Posts tagged beer
The duties of one officer in particular caught my attention: the ale-conner.
Further news of that officer’s duties at Drayton’s Dirty Fair comes from a surprising source – the 30th December 1911 edition of The Corrector. This was a newspaper that used to be published in the 19th and early 20th century in Sag Harbor on Long Island in New York State.
At the bottom of page 3, in E.J. Edwards’ New News of Yesterday column, the following piece entitled Tasting The Drinks appears:
An old custom has just been observed at Market Drayton, where the annual fair, called “the Dirty Fair,” has been opened by the Court Leet. A proclamation, it is reported, was read by the “Ale-Canner,” who warned “all rogues. vagabonds, cut-purses, and idle men immediately to depart from this fair.”
“Ale-Canner” has a jovial smack about it, but we are afraid it is a misprint for “Ale-Conner,” an ancient and honorable officer, both of manors and corporations, His duty was to taste the new brew of every “brewer and brewster, cook. and pie-baker.” and if it were unfit to drink the whole was confiscated and given to the poor.
It should be added that in the middle ages “unfit to drink” usually meant weak and watery. The chemist was not abroad in those benighted days, so there was no risk of arsenical by-products being present in the pottle-pot.
Besides testing beer and the measures in which it was sold, the ale-conner also ensured the goodness and wholesomeness of bread, plus the measures in which it too was sold.
If this report is to be believed, it was therefore the ale-conner’s duty to declare the Dirty Fair open in times gone by, in addition to his public health duties in the days before the various improvements in ensuring the health of the public brought about by our 19th century forebears.
Conner is an interesting noun as regards its origins. Nowadays we are all familiar with the noun con, which is short for confidence trick. However, thinking there is any connection between the two would be erroneous. There’s also a conning tower on a submarine, but its origins have more to do with conning in the sense of navigating a vessel.
To find the conner’s origins one has to go back to many hundreds of years. According to Merriam Webster, its origins are indeed in Middle English, as would befit an office established in a medieval court. In Middle English, the noun was cunnere, meaning an examiner or tempter, which was derived from the Middle English verb cunnian, to examine, which itself originates from the Old English verb cunnan, meaning to be able.
Finally, ale-conner was sometimes also rendered as aleconner or even ale-kenner.
Following on from my post on the markets and fairs of Market Drayton (posts passim), my home town, the following comment was left on the site by Andrew Allen long after comments on the post itself were closed.
Andrew also grew up in Market Drayton somewhat later than myself and my siblings and his words are reproduced below.
I was born and brought up in MD and for some reason I just had a flashback of the Court Leet which I recall being re-enacted when I was a child in the late 1970s.
It was great to read your notes about the Court. We have a photo at home (my mother’s) of a load of gentlemen standing outside the Corbet in their finery, I guess around 1900… it has my grandfather in the shot… I now think that must have been the Court Leet.
Anyway, thanks for your notes.
Courts Leet were a very old institution. According to Wikipedia, “The court leet was a historical court baron (a manorial court) of England and Wales and Ireland that exercised the “view of frankpledge” and its attendant police jurisdiction“.
My original source for information of Market Drayton’s Court Leet – Peter Hampson Ditchfield’s 1896 book, Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time: an account of local observances – states the following:
At Market Drayton there are several fairs held by right of ancient charter. One great one, called the “Dirty Fair,” is held about six weeks before Christmas, and another is called the “Gorby Market,” at which farm-servants are hired. These are proclaimed according to ancient usage by the ringing of the church-bell, and the court-leet procession marches through the town, headed by the host of the “Corbet Arms”, representing the lord of the manor, dressed in red and black robes, and the rest of the court carrying silver-headed staves and pikes, one of which is mounted by a large elephant and castle. At the court several officers are appointed, such as the ale-conner, scavengers, and others. The old standard measures, made of beautiful bell-metal, are produced, and a shrew’s bridle, and then there is a dinner and a torchlight procession.
Only two officers of the court are mentioned by Ditchfield – the ale-conner and scavengers. The ale-conner’s duties were to ensure the quality of ale and to check that true measures are used. The duties of scavengers were to ensure standards of hygiene within the lanes and privies and to try and prevent the spread of infectious disease.
