When Beer was Nationalised



It was whilst reading Martin Taylor’s blog of his visit to the Spinners Arms, Cummersdale that I was reminded this pub was part of the Carlisle State Management Scheme.  This gave me an excuse to dig out John Hunt’s treasurable little book (1971) on the time beer was nationalised.

The 1914-18 war saw the building of a huge munitions factory in Gretna, nine miles from Carlisle, the nearest place of size.  5,000 workers, earning £20 a week – at a time when six shillings was the more usual rate – would flood into the city standing “in solid formation to make massed attacks on the alcohol”  (So far so Wetherspoon’s). At Boustead’s Bar the owner had 400-500 whiskies poured ready in advance of the onslaught.

David Lloyd George, Minister of Munitions, famously said drunkenness amongst the workforce was “doing more damage in the War than all the German submarines put together.”  This led to the creation of the Central Control Board (Liquour Traffic), one aim of which was to “make the public house a less unhealthy and more easily controlled place for rest and refreshment; and for social intercourse and recreation.”

In effect the Board compulsorily purchased 119 pubs and 7 clubs in Carlisle. By the end of the war 69 remained- they had closed the rest.  They also bought over the city’s 4 breweries  as well as the Maryport Brewery and 12 whisky bonded warehouses.  They banned the popular ‘heater and cooler’ – a pint and a whisky; banned ‘treating’- buying someone else a drink; reduced opening hours; effected Sunday closing; and introduced ‘food taverns’ to mitigate drunkenness.  By the end of the war their control was such that it was almost impossible to buy a bottle of spirits unless your doctor said it was for “medicinal purposes.”  No one under 18 was permitted alcohol- until then there had been no age limit.


Carlisle’s 4 breweries were Carlisle Old Brewery; Graham’s; Carlisle New Brewery; and Iredale’s.  Brewing was centralised at the Old Brewery,  later acquired by Theakston’s.  The New Brewery became the maltings.  The Maryport Brewery continued brewing.

After the war the Government introduced the 1921 Licensing Act but, instead of returning the pubs to private ownership, created the Carlisle State Management Scheme, whose pubs extended into towns such as Aspatria and Cockermouth.  The beers are fondly remembered and it was said you could read a newspaper through the Pale.


After the war the flair of architect Harry Redfern saw some modernised and new State Management Scheme pubs around Carlisle, many of which remain.  The Spinners Arms was a complete rebuild.  John Hunt’s book shows the old and new, the latter an example of Redfern’s characteristic style.

IMG_1838 2.jpg

The tiled frontage of the Howard Arms – covered because the Control Board did not permit premises to be advertised – only saw the light of day again in 1979 (pics below and above beer mats from statemanagementstory.org).


As Hunt describes, the 1932 Royal Commission on Licensing stated that “Public ownership should be applied elsewhere.” After the 1939-1945 War the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison was enthusiastic about this prospect.  There had been 3 other small schemes by then: one in Gretna that had been split from Carlisle following the 1921 Act; one in the Cromarty Firth, to control drunkenness at a submarine base in Dingwall; and the Central Control Board had also bought out 4 public houses near another munitions factory at Enfield Lock, London.  The latter scheme was sold back to private hands in 1922.

Morrison wanted the new towns being built after the war to adopt such schemes and plans were drawn up for Newton Aycliffe, County Durham to be the first.  When Labour lost the 1951 election these plans were dropped.

The Carlisle State Management Scheme carried on, though, until 1971.  It was profitable throughout, having been established with £0.5m Treasury funds, a debt that was repaid in 1928.  Thereafter it generated cumulative profits of £6.7m.  It produced a wide range of its own spirits, introduced Carlisle Keg in 1967 and even a Malt Wine, “brewed with malt and hops only” that sounds suspiciously like a beer.

But in 1971 Home Secretary Reginald Maudling secured an Act of Parliament abolishing the 55 year long “experiment” and it was voted through 277 votes to 226.  172 outlets and the Brewery were sold off, ending an extraordinary episode in the history of British brewing.


5 thoughts on “When Beer was Nationalised

  1. Enjoyed this greatly, knew the basics but had no idea the scheme was so widespread or lasted so long. Were there any restrictions on the communal singing of “Sex on Fire” back then ?

    I really must visit Aspatria. Has it ever had a Beer Guide pub ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Martin. It’s probably a well blogged subject but I love the John Hunt book – it lists all the managed and tied pubs sold off at the end. Plenty of restrictions though perhaps not that or whatever its contemporary equivalent was! The other schemes are worthy of research but didn’t brew (and may have all been supplied with beer from Carlisle). After writing this I saw a recent blog from Keith Flett identifying the Enfield Lock pubs.
      Ps Rikke sorted the link so it’s now been edited. Hope I can remember next time.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks- appreciated. I lived in Carlisle in early 1980s and think it had became a unique part of the city’s identity amongst older drinkers. Some of the Redfearn pubs created bowling greens that were still well used then (some of which are more likely to be car parks now I suspect).


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