Beer, Breweries, and Drunkenness in the NRO archives.

Last week, St Andrew’s Hall & Blackfriars Hall in Norwich were host to the 37th Norwich Beer Festival, organised by CAMRA’s Norwich and Norfolk branch. This was the perfect excuse for us to tweet about the wide range of beer-related records held at the Norfolk Record Office. It also seemed only polite for a few of our searchroom assistants and archivists to visit the festival one evening, for research purposes.

If you are researching the history of a pub, or perhaps one of your ancestors was a publican, a trade directory can be a good place to start. These can provide information about the name and address of a pub and the name of the licensee. They also provide information about brewers and breweries. You can find trade directories, from the late eighteenth to mid twentieth centuries in the NRO searchroom library and the Norfolk Heritage Centre. When researching alehouses and licensees of earlier periods, the Alehouse Recognisances within Quarter Session records can be a useful resource.

Several of the record types you might use to research the history of a house are also useful for pub research. For example, maps can give an indication of when a pub was built; title deeds describe the property and give names of previous owners; and architectural plans can provide information as to the layout of the pub and alterations to it over time.

Architectural plans for pubs can be found in a number of different NRO collections. Plans for any new buildings, or significant alterations to existing buildings, were deposited with local councils from the late nineteenth century onwards. NRO holds plans for most districts within the county and for the City of Norwich. We also hold the records of several architects’ practices, some of which designed, or carried out alterations to, public houses.

Brewery records are a rich resource, as they may include the plans for tied houses. Their records may also include plans for brewery sites, giving an interesting insight into the organisation and scale of industrial brewing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Besides plans, the administrative records of brewers sometimes provide glimpses of the technical processes behind the perfect pint:

As interesting as the art of brewing is, the social aspect of pubs and drinking should not be overlooked. Recordings from our Sound Archive convey an immediate sense of the atmosphere of pubs, and the personalities of their landlords and customers. Many describe establishments now long gone, such as this documentary about a notorious Ber Street pub and its formidable landlady:

Of course, a fondness for drinking is not limited to the patrons of backstreet boozers, as this list of bottles of wine consumed by Prince Edward and his party, while visiting the 5th Baron Suffield at Gunton Park, shows:

And too much beer can lead to all sorts of trouble. The records of Quarter Sessions and Coroner’s are full of instances of drink-related crime, or drink-fuelled misdemeanours. So many that these are perhaps best saved for another blog post. However, we will end with this cautionary tale from a coroner’s inquest, held at King’s Lynn in 1302. One Saturday evening, a certain Giles of Flanders, drunkenly boasted about the great protection afforded him by his Flemish-made aketon (a thick cloth jacket worn underneath chain mail):

This is just a drop in the beery ocean. If you are interested in researching a pub or brewery, or would just like to find out more about the history of pubs and brewing in Norfolk, the Norfolk Heritage Centre is running a series of talks in late November – early December on this theme, more details to follow soon.

Anne, NRO Archivist

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