Cameron’s in the 1980s

Last week I posted a comment on Boak and Bailey’s site about Cameron’s of Hartlepool; as a reward B&B suggested I write a blog or 12 about my time there.

I spent about two and a half years there as Marketing Manager of Cameron Brewing in the mid 80s after working in the South East for Allied Breweries. The move was a contrast in many ways, which makes it difficult to know where to start, so some anecdotal comparisons may help me work out whether this will prove to be of any interest to my reader.

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Cameron’s at the time were owned by Ellerman Shipping Lines (essentially the reclusive Barclay twins who live on a private island close to Sark in the Channel Islands), along with sister brewery Tolly Cobbold of Ipswich.

Legend has it that the twins bought Ellermans to get hold of two hotels in London’s West End and hadn’t realised that the breweries were included. I understand that they visited Hartlepool once by helicopter and never returned.

From memory Cameron’s owned around 350 pubs as well as the brewery and a soft drinks plant. The tied estate was concentrated on Teesside and in York and the North Yorks coast owing to takeovers of John J Hunt of York and the Scarborough & Whitby Brewery. The most northerly pubs were in Northumberland and the furthest south a handful in Leeds, whilst the free trade, primarily focused on working men’s clubs, extended as far south as Doncaster.

The key brands were Strongarm, bitter (Best Bitter on keg, Lion in cask) and Hansa lager, brewed under licence from DAB of Dortmund.

Camerons Strongarm
Camerons Strongarm; not one of my ad campaigns…..

To start, a couple of anecdotes contrasting beer volumes in the North East with the soft South.

Cameron’s highest turnover managed house was Oscar’s, somewhat confusingly described as “Hartlepool’s first wine bar” as it got through 90 barrels (that’s brewers’ barrels) per week.

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Unfortunately the local’s did not take to Hansa, their locally brewed lager, in great numbers; hence Oscar’s shifted 2 pallets of bottled Carling every seven days.

A chap I had known at Allied joined Cameron’s shortly after me as National Account Manager. We pottered down to Oscars one lunchtime and Roger asked the manager ( Bobby Kerr, captain of Sunderland at some football match in 1973) what volumes the pub shifted.

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On hearing the figure of 90 barrels, he paused then asked “over what time period is that”?

When told that it was a weekly figure, he confided that his local Greene King tenancy in a village near Newmarket sold a total of 95 barrels in the previous YEAR.

We interlopers from the south soon realised that a major North/South divide was the former talked about weekly barrels, the latter annual.

This was emphasised when popping along to a local WMC, Owton Manor Social, which got through 100 barrels per week.

Unfortunately for us 90 barrels were Whitbread Trophy Special, brewed just up the coast at Castle Eden and dispensed via 5 barrel tanks.

The lager revolution was slow getting underway in Teesside CIU clubs; lager accounted for 5% of sales.

More arcane tedium next time.

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7 thoughts on “Cameron’s in the 1980s

  1. Great stuff. I can name a pub (ex Greene King) in a small village near Newmarket that I doubt sold NINE barrels last year, let alone 90 a week. That’s why beer in the north (i.e. above Stoke) is better !

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      1. I think I should refer you to the writings of Tandleman on this subject. Suits some beers often northern),not others.

        Bass can be served dead flat or with three inches of foam, it seems !

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  2. Worth making the point that these Teesside businesses were shifting keg beer via metered electric pumps. Cask at Cameron’s was probably no more than 20% of volume and was concentrated in the tied North Yorkshire estate.
    Definitely through a sparkler though. The popular myth was that Southerners preferred their beer flat because the higher prices dahn sarf meant that drinkers demanded a full pint.

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    1. Although an empty pint is a sad thing, I do like the final presentation of a series of foam rings down the glass. Hard to achieve with a flat beer. However, I would take a Bass any way I could.

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  3. I used to work for Richardsons who used to deliver the bottles and wines and spirits for Cameron’s. Oscars was my drop (Wednesday). Bobby always gave us a good welcome. Park Hotel was always a big drop…40/50 dozen Carling bottles was not unusual.

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