The ceremony Andrew remembers seeing as a youngster in the late 70s was a one-off re-enactment in 1977 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The Shropshire Star sent a photographer to record the event. The paper’s record of the celebrations, including the court leet re-enactment is still available online. As regards photographs of the original court leet, the Shropshire Archives collection contains 3 photographs of the court leet, all dating from the first decade of the twentieth century. According to the National Archives, the Shropshire Archives also contain a printed menu from 1936 for the Market Drayton Tradesmen’s Association dinner held at the Corbet Arms Hotel after Drayton Manor Court Leet broadcast. So it seems the court leet may have survived in some form until the mid-1930s.
Many thanks to Andrew for getting in touch and sharing his memories.
If anyone has further knowledge of which other officers constituted the Court Leet, please use the comments below or the contact form.
According to the BGH, the word “bekömmlich” has connotations of health benefits and thus cannot be used as it falls foul of European Union regulations on advertising alcohol, which must avoid any suggestion that alcohol is good for a body.
After a series of appeals through lower courts, the BGH finally ruled on Thursday ruled that breweries were not allowed to describe their beers in terms that portray them as having health benefits.
That ruling and the EU legislation puts paid to any return of Arthur Guinness’ “Guinness is good for you” advertising slogan for the Dublin’s most famous liquid export.
The situation of Sanatogen Tonic Wine (marketed in the UK as a fortified wine with an alcohol content 15%), remains unclear.
For as long as I can remember in my adult life, I’ve listened to budget speeches with a mixture of incredulity and a sinking heart. This is usually because Chancellors of the Exchequer have more often than not made drinking beer – one of life’s pleasures – more expensive.
Fortunately that didn’t happen this time round.
I trust you’ve fully recovered from your illness.
I write on the above subject to express my concerns in the wake of yesterday’s budget.
Whilst I would welcome increased public money for the area, I do feel that the manner in which this will be accomplished needs lots to be desired.
I have downloaded and read the final draft of the deal agreed between central government and the 4 local authorities and this has increased my concern.
I feel very much that this devolution deal is being done to us rather than for us residents. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that there has been little or no public consultation to the best of my knowledge, nor will the public have any say on the final outcome. It’s a prime example of top-down imposition.
When this matter was tabled by Easton ward councillor Anna McMullen at the last Ashley, Easton & Lawrence Hill Neighbourhood Partnership, there was condemnation of the lack of consultation and the short amount of time remaining before this devolution deal was imposed.
At that meeting I expressed my concern that this could be regarded the reinstatement of the little-loved Avon County Council via the backdoor. In yesterday’s Bristol Post, Liam Fox MP is quoted in the Bristol Post as saying
“I will be making it very clear to all my councillors that I’m very opposed and I hope they will reject this.
“It is the recreation of the Avon and the agreement would be for a metro mayor that voter have never given their assent for.
“It is another layer of bureaucracy and it is undemocratic. It recreates the very organisation that we fought so hard to get rid of.”
It is not very often I find myself coming out with similar sentiments to that particular gentleman.
I really feel that we, those who will be affected by this devolution measure should be firstly consulted on it and secondly have the chance to vote on both the deal itself and the creation of the office of metro mayor. However, I am not very encouraged that we shall have the chance to do so as I was notified via Twitter yesterday by a contact in Manchester that their metro mayor was imposed with no public input whatsoever.
Reading today’s Bristol Post, I note that Pat Rooney in S. Gloucs. wants to see a referendum held on any metro mayor. I fully support this move.
Given the concerns of many active citizens both in the city and surrounding areas is there anything that can be done to ensure proper public input to the devolution process, which I feel is destructive of local democracy, piecemeal and ultimately bound to end in a real dog’s dinner.
In the two days since the Budget, a petition has also been organised to reject the devolution deal that was concocted in secret by a bunch of middle-aged white men (who always think they know what’s best of us. Ed.).
The petition’s text reads:
The Chancellor of The Exchequer announced on March 16th a scheme to devolve powers to a Metro Mayor in Bristol, Bath and surrounding areas. Given that B&NES rejected an elected Mayoral model one week earlier, this new announcement seems to be at variance with the electorate’s preferences.
A Christmas Market is taking place at St Werburghs Community Centre this coming Friday, 4th December from 5.00 to 8.00 pm.
The Christmas Market is yet another very popular community-led event hosted by St Werburghs Community Centre.
Join us on Friday for a festive feast of all things creative and buy original arts and crafts from the best local artists and makers. There are always plenty of wonderful stalls booked filled with personal, handmade and unique gifts for your family and friends.
The following items will be on sale:
- Paintings, photography, prints, stained glass, pottery & ceramics;
- Handmade crafts, knitted baby clothing and home accessories;
- Natural, organic and fairtrade skincare products;
- Wooden toys and wood carvings;
- Fairtrade gifts and jewellery;
- Locally produced and grown food, honey, chocolate and beer;
- Bric-a-brac; and
- Indian and Tibetan gifts.
