By Wayne Kett
As somebody who enjoys a drink or three I was very excited when I discovered that part of our social history collection here at the superstores was a selection of items representing the brewing industry and Public Houses of Norwich.
It used to be said that Norwich had a Church for every week of the year and a pub for every day of the year!! At this time Norwich had the highest number of pubs per square mile anywhere in the country. Sadly many of these pubs have since closed, but Norwich still enjoys a wealth of pubs.
The trend of pub closures in Norwich follows a nationwide pattern over many decades and can be explained by a variety of reasons such as, increasing awareness of health issues, development of new technologies (television, computers etc) and interests that compete with people’s attention as well successive governments seeming desire to tax pubs out of existence!
I would just like to very quickly outline the history of brewing in Norwich, commencing in the 1830s. Though of course people have been drinking ale since the Bronze Age and pubs or taverns have been a feature of our society since the Roman conquest.
In the 1830’s there were 27 competing breweries in Norwich. Through a combination of closures and mergers this had been whittled down to 4 main breweries by the 1920’s. These were Bullards, Steward & Patteson, Young, Crayshaw & Youngs and Morgans. These then merged into two, both of which were bought out by Watney Mann in the 1960’s. Watney Mann was then bought by Grand Metropolitan in the 1970’s and finally in 1997 Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness to form Diagio. Diagio is responsible for global brands such as Guinness and Carlsberg and generates revenue of £14.5 billion per annum!
Whilst the days of local, large scale breweries has gone, what survives is a healthy group of small, local micro-breweries that offer fans of ales, stouts and porters a rich variety of choice. A great example of this is the Chalk Hill Brewery which runs the Coach & Horses on Thorpe Road (I recommend a pint of CHB, very tasty and less than £3 a pint) or the Fat Cat brewing company which now operates three pubs in the city.
One of the major breweries in Norwich was Bullards, whose business was in the Coslany area of Norwich. We are lucky to have a multitude of objects in our collection that were saved when this brewery closed down.
Bullards started life in 1837 opened by Richard Bullard in partnership with James Watts. Though there were numerous local breweries at this time, Bullard was a great businessman; his beer proved the most popular and he was able to quickly grow his business.
After his death one of his ten children, Harry took over the running of the business, he also pursued a career in politics, becoming mayor in 1878 & again in 1886.
There was a great flood in Norwich in 1878 and many parts of the city; especially the area around Bullards brewery was badly affected. As mayor Harry Bullard was praised for his efforts to co-ordinate the rescue of people trapped inside buildings as well as organising the distribution of bread, tea and coffee to those in need.
By the 1960s Bullards owned over 1000 public houses. But in 1963 Bullards was sold at the same time as the Steward & Patteson brewery to Watney Mann. Later the brewery was demolished, regretfully its iconic tower was also pulled down.
Our collection contains many of the paraphernalia and tools of the trade that were used at the Bullards brewery site, examples include thermometers, scales, hammers, mallets, barrels, jars, glasses etc.
Below is a stoneware beer jar, stamped R. Bullard, wine and spirit merchant, Norwich. Presumably this relates to the Richard Bullard previously mentioned who originally started the brewery. Bullards was first opened in 1837 and Richard died in 1864 so this jar is very old and relates to this period.
We also have a fabulous collection of pub signs including these:
This one was for the Shoemaker pub, based on Hutchinson Road, West Earlham and was painted in 1959. Sadly this pub has been closed and the actual building was demolished in the summer of 2012. One side of the sign has been pierced by air gun pellets, the story of how this came to pass has I imagine been lost to history, but I would love to know why and how this happened. The pubs name is presumably a reference to Norwich’s shoe making heritage.
This sign if for the Golden Star on Colegate, Norwich, this pub is actually still open and well worth a visit!
Finally this one is in best condition of the three and is for the Cock Inn, Botesdale which is actually just over the border in Suffolk, sadly it too is closed.
We also have plenty of paraphernalia from the interiors of pubs such as posters, signs, glasses and ashtrays.
I have noticed that some pubs in the city still bear traces of Bullards brewery even 50 years after its demise. I spotted a Bullards inscribed mirror in the Cottage on Silver Street and another in the Duke of Wellington on Waterloo Road. The Cottage was previously a Bullards pub, but the Duke of Wellington from what I can find out wasn’t.
The history of public houses and brewing in Norwich is important for understanding the social and cultural development of our fine city and telling the story of its past. Any society needs neutral spaces like pubs for neighbours to meet and socialise, these are the things which bind communities together. For these reasons I believe it is a hugely important collection for us to hold.
I recommend a visit to our fantastic Bridewell museum in Norwich which contains a display related to Norwich’s brewing history.
Some of the information I have gathered for this blog comes from this fantastic website http://www.norfolkpubs.co.uk if you wish to find further information on Norfolk pubs both past and present its probably the best place to start.