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General or Historical Articles

Alec James

FiftyYears8 1Early 1998 Heather and myself had a few days in York. Commenting on the quality of the Roosters beer in the Maltings (Photo right) the barman said “it better be O.K. as Sean Franklin from Roosters is sitting over there”. Seemed he used to occasionally try a few pubs who stocked his beer. After the usual head banging at the Dover Winter Ales Festival we ventured up north again.

Staying with Alan & June in Leyland we all met up in the buffet bar on Stalybridge station (Photo, below left) . We always had a drink in the pub outside as it had the shortest pub name in the country, Q inn.

Don’s other half Bernie arrived and suggested we went to the pub with the longest name, a couple of miles away. Four of us jammed in her car and off we went. Both of these pubs are mentioned on CAMRA's “What Pub” website. Here goes, the correct title of the pub is Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn.

FiftyYears8 2Summer saw a great music & beer festival at Southwick. Now the beer was fine but the music was a cross between folk and punk! Still a great week-end. The local Medway CAMRA mob managed a day in Derby and Bath also saw our presence. Sadly I think most of us are now too old for those mad days out.

The Hop Farm in Beltring held a really good beer festival run by the local CAMRA branch, sadly it only lasted for a couple of years. Both the Barge and the Dog & Bone in Gillingham continued with their beer festivals.

We had a wonderful couple of weeks up north again in October. This included a meeting with Aubrey Matthews in Sheffield. He'd heard about the strongest beer being brewed in the Frog & Parrot and being a strong ale fan we took him in. The barman was astonished to watch a blind man down three halves of Roger & Out at 16% with no apparent effect.

We made sure he got a bus back to Tickhill all right. Thankfully the beer at the Nottingham Beer Festival was a little bit more sedate in strength! I seemed to be spending a lot of my time in Nottingham that year but sadly, a couple of family funerals there helped me along.

FiftyYears8 3January 1999 saw a great little beer festival in the Head of Steam, outside Euston station, with loads of Irish micro brewers beers on, all right if you like a bit of the black stuff! In March Ted Whitaker, Heather and myself had a long week-end on the Isle of Man (See photo right of horse tram outside the Terminus Tavern at Douglas). We stayed in Wigan on the way there and surprise, surprise we went to the beer festival there. Great fun until the band struck up, so loud many people walked out.

Fortunately the Orwell on Wigan Pier had loads of ale on, catering for the masses who couldn't put up with the racket in the festival. Must go back to the island as the beer was lovely. May came and the super Gills were in the play-offs, first leg in Preston. Loads of beer in the Black Bull and a 1-1 draw to boot.

After the game Preston were selling their tickets for the Gills tie. As we didn't have tickets we bought them there and stood with the Preston fans as the mighty Gills went through, courtesy of a 1-0 victory, roll on Wembley and Man City. Sadly we all remember what happened there!

By this time the Tap & Tin micro brewery and pub in Chatham had opened. Great idea but Chatham never appreciated it and now it just caters for the younger set and the brewery is no more. September and Heather and myself stayed in possibly the worst guest house ever.

When we got to Chester we called in during the early afternoon. No answer and no sign of life. We tried phoning the Tourist Information Office but still no luck.

FiftyYears8 4We then went to the Office itself and sat there until they got an answer. No apology, nothing. The room was filthy and we had a blazing row when we left. We found out later the place shut immediately after we departed.

We found the Mill Hotel (Photo: left) in town and later stayed there, good food, beer and the rooms were spotless. Late October saw Sue, Colin Maskell, Heather and myself have a week-end in Devon. Poor Sue was then coerced into driving us to Newton Abbot Beer Festival. The deal included trips round Exmoor and Cotleigh breweries, heaven knows how much we drunk! Sadly coming home we got stuck in gridlock on the M25/A2 roundabout, it took over an hour to get through it.

Just before Christmas Kimberly Clark announced the closure of the Larkfield site. Thankfully I still had a good year to try and sort something out. One of the saddest things to witness is working in a place where no one cares at all. One by one people left as soon as they found another job. I just plodded along waiting for something to turn up.

FiftyYears8 5So the year 2000 turned into a right bore and apart from the usual forays to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield most of my drinking was done locally. There were some fine beer festivals at Dartford Central Park and the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway. Heather decided we should go to Devon on holiday and rented a cottage in the middle of nowhere. I soon located a few nearby watering holes, albeit a car drive away.

We visited a couple of brew pubs but I will never forget the Country Life brew-pub. We met a 4 x 4 towing a loaded horse box, and had to reverse miles before he could get past, thankfully the beer was worth it.

Sadly Kent Garden Brewery at Oare, near Faversham closed after a short period, but Ales of Kent started brewing in Chatham before moving to Boxley. Later that year the Tap & Tin in Chatham also gave up the ghost.

FiftyYears8 6It was becoming harder to find my favourite beer, Ind Coope Burton Ale, so it was always a pleasure to go to the Imperial in Canterbury where Peter kept it until the brewery made it impractical for him to stock it any longer.

Harvey’s beers have always been one of my favourite tipples, I even named our last dog Harvey, so when I got an invite to the brewery on my birthday it seemed like heaven.

Oh dear, the river had burst its bank and the brewery was submerged. We went to the brewery some months later and Miles Jenner showed us some of the damage. His cottage next to the brewery was still drying out. Some workers were rescued by lifeboat but Miles made sure the brewery cat got safely away!

Part 8 of 12