If those items fail to tempt you through the door, the Christmas Market will also feature:
- Live performance;
- Café with home-made food and cakes;
- Children’s activities; and
- Massage and relaxation therapies.
If you need any more convincing to come along, here’s a short video from last year’s event.
For more information, please contact the Centre on 0117 955 1351 or e-mail on office [at] stwerburghs.org.uk.
It’s your ‘umble scribe’s 60th birthday this week and to mark this occasion, Hilary and Andrew, my siblings conspired to take me away from Bristol for the weekend. When we were sorting out our late mother’s estate, we all expressed a wish for a sibling saunter in Staffordshire and this proved the ideal excuse.
Andrew and Hilary made the arrangements, whilst I researched walks and gave them 2 options – one involving a circular walk round the Head of Trent (the upper reaches of the Trent before it enters the city of Stoke on Trent. Ed.), the other a walk round the site of the Battle of Blore Heath, one of the first major battles of the Wars of the Roses, which was fought on 23rd September 1459.
In the end the Blore Heath won and found the assembled siblings outside the Loggerheads Hotel in Loggerheads ready to start walking the excellent route provided by the Blore Heath website. The route comprises a circuit of the main battlefield down its eastern flank along what would have been the Lancastrian line, then down through the valley which saw the most fighting. There is then a walk through woodland and up towards the quiet village of Mucklestone, where it is said that Queen Margaret watched the battle unfold.
Battle of Blore Heath – a summary
The battle occurred when the Yorkist force based at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire (led by the Earl of Salisbury) needed to link up with the main Yorkist army at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. As Salisbury marched south-west through the north Midlands, Queen Margaret ordered Lord Audley to intercept them.
Audley chose the barren heathland of Blore Heath to set up an ambush. On the morning of 23rd September 1459 (Saint Thecla’s day), a force of some 10,000 men took up a defensive position behind a ‘great hedge’ on the south-western edge of Blore Heath facing the direction of Newcastle-under-Lyme to the north-east, the direction from which Salisbury was approaching.
Yorkist scouts spotted Lancastrian banners over the top of the ‘great hedge’ and immediately warned Salisbury. As they emerged from the woodland, the Yorkist force of some 5,000 men realised that a much larger enemy force was awaiting their arrival. Salisbury, instead of disbanding or withdrawing his army, immediately arranged his troops into battle order, just out of range of the Lancastrian archers. To secure his right flank, he arranged the supply wagons in a defensive laager, a circular formation to provide cover to the men. Fearing a rout, Yorkist soldiers are reported to have kissed the ground beneath them, supposing that this would be the ground on which they would meet their deaths.
The two armies were separated by about 300 metres of barren heathland. A steep-sided, wide and fast-flowing brook – the Wemberton or Hemp Mill Brook – ran between them. The brook made Audley’s position seemingly impenetrable.
Initially, both leaders sought unsuccessfully to parley in an attempt to avoid bloodshed. In keeping with many late medieval battles, the conflict opened with an archery duel between the longbows of both armies. At Blore Heath this proved inconclusive due to the distance between the two sides.
Salisbury, aware that any attack across the brook would be suicidal, employed a ruse to encourage the enemy to attack him. He withdrew some of his middle order just far enough that the Lancastrians believed them to be retreating. The Lancastrians launched a cavalry charge. After they had committed themselves, Salisbury ordered his men to turn back and catch the Lancastrians as they attempted to cross the brook. It is possible that the order for this Lancastrian charge was not given by Audley but it had the effect of turning the balance in favour of Salisbury. The charge resulted in heavy casualties for the Lancastrians.
The Lancastrians withdrew, and then made a second assault, possibly attempting to rescue casualties. This second attack was more successful with many Lancastrians crossing the brook. This led to a period of intense fighting in which Audley himself was killed, possibly by Sir Roger Kynaston of Myddle and Hordley.
The death of Audley meant that Lancastrian command fell to the second-in-command, Lord Dudley, who ordered an attack on foot with some 4,000 men. As this attack also failed, some 500 Lancastrians joined the enemy and began attacking their own side. At this point, all remaining Lancastrian resistance collapsed and the Yorkists had only to advance to complete the rout.
The rout continued through the night, with the Yorkists pursuing the fleeing enemy for miles across the countryside. Salisbury employed a local friar to remain on Blore Heath throughout the night and to discharge a cannon periodically in order to deceive any Lancastrians nearby into believing that the fight was continuing.
