Central Lancs

Campaign for Real Ale

A Branch History

Below is a branch history (of CAMRA West Lancashire branch as we then were) written in 2008. This first appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of Ale Cry.

With CAMRA West Lancashire branch recently having quietly celebrated its 35th birthday I thought that this might be an appropriate time to do a brief write up of the branch's history.

CAMRA West Lancs branch was formed in 1973, with the inaugural meeting taking place that year on June 25th at the Moorbrook in Preston. On its formation West Lancs was one of the first half-dozen CAMRA branches in the whole country, although the geographical area initially covered was more extensive than it is in 2008. As now Preston could be considered the centre of activities, but for a short time in the early days CAMRA West Lancs also had responsibilities for Blackpool and the Fylde, for Lancaster and Lunesdale, and even for the Isle Of Man.

From the start branch meetings were held each and every month, with them taking place on a Monday in the second half of the month. For over 30 years branch meetings were held in Preston or its immediate surroundings, but more recently there have been meetings in Chorley, Coppull, and Longton. From April 1974 it was decided that there should also be separate committee meetings held, with these taking place on a Monday in the first half of the month. Committee meetings can be held at any suitable real ale outlet within the branch area, and there have now been over 130 different venues which have been host to at least one committee meeting.

Interestingly a copy of the minutes from that first meeting in 1973 has survived the passage of time, with the reader being informed that David Marsden was appointed Chairman/Organiser while Ken Hargreaves was appointed Secretary. It was also minuted that one of the first objectives of the branch was to organise a brewery trip. This was to be accomplished as early as September 1973, when a group of raw CAMRA recruits travelled up to Cumberland to visit Jennings Brewery at Cockermouth. Over the years brewery trips have continued to be a regular occurrence, with there now having been close on 140 outings and with a trip to Lancaster Brewery in November 2008 being the most recent.

Unlike most other branches, CAMRA West Lancs branch has not been that successful in holding Beer Festivals. The first Preston Beer Festival took place at the Victoria Hotel (now re-named the Old Vic) in May 1978, and more than 30 years on there has still to be a second CAMRA Preston Beer Festival. Of course there have been many joint ventures with other organisations like St Walburges, St Teresa's, and for many years with the Ashton Institute. However in lieu of the branch being unable to find a suitable location for a Beer Festival, in August 2005 the first of three annual Preston Real Ale Pub Festivals took place with several city centre pubs being promoted as hosts of a CAMRA endorsed multi-sited Beer Festival.

The branch's newsletter Ale Cry was first produced in April 1978. It was initially a single sheet costing 2p, but this charge was dropped after that first edition. At times the appearance and production of a new Ale Cry was a little erratic, but under the guidance of Joint Editors Dave Linley and David Marsden and with the involvement of CPL, since the Christmas 1995 edition it has been produced four times a year on a seasonal basis, and since the Summer 2004 edition has been maintained as a 20 page publication.

The George Lee Memorial Trophy came into being in 1981, being named in memory of the popular Moorbrook landlord who had also been the branch's first Treasurer. Each year the trophy was to be presented to the pub, organisation, or person which branch members considered to have done the most for real ale in the area in the previous year. The first winner was the Old Blue Bell in Preston, the first two-time winner was the Old Black Bull in Preston, while the Bitter Suite in Preston has been the winner for the last two years.

It was quite some time before the branch got round to setting up a Pub of the Season award, but in Autumn 1996 the Hogshead (now re-named the Guild) in Preston was chosen as the first winner. An award continues to be made every three months, with the Anchor at Lostock Hall this season becoming the 49th different pub to be so honoured.

The branch produced its first Real Ale Guide in 1975, and over the years there have been eight local guides produced to cover some or all of the branch's real ale pubs. The branch's most recent publication, the Central Lancashire Real Ale Guide, came out in April 2004.

The advancement of technology has greatly aided the branch in carrying out its day-to-day activities, like compiling Good Beer Guide entries, etc. The branch's first official website was created in 1999, and two years later an agreement was reached with Netwise Computing to set up the website which exists to this day. Since June 2007 the branch has also had a page on MySpace, until recently with accompanying music by the Lancashire Hotpots.

Looking to the future, and in particular to 2012 when it will be Preston Guild year. It was interesting to read recently in the Lancashire Evening Post that one of the events local people would most like to see organised was a Beer Festival - cue a second Preston CAMRA Beer Festival perhaps? Hopefully a little more definite is that the branch will be producing a new Real Ale Guide. In 1992 the branch produced the first Preston Guild Real Ale Guide, but 20 years on a second edition would inevitably have to be a slimmer volume if pubs continue to close at their present rate.

Finally, a quick calculation and it is fascinating to discover that the 100th edition of Ale Cry is currently scheduled to be in the pubs during Guild Week in 2012. Perhaps we will be able to stretch to a full colour 24 page edition?

Gordon Small