Suffolk CAMRA History
This is not a definitive history but hopefully it does list some of the key characters and main events during the first 41 years of Camra activity within the county of Suffolk - please click on photos for larger versions and also see our potted version of the national Camra history.
Early campaigning by Camra members was by all accounts a very exciting time. It initially arose because most brewers in the UK had increasingly abandoned real ale during the 1960s in favour of trendy “keg” beer production i.e tasteless, pasteurised beer, chilled and served it using a pressurised gas - usually Carbon Dioxide (CO2). In Suffolk by the early 1970s, like beer drinkers elsewhere in the UK, many local drinkers were increasingly unhappy about the rather insipid offerings being offered in our local pubs.
In Suffolk there were just three remaining local Suffolk brewers. Greene King (Bury St Edmunds) who still brewed beer in a traditional manner but subsequently served most of it in their 200 local pubs using a “top pressure” system - a CO2 gas dispense system that destroyed the flavour of real ale by using a blanket of gas to stop it "going off". Tolly Cobbold (Ipswich) who offered very little real ale (except the occasional gravity mild or bitter) in their large local estate of about 380 pubs, and who were also increasingly earning a poor name for the quality of their beers including the short lived “Husky” lager. And Adnams (Southwold) who offered both Bitter and Mild, but sadly it was not very widely available outside a small "tied" estate of about 70 pubs plus a few local Free Houses.
Other notable and long established nearby brewers such as Stewart & Patterson (Norwich), had been taken over by Bullards in 1961 and closed in 1970, with 630 tied pubs (some located in north Suffolk) subsequently being rebranded. Bullards (also Norwich) themselves were then taken over by Watneys in 1968 and soon another 530 tied pubs were being rebranded, and E. Lacons (Great Yarmouth) were taken over and closed by Whitbread in 1968 with their 350 tied pubs also being rebranded. All of this rapid consolidation resulted not just with some established local beers disappearing, but also many local pubs increasingly offering rather bland and nationally branded beers such as Watneys Red Barrel, Ind Coope Double Diamond and Worthington E together with a first wave of new imported lager beers such as Skol and Tuborg.
Motivating a generation - The appearance of this infamous dispense on Suffolk bar counters was the last straw for many local drinkers.
Camra arrived in Suffolk in June1974, with a branch being formed in Ipswich, and the first local meeting being held at the Rose and Crown, which soon became known as the local Camra HQ (now closed).
First local branch chairman was Rob Walters - who had attended the first National Camra AGM (in London in 1973) with his friend and one of the co-founders of the national campaign, Mike Hardman. Other early and prominent local branch members (and chairs if name in bold ) included Keith Froom, T D S Woods, Frank Baldry and Dave Broadmeadow. Ron Booth (now living in Yorkshire), Bill Baldry and a rather youthful Stuart Bowell who later was Ipswich branch Chairman for two lengthy terms and also Suffolk Area Organiser (for about 20 years) - there were many others.
(I was serving behind the bar, and had a truncheon over the head from the pink policeman! - John French) …but who were the pink policemen? ..one of the pink policemen was the late (and great) Pete Leabourne.
Some Ipswich pubs selling real ale in 1974 included the County, Greyhound and Water Lily but sadly no more than 10 pubs in the town at this time! Those early local campaigners soon embarked upon the task of promoting real ale by organising local beer tents and supporting county beer festivals. Bill Baldry recalled that in those early days it was quite hard work to get everything organised as beer festivals were then still a fairly unusual concept especially to the licensing authority.
Stuart Bowell also recalled that the first outside bar organised by the branch resulted in some branch members camped overnight at Seckford Hall in October 1974 to guard the beer for a local Transport Rally! Beer Tents soon became an increasingly popular local form of local campaigning, especially at venues such as the Stowmarket carnival.
The Ipswich branch grew in strength quite rapidly and various other notable characters soon became involved in the campaign - including Graham Potter (GP), Rae Gardiner, Ian (the lustful) Mihell, Bob Longley and of the irrepressible Vic Attwood (who sadly died Oct. 1995) - who was initially based at Brettenham – to name just a few.
In 1975 a local guide (pictured) was published to assist in finding real ale in the immediate area around Ipswich (with a radius of about 10 miles). It was written by Graham Henry Hudson - sadly it contained just 51 pubs. Subsequent paper county guides were also published in 1978, 80, 83, 86, 92 and 1997.