At least 2,000 Lancastrians were killed, with the Yorkists losing nearly 1,000.
Starting from Loggerheads, we skirted the borders of Burnt Wood (called “Rounhay wood” at the time of the battle. Ed.). We were following the route that the Yorkist forces would have taken. This top end of the walk was quite boggy, so good waterproof boots are recommended. From this high point of the walk there are fantastic views across Shropshire to the mountains of North Wales, some forty miles away. The landmark of the Wrekin is clearly visible to the SW and is about 20 miles away, as is the tower of St Mary’s Church in Market Drayton, some 4 miles away.
We continued downhill to the hamlet of Blore, where we turned onto a a lane and then from the edge of the hamlet followed the line of the ‘great hedge’ behind which the Lancastrian banners were seen. The hedge has been much reduced in stature by the invention of the flail mower, but experts believe it has been in situ for 1,000 years. Halfway along the hedge is a large horse chestnut tree from which Audley’s Cross – marking the spot where Lord Audley was slain – can be seen. We stopped for lunch near the end of the ‘great hedge’ roughly at the end of the Yorkists’ left flank.
From the lunch stop we proceeded downhill across the fields downhill and around the southern edge of the battlefield towards Hemp Mill Brook and a crossing of both it and the A53, the latter being particularly dangerous due to its narrowness, bends and the speed of the traffic. At this point we deviated from the route and went up the A53 for a better view of Audley’s Cross (a cross has stood on that spot since the day of the battle. Ed.) before returning to the actual route of the walk.
Once over the A53 and back on the route, we followed a lane for a short while, then proceeded through Folly Wood to the outskirts of Mucklestone, entered the village and headed for the church.
It was from the top of the Mucklestone church tower that Queen Margaret is said to have stood and watched her forces defeated. She is then supposed to have made good her escape in the direction of Eccleshall by forcing William Skelhorn, the village blacksmith, to reverse her horse’s shoes, thus confusing any pursuit. The anvil in the churchyard, which was retrieved from the smithy when the latter was demolished, commemorates this legend. The anvil is sited next to the grave of another, much later member of the Skelhorn family.
From Mucklestone we proceeded up a rough track called Rock Lane to return to our starting point in Loggerheads.
After the battle the victorious Lord Salisbury, anxious to press on towards Ludlow and the main Yorkist forces, moved south, camping on a hill on the outskirts of Market Drayton ever since known as Salisbury Hill. When we were children, this was the main hill in the town for sledging when it snowed. This delight is now out of bounds to today’s Drayton children, as the hill has been absorbed into the land occupied by the local golf club and the stile we used for access is no longer in situ.
After a most satisfactory walk we all retired to Newcastle-under-Lyme for a night in a hotel, preceded by an excellent curry and a couple of beers in Audley.
I’d like to thank my siblings, Andrew and Hilary, for making it a memorable weekend and suggest we plan other Staffordshire Saunter sometime soon. 🙂
Earlier this month, Staffordshire-based production team THE 7TH TOWN released its first feature length documentary called Oatcakes!
It’s a film about local pride and the people of the Potteries directed by Robert Burns and produced by Toby DeCann.
Local delicacy the Staffordshire oatcake (posts passim) features prominently in the film, as do the ales produced by Burslem’s Titanic Brewery (Edward Smith, captain of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, was born in Hanley. Ed.).
There are fine renditions of the local accent too, as well as lessons in Potteries history, heritage and culture.
It may be 1 hour and 45 minutes long, but if you have an interest in the food and/or people of the Potteries and North Staffordshire, it’s well worth watching.
I’m a great lover of no-frills, working-class pubs. They’re what I grew up with and frequented when I first started drinking. Indeed I still give them my custom and can often be found at the Little Russell in Barton Hill, Bristol (posts passim).
One worrying development in recent years is the rise of the ‘gastropub‘.The term gastropub is a portmanteau of gastronomy and pub, and originated in the United Kingdom in the late 20th century. The establishment itself is defined as ‘a bar and restaurant that serves high-end beer and food‘.
My Bristol Wireless colleague Rich has devised the verb ‘to gastrate‘ to describe the phenomenon of converting boozers to gastropubs. I would define the verb as follows:
gastrate (v.) – to ruin a perfectly good pub by converting it to sell small, overpriced portions of food.
See also: gastration (n).
The process of gastration is also being actively encouraged by the media, as shown in a piece last week on the Bristol Post website.
