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The Vocabulary Of Beer

December 15, 2017
by the gentle author

I offer this choice selection of the language of drinking lest it may be of use to any of my readers who might be planning to take a draught over the forthcoming festive season.

Life in the East – At the Half Moon Tap, 1830

Barrel - A cask built to hold thirty-six gallons.

Beer – There is no bad beer but some is better than others.

Binder - The last drink, which it seldom proves to be. Also used to describe the person who orders it.

Boiling Copper - Vessel in which wort is boiled with hops.

Boniface - Traditional name for an innkeeper, as used by George Farquhar in ‘The Beaux’ Stratagem.’

Bragget - A fancy drink made of fermented honey and ale.

Brewer – The artist who by his choice of barley and other ingredients, and by his sensitive control of the brewing process, produces beer the way you like it.

Butt - A cask built to hold one hundred and eight gallons.

Buttered Beer - A popular sixteenth century drink of spiced and sugared strong beer supplemented with the yolk of an egg and some butter.

Cardinal - A nineteenth century form of mulled ale.

Casual – An occasional visitor to the pub.

Cheese – A heavy wooden ball used in the game of skittles.

Chitting - The appearance of the first shoots while the barley is growing during the first stage of the malting process.

Coaching Glass – An eighteenth century drinking vessel with no feet that was brought out to coach travellers and consumed at one draught.

Collar - The frothing head on a glass of beer between the top of the beer and the rim of the glass.

Crinze - An earthenware drinking vessel, a cross between a tankard and a small bowl.

Crawler - One who visits all the pubs in one district, drinking a glass of beer in each.

Dipstick - An instrument used to measure the quantity of wort prior to fermentation.

Dive - A downstairs bar.

Dog’s Nose - Beer laced with gin.

Down The Hatch - A toast, usually for the first drink.

Finings - A preparation of isinglass which is added to the beer in the cask to clarify it.

Firkin – A cask built to hold nine gallons.

Flip – Beer and spirit mixed, sweetened and heated with a hot iron.

Fob - The word used in a brewery to describe beer froth.

Goods – The name used by the brewer to describe the crushed malted grains in the mash tuns.

Grist – Malt grains that have been cleaned and cracked in the brewery mill machines.

Gyle - A quality of beer brewed at one time – one particular brewing.

Heel Tap – Term for beer left at the bottom of the glass.

Hogshead - A cask built to hold fifty-four gallons.

Hoop - A device displayed outside taverns in the middle ages to indicate that beer was sold. Later, it became the practice to display certain objects within the hoop in order to differentiate one tavern from another. eg The Hoop & Grapes

Kilderkin - Cask holding eighteen gallons.

Lambswool- A hot drink of spiced ale with roasted apples beaten up in it.

Liquor – The term used in the brewing industry for water.

Local - The pub round the corner.

Long Pull - Giving the customer more than they ordered, the opposite of a short pull.

Lounge - The best-appointed and most expensive bar of the public house.

Mash – The mixture of crushed malted grains and hot liquor which is run through the masher into the mash tun and from which is extracted liquid malt or wort.

Merry-Goe-Down – Old term describing good ale.

Metheglin – A spiced form of mead.

Mether Cup - A wooden drinking cup used by the Saxons, probably for Metherglin.

Mud-In-Your-Eye, Here’s - Traditional toast, with a meaning more pleasant than it sounds.

Nappy - Term describing good ale, foaming and strong.

Noggin - Small wooden mug, a quarter pint measure.

Noondrink - Ale consumed at noon when trade was slacker. Also, High Noon, drunk at three o’clock when street trading was finished.

One For The Road - Last drink before leaving the pub.

Pig’s Ear - Rhyming slang for beer.

Pocket - A large sack made to contain one and a half hundredweight of hops.

Porter - Popular in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries among London market porters, equivalent to a mixture of ale, beer and twopenny.

Public Bar - Where everything is cheapest and decoration and equipment is smiplest.

Puncheon - Cask built to hold seventy-two gallons.

Quaff - To drink in large draughts.

Regular - One of the mainstays of the public house.

Round – An order of drinks for more than one person.

Saloon Bar – Enjoying better amenities than a Public Bar and therefore more expensive to the customer.

Shandy – A drink of beer mixed with ginger beer, or sometimes beer and lemonade.

Short - A gin or whisky, usually taken before a meal.

Small Beer - A beer of lesser gravity, hence a trifling matter.

Smeller - A man employed in the brewery to examine casks after they have been washed and prior to their being filled with beer.

Snifter - Colloquial term for a drink.

Snug or Snuggery – Semi-private apartment in the pub, by custom reserved for use of the regulars.

Sparge – To spray hot liquor onto the grist in the mash tuns.

Spell, To Take A - To go round to the local for a beer, coined by Mr Peggotty in David Copperfield.

