Monday 17 July 2017


When I knew that I had the opportunity to give talks at the Penzance LitFest Fringe at the beginning of this month, I decided on three talks, one after the other - Wednesday lunchtime, The Road to Corbyn'; Thursday lunchtime, 'Jago Stone'; and Friday lunchtime, 'Drink in Victorian Norwich'. The first two needed little preparation but the third talk was different. My doctorate had been awarded in 2003 and my ceremony followed in 2004. Nearly a decade and a half had elapsed. The main themes were still embedded in my mind but as I returned to the pages of the thesis a weird feeling surfaced. I was reconnecting with material that I scarcely remembered producing in the first place - and experiencing the joy of resurrecting my own forgotten scholarship.

Bess of Bedlam - a Norwich Victorian pub - (acknowledgements and thanks to the Norfolk Heritage Centre - see this link)

Derek Guthrie and Daniel Nanavati, editors from New Art Examiner - the independent voice of the Visual Arts (see this link) - were amongst the half-a-dozen audience. So too were my socialist comrades, Abbi and Mick. As I had planned, I began with a sketch of how the idea for the thesis came to life - explaining how my mum towards the end of her life had passed on to me her grandfather's journal, his life story in effect, and how I discovered for the first time his role as a trusted steward of club funds in the working class drinking and leisure culture in the city of Canterbury in Kent.

From that acorn emerged - seven or so years later - my doctoral thesis that maintains Victorian social cohesion depended on drink. In Norwich, as in other urban centres, population growth led to an

expansion of the supply of drink. Inadequate sanitation and water supply problems meant that beer answered a dietary need for a liquid that was safe to drink. Alcohol provided depressant comfort in the face of poverty and squalor for the working class. In these circumstances, most social and political functions were connected to the pub.

The York Tavern, Norwich - opened in 1878 - closed in 2014

The discussion that followed my outline talk was far-ranging and engaging. It certainly re-awoke my interest in the subject that had filled my life outside the classroom between 1995 and 2003. And then two further developments explain how 'Drink in Victorian Norwich' became the main feature of this blog.

First, one of the committee members of the Penzance LitFest organising committee, John Pestle, invited me to be a guest on his radio show last Thursday on 'Coast', our local radio station (see this link). He had been in the audience of half-a-dozen for the Wednesday 'The Road to Corbyn' talk. Nearly an hour of radio chat about my three talks couldn't help but make all these subjects sing in my head.

Sir Garnet Wolseley - central Norwich Victorian pub - a rare survivor

Secondly, one of my key contacts for the Jago Stone 'American Connection' (see my American Connection blogs using this link) is Jessica Raber and she now expressed an interest in my doctoral thesis and said she would like to read it. My one copy is very bulky. Then I remembered that my doctoral supervisor, Dr (now Professor) Richard Williams, had helped secure its publication in four separate parts in 'Brewery History' - the journal of the Brewery History Society - back in 2009/10. The editorial board of the journal reads like a Who's Who in the academic world of drink-related matters. I looked up the four parts in my own collection -and then had an idea. Was it possible that Brewery History was now digitalised and available on line?

Oh joy! Oh rapture! It is! Jessica Raber has already finished Part 1. So, here for your pleasure and edification is the link to 'Brewery History' - and the four parts of my thesis, available to all, are to be found in Brewery History numbers 130; 132; 134; and 137. Happy reading! 

John Pestle said to me last week in the Coast studio in Penzance that he would be happy to read on air extracts from any of my writings that might be of interest to listeners. 'Jago' and 'The Road to Corbyn' will provide suitable pieces but so too will my Norwich drink thesis. I shall be selecting those Norwich pieces for John this week and publishing them here in the blogsphere shortly afterwards. 

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