Broadland's Breweries Past and Present: October 2016 at the Annual General Meeting
There is never a lot of time after the AGM business, but Nicola Hems, our Vice Chair, made the most of what was available. She presented enough information in her half hour to qualify for the Guinness Book of Records, but as it was on a subject dear to most men’s hearts, nobody minded.
Beer, we discovered, has been our staple drink for at least 5000 years – a safer drink, until very recently, than water. Even acceptable for children, when at a reduced 2% alcohol content it was known as “small beer”. Until the 1550s brewing was a pretty domestic process, conducted in small public houses in every settlement in the land. The output was cloudy, very sweet and full of husks. To combat the sweetness herbs and spices were added.
Commercial brewing then gradually took over and we learned that Norfolk, including Broadland, had a range of natural advantages. Barley was the main local cereal crop, water from the underlying chalk was ideal, and the network of smooth flowing rivers and broads provided cheap bulk transport. Quality was much improved but there was still a large number of breweries, each producing its own distinctive brews. Norwich, for example, had 27 breweries in 1836. Breweries grew by progressively taking over public houses in financial difficulties, thus establishing the tied-houses that we know today.
The origins, growth and eventual decline of Norfolk and Broadland breweries were examined. Names new to the writer but not to local people included: Bullards; Youngs, Crawshay and Youngs; William Browns – breweries that ran from the 1700’s into the mid and late twentieth century. Where are they now? Largely gobbled up by Watneys, it seems, the company that was best able to exploit steam power, railways, road transport and the stock exchange.
There was a romantic interlude when we looked at Coltishall, now a moderate-sized village, but once a centre of malting, employing 100 people in brewing, and possibly the place where wherry-building originated. And we finished with a wistful allusion to CAMRA and a look at some old, but empty, bottles.
The meeting had opened with a short pause to remember the company and contribution of Peter Salmon, who had passed away the previous evening. Peter was a great supporter of the History Group who had served on the committee with energy and enthusiasm.
Otherwise it was a routine AGM. 44 in attendance. A successful 2016. Chair’s Report and actions supported. Finances sound & accounts accepted. Constitution updated. All Officers re-elected. 2017 Programme getting there – target date November.
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