Stingo - A strong ale, similar to Barley Wine, popular during the winter months and usually sold in a bottle.

Stool - A useful piece of furniture for a customer who wants to stay at the bar, but is anxious to sit down.

Swig – To take a draught of beer, generally a large one.

Thirst – Suffering enjoyed by beer drinkers.

Tipple - To drink slowly and repeatedly.

Trouncer – The drayman’s mate who pushed and manhandled the wagon over potholes.

Tumbler – A flat bottomed drinking glass, derived from  the Saxon vessel that could not stand upright and must be emptied in one draught.

Tun – Vessel in the brewery where the fermenting takes place.

Twopenny - A pale, small beer introduced to London from the country in the eighteenth century at fourpence a quart.

Wallop – Mild ale.

Wassail - Hot ale flavoured with sugar, nutmeg and roasted apples.

What’s Yours? - An invitation which sums up the companionable atmosphere of a public house.

Wort - The solution of mash extract in water, derived from the grist in the mash tuns.

Image from Tom & Jerry’s Life in London courtesy  Bishopsgate Institute

In Stepney, 1963

December 14, 2017
by Gillian Tindall

Contributing writer Gillian Tindall’s memoir of her first visits to Stepney in 1963 is accompanied by photographs of the East End taken in that era by her husband Richard Lansdown, published here for the first time. Gillian’s account of post-war demolition and ‘relocation’ of residents is strangely familiar as history appears to be repeating itself in the redevelopment and ‘decanting’ of our own time.

Old Montague St

The number of people who actually remember the Blitz that struck the East End between 1940 and 1944 is fast diminishing, yet everyone has heard of it. Today, it is generally assumed that the acres and acres of undistinguished post-war flats that are now the dominant architecture of much of the East End are the result of post-Blitz rebuilding. In fact, the truth is rather different

It was twenty years after the worst of the Blitz that I first got to know Whitechapel and Stepney, Tower Hamlets’ ancient heartlands. It was 1963, the summer after the coldest winter for a century and so long ago that I can almost see – separate from my present self – the girl that I was then. She wears a checked cotton dress she made herself on a sewing machine and her plait of hair is pinned up. She is walking rapidly round the area with a pack of index cards from the Stepney Old People’s Welfare Association in a small basket. In her flat sandals, she is exploring the East End for the first time.

In those days, a pungent scent of hops from Charringtons’ Anchor Brewery enveloped a  stretch of the Mile End Rd, and sometimes a  dray cart pulled by huge shire horses rolled sonorously past and turned in at the great gates. The jingling harness and the rhythmic clopping of heavy, whiskered hooves, were an assertion of a long tradition that in only a few years would become extinct, but the girl who was me did not know that. Nor could she guess that the small shops in Whitechapel with Jewish names over the doors, selling kosher meat or Fancy Trimmings or jellied eels, were in their final years too. You do not know much when you are young.

I was employed by the Welfare Association, on a casual basis, to find out how many of several thousand old ladies on their books, and a smaller number of old gentlemen, were still at their recorded addresses, and how well – or not –  they were managing. Their children, I learnt from conversations with them, had usually moved to London’s northern suburbs, or to Dagenham or Basildon – or had been ‘relocated’ more recently under The Greater London Plan. The old people’s cards mostly showed birth-dates in the 1880s, some even in the 1870s.  Some had been widowed ever since the War of 1914-18, and one or two were even old enough to have lost sons in that war. Often, when I was invited into their houses, the mantlepieces in their front rooms were dressed with the bobbled chenille runners of the Victorian age, with symmetric ornaments at each end – a décor almost extinct today but commemorated in the two china dogs that are the symbol of Spitalfields Life Books.

Some of them would try to detain me with sagas of ancient achievements or griefs, to which I listened with a guilty awareness that I had many more names to visit in the next two hours. Today, how much I would like to have these garrulous old people back, even for one afternoon! They spoke of happy times past, of ‘nice shops’ and good markets and celebrations for forgotten victories and jubilees, of synagogues and Baptist Sunday schools, a world of neighbourliness which they perceived as dispersed and lost. To prolong the chat they would offer me very strong tea, to which very sweet, tinned milk was automatically added. Then I would be taken to see the place in the cracked wall of the kitchen or the upstairs bedroom where “you can see the daylight through it, darlin’, can’t you?”, and the privy in the backyard with the perennially leaking roof - “It isn’t very nice, you see, ‘specially when it rains. My husband, he could have fixed that, but now I’m on me owney-oh…”

I would assure them that the Old People’s Welfare would try to do something about these things. It took me a while to discover the extent to which the forces of bureaucracy were preventing such simple, ad hoc improvements from being carried out. Not long before, Stepney Council had  specifically refused a landlord permission to make good minor damage to three houses in White Horse Rd, near Stepney Green. ‘The carrying out of  substantial works of repair to this old and obsolete type of property would seriously prejudice the Council planning proposals for the redevelopment for residential purposes of this part of Stepney and Poplar Reconstruction Area.’

