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How the South West Essex Branch of CAMRA was Formed

Late in 1975 (September or October) there was a rumour that there could possibly be a few people going along to the Mawney Arms in Romford to try and form a new local branch of an organisation called CAMRA, (Campaign for Real Ale). As I'd recently been weaned onto real ale by a few colleagues at work, and didn't live too far away, I thought it would be a good idea to go along and see what it was all about.

Well, those 'few people' filled the function room at the back of the pub and spilled out into the main area as well. There seemed to be drinkers from all over the south of England. You couldn't move and they were all there to drink Ind Coope bitter! Sometime during that drunken first evening a steering committee was formed for the proposed new branch and I joined CAMRA. But how my membership ever got processed, having given my money and form to a VERY drunken Chris Cashmore (then area organiser), I will never know.

If I recall correctly that steering committee consisted of Ian Otterwell (chairman), Andy Willis (press secretary) and possibly Andrew Clifton as treasurer. Other names that come to mind are Dave Hamilton, Dave Woods and Mel Gooch. There were probably others as well, but quite a lot of beer and wine has passed my lips and clouded my memory since that evening over 40 years ago. Someone somewhere must have records of that historic night.

In those days drinking in the south east was mainly limited to the 'big six', Allied (Ind Coope), Bass Charrington, Courage, Scottish & Newcastle, Watney Mann & Truman and Whitbread. Independent breweries were few and far between in the south and their beers were only served in their own pubs or free houses, neither of which existed in Romford & District, which, for a year or two, was the original name of the soon to be new branch.

If you wanted to try something different you had to travel into London for mainly Youngs and Fullers or further north for Greene King and Adnams. The only pub serving Greene King, to my mind, in our branch was the Victoria Arms in Brentwood, a Gray's pub, which is still there today. The only other source for different ales was beer festivals, or you could plan your holidays using the Good Beer Guide; some still do to this day, don't they Alan!

So as you can see, CAMRA was a much needed concern back then and most of the drinkers that joined were passionate about beer and actively campaigned for a decent pint, even going into pubs that didn't keep real ale and telling the landlord how to serve a decent pint of beer and run their pub. How some of us didn't get thrown out, or worse, was more luck than judgment. But we were young, enthusiastic and naive back then.

If anyone from those original days has more input to the above then please feel free to add to, or correct, my memories.

Trevor Benson
Past Chairman (12 years) & Social Secretary (briefly)

What is CAMRA?

CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale is an independent, voluntary organisation campaigning for real ale, community pubs and consumer rights. It was formed in 1971.

CAMRA has over 175,000 members across the world, and has been described as the most successful consumer campaign in Europe, supporting well-run pubs as the centres of community life - whether in rural or urban areas - and believe their continued existence play a critical social role in UK culture. At local level, CAMRA has over 200 branches across the UK, enabling members to campaign and socialise in their local area.

CAMRA is financed by membership subscriptions, sales of books and merchandise and proceeds from national and local beer festivals. CAMRA is a not for profit company, limited by guarantee.

To read more about how it all started, go to the main CAMRA Website.

Read Our Archived Blog

Our mascot, Hophead, used to write a blog about our adventures around the country. He's too busy sampling real ales to keep blogging now, but you can read what he did write, here.