A while ago I mentioned that a crack team of analysts were mapping every pub ever to have appeared in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.
For those at the back who haven’t kept up, CAMRA was founded in 1971 to fight the keg beer tide, producing a prototype Good Beer Guide the following year on A4 pages, listing 298 pubs where you could find cask-conditioned ale. At this stage CAMRA stood for the somewhat less snappy Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale. The first published Guide came out in 1974 and has been produced every year since.
For completeness, pubs on the 1972 list have been included in this project, even though the numerical sequence of editions starts with 1974 (which is still the only one I don’t possess). Assuming the plans to produce a 2022 Guide go ahead, the 2023 edition would become the 50th.
Capturing every pub ever included is harder than you might think so the final figures may still be subject to minor tweaking. Early editions were often vague about the precise location of pubs, usually a name and the briefest of description was provided. A pathological resistance to postcodes didn’t help – they were not incorporated until 2004, fully thirty years after their universal adoption.
In the early 1980s CAMRA included some extra pubs to ‘Try Also’ consisting solely of the name of the pub. It could be a challenge trying to find them in those pre-internet days. Not every pub in this category appears to have left an obvious digital footprint. And that’s before we consider the vexed issue of pub name changes.
Local authority boundaries have also changed over the years so, for example, a batch of pubs placed in Berkshire in the 1974 Guide moved to Oxfordshire following enactment of Ted Heath’s local government act. The legislation also created new and largely unloved authorities such as Avon, Cleveland and Humberside that later disappeared.
Some local branches took matters into their own hands and improvised geographically, contributing to some pubs featuring in more than one county (even in the same edition!). Many more have been placed in different locations. One pub, the Royal Oak at Higher Kinnerton was placed first in England then Wales, in its only two appearances. Two in Hay-on-Wye made a similar international transfer.
The Foresters in Billinge makes the Irish border issue look simple. It debuted in Merseyside in 1976, switched to Greater Manchester in 1979, negotiated a move back in 1981, then reappeared again in Greater Manchester in 1992. It’s still trading and the border became significant last year when the lockdown tiers varied between the two counties.
Scotland’s 1995 reorganisation from regional councils to unitary authorities was spurned by the Good Beer Guide, with tourist board areas inexplicably preferred. Wales has also had boundary changes that the Guide has had to reflect, not always with complete consistency.
Notwithstanding these caveats, the provisional headline findings are:
Total pubs to appear in the Good Beer Guide 31,559*; England 27,312; Wales 2,266; Scotland 1,629; Channel Islands 113; Isle of Man 109; Northern Ireland 90; Republic of Ireland 30; Netherlands 10.
Pubs Closed: 8,183 (25.9%). This is likely to be a slight underestimate as the status of some is unclear, particularly in the context of the pandemic.
Pubs that have appeared only once: 5,807 (18.4%)
Most Pubs in a Single Guide: 6,433 in 1982.
Pubs to appear in every printed Guide: 5.
Most Represented Counties: Greater London 2,020; Greater Manchester 1,195; Kent 1,110; West Yorkshire 1,031.
Future posts in this series will refine the numbers and focus on the history of entries in designated counties and regions.
My thanks to Paul, Rob, Ian and Jim for their selfless devotion to spreadsheets.
*This figure will probably fall by up to 100 as we continue to filter pubs that have been placed in more than one county.