These post-war plans were not dreamed up by individual Councils. The Greater London Plan was imposed by the London County Council (the fore-runner of the Greater London Council), but the local authorities had adopted its assumptions with blinkered enthusiasm. As early as 1946, warning local voices had been raised, especially about the way the envisaged Brave New Stepney of high-rise blocks set in ‘green spaces’ did not seem to allow any place for the small businesses that had long been the life-blood of the East End. The truth was that Labour thinking in those years had an aversion to small businesses. And so carried away were the Council by the prospect of reducing the borough’s population substantially by moving half of them out of London (a key element of the Plan) that the views of the inhabitants themselves counted for little. An early, enthusiastic description of the Plan in a popular illustrated magazine shocks the reader of today by its Stalinist disregard for the population’s own preferences:

‘A New East End for London… will create a new and better London, of town planning on scientific lines… [It] will make a clean sweep of two-thirds of Stepney and one-third of the neighbouring borough of Poplar… More than 1,960 acres will be transformed… 3 ½ miles long and 1 1/2  miles wide.’

I noticed that among all the old people I visited, whether in snug little houses that only need the roof mended and a bathroom added to the back or in multi-occupied, once-elegant terraces or in serviceable Victorian tenements, the refrain was “Oh, it’s all coming down round here, dear.” I could tell that though they were acquiescent about the change, believing it to be in some way inevitable, they felt hurt at a profound, inarticulate level by what was being done. It became clear to me that something terrible was happening, a social assault that went far beyond any rational response to the Blitz.

It was true that to the east of  St Dunstan’s church, in the ancient heart of Stepney, the war had left a scene of devastation. The bombs arrived here in battalions, aiming at the gasholders and the docks, although the church itself was hardly touched. But why, over twenty years later, was the place still a wilderness reminiscent of Ypres just after World War I? On what must once have been a street corner, the remains of a shoe-shop stood, apparently untouched since it was set alight by an  incendiary bomb in 1940. Burnt shoes still littered the dank interior of the shop, among other rain-sodden rubbish.

On the west side of the church, running towards Jubilee St, there was still whole grid of streets standing, solid, liveable homes, many of which seemed hardly touched by bomb-blast – indeed the London County Council’s own contemporary maps of bomb-damage show that to have been the case. But not long after I first walked those streets they had almost all been boarded up. Other streets were already being supplanted by long fences of corrugated iron, with just the occasional public house left isolated on a corner without anyone to go to it. Here, I was told, was where a ‘green space’ was arbitrarily planned. Yet it could have been sited to the east of the church without destroying a whole neighbourhood, reducing to worthlessness in the eyes of the dispossessed inhabitants what had been the fabric of their existence.  All coming down – people’s memories, the meaning of their lives.

The Welfare Association’s annual report for that year had lots to report on gifts, fuel grants, outings, chiropody and meals-on-wheels but – perhaps diplomatically – on the subject of ‘relocation’ it had little to say.

Walking back up Stepney Green, an ancient curving route with trees and grass down the centre of it, a few runs of substantial old houses were still standing. I dreaded that, next time I came past, the iron screens would have taken over here too. In fact, this did not happen. Stepney Green itself was saved in the nick of time and rehabilitated.  Unknown to me in that summer of 1963, a rebellious Conservation movement was beginning to grind into action. Post-war doctrines about the State knowing what was best for its citizens were at last being questioned, on the political Left as well as the Right. The ‘slum-clearing’ obsession, fixated on the need to destroy the architecture of the past in order to eradicate the poverty of that past, as if the streets themselves were somehow the source of urban ills, was at last perceived to be false. On the contrary, when whole districts were laid waste, crime and vandalism increased.  By the seventies articles in illustrated magazines were not about a future of radiant towers but had titles such as ‘An Indictment of Bad Planning’.  As the distinguished commentator Ian Nairn put it, the East End had not been destroyed so much by the War but had been ‘broken on the planners’ wheel’.

Today, it lives again in another form. The synagogues and Baptist chapels have been replaced by mosques, the Kosher butchers by Halal butchers. Whitechapel market is full of sarees and bright scarves. The Welfare Association is no longer in the same headquarters under the same name, but survives as Tower Hamlets Friends & Neighbours. We can at least be grateful for what has been saved – or re-born.

