Carlisle, Cumbria, UK - the State-managed Liquor Trade Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Carlisle, Cumbria, UK - the State-managed Liquor Trade

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This unique experiment dates back to the First World War, with the construction of the country's largest munitions factory to the north of Carlisle on the Scottish Border between Longtown and Gretna.

Its construction took two years to complete and finally employed over 25,000 people, some of whom were housed in two new towns constructed in the area. Unfortunately, these townships could only accommodate a minority of the workers - the majority were forced to live in Carlisle, the only large town within 50 miles.

This influx of workers, free of family ties and with a large amount of disposable income had the obvious effect on the liquor trade throughout the town, with clear effects on munitions production and safety. The problem was evident when reviewing the statistics for drunkenness in the area. From 1914-15 these stood at approximately 250 convictions; this rose to nearly 1000 in 1916.

The Beginnings (1915)

A Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) was set up by the Government, under the Defence of the Realm Act, to control the nation's drinking habits in time of war.

One of the measures introduced was the limitation of opening hours to 11am till 3pm and 6pm till 10:30pm. This was enforced until 1988 when the Government finally got round to repealing the law and allowing 'all-day' opening. However, the restrictions remained in force on Sundays well into the 1990s.

Emergency Measures (1916 - 1921)

In June 1916, in a decision involving both the Central Government and the local authorities the CCB (Central Control Board) took control of the licensed trade and possession of all licensed premises over an area of 320 square miles, including the city of Carlisle, 'for the duration of the war and 12 months thereafter'.

This decision was taken because the Government needed to be able to control the drinking habits of the workers, without resorting to restricting personal liberty.

The CCB acted quickly, closing nearly 40% of public houses by 1917 and revoking all off-sales licenses. All advertising referring to alcohol was illegal and a ban was placed on the display of liquor bottles in windows.

Within the state-owned public houses, strict opening hours were enforced, the managers were effectively 'civil servants', employed on a fixed salary, with no personal interest in selling alcoholic beverages. In fact, this was discouraged by the simple measure of giving the manager a commission on all food sales (75%) and non-alcoholic drinks (25%). Drinks prices were fixed by the state, to avoid competition between the different pubs. The sale of 'chasers' - spirits accompanying beer - was banned, as well as buying rounds of drinks. No person under the age of 18 could be served spirits and could only be served beer with a meal (it should be noted at this point that it was quite normal for 13-year-old boys to be working in the munitions factories).

The only beer to be served was that brewed by the local, government-owned brewery. This was brewed at a reduced level of alcohol.

This wartime emergency system was extremely successful at reducing drunkenness, with convictions dropping from 953 in 1916, to 320 in 1917 and just 80 in 1918, and was found to be so successful that in 1919, the scheme was prolonged for another two years, and continued through to 1921.

Local Development (1921 - 1949)

In 1921, the responsibilities of the CCB were given over to the State Management System (SMS), under the authority of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Certain restrictions were lifted, including the unenforceable and unpopular 'no rounds' order. The quality of the beer was greatly improved and in the 1930s a new public house building project was launched, under the control of Harry Redfern FRIBA (Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects) - chief architect for the SMS.

His task was both the restoration of existing public houses and the construction of new buildings.

This assignment was extraordinary in that he was solely responsible for all architectural work, even down to fixtures and fittings such as door handles and light fittings, and as the SMS operated as a governmental department, he was not subjected to city ordinances and building restrictions.

His brief was to create light and airy pubs, easy to supervise, with comfortable surroundings and designed for food service and with excellent recreational facilities. Many were built with bowling greens and extensive gardens. Smaller bars were introduced to discourage customers from 'propping up the bar', plenty of comfortable chairs and tables were provided to encourage visitors to eat. Well equipped kitchens were also included and the managers always had luxurious and spacious accommodation for their families.

The pubs he built were both innovative and tasteful, with Carlisle rapidly becoming a model for aspiring pub architects to follow. His buildings greatly influenced future pub development, with his introduction of smoke extraction systems as early as 1927 and his use of natural building materials such as wood panelling as insulation and decor.

Unfortunately, as the buildings were state property, they could not be listed for preservation when finally sold off, so many of them have been taken over and greatly altered by modern brewery chains. At the end of this entry is a short list of some of the public houses which remain relatively unchanged to this day (at time of writing).

Why Fix it if it Ain't Broken? (1949 - 1971)

The scheme continued to flourish to such an extent that in 1950, a Labour Government introduced a plan to extend state management to other towns throughout the country, but this was shelved in 1951 by the new Conservative Government. The system worked, the customers were happy, and the Government was earning money. The scheme was left very much to its own devices by Central Government until the late 1960s, when questions were posed, not as to the validity of the project, but rather on its profitability. It was decided that the system was not earning enough money for the government and it would be better if the whole thing was privatised. Eventually, an act of parliament in 1971 abolished the SMS and the properties had all been sold off by the end of 1973.

The End of an Era

After 55 years of state monopoly, this unique experiment, started almost by accident during the First World War, was over. The system was eventually dismantled and passed into history. The pubs were sold off to other breweries and the Carlisle State Brewery itself was sold to a certain T and R Theakstons, who used it for brewing their Best Bitter until they in turn were taken over by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, who closed down the brewery. Nowadays, all that is left of the brewery itself is a group of expensive apartments.

Over the years, local people had come to love and respect their unique place in the country's licensed trade, with their high quality, cheap beer and excellent public houses, and considered it to be their own private property. It can be safely said that the majority of Carlisle drinkers who remember the State Management System deeply regret its passing.

A Short List of State Management System Public Houses

This is by no means an exhaustive list of pubs created by the SMS but gives an idea of the style used. Many of the buildings have unfortunately been changed beyond recognition by their present owners.

The Crown, Stanwix (1937)

A large, town pub, constructed in brick and slate in a Georgian style on the top of Stanwix Bank (on the line of Hadrian's Wall); the Crown retains much of its internal woodwork decor.

The Horse and Farrier, Wigton Road (1928)

Fortunately, now a Grade II listed building, the Horse and Farrier is an L-shaped building with a bowling green and gardens. It has the appearance of a country house with deeply pitched roofs and tall chimney stacks.

The Magpie, Victoria Road (1933)

Built on a bare site, from the outside the Magpie is very pleasing to the eye with black-tarred timbers, whitewashed walls and high pitched, grey slate roof. The rear of the pub opens out onto a garden and bowling green with numerous flowerbeds. Harry Redfern, the chief architect himself, designed everything, even to the extent of laying out the flower beds and naming and positioning the plants on his plans.

The Redfern, Stanwix (1940)

Built by the assistant architect to the scheme as a homage to Harry Redfern, the Redfern is built on a difficult triangular site, and recalls an 18th Century Kent or Sussex building. It also has a bowling green, but this time the building is constructed from red brick.

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