How beer helped to shape life in Norwich

A new book sheds light on life behind the scenes of the pubs in Norwich. Derek James reports.

This is more than just a book about pubs and breweries. It is a story full of characters – from beer barons to landlords and from drinkers to entertainers – who have helped to shape 21st century Norwich.

Thousands of people once worked in the big breweries dotted around the city which kept hundreds of pubs across Norwich stocked up with beer.

Today those breweries have gone, along with many of the pubs, but it is not all gloom and doom.

The city and county has some of the finest pubs in the land and smaller breweries have emerged to maintain the tradition of brewing first class ale.

The story behind the city pubs and breweries is told in all its glory in what must be regarded as one of the most comprehensive and fascinating local history books to appear on the shelves in recent times.

Frances and Michael Holmes, of Norwich Heritage Projects, have hit the jackpot with Norwich Pubs and Breweries Past and Present.

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The Project is a totally independent, non-profit-making organisation with the simple aim of encouraging an appreciation of the delights of a beautiful and historic city.

And their latest publication does that.

The story of the breweries, the pubs, the people who ran them and the customers also reflects the social and economic history of the city and highlights how it has changed over the centuries.

'The very clear message,' say the authors, 'is that Norwich should be proud of its pubs and breweries – a fact very much celebrated in the Norwich City of Ale Festival launched earlier this year.'

Think of your favourite pub, from backstreet boozer to city centre landmark, and the chances are it not only gets a mention, but there is a photograph of it along with a few memories from regulars.

There are more than 400 pubs, inns and taverns written about and there is almost a waft of Watneys as you turn the pages. Many long gone, others still going strong.

Structuring the book was a challenge with so much material but it works well and is easy to follow.

The story starts at the beginning with the Monks brewing in the 11th century in and around the cathedral and off King Street before the beer barons came along.

In Norwich there was:

Youngs, Crawshay & Youngs Ltd – The Crown Brewery.

Bullard & Sons – The Anchor Brewery.

Steward & Patteson Ltd – The Pockthorpe Brewery

Morgans Ltd – The Old Brewery.

Watney Mann (East Anglia) Ltd and the Norwich Brewery Co

Lacons – The Falcon Brewery (Great Yarmouth)

And, bringing the story up to date, Woodforde's – The Broadland Brewery.

Each brewery has a fascinating story to tell.

The story then moves on to the horses and drays and nips along to the Beer Festival which is now one of the top festivals in the country.

You have already worked up quite a thirst by the time you get to the pubs themselves. Many long gone, others still going strong.

Life in the old pubs mirrors life at the time. Most had their own darts, fishing, angling, football or cricket teams and were at the heart of community life. Thanks to this book we can step inside many of the pubs and meet some of the locals and entertainers and read their memories of what they were really like.

We then take a journey around hundreds of city centre establishments, large and small, posh and not so posh, meeting more characters, and learning more of the long and colourful history of The Fine City.

It is a memorable pub crawl.

Norwich Pubs and Breweries Past and Present by Frances and Michael Holmes is published by Norwich Heritage Projects and is on sale at Jarrold for �9.95.