As the Steel City’s 40th Beer Festival now becomes another happy memory, John Dowd, founder member and former branch chairman, looks back at the first festival in 1975…..
I well remember our branch chairman, Tim Parkin, ringing me up sometime in early 1975 and asking if I would like to organise a beer festival in Sheffield. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think, except that back in those early days of the Sheffield branch none of us had any experience in putting on such an event, although some of us had attended the CAMRA AGM in Nottingham that year where the organisers had put on a small Beer Exhibition. But apart from that we were definitely in our ‘green and salad days’ when it came to beer festivals and the hope was that our enthusiasm would make up for what we lacked in experience. Remember, also, that very few of the CAMRA branches in existence in 1975 had mounted a beer festival – Cambridge was one exception – so CAMRA HQ was not able to offer much advice.
However, a small organising committee of John Beardshaw, Tony Scholes and myself was formed and, as the pints flowed during our deliberations, we began slowly to form a plan of action. In the first couple of years of its formation the branch had adopted the Brown Cow on the Wicker as an unofficial HQ and the landlord Harold Godson gave us much useful advice. We were fortunate in receiving help from other quarters as well.
The tricky problem of finding a suitable venue was solved when we were granted the use of Tapton Hall, one of Sheffield University’s halls of residence. The premises seemed ideal as it was big enough to accommodate the barrels, serving tables, etc., was surrounded by extensive grounds and on the Crookes bus route. I seem to remember that there were some trees close to the pavement that came in handy for stringing up a few improvised banners and posters that Pete Henshaw produced for us.
The Tapton venue meant that it would be a one-day festival but we did get a licence that allowed us to serve throughout the afternoon – something of a novelty back then – and we also put some basic food on. We even had the Al Rogers Jazz Band playing in the evening!
Not having any previous experience to rely on, we had little idea of how much beer to order but, according to the archives, we ended up ordering 32 kilderkins of beer, including Milds from Yorkshire Clubs, Robinson and S.H.Ward. Remember that a kilderkin holds 18 gallons so quite a few pints were consumed by closing time. Our crystal ball got it about right as I do not remember having too much beer left at the end of the night. The menu included products from the following breweries: Barnsley Bitter, soon to be strangled to death by John Smith of Tadcaster, Bateman, Ward, Davenport, Hyde, Robinson, Ruddle, Tetley, Yorkshire Clubs, Theakston, Sam Smith and Stones plus the Nottingham beers mentioned below. Sadly, very few of these breweries exist today – remember these were the days of the rise of keg(brewery conditioned) beer and ‘real ale’ was fighting for its life.
The branch members were not able to fill the staff rota completely but the Nottingham Branch, which came up and supported us at our inaugural meeting at the Travellers Rest, Holmesfield, in April 1974, again came to our aid. Naturally, we put the Nottingham branch in charge of serving the Nottingham beers(Shipstones, Hardy Hanson and Home ales) which we were able to fit all together in one room.
However, we were ignorant of the subtleties of the glass deposit system. We simply issued beer in a glass as you would in a pub and, of course the inevitable happened. Instead of each drinker having just one glass, a fresh glass was issued with each pint served. By the end of the night(we stopped serving at 10.00pm) the bar staff, who had done sterling work washing glasses throughout the day, spent much time after ‘last orders’ searching for glasses, particularly from the lawns and shrubberies, by now in the dark!
Nevertheless, everything, apart from one minor incident, went off well and we managed to break even financially, with an entrance fee of 50p, which included a two pint beer voucher! We invited both Stan Crowther, then Mayor of Rotherham(he later became MP for Rotherham), and the Lord Mayor of Sheffield along but only Stan turned up and thoroughly enjoyed himself, knowing that his chauffeur would deliver him safely home at the end of the day. Unfortunately, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield missed a seminal event in the branch’s early life.
The organisers of the 40th Beer and Cider festival will have plenty of past experience to guide them and help everyone to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Sheffield and District branch. Cheers everyone!
Because of the event’s success at Tapton, we decided to move the 1976 Festival to the ground floor of University House, which was then a students’ refectory and much bigger than Tapton. Indeed, ‘the lower refec’, as it was known, became the venue for many successful beer festivals until well into the 1980s.
The Al Rogers band has now morphed into the Jazz Preservation Society(JPS) but still has two musicians who played at Tapton that night: bassist Dave Green and clarinettist Trevor Barnes. The JPS play every Monday at the Norfolk Arms, Ringinglow, but Draught Bass has now been replaced by Abbeydale and Bradfield cask beers.