The outbreak of war is always an excuse to introduce restrictions and control. During World War I, British beer was under attack on all fronts. An odd thing; it wasn’t the Germans who menaced John Bull’s foaming pint. It was sunk by Lloyd George our own war-time Prime Minister-to-be.

Opening hours were limited to 11am till 3pm and 6pm till 10:30pm. Anyone over 45 today will have experienced the ‘afternoon gap’ – the closing enforced between the lunch-time and the evening. This was enforced until 1988 when the Government finally got round to allowing ‘all-day’ opening. The restrictions on Sundays remained well into the 1990s – a final relic of legislation, which purported to be essential to our munitions industry.

In his The Great War and the British People, J.M. Winter wrote that the changes to our drinking culture were “perhaps the most tangible long-term legacy of the First World War.”


“Drink is doing us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together,” proclaimed Lloyd George, Minister of Munitions, with characteristic under-statement.

They banned:-

• Sales of alcohol on credit
• Topping-up or serving generous measures
• Buying a round or treating
• Our ‘continental drinking hours’ were cut from between 16 and 19½ hours a day to 5½
• They even replaced for the duration of the War B = Beer in the Army phonetic alphabet with B = Butter

British beer production fell from 37 million barrels in 1913 to 19 million by 1917. The price of a pint doubled when the duty was tripled. The average strength of beer was halved. Lord Roseberry was sceptical about Lloyd George’s logic “his near obsession with the drink question was seen in many quarters as nothing more than humbug and hypocrisy.”


Shropshire was part of the movement which created the war-time anti-drink climate. Some monuments to this era survive, if only just. Drive along the A49 and you will find in the heart of Craven Arms on the corner leading to the railway station the Temperance Hotel. When it was built it would have been one of the town’s most important buildings. This year (2015) it celebrates its 150th anniversary. I say ‘celebrates’ but it is a building in fairly acute distress.

P1030961 (1024x768)The first stone of the Craven Arms Temperance Reading Room and Coffee House Trust’s project was laid by Miss E.E.Lumb on the 5th May 1865. Miss Lumb was the daughter of the Reverend William Lumb, the vicar of Halford for over 40 years. Her mother, Emily, had assisted the redoubtable Mrs Julia Wightman, wife of the Vicar of St Alkmunds in Shrewsbury, in getting the project off the ground. Or, in keeping no doubt with a Craven Arms tradition, not yet quite off the ground, they were £22,500 (in today’s terms) “short of the requisite amount and further contribution will be very acceptable.”


Craven Arms was treated to some uplifting thoughts from the 46th Psalm

Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

P1030958 (768x1024)rotateTen years after that first stone, Mrs Lumb had produced a little book which was supplied to all the occupants of the Temperance Hall (if you examine the facade over the portico, the builders had to curtail the reading room and coffee house to this). Her book was ‘A Selection of Temperance Songs and Hymns.” In her preface she wrote “The compiler … has been led to their publication from the fact of her not having hitherto met with any similar collection, which does not contain some songs which might be considered objectionable: it is hoped that this Selection will be found useful to abstainers for singing at their meetings and instructive also for non-abstainers, who may not have given the unspeakably important subject of Total Abstinence the attention it claims from all.’

By this time the building was described as the Temperance Hotel. Towards the end of the 1870s an ex-railwayman, Thomas Edge, took over. His family remained proprietors until the building was commandeered by the Army in the Second World War. They must have liked it as they could not be dislodged until March 1951. In its glory days the hotel boasted “good accommodation for commercial gentlemen, every comfort for tourists, good fishing, horses and traps for hire, terms moderate.” The building was sold to a private owner in 1965. But by 1978 a sign proclaimed its future as a ”Washteria.’ It has been unoccupied for years.


Elizabeth Ann Lewis has left us no such monument in Shropshire. However, thanks to her Market Drayton has a prominent place in the history of the temperance movement. The daughter of a farm labourer, she made her debut at the age of seven, on the steps of the town’s Shambles. At an outdoor rally she sang a temperance song. As she gained confidence she “drew great crowds by her eloquence and forceful personality.”

By the end of the 19th century there was scarcely a Sunday school without an associated Band of Hope. There were recitations, hymns and verse for the children. Hymn singing spread the word and provided entertainment. My mother, like Miss and Mrs Lewis [she married her cousin thus retaining the name], was enrolled where she would sing “My drink is water bright, from the crystal stream.”

I don’t know about the devil having all the best tunes, the temperance people were no slouches. My favourite, and also one of D.H. Lawrence’s, was “There’s a serpent in the glass, dash it down! Dash it down!” by the American hymn-writer and evangelist, Rev. Robert Lowry.

Shropshire was to lose Elizabeth Ann to the 600 pubs of Blackburn. However, we cannot begrudge a town who honoured our Temperance Queen with this unique epitaph “This stone was erected by loving admirers in all parts of the world unto the Drunkard’s Friend who for over fifty years devoted her life to spreading the blessings of teetotalism …”


Both my wife’s grandparents and mine kept pubs. My wife’s kept what might claim to be the most celebrated pub of the First World War. Her great uncle, Harry Williams, lived there. He was the co-composer of It’s A Long Way To Tipperary. The brewery, no fools they, soon changed The Plough into The Tipperary Inn, the name it bears to this day.

Yet, Lloyd George, showed no gratitude to the composers of what was to become the nation’s second anthem. He was the finest orator of his generation and our wiliest politician. Since his election, as the youngest MP in 1890, he had campaigned for temperance. He was, however, never a man to allow principle to come before personal ambition. In 1905 he entered the cabinet as president of the Board of Trade. In 1908 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Now all he needed was a war.