Will traditional drinkers soon be struggling to find traditional boozers if this trend continues?
After meeting up in the late morning in Craven Arms and some light refreshment, Hilary and myself set out on a 6 miles circular walk to Flounders’ Folly on Callow Hill and back, following an excellent route provided by the AA. The folly was built in 1838 by Benjamin Flounders – a prominent English Quaker and local businessman originally from Yorkshire – and fell into disrepair in the 20th century, but was restored in 2004-5 by the Flounders’ Folly Trust with aid from the National Lottery. It’s now open to the public one day per month so people can climb to the viewing platform at the top of the 78 stairs and enjoy wonderful views of the Malverns, the Black Mountains, Cader Idris and much more. The route up to the folly consisted of a steep climb through active forestry workings, but the view from the top was well worthwhile.
The route back from the folly was through pasture along the Quinny Brook and the River Onny. Our return to Craven Arms was perfectly timed; we’d just arrived back when the rain started. 🙂
As with last year, we stayed at Clun Youth Hostel, a converted water mill with most of the mill machinery still intact. The remains of the millpond can still be seen just up the road by the Memorial Hall and there are rumours that it is to be restored. The volunteer wardens at the hostel were most helpful and hospitable, whilst fellow hostellers didn’t snore too much!
The following morning after breakfast we set out from the hostel to visit the motte and bailey at Lower Down and the Iron Age hill fort at Bury Ditches on a circular route measuring somewhat over 8 miles. The route out to Lower Down meandered through farmland, including a couple of sunken lanes reputed to have been used by monks, and woodland. Towards Lower Down, some splendid views were had of the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill, high point of one of last year’s walks.
Lower Down’s motte and bailey can be viewed by going through the kissing gate next to the telephone box and pillar box. The field in which they are sited is also reputed to contain medieval settlement remains.After Lower Down there followed a long climb (during which the rain commenced. Ed.) up to the Bury Ditches picnic area where lunch was taken, followed by the long, gradual ascent up to the hill fort itself. The entry into the hill fort is from the north east through 3 sets of concentric earth bank defences. When the fort was originally constructed about 2,500 years ago, these earth banks would have been surmounted by wooden palisades. In the steady drizzle, we wandered up to the toposphere in the centre of the fort to admire the views and get our bearings as we had to leave hill fort via its south west entrance/exit. As we approached the exit, the rain eased off and out came the cameras to record our visit.
Descending from Bury Ditches, we then dropped down through woodland a giant sequoia to skirt Steppleknoll to return across the fields (where red kites were seen) to Clun and a welcome couple of pints in The Sun Inn. We can recommend the restorative properties of the Three Tuns Brewery’s beer, as we all sampled the Porter and found it excellent, whilst your correspondent also savoured the very hoppy IPA.
Both days’ walks included a ford too, although neither was particularly deep, as shown by the one through the Quinny Brook on the Callow Hill walk.
By now, you are probably asking what all this has to do with the testicle legs in the title. Well, the title of this post originates from a snatch of conversation when we were negotiating some rough, muddy ground. I remarked that one needed ‘festival legs‘ to cope. When I repeated my remark since it hadn’t been heard clearly, back came the reply: “I thought you said testicle legs!”
Happy days! 🙂
In Bristol’s Barton Hill district, there’s a lovely little pub affectionately known as the Little Russell (its real name is the Russell Arms; the ‘Big’ Russell used to be nearby on Church Road, Lawrence Hill, but has long since closed. Ed.).
It’s a friendly place and is little changed from when it first opened in the 19th century.
One change in recent years, however, is the addition of a fine mural by local artist Andie that covers 2 walls of the yard, which has since the smoking ban become the pub’s smoking area. Part of the mural is shown below.
The train in the shot is known as Rainbow Worrier because it’s green and has a shady-looking character in a hoodie in the cab. Note the machine gun and the fish-shaped bombs; they’re more reason to worry.
Andie is definitely a man with a sense of humour and I love his punning references; note ‘Royal Male’ on the next locomotive.
Rainbow Worrier itself reminds me of reading about the armoured trains that used to chug up and down the Russian railway network around the time of the Russian revolution. For instance, the Czechoslovak Legion used heavily armed and armoured trains to control large lengths of the Trans-Siberian Railway (and of Russia itself) during the Russian Civil War. One of the Czechoslovak Legion’s armoured trains is shown below.
I wonder if these trains or the later ones used in World War 2 were what inspired Andie; or was he just having fun?