hundred or so tied outlets only served tank or keg beer. The bitter was pleasant enough, if you could find it in cask form, and from memory it was quite similar to Boddingtons (when Boddies was worth drinking).

    That picture of you is probably not dissimilar to how I looked in the late 1980’s; although I had cut my hair shorter by then. The photo reminds me of the time I joined a CAMRA protest outside the gates of Whitbread’s Chiswell Street HQ. We were there to object to the closure of Wethered’s of Marlow but, as with your march through Oldham, it was a bit of a forlorn hope that the company would change its mind and keep the brewery open!

    The best part was the “wake” held afterwards at the Artillery Arms; a nearby Fuller’s pub. Happy days!

  3. Umm, I didn't have long hair, I'm wearing a hood.

  4. Oh, yes. Looks like I should have gone to SpecSavers!

  5. Thanks for taking a look at my new blog.
    Yes i am still married and have been for 29 years,we have two grown up children who have left home and two grand children,and i am only 53 the wife is younger than me by a few years.
    I am going down to Bristol next Saturday for a pub crawl, a Christmas present from my wife.
    Have you had a look at my latest pub crawl of Eccles in 1987.

    Many thanks for highlighting my blog and adding it to your blog tracker.

  6. Fun times with the beard club eh?

  7. Ive never had a beard and never will and i have also never been a member of Camra.
    I do any pub that i see that i have not been in.

  8. Alan - I like that you go in all the pubs and not just the CAMRA favourites (like I do to be fair). Bristol will be interesting.

    @Paul For the record, there's a bit more to say about Oldham than it's damp and foggy, even if that's true !. Great countryside, good modern museum & a variety of pubs for a start.

  9. Does anyone out there know who founded Oldham Brewery in 1868? I think it was my grandfather and his brother (John and Fred Wright). I would love to know if this is right and how I could research it further - there isn't much on Wikipedia. Any tips gratefully received.


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