A brief history of CAMRA.
Issue no. 52 – April 2014.
By Jane lefley.
In the beginning there were four founding fathers, all from the Manchester/Liverpool area, who went on a pub crawl one night and were so disappointed in the beer quality they decided action was required, and subsequently formed the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale. Whilst they had gained 1000 members by 1973, things really took off when ‘revitalisation’ was dropped and the term ‘real ale’ was put forward (it is said that a man called Peter Linley from Clowne came up with the name) and entered everyday language. Real ale drinkers may wish to occasionally toast the health of Michael Hardman, Graham Lees, Bill Mellor and Jim Makin, who launched CAMRA in 1971 to prevent the complete destruction of cask ales in Britain.
But what lay behind the decline in beer quality, that gave rise to CAMRA? In his book ‘The Ale Trail’ published in 1995, Roger Protz suggests a root cause occurred in the industry in the 1960s and 1970s, in particular the decline in the quality of beer at that time can be attributed to the loss of many experienced publicans during World War Two (either in military service or during bombings over here). The new generation of publicans lacked experience in keeping cask beer, and untimely deaths had prevented the knowledge being passed down in the usual way. Brewers therefore moved over to bottled, and then keg beers to overcome the issue of many landlords not knowing how to look after cask ale, with resultant poor quality.
…and then there was the Good Beer Guide. CAMRA’s flagship publication, first published in 1974 and now on its 38th edition. The 1974 edition has two versions – the original stated that Watney’s beers should be avoided ‘like the plague’ and was immediately withdrawn by the publishers, to be replaced with a more sensitive appraisal of Watney’s delights – ‘avoid at all costs’. A copy recently sold on eBay for £168. Early editions are said to contain a few quirks – a Suffolk pub on the London Underground, a pub that claimed a car park yet had to be reached via a half mile walk along a canal towpath, a non-existent pub that was apparently a complete spoof and even a county that never existed.
Another major development came in 2007 with the launch of the LocAle scheme, an idea originally developed by Steve Westby from Nottingham CAMRA to help promote locally brewed beers and deal with environmental issues. This came on the back of the closure of Hardy & Hansons brewery in 2006 which led to new owners Greene King transporting beer (which is mostly water) 115 miles from Bury St Edmunds to the pubs that they acquired in the Nottingham and North Derbyshire area. Pubs received ‘LocAle’ accreditation if they always offered at least one beer from a brewery within a predetermined number of miles (generally 20 or 25 miles).
The Chesterfield Branch of CAMRA was established at a meeting held on the 18 July 1977 at the Furnace Inn, Goytside (which became the Unicorn Tavern, now sadly closed) where there was a large turn out of 23 members. The first committee was elected with Doug Leeming as Chairman – a post which he was to hold until 1991. In fact the branch has had only 9 Chairmen to date, with Dave Holden, Roy Shorrock, Jim McIntosh, Mary Keast, Nigel Mower, Rhoda Waygood, Andy Thackeray, Jane Lefley and our present Chairman, Mick Potman completing the line-up.
In 1981 the first branch real ale guide was produced. It was small but informative, recording the 137 pubs in our area that served real ale, including our first microbrewery, Winkles Saxon Cross from Buxton. Subsequently two editions of a Derbyshire Ale Guide were produced, albeit the most recent was in 1990.
The branch has organized a number of beer festivals over the years. The first, jointly run with the Cavendish Round Table, was in November 1983 at the Goldwell rooms. It was a great success and became a two-day event in subsequent years. A total of four festivals were held at this venue, probably the best venue in town at that time, sadly now demolished. The next four events were held at the newly opened Winding Wheel Centre, which were followed by a further three at Chesterfield College Refectory, the last being in 1993. There was then a gap of six years before the branch returned to the Winding Wheel in 1999. The festival, always a sell-out, is now a regular event in the Chesterfield calendar. A second smaller festival, the Market Beer Festival in October, was first held in 2004 as part of the Chesterfield 800th Market Charter celebrations and is now an annual event. The branch is also involved in the Barrow Hill Roundhouse Rail Ale festival each May.
InnSpire newsletter was launched in May 1996 by a team led by Graeme Brown, supported by John McKaig, Roger Buck and Alan Wood. InnSpire is our key campaigning tool and has always been well supported by advertisers, primarily local pubs and others connected with the trade. In the early days articles had to be typed in at the printers and copies of photographs scanned; digital cameras, email and the internet make writing articles much easier nowadays! There have been a number of editors over the years, each has introduced improvements and expanded circulation. 15 years on and it is still essential reading, both for North Derbyshire real ale drinkers and, in recent years, for the wider world via the internet.
Today the branch is stronger and more active than ever; 870 plus members, regular social functions, beer festivals which give more people the opportunity to try real ale and participate in local campaigns e.g. to prevent local pubs closing. If you would like to be involved in CAMRA’s future successes, you are more than welcome to join us.
Illustration by Hannah Wheeler, Photography provided by CAMRA