Barclay, Perkins - a Brewery Life
Despite all my obsessing on the subject, my professional contact with brewing has been achingly brief.
Just a few weeks between school and university, back in 1975.
I'd been looking forward to a summer on the dole and was a bit miffed when the Labour Exchange
found me a job. Bastards. On the plus side, it was in a brewery and the money wasn't bad. On the
minus side, it was shift work and it brewed no cask beer.
There's a particular smell that all breweries have. A mixture of fermentation and disinfectant. As soon
as I catch a whiff, I'm transported back to James Hole's 1975. it permeated the whole brewery. Even
the kegging line, where I worked.
My work was relatively simple, but physically demanding. Put six kegs in the rack and set the washer
going. While that went through its cycle, I'd fill another six kegs and roll them over to a corner of the
bay or straight onto a lorry. By the time I'd filled the kegs, it was time to take the six others off the
washer and start the whole process again. Not exactly varied.
I'd been taken on because of increased sales due to hot weather. Not something you always get in
England. That had affected what was going into the kegs, too. More lager than usual. Most of what I
filled was lager, AK and, to a lesser extent, Mild. There was also the odd keg of IPA. It was a former
Warwick's beer and at that time was sold in just one Newark pub, The Vine. I can clearly remember
that the IPA sticker was blue - just like the bottle label had been for decades before.
We had two 15 minute "tea" breaks and half an hour for dinner. These were spent in a dank and dingy
cellar, with a couple of kegs standing in the corner. I put tea in inverted commas because no-one
drank tea during breaks. The kegs were full and you could help yourself to as much beer as you
wanted. The regular staff could easily knock back 5 pints in 15 minutes. My intake was far more
modest. Firstly, I couldn't physically drink that fast. Secondly, because I wasn't that keen on the beer.
Typical. Get a job in a brewery and it's one whose beer you dislike.
I'm sure no brewery still allows its workers to slurp down as much as they like during the working day.
We were working pretty heavy machinery and lugging weighty full kegs around. It can't have been very
safe if you were half (or three-quarters) cut. Though I have noticed that hard, manual labour soon
wears of the effect of alcohol.
I never got to see most of the brewery. The mash tuns, coppers and fermenters. All the interesting
bits. I did once go up into the malt loft. Shafts of sunlight from the tiny windows illuminated the thick
dust and the air was filled with the sweet, comforting smell of malt.
It was just as well that I'd been issued with a pair of industrial steel toe capped wellies. A couple of
times I dropped a full keg on my feet. I'd have had a full set of matching broken toes, if not for those
wellies. And there was water all over the place. I remember the floors being permanently wet
everywhere I went in the brewery. From my viewpoint, it seemed to exist exclusively of gloomy, damp
spaces. Except where we worked which, being next to the loading bay, was open to the outside on one
Though it never brewed anything decent after I started drinking, it was still nice to have Hole's in
Newark. It spread the delectable smell of mashing across the town every day. Every day until 1982,
when it was closed by Courage. And that was it. The end of Newark's brewing industry. Today the town
has no brewery of any kind. I'm glad that, in some small way, I got to participate in the trade that had
once made Newark famous. Before just its memory remained.
Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Gaslight and Daylight, by George Augustus Sala,
1859 - Chapter 6 - Phases of Public Life, 1.
Thrale - Anchor Brewery
Barclay Perkins - Anchor Brewery, Park Street, Southwark
Barclay and Perkins Brewery, Newark