Lloyd George seizes his opportunity.

Poster © IWM

Poster © IWM

It’s an ill-wind that blows nobody any good. Lloyd George was always ready to exploit temperance to gain public support. He had grown up in a teetotal household. His maiden speech in the Commons was an attack on the compensation being offered the brewers for reducing the number of pubs. He and other friends of temperance saw in the First World War their opportunity.

The Times had broken the news that the Army was running short of shells. In February 1915 Lloyd George, delivered a speech at Bangor, North Wales. Not just a speech it was an artillery barrage. ‘I hear of workmen in armament works who refuse to work a full week for the nation’s need’, he told his audience. ‘What is the reason? Sometimes it is one thing, sometimes it is another, but let us be perfectly candid. It is mostly the lure of drink … Drink is doing more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together.’

The reward for his successful exploitation of that ‘opportunity’ came in May. The cabinet was replaced by a coalition ministry. Lloyd George was made Minister of Munitions, head of a new department. He provided the dynamic leadership and his words were inspirational, if often marked by hyperbole.

George V had ‘taken the pledge’ and, after flirting with prohibition and nationalisation of the drinks trade, Lloyd George established the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic). The CCB proceeded to slash opening hours, and ban the buying of rounds. Government Ale was brewed within specified gravity bands (pretty low) and sold at a controlled price. The intention was to ensure more beer was brewed from the same quantity of raw materials and keep down the price.

The stage was set for his next move up as Secretary of State for War. And in December 1916 he replaced Asquith as PM. CHEERS.


For brewers and drinkers, surely the situation couldn’t get any worse? Well, the Germans began to push the boat out. U-boat successes peaked in the spring of 1917. Barley, sugar, and other ingredients used in brewing were required for food. In February all malting of barley was stopped by government order. In April brewers were ordered to reduce production to a third of previous “standard” barrelage. To brew the same amount of beer, it would have to be a third as strong.

There were however the first signs that the Central Control Board was drowning not waving. They banned brewers from using the term “Government Ale.” for beers under 1036 OG. Were they growing scared of the association with watery pints? Industrial unrest in the summer, at least in part caused by the shortages of beer, made the government think again, and restrictions were eased in the last six months.

“But the worst thing that ever happened in this war
Is Lloyd George’s beer.”

Weaker, more expensive beer, beer in short supply and drinkers forbidden from buying a round, it was ‘time gentleman please’ to fight back.

In Bob Weston and Bert Lee, the Welsh Wizard would meet his match. Composers of more than 2,000 popular songs, they are said to have written a song a day (Dave Russell Popular Music in England 1840-1914 A Social History). Their songs included Paddy McGinty’s Goat, Knees Up Mother Brown, My Word You Do Look Queer, Good-bye-ee and Brahn Boots.

Some may have enjoyed more enduring fame but they never had a more worthwhile target than Lloyd George. To deliver the barrage they enlisted a real heavyweight from the Halls. 20-stone Ernie Mayne, a popular music hall performer, recorded the song that satirised the changes to beer brought about under Lloyd George’s premiership. Its lyrics summed up the thoughts of the majority.

Lloyd George’s Beer

We shall win the war, we shall win the war,
As I’ve said before, we shall win the war,
The Kaiser’s in a dreadful fury,
Now he knows were making it in every brewery.
Have you read of it? Seen what’s said of it?
In “The Mirror” and “The Mail”
It’s a substitute and a pubstitute,
And it’s known as “Government Ale”. Or otherwise.


Lloyd George’s beer, Lloyd George’s beer,
At the brewery, there’s nothing doing,
All the water-works are brewing,
Lloyd George’s beer, it isn’t dear
Oh they say it is a terrible war, Oh Lor’
And there never was a war like this before
But the worst thing that ever happened in this war
Is Lloyd George’s beer.

Buy a lot of it, all they’ve got of it,
Dip your bread in it, shove your head in it
From January ’till October
And I bet a penny that you’ll still be sober.
Get the froth off it, make your broth of it
With a pair of mutton chops.
Drown your dogs in it, drop some frogs in it
Then you’ll see some wonderful hops (in that lovely stuff).


Lloyd George’s beer, Lloyd George’s beer,
At the brewery, there’s nothing doing,
All the water-works are brewing,
Lloyd George’s beer, it isn’t dear
Said Haig to Joffre when affairs looked black
“If you can’t shift the beggars with you gas attack
Get your squirters out and we’ll squirt the devils back
With Lloyd George’s beer.”


In pursuit of a broader clientele, the brewers built or re-built thousands of pubs between 1918 and 1939. The Department of Culture, Media & Sport has just listed another 20, making 93 in all.

They were part of the ‘improved’ pub movement. The ties with the past, drunkenness and debauchery, were severed. Bigger, better pubs emerged with restaurants and gardens for the kids. They were designed to attract ‘more respectable customers’ to appeal to families, particularly women.

It was the catastrophic results of Prohibition in the Unites States which probably dealt the death blow to Temperance. No legislator would gift organized crime with such an opportunity again. But it still took decades to shake off the baneful impact of the First World War on our drinking laws. The last vestiges weren’t finally removed until 2003.

In Shropshire the Royal British Legion and Woods Brewery of Wistanstow formed a fitting entente cordiale to mark the outbreak of the First World War. Woods brewed “Poppy Ale with English Fuggles and Goldings hops to re-create a style of traditional, full-flavoured bitter that was hugely popular 100 years ago.”

For every bottle and pint sold, Wood’s donated 6p to the Legion; raising over £1,000.