Today the local campaign have migrated all of the current Suffolk pub information onto a website - which was designed by Tony Green and developed together with Nigel Smith and Keith Morrell. This website was initially designed and populated in 2007-08 and now contains photographs of every trading pub and also increasingly details of the many closed pubs within the county. Another notable contributor was Sid Kerrison who has provided many historic and closed pub photos. This project is still very much ongoing. Many others have also contributed material and are acknowledged in the website. If you have pictures or details of pubs that you are happy to share with others then just contact Nigel.
The early branch members were very active and soon RambAles, CycAles, Steel Quoits matches, Shove-Ha'penny competitions, cricket matches, Conker competitions plus numerous other social and campaigning activities had evolved to keep the branch members busy - as they still are today.
A mini-bus was purchased and this then inspired many exciting beer adventures over a twelve year period - but the driving was shared and the nominated driver never drank on any of the trips.
Elsewhere in Suffolk Camra membership was also increasing and by 1977 a second branch had become established in the Bury St Edmunds area. Apart from a short period of problems in the mid-1980s when they disbanded for a short while this branch has also flourished to the current day.
Also for a while a mid-Suffolk sub-branch was established in the north of the county under Bill Baldry's chairmanship. Although this branch did not last long but, in October 2011 a new Mid Anglia branch has been formed - based around Yaxley and Diss - this sub-branch has since organised two beer festivals and is currently well supported.
Other Sub-branches also flourished briefly in Haverhill with Steve Miller and Chris Curtis, and Lowestoft with Terry Morris and Des O'Brian (later Norwich chair) but unfortunately these subsequently folded.
On a much happier note, in January 1998 a new sub-branch was formed in the Lowestoft area under the chair of Mike Davey. Other local members include Jim Jordan, Mel Bloom, Linda Davey, Ken Ward, Tim Major, Bob Viper, Steve Luxton and Simon van Tromp. Initially Known as North East Waveney (NEWD) today they are now called the North East Suffolk Branch and campaign very successfully in the local area.
At their AGM in February 2003 NE Suffolk decided to take the next big step and become a fully functional local branch and so for the first time in over a decade there were three distinct and very active branches in the county. At this time some boundary re-alignments were also agreed with Ipswich & ES so that Halesworth and Southwold could be incorporated into the NE branch campaigning area.
Current boundaries for all four Suffolk branches were agreed and republished soon after. North East Suffolk have since established themselves throughout the Lowestoft, Bungay and Beccles areas and have also organised various coach trips out to a variety of more remote pub and brewery destinations in the area.
The wider popularity of the campaign and increased awareness of the campaign's primary objective of revitalising beer also saw a reversal of policy by several brewers, and the gradual withdrawal of some of the more insipid national brands, with the subsequent increased availability of real ale in many local pubs.
In late '77/early '78 one Bury branch member, Vaughan Hully, inspired and edited the first local branch newsletter (assisted by GP). Initially just simple A4 typed pages - it immediately provided more focus for the branch campaigns - by 1979 it had evolved into an A5 sized pamphlet. Early editions often featured block wood prints across the top.
Originally without a name, this newsletter became widely circulated across the county as an increasingly popular as a form of local campaigning until the extensive demise of so many rural Suffolk pubs encouraged it to be given the name "Last Orders" (since May 1981) to their everlasting memory. Vaughan was the magazine editor for over 4 years and set an early high standard.
One inspiration during this time was the introduction of special features such as cartoon characters - initially Fizzbuster then a long series that depicted the everyday adventures of a fictional local ale character called Arty - these were mostly drawn by GP and ran four about nine years and were extremly popular.
Other editors since Vaughan have included Frank Baldry, Rae Gardiner, Simon Haynes (6 years) and Nigel Smith (22 years). The magazine was first produced in full colour in Dec 2005 - and is currently enjoying the 38th year of continuous production and circulation across the county and beyond - with about 7000 copies in colour currently being produced per edition - and NE Essex Camra branches in Tendring & Colchester also contributing in recent years. It has often been said "it remains our most important local campaigning tool."
