The origins of CAMRA
In 1971, 80% of beers in Britain were brewed by seven companies – Allied Breweries, Bass, Courage, Grand Metropolitan, Guinness, Scottish & Newcastle & Whitbread. 56% of pubs were owned by six of the above, Guinness being the exception. National keg bitters, Allied’s Double Diamond, Bass’s Worthington E, Courage’s Tavern, Grand Metropolitan’s Watneys Red , S & N’s Tartan, and Whitbread Tankard increasingly dominated the market. Lager sales were negligible but cask-conditioned beer was increasingly under threat. More importantly, in many areas cask beers were served using a system called top-pressure which made them almost indistinguishable from keg.
In March of that year, four Mancunians, three of them journalists, were holidaying together in Ireland. Here things were even worse. Knowing how the beer scene in the UK was going, the four saw Ireland as the future, and they didn’t like it. By the time they returned home, they had founded CAMRA, the Campaign for The Revitalisation of Ale.
Over the next two years, CAMRA gradually expanded, helped by its journalist members’ ability to generate headlines. CAMRA’s name was changed to the more catchy Campaign for Real Ale and local branches started being set up around the country.
Cardiff CAMRA’s Beginnings
CAMRA now has over 200 local branches but when Cardiff CAMRA was set up, there were still fewer than twenty. The year was 1973 and, following an initial meeting to test support, the branch’s inaugural meeting was held that October 1973 at the Old Arcade in Church Street. This was in a meeting room that no longer exists located on the left at the rear of the building. The branch covered the county of South Glamorgan, which included the Vale of Glamorgan.
The area at that time was dominated by two breweries that between them owned most of the local pubs. One was Bass, based in Crawshay Street, just south of Central Station, and usually known as Welsh Brewers. It produced Hancocks and Worthington beers. The other was S A Brain, which brewed in St Mary Street in what is now the Brewery Quarter. All Brains’ pubs and most Welsh Brewers’ pubs served real ale. This meant that the area was better served for real ale than many others. Whitbread, which also brewed in Cardiff, at Ely Bridge, and Allied Breweries had a few pubs between them but served little real ale And that was just about it.
The Branch’s first major campaigning activity was to join a national demonstration at Stone, Staffordshire to protest against Bass’s planned closure of the town’s Joules Brewery. The brewery closed but the Joules name was resurrected in 2010 when a new brewery of that name opened at Market Drayton, just over the border into Shropshire.
Another major activity was to select entries for the first commercial edition of the Good Beer Guide, which appeared in March 1974. Being well served by real ale pubs, Cardiff was relatively well represented, with fifteen pubs being listed.