Distilling the Archives: Records of the drinks industry in the UK

31 October 2023

HMS Menestheus being towed out of False Creek, Vancouver, Canada, in 1945 [James Crookall]

In October our Archivist, Hannah Dunmow, spoke at this conference, organised by the British Records Association (a charity which aims to promote the preservation, understanding, accessibility and study of our recorded heritage for the public benefit).

Speakers came from a variety of organisations, including the National Archives, the National Brewing Library, the Diageo Archive, the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick and London Metropolitan Archives.

With her talk titled “What’s drink got to do with it?”, Hannah gave a rapid romp-through of the origins of livery companies in general and the Brewers’ Company specifically, the early history of brewing and a summary of records held at Guildhall Library and Brewers’ Hall (including those relating to brewing organisations such as the London Brewers’ Association and The Brewers’ Society – now the British Beer and Pub Association), before moving on to discuss the links and relevance the Brewers’ Company has to the drinks industry in the past and today. These included the Company’s duty to continue its inherited responsibilities to the charities and charitable foundations entrusted to it and making them work in the modern world, support of industry education, and how our membership has evolved since the 1880s and is very different to other livery companies.

With a fellow speaker commenting “I didn’t realise how keyed in the current Company was to the modern trade, it’s fascinating”, the message of who we are and what we do was conveyed well.

There were many connections with other speakers. Our Upper Warden, Professor Katherine Smart was instrumental in setting up the National Brewing Library at Oxford Brookes University, and their speakers described the Library’s recent 20-year anniversary celebrations. Dr Emma West from the University of Birmingham showed British brewers as patrons of the arts – including Whitbread pub signs and some a wonderful mural of pandas from 1947 in the Lanivet Inn, a St Austell Brewery pub. The pub sign still features a panda in a bamboo grove because the local bamboo plantation supplied London Zoo! Claire Titley from London Metropolitan Archives walked the audience through some of the many miles of brewery archives held there including Courage, Truman and Whitbread. Finally, Rachel MacGregor from the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University, a repository for archives of trade unions and employers’ organisations, spoke about the records of the Brewers’ Society/BBPA. She also showed documents relating to the Carlisle Experiment – when the government nationalised pubs and breweries in the town and surrounding area during the First World War in an attempt to control drinking habits, and talked about HMS Menestheus, an amenities ship for the British Pacific Fleet which included an onboard brewery! Sadly the floating brewery went into production at the very end of the Second World War and did not last long.


Image: HMS Menestheus being towed out of False Creek, Vancouver, Canada, in 1945 [James Crookall]