Magic Numbers: Mapping the CAMRA Good Beer Guide

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.

1972- make as many complaints as you want

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.

Greater Manchester 1975

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.

Beehive, Abingdon (Britain from Above)

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.

Billinge-History

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.

A recently saved famous ever-present Pic: Beer Today

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.

22 thoughts on “Magic Numbers: Mapping the CAMRA Good Beer Guide

    1. Good question. I have been to just under 18k, or at least have recorded that many since 1/1/83. Had a few years wasted drinking before then when I didn’t write them down! However, whilst the large majority of those are GBG listed, some weren’t. My next job will be to match up my lists with the Guide’s total aggregate, less closures. Have a pal who has been to twice that many pubs in total though he is not a GBG completist. Have you kept good records Mick?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m afraid my records are worse than poor, my only real point of reference are the pubs I’ve reviewed on the Pubs Galore site which currently stands at 1342 and only stretch back to 2014 plus some more on Beerintheevening before that, pre millennium its a case of relying on an increasingly dodgy memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very much enjoyed reading this. So many things to ask about, but the one fact that jumped out at me is that ten pubs in the Netherlands have been in the GBG. Do you know why they were given special treatment? Would seem to open the door to the GBG including all manner of pubs on the continent, but I assume that has not come to pass!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Duncan will have an official answer, but I suspect a CAMRA Exec member had a holiday round the, er, historic art districts of the Netherlands and noticed a few had London Pride on handpump and thought it might lead to a sort of twinning arrangement with free trips and beer if they put them in the Guide.

      Scott Campbell found a Dutch bar which still has a Fullers handpump !

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thanks Mark. The Netherlands featured in the 1983 Guide only and was anomalous at the time. I don’t know why it was included but there were CAMRA Good Beer Guides to Holland & Belgium, then just Belgium written by Tim Webb. Also recall a Czech and a German Guide. The Tim Webb ones are hugely enjoyable even if you never set foot in Belgium. They give a wonderful feel for the country.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Good recall on the early Tim Webb guides. The Netherland inclusions were only pubs with handpumps, of course, and I imagine handpumps elsewhere were (and remain) a real rarity.

        I doubt there’s enough material for a CAMRA book but a guide to British beer and pubs abroad would be a winner.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. But why drink British beer when abroad. Virtually everywhere has some high quality local beer. Some places that try cask don’t always manage it well. Mind you that’s true here.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. The latest What’s Brewing has an obituary for Guy, who I knew slightly (indeed he signed me up for Pint when I went to my first Dutch beer festival), which mentions him as running cask imports to the Netherlands back then. As I first heard of him through through ex Camra NE, I wouldn’t be surprised if the GBG inclusion was related to his business and was an attempt to promote cask abroad. I’ve been banging on at Camra to have a page on their website listing permanent cask outlets outwith the UK for years. Got to get to the brewpub on the Falklands some day….
        There are more bars with handpumps on the continent than you would expect, finding Geueze dispensed in such a manner is a very pleasant surprise. Is the Rosbief chain around Paris still punting it’s dodgy homebrew?

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Interesting Scott. Was in Paris two years ago and in a couple with cask, one was badged Burton Ale. I have had some very dodgy cask abroad (and at home!) so suppose CAMRA wouldn’t want to endorse something they can’t quality assess. Is it cask on the Falklands? If they include that in the GBG I may need a few days to get the tick.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Brilliant work. Well done all. Are there still over 100 pubs on the IOM full stop? They all must have been in at some point!

    Covid stopped me in my tracks of visiting every pub with an LS postcode, which I’ve been doing since 2008. Only a dozen or so Old school pubs left but around 50 left when you include micros and bars that keep popping up. Wish I’d blogged them from the start, particularly those that have fallen by the wayside!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers. Good work in your big local patch. Of the 109 to feature on Man we think 40 have closed. But there are others that have not been in so not sure of the total. @NorthIrishSea will almost certainly know.

      Liked by 1 person

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