Guest blog post from Hannah Devlin, MSc Museum Studies student.
I have spent the last few months working with the beer label collection of the Scottish Brewing Archive. While cataloguing and research, I found that there seemed to be a tradition for producing celebration ales. Some breweries made speciality ales to commemorate battles or to celebrate a special anniversary, while others put out special brews just to celebrate a holiday or specific event. No matter the occasion, breweries clearly liked a reason to celebrate. 1953 the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was no exception to this. With the end of the war and a new monarch in place, the nation and its breweries wanted to show that after all its hardships, Britain was back on its feet again.
But unfortunately this was easier said than done. By the 1950s, the brewing industry was floundering. The first half of the 20th century saw falling beer sales and a marked decline in independent breweries. The struggles of war-time led to a spike in duty taxes and rations that made necessary brewing ingredients hard to come by. Most breweries chose to restrict production to lighter pale ales and lagers as an attempt to remain profitable in a struggling industry. In Scotland, the markets for stouts and porters were all but wiped out due to the need for more malt and sugar to brew.
Aside from war-related taxes, an unexpected new threat to the beer industry emerged in the 1930s: television. With the advent of the television, people were more likely to stay home than go out to the pub. This new form of entertainment caused a sharp drop in beer sales. Then, of course, WWII erupted, bringing with it many of the same struggles for the industry as the First World War. During this time and the post-war period, rising prices and dropping production continued. Beer production dropped a whopping 6.6 million barrels between the end of the war in 1945 and the coronation in 1953. The threat of mergers constantly loomed over breweries. Throughout the 1950s small, independent breweries were easily picked off by the larger corporations leading to a significant reduction in the number of brewing companies. All of these factors set the stage for the coronation in 1953.
Breweries wanted to celebrate the coronation of their new Queen, but clearly the industry was struggling and wartime rations were still in place. Despite this bleak economic atmosphere, breweries pooled their capital to release commemorative coronation beers across Great Britain, including over a dozen Scottish breweries. Most of these breweries were in the greater Edinburgh area, showing the importance of the capital in the survival of the Scottish brewing industry. Although royal events traditionally called for a strong dark beer, the restraints of the economy meant that most breweries opted for lighter ales rather than have none at all. Nonetheless, the number of Scottish breweries that were able to produce a speciality Coronation beer reveals that despite hardships, independent Scottish breweries were still making a name for themselves.
|James Aitken & Co (Falkirk) Ltd||Falkirk||Coronation Ale|
|Ballingall & Son Ltd||Dundee||Coronation Ale|
|T. & J. Bernard & Co. Ltd.||Edinburgh||Coronation Heavy Ale|
|T. & J. Bernard & Co. Ltd.||Edinburgh||Coronation Light Ale|
|Robert Deuchar Ltd.||Edinburgh||Coronation Ale|
|James Deuchar Ltd.||Montose||Coronation Ale|
|Drybough & Co. Ltd||Edinburgh||Coronation ‘53’ Ale|
|Dudgeon & Co. Ltd.||Dunbar||Coronation Ale|
|Gordon & Blair (1923) Ltd.||Edinburgh||Coronation Strong Ale|
|Wm. Murray & Co. Ltd||Edinburgh||Coronation Ale|
|Wm. McEwan & Co.||Edinburgh||Coronation Stout|
|McLennan & Urquhart Ltd||Dalkeith||Coronation Ale|
|J & J Morison Ltd||Edinburgh||Coronation Ale|
|Thomas Usher & Son Ltd||Edinburgh||Golden Rule Strong Ale|
|George Younger & Son||Alloa||Coronation Highland Ale|
|Robert Younger Ltd.||Edinburgh||Coronation Ale|
|James Calder & Co. (Malta) Ltd||Alloa||Coronation Beer|
|Steel Coulson & Co||Edinburgh||Coronation Sweet Stout|
|Steel Coulson & Co||Edinburgh||Coronation Export Ale|
Richmond, L., & Turton, A. (1990). The Brewing Industry: A guide to historical records. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Fairley , J., Gillon, J., McMaster, C., & Moss, M. (1990). Chamber’s Scottish Drink Book: whisky, beer, wine and soft drinks. Edinburgh: W. & R. Cambers Ltd.
Categories: Archives and Special Collections