During the early 1980s Camra's campaigning priorities gradually changed – the original task was undoubtedly completed and most local pubs now stocked real aleonce again. Suffolk once again had over 600 pubs selling real ale (then about 70% of the total) and new handpumps and new beers (such as Tolly Cobbold Original) were appearing on bar counters all over the place.
A winter cycle trip from Ipswich to "mount" Rede was quite an achievement for some hardy branch members in 1981 who took 3 days in wintery conditions to complete this epic journey from sea level to the highest point in the county.
A minibus trip to Wales for Ipswich memebers in 1986
Many original members considered the need for campaigning was over. However it was not long before many new priorities were identified. These included:
- Pubs were now closing in very large numbers and somebody was needed to raise awareness about their sudden and tragic loss and also to campaign (when deemed appropriate) to keep them open. Counties such as Suffolk contained many rural pubs with traditionally relatively low volumes of beer sales – alternative new business such as catering, village shops and b&b needed to be undertaken to help keep many of them viable.
- More flexible opening hours were needed as these were still based on very outdated legislation and were highly restrictive (eventually leading to the total reform of licensing in 2003).
- Sadly beer quality could also often be very variable - brewers and publicans needed to be encouraged to invest in better dispense systems and quality control otherwise the sale of poor beer could once again discourage the new Real Ale converts from drinking the cask conditioned beers on offer (new industry initiatives such as cask marque were to eventually be created).
- Beer was also becoming rather expensive and had seen rapid increases in bar prices partly due to a mixture of high inflation and government taxation but also partly due to a new wave of early pub chains (such as Inntrapreneur) who had significantly raised overhead costs for many publicans – someone was needed to talk on behalf of the consumer and raise awareness of excessive pricing and campaign for full-measure.
Rae, Scotty + Frank setting up the first Ipswich Beer Festival
Virtually unchanged for first 15 years this picture was taken in 1997…
Ipswich Mayor at waterfront festival in Aug 11 (pic by Andrew Beal)
And finally - On a more positive note, for the first time in decades, we were able to support the many new breweries that were opening with Mauldons (Sudbury) starting in 1983, Earl Soham - behind the Victoria in 1984, and Nethergate (Clare) from 1986. A dozen more new local comercial businesses were to follow in the next decade, whilst nationally over 600 small breweries were set-up. These new breweries all need some help raising awareness of their “craft beers” and some help in establishing new markets.
Fortunately as larger beer festivals were also becoming established - Ipswich had its first in 1983 and Bury St Edmunds in 1990 – these have remained a popular core element of Camra campaigning ever since.
The very first Camra beer festival in Ipswich (1983) was inspired and partly financed by Rae Gardiner. Rae put up some of his own money to ensure the event went ahead - any initial doubts of its likely success were soon dispelled and it has remained a very popular event ever since.
Between 4500 - 5000 people attended each year from 1983 to 2000, when the event was held in the Ipswich Corn Exchange. In 2011 the 29th festival took a new direction with an outdoor festival held on Ipswich docks (also now called the Waterfront). The following two festivals were also held on the same waterfront site until due to differences with IBC over dates for the event no CAMRA involvement was possible atthe 2014 event.
In 2015 a new location on the Practice Pitch at Ipswich Town Football Club is to be tried.
Main organiser and license holder of the early festivals was Dennis Keeble (3 years) - who is now sadly deceased. Other principal organisers have included Mark Salter, Pete Ellis, Mel Brooks, Nigel Smith (11 years), Phil Holland (3 years), Ray Gardiner (3 years), Paul Jefferey (4 years) and Gary Hale (2 years) .
Other contributors to these annual events are too numerous to mention but have notably included (in no particular order) Martin McCleary (head cellarman for many years), Peter Gager (cellarman & beer cooling systems), Karl Myhill (cellarman), Harry King (cellarman), Ian Scott + Steve Willett (joint treasurers), John French, Trevor Stutter, Vic Attwood (now deceased), Nick Attwood, Mike Smillie, Paul Game, Chris Berry (treasurer), Georgina Warrington (treasurer & products), Chris Pitts (cellarman), Keith Morrell (treasurer), Mike Johns (treasurer), Stuart Bowell (treasurer & products), Allan Crampton (cider), Judy Brown (cider), David Whiting (products), Nigel Mann (staffing), Frank Walsh (staffing), Graham Ellis (staffing), Tracey Constable (staffing), Alison Peel (staffing), Sophie Watson (including various logo designs), Sid Kerrison, Peter Shelcott, Tony Morris (membership), Mike Herbert (membership), Naomi Drown, Martin Stevens, John & Pat Willis, Ray Slegg, Judith Last, Roger & Janet Batty, Doug Pearce, Tina Hammond, Brian Moss (glasses), Jill and Stuart Prior (glasses), Malcolm Kay (products) and many, many more.
