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Beginnings – The formation of Wolverhampton CAMRA

As part of CAMRA’s 50th birthday celebrations, we are republishing this look back at the first part of Wolverhampton CAMRA’s history, as first published in Issue 36 of Beerwolf magazine (Spring 2019).

Every story begins somewhere. The Campaign for Real Ale has come a long way, not least in Wolverhampton. Picture the scene; Harold Wilson had not long stepped down, the mantle of Prime Minister picked up by James Callaghan. England was experiencing a record breaking (and many say the best) summer in many generations. A pint of beer cost
around 32p. The first commercial Concorde flight had taken off in January. And that long hot summer, ladybirds, everywhere! The fifth section of Wolverhampton’s Ring Road, at
Broad Street, was under construction and Wolverhampton Wanderers, with a team featuring Kenny Hibbitt, John Richards, Geoff Palmer and Mel Eves, were relegated from Division
1 (though they’d bounce straight back up the following year).

For this new feature, Beerwolf hears from those who were there as Wolverhampton CAMRA came into being.

Back in the bad old days of Watney’s Red Barrel, and perhaps because of it, CAMRA was an emerging consumer organisation, with about 5000-6000 members. Branches were few, and consequently covered large areas. One of the attempts to create a new branch was at the ‘Wolverhampton Fiesta’ of 1975. Members from South Staffordshire branch ran a CAMRA beer tent, as part of the event, in West Park. This was popular, but only resulted in 2 people signing up to try and create a Wolverhampton branch – nowhere near the 25 needed.

Wolverhampton’s 1977 Beer Festival

The following year, another attempt was made, at the Wolverhampton Real Beer Festival, held in the Wulfrun Hall. This was more successful, and a ‘Taster’ meeting was held at the Clarendon, Chapel Ash on Thursday 14th October 1976. This was well attended, and 2 further meetings were arranged.
The first, on Thursday 4th November at the Swan, Compton, was an informal one, where potential members could meet.

Following this, an inaugural meeting was held on Thursday 25th November 1976, at the Clarendon. This was the official start of Wolverhampton CAMRA; the committee elected including Phil Evans, Chairman, and Sue Rostance, Treasurer (Wow – she’s still doing it!).
The branch has continued in much the same format ever since; although the branch area has been ‘tweaked’ several times, particularly in the SW, and in the North where it now reaches to the A5.

Cask rolling publicity stunt for the Wolverhampton Fiesta 1978 CAMRA Real Beer Festival at Wulfrun Hall (3rd June for festival on 9th – 10th June)

So what did we do in the late 1970s? For a start, we selected entries for the Good Beer Guide, much as today. This was very important, as a major problem was with Quality Control, especially when the beer reached the pub. Pints were VERY variable – sometimes just plain horrible! It didn’t help that it was accepted practice, then, to pour the ‘slops’ from drip trays
back into the cask. To add to the often mediocre beer was the corporate décor of some pubs from the large breweries. Who can forget the red flock wallpaper in many of the M&B pubs?

Plenty of pub closures to campaign against, too, mostly for ‘Regeneration’. I remember we had a pub crawl of Piper’s Row, before almost the whole lot was demolished. The Ring Road took away a lot of pubs, too.

The Midlands was then dominated by M&B and Ansells – with Banks’s and Hanson’s in Wolverhampton and Dudley respectively. Our nearest Hanson’s pub in Wolverhampton was the Parkfield Tavern. There were a few smaller breweries, such as Holden’s, Bathams, Simpkiss, Highgate and Davenports, but their beers were rather hard to find. Davenports had an estate of shops, too. I regularly used the one in Eve Hill, Dudley (Remember their ‘Beer at Home’ adverts?).

A branch trip to Marston’s Brewery in Burton (October 1977)

Early meetings were held in the Pied Bull, Snow Hill; Pyle Cock, Wednesfield; Crown, Cartwright Street; Old Ash Tree; Stile; Parkfield Tavern, Posada (upstairs); Queens Arms, Graiseley.

My favourite socials were at the Dartmouth Arms, Burnhill Green and Queen’s Arms, Graiseley. We also had trips to Bishops Castle (evening trip), Dasher Downing’s at Stottesdon; and to Marston’s, Holden’s, Springfield, Woods and Simpkiss breweries.

Dave Clare
Founding Member of Wolverhampton CAMRA

Images from Dave Rostance and additional information from Andy Beaton

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