Beery Snippets from the Past

Pint & Quart Tankards from The Dumb Flea
Courtesy of Joan Rayner

Meldreth Parish Records by William Mortlock Palmer M.R.C.S.

With regard to the miscellaneous payments to people within the parish, it may be remarked that it was customary for the children to have 5s (25p) worth of beer when they went stone picking.  This was an annual institution.  Let us hope that it was ‘small beer’ which they had.  “Beer was sometimes drunk in prodigious quantities in those days.  Thus on August 4th, 1720, there was a fire at Meldreth, at some farm probably and on that occasion, beer to the value of £1 18s 6d (192.5p) was drunk, which would represent a quantity of liquid, almost large enough to extinguish the fire itself.  But of course August is very thirsty weather.  In May however, your rosy-cheeked countryman is not in such a chronic state of dryness and we find that on May 26th 1726 when the fire happened at Dan Sadler’s, only a pounds-worth of beer was drunk of which 10s (50p) was had at the Bell and 10s (50p) at the Widow Childerby’s.  The above payments of beer were made on the authority of the constables, the overseers were occasionally much more extravagant.  In 1719 they allow 6s (30p) for brandy, which the watching men had after the fire which happened on Aug 13th and 14th.

An important village custom was the beating of the bounds, which like all the other functions of the olden time was an occasion for much eating and drinking.  For instance the Churchwardens accounts show:

June 6, 1716: Paid Wm Pateman for Beer after the perambulation of the bounds: £1 .0s. 0d.

Sarah Butler – Memories of the Early 1920s

The Brewery was flourishing, beer was brewed twice a week and the smell pervaded the whole village.  Children could be seen going down with the can to purchase the yeast as most people made their own bread.

The brewers dray with its two huge horses was a familiar sight.

The house standing at the bottom of Brewery Lane was once the brewery public house. On the opposite side of the road there was once a fountain of pure water, the overflow from the artesian well inside the brewery.

Public Houses were thriving, there being nowhere else for the men to go and with beer 2d (1p) a pint and whisky 3/6d (17.5p) a bottle, drunkenness was an everyday occurrence.

Joe Stallybrass of Whitecroft Road usually came home quite drunk and his wife got so fed up with this that one night she locked the door and shouted he could stay out all night until he was sober.    After he tired of banging to be let in, He said,”Oh, alright, old gal, if I can’t come in, I’ll soon have you out” and with that, he set fire to the thatch.  There was no fire engine so all that could be done was to   salvage a few things and then let it burn down.

The carrier from Bassingbourn to Cambridge on Wednesdays and Saturdays frequently stopped at The Sailors Return to have a drink and pick up passengers.

To quench their thirst the men had “Harvest Beer” which they carried in a small barrel.  This beer was made at home by the wives.

Another way we got sweets was to scrounge empty beer bottles and take them back to the Railway Tavern because the landlord there kept a bottle of sweets for this purpose.

May 25, 1724: Paid to Richard Hadgar for beer which the men and children had after the perambulation: £1 0s. 0d.  (Richard Hadgar kept the Bell Inn, which appears to have been the general meeting place at the village).  The quantity of beer drunk at these perambulations must have been enormous and we are glad to notice that it was reserved until after the function was after.

Beatrice Clay 1942

At Chiswick End stands an inn with the startling name of “THE DUMB FLEA”.  The explanation locally offered and accepted is that it is a corruption of “Dumfries”.  That seems to raise the question why an inn in Cambridgeshire should bear a Scottish name.

Maltings are to be found at Fieldgate (near Bury Lane Entrance) and in North End.

Old Bill, Memories of a Meldreth Man (Bill Wing, March 1993)

The Sailors Return was later called the Bears Den.

There was a big old building opposite the church, where the bowling green is now – a big old warehouse – the brewery had that.

Next to the church – Manting House – Mr Gibbs used to live there, he was another man from the brewery – the brewery was on the corner.  Down brewery Lane there were two cottages that belonged to the brewery.  Then as you turned into Brewery Lane there used to be a pub – the Green Man, which belonged to Phillips Brewery from Royston, right next to Meldreth brewery!

The Bell pub stood endways to the road, it’s called the Dormers now.


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