BeerVisits - UK - Europe - USA/Canada - World

General or Historical Articles

Alec James

FiftyYears2 1Having fallen out with said BR management I departed and started on a procession of menial jobs. Spring 1969 saw me working in a wine & spirit merchants in Chatham. Oh dear, now I'm really getting interested in all things alcoholic, from unloading barrels of sherry to learning about beers and spirits. I loved it, I could go home for lunch and share a bottle of plonk with my grandmother and have my beans on toast!

FiftyYears2 2This led me to a really strange encounter with some drinkers. Next door to the shop was a Chinese restaurant. One day two of us took a sack barrow full of booze to the front door. Big lesson, never leave booze alone for one minute. One second booze intact, next bottles missing! Looking along the High Street, two rather drunk looking men were staggering along guzzling our booze!

Hot foot back to the yard, jump in the firm’s van and give chase. Being very brave we agreed the best plan of action was to carry on to Rochester Nick. Situation explained, PC Plod drives after them and arrests the culprits who by this time could hardly stand yet alone resist arrest. They had consumed quite an amount of our drinks, champagne, whisky, you name it. I laughed when they appeared in court charged with being drunk and disorderly and fined a few quid. They certainly got a good deal that day!

FiftyYears2 3The other interesting event was when the landlord of the Toastmasters in Burham, Sid Ward, phoned with an order for some exclusive brandy. Stopping in that part of the High Street could get you in all sorts of trouble. Sid in his pink Jag just pulled up and yours truly put the bottles on the passenger seat. £13 a week I was on and he always gave me a ten bob note, and I got a free drink when I went in his pub!

FiftyYears2 4My cousin Jean came over from Australia that summer and a friend Alan Simpson took us all to the Robin Hood on Blue Bell Hill. Jean reckoned if she could drive a car in the outback this was a piece of cake. Bad move, I'm sure she hit every one of those white stones on Common Road. She wasn't allowed to drive back!

With the big day looming and no money I had a succession of jobs trying to put a few bob aside. With little money we had a few days in Hucknall after the wedding. In those days Nottinghamshire miners thought women should be in the kitchen on Sunday lunch times. The newly-weds followed Uncle Albert into the Seven Stars; shock horror it went silent, a female in the pub!

FiftyYears2 5Worse was to follow as Heather partnered Albert in a game of dominoes. Thankfully they lost, and we lived to tell the tale! Recently on a visit to Hucknall I noticed the “Stars” was boarded up and looked a right mess. After the big day in October 1970 we moved into a flat in King Street, Gillingham.

Although I don't think the beer quality had improved, there were some excellent pubs close by. Sheps beers were quite acceptable in the Monarch, United Services and the Burnt Oak. I liked the Rose in Victoria Street for its Charrington Crown bitter. Although we only lived in Gillingham for a year or so, I found some very interesting pubs.

FiftyYears2 6I liked the Globe & Laurel as they served beer in what was more like their front room than a pub. Recently the owners removed the front boardings and revealed the original Rigden’s signs. Another pub I liked was the Mulberry Tree on the Lower Road. They sold only beer as they had no spirit licence.

The best little pub crawl was down by the Gillingham Dockyard gate. You visited the Bridge House, Prince of Guinea, Jolly Sailor and the Exmouth Arms, finishing off at the Prince of Wales in Mill Road. Sadly all are now lost to the drinker.

FiftyYears2 7I vaguely remember a club, the G & M, although I can’t remember what the initials stood for. Pete Lodge of the Will Adams tells me it was on the corner of Copenhagen Road and Canterbury Street.

There was an off licence-cum-grocery store in Victoria Street that sold Sheps straight from the barrel for the take home trade. August Bank Holiday in 1971, Heather and myself caught a bus to Maidstone and then walked to the Ringlestone Inn at Ringlestone, had a quick pint and then walked to the A20 and just about caught the last bus home. Of course we never saw any women with shotguns but I've still got the beermat from there. (see right).

FiftyYears2 8By 1972 we had moved to Strood, more grotty jobs and pubs to match. Nearest pub was the Bounty (more mutiny than ambience), but a better bet was the Three Crutches across the field. Very posh at the time and it had a hand pump. About this time I worked at Bourne & Hilliers Dairy at Star Hill. Now I came across Courage Bitter on hand pump in the Red Lion and Ind Coope bitter in the Horse & Groom and the Star. I was well on the way to becoming a beer snob!

For some reason a friend suggested I go for a job with him. They cut up paper for chip shops, sadly I only lasted four days and the site was the old Dampiers brewery on Frindsbury Hill and I never got the chance to have a good rake round for old artefacts. In 1973 I worked at the old RHM flour mill in Chatham by Sun Pier.

FiftyYears2 9Lunch times saw me having a swift half in some nearby pubs. King’s Arms (awful), Bull’s Head (even worse) but just a short walk away was the Dover Castle, in Globe Lane, a lovely old tiled Whitbread house that had a hand pump. I presume now the Bitter would have been Trophy C, later to become the re-vamped Fremlins Bitter. I now realised what had been missing in many pubs. This pub was demolished for the fly-over, now both have disappeared!

In 1974 I got a job at Kimberly Clark at Larkfield. What with the miners’ strikes and the three day weeks this looked a much better bet. There I started to meet like-minded drinkers and Jim Podd certainly knew his way round a pub bar or two. His local haunt was the Bricklayers in New Hythe Lane with Courage on hand pump. There was still little else in the area until I started to look round.

I went into many a dump and drank some awful beer but started to find other better outlets. The first was the Bull near New Hythe station with Trophy on the pump. Next was a visit to Canterbury Beer Festival in 1975 and I returned to tell all and sundry that real ale was alive and kicking.

Part 2 of 12