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General or Historical Articles

Alec James

FiftyYears4 1LFiftyYears4 1RIn the early 1980's Shep’s Ale Trails were great fun. They consisted of Inn Sign cards like the old Whitbread cards, and stickers. Of course this led to mass swapping and everyone was very happy. A couple of pubs even held swap nights, the landlord made a few extra quid and the punters got cards from a pub they could not get to. I managed three years getting the full sets without going to far flung pubs.

The same idea would not get off the ground now, what with anti-drink campaigns and the Shepherd Neame pub estate has grown vast. The real sad thing is the demise of many of the old Sheps houses we visited. No more Bridgewood Cottage (Bluebell Hill), Anchor at Ospringe, Ye Olde Century at Selling and our own Victoria at Cliffe. I also visited the Unicorn at Bekesbourne recently. A free house it was struggling at the time and closed shortly after.

FiftyYears4 2By the mid 1980's a number of micro-breweries started up, yet many fell by the wayside. Canterbury Brewery ceased in 1983 and Sevenoaks Brewery stopped brewing in 1986. We did see the start of two well established breweries, namely Phil Goacher with Goacher’s Brewery of Maidstone in 1983 and Bob Dockerty at Larkins of Chiddingstone in 1986, thankfully both are still with us. Others came and went, Royal Tunbridge Wells Brewery existed from 1982 to 1983, Ashford Brewery from 1983 to 1985 and Kentish Ales of Rustall, near Tunbridge Wells, brewed from 1984 to 1986.

FiftyYears4 3And there were more, Hilton Brewery in the Pier Hotel, Gravesend from 1981 to 1985 and its sister brewery at the South Eastern Hotel at Strood came in 1983 and went in 1988. In late 1988 I certainly drank a beer called Thameside in the Pier Hotel in Gravesend although I think it was brewed in Strood. Martin Ales from the village of the same name, near Dover, was also around then but only brewed sporadically and finally ceased in 1990.

It was great fun searching these beers out. As there were few genuine free houses then, it was those we knew that stocked these beers. We were lucky in Medway that we had the “Under the Clock” tea rooms. Somebody recently remarked that this was possibly the first micropub! In the cellar was a real ale bar serving Goachers and Theakston’s Old Peculier.

FiftyYears4 4Next came the Rochester Real Ale bar that had five or six beers on gravity, sadly it was short lived and is now the Jolly Knight. Then towards the end of the 1980's Chris Fry opened the Who'd A Thought It in Rochester. At last someone who not only knew how to keep good beer but managed to get beers from all over the country.

In 1988 Jim Podd came to work on a Monday and said with horror that he had paid over £1 for Harveys Best in the Fox & Hounds at Borough Green! At some point in late 1988 all day opening finally arrived. I tried afternoon drinking in Faversham but only a handful of pubs had taken up the offer.

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