Meanwhile elsewhere in Suffolk, similar events were also held in Bury St Edmunds - but were of mixed success until they moved to the Corn Exchange in 1992 where they have certainly thrived for many years until that event moved to the Apex in 2011. Organised originally by Chris Curtis (for eleven years) and now known as the East Anglian Beer Festival (offering a wide range oflocal beers) it continues to be a very popular annual event.
Held in Sudbury for five years (1993 to 1997) a Jazz & Beer Festival was a popular event in a marquee located close to the Quay Theatre. Several local Camra members including Tony Morris, Nigel Smith, Stuart Bowell, Brian Nicholas and John Gagen helped to ensure all of these events were highly enjoyable beer festivals, organised in conjunction with a local jazz club and the Quay Theatre.
Then in Stowmarket the town's first festival (1997) was organised by local members - Stuart Bowell, Georgina Warrington and Nigel Smith - these events ave all been held in conjunction with the Museum of East Anglian Life (originally under the directorship of Miriam Steed and more recently with event organisers Lisa, Patsy and Tony) inside a 500 year old Tythe Barn. Many other Camra members including Frank Walsh, Karl Myhill and Keith Froom have also assisted with this event - loved by many for its unique setting - with the acre or so of garden beside the barn. It has certainly become a regular firm favorite for a large band of loyal supporters.
To help encourage Ipswich people to support rural pubs within the county a series of "Real ale Runabouts" were organised in conjunction with the Ipswich Bus company from 1984.
The Ipswich branch trips use Ipswich Buses - all normally start at Tower Ramparts and finish with a drop-off route around town!
Barry Moore (from the bus company) provided much of the initial inspiration to get them going. These regular excursions have enjoyed considerable success ever since and are always open to anyone who would like to get out of town for a few hours and visit a few of the better local rural pubs.
See the Real Ale Runabouts page for latest details.
Also after the gradual demise of the faithful old minibus (in the late 1980s) the Ipswich branch has since then regularly taken to the road using hired buses for most of their their social meetings - such as brewery trips and inter-branch socials - including several traditional games evenings and the annual bowls matches held against Norwich & Norfolk branch - these events are open to all local Camra members to attend and have usually been very popular.
Look out in Last orders if you would like to attend a future social event!!
Gathered outside the Woolpack in 1989 this group of local campaigners marked the closure of the Cliff Brewery by Brent Walker.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest tests of the resolve of local Camra members to-date was the sudden closure and proposed re-development of the long established Tolly Cobbold brewery by Brent Walker (1989). An enormous local effort exerted by the local action committee led by Mel Brooks in conjunction with a national campaign and extensive support given by the local authorities helped to inhibit many of BW's proposals and assisted with the eventual management buy-out and resurgence of brewing in Ipswich a few months later.
Unfortunately Tolly Cobbold finally ceased trading in Sept 2002 after a merger with Ridleys - then the two companies announced that they could only effectively compete in the current market as a single entity. A subsequent take-over and closure of Ridleys by Greene King in August 2005, meant that all brands were now owned by Greene King and any Ridley or Tolly Cobbold beers brewed after this date will be brewed at the Westgate brewery in Bury St Edmunds whilst the late-Victorian Cliff Road brewery in Ipswich remains closed and with its future still remaining in some doubt.
In 2011 Camra celebrated its 40th anniversary - with over 130,000 members nationally and over 2000 members in Suffolk and so the new branch in Mid Anglia was most welcome - there has never been a better or more important time to get involved - with high prices and taxation and supermarkets destroying local pubs you can also make a very welcome addition to the already highly active Camra scene across the county - make a resolution to come along to a local beer festival or a local branch meeting - we will value your contribution - promoting real ale, protecting local pubs and celebrating local brewers - go on get involved today.
last updated April 2015