Old Montague St

Fruit Stall in Bow

Jubilee St

Jubilee St

Jubilee St

Jubilee St

Off Mile End Rd

Buxton St

Artillery Lane

Cheshire St

Bombsite at Club Row

Club Row Animal Market

Photographs copyright © Richard Lansdown

Gillian Tindall’s The Tunnel Through Time, A New Route For An Old Journey is out now as a Vintage paperback

You may also like to read these other stories by Gillian Tindall

Stepney’s Lost Mansions

Where The White Chapel Once Stood

The Old South Bank

Leonard Fenton, Actor

In Old Deptford

Lifesaving in Limehouse

From Bedlam To Liverpool St

Smithfield’s Bloody Past

The Tunnel Through Time

Spitalfields Parties of Yesteryear

December 13, 2017
by the gentle author

The van drivers of the Spitalfields Market certainly knew how to throw a party, as illustrated by this magnificent collection of photographs in the possession of George Bardwell who worked in the market from 1946 until the late seventies. George explained to me how the drivers saved up all year in a Christmas Club and hired Poplar Town Hall to stage shindigs for their families at this season. Everyone got togged up and tables overflowed with sponge cakes and jam tarts, there were presents for all and entertainments galore. Then, once the tables were cleared and the children safely despatched to their beds, it was time for some adult entertainment in the form of drinks and dancing until the early hours.

You may also like to take a look at

Spitalfields Market Nocturne

Spitalfields Market Portraits

A Walk Through Time in Spitalfields Market

Laurie Elks’ Album Of Bottle Labels

December 12, 2017
by the gentle author

These days Laurie Elks is celebrated in Hackney as the custodian of St Augustine’s Tower, but before he arose to these lofty heights he practised the art of stewardship by amassing this magnificent collection of bottle labels, organised with loving care in a scrap book that he has cherished through the years.

“When I was a boy I collected all sorts of things and I think I acquired my bottle label collection when I was eleven or twelve, so the labels come from early sixties.  I wrote off in my schoolboy handwriting to all the breweries I could think of, telling them I was collecting beer bottle labels and most of them wrote back with a little packet of labels which I stuck in my album with Gloy gum.  I doubt whether they would write back today.  I must have looked up the addresses of the breweries in the London phone book as I cannot think of any other search strategies that would have been available to me at the time.” – Laurie Elks

If any other readers have ephemera collections I could publish please get in touch

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You may also like to take a look at

John Gillman’s Bus Ticket Collection

Ken Sequin’s Badge Collection



Click here to buy a copy of HACKNEY: PORTRAIT OF A COMMUNITY 1967-2017 edited by Laurie Elks and published by the Hackney Society

Snowfall At Bow Cemetery

December 11, 2017
by the gentle author

On Sunday morning, a hush was cast upon the East End as the first snowfall of winter came down. Many cancelled their plans for going out, consequently the traffic thinned and the pavements emptied as the falling snow took possession of the territory. Awaking and looking from my bedroom window, the dark boughs of the great yew tree in the back yard were weighed down with a heavy covering of white – a bucolic wintry vision filling my gaze, as if the house had been transported in the night and I had woken high in the mountains.

Even as I opened my eyes, I knew I wanted to go to Bow Cemetery, where I paid a visit to admire the precocious spring bulbs last spring. The appealing irony is that this vast garden of death has become the largest preserve of wildlife in East London. Created once the small parish churchyards filled up, it is where those numberless thousands who made the East End in the nineteenth century are buried. On the Western side of the cemetery, near the main entrance, are fancy tombs and grand monuments but, as you walk East, they diminish and become more uniformly modest until, at the remotest extremity, there are only tiny stones. At first, I thought these were for children when, in fact, they were simply the cheapest option. Yet even these represent an aggrandisement, beyond the majority of those who were buried here in unmarked communal graves.

My spirits lifted to leave the icy mess of the streets and enter the quiet of the cemetery where since 1966, a forest has been permitted to grow. A freezing mist hung beneath the high woodland canopy, and the covering of white served to emphasise the rich green and golden lichen hues of the stones, and subtle brown tones of the tree trunks ascending from among the graves. As on my previous visits, there were few visitors here and I quickly lost myself in the network of narrow paths, letting the trees surround me in the areas where no human footprint had yet been made.

Crows called to each other and woodpeckers hammered away high in the tree tops, their sounds echoing in the still air. Thrushes searched for grubs under leaves in the rare patches of uncovered earth beneath stands of holly, and a young fox came by – standing out as a vivid rusty brown against the pale snow – slinking along self-conscious of his exposure. The spring bulbs that I saw last year in flower at this time were evidenced only by sparse green spears, protruding from snow criss-crossed by animal and bird tracks.

It was a very different place from the lush undergrowth of high summer and another place again from the crocus-spangled garden of spring, yet I always discover peace and solitude here – a rare commodity in the East End – and, even in this bleakest season, there was life.

You may also like to read about

At Bow Cemetery

Spring Bulbs at Bow Cemetery

Find out more at Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park