Cardiff - Caerdydd

Campaign for Real Ale

Campaign for Real Ale

Our History

Cardiff CAMRA - The First 50 Years


In the year when CAMRA itself was formed, 80% of beers in Britain were brewed by seven companies - Allied Breweries, Bass, Courage, Grand Metropolitan, Guinness, Scottish & Newcastle and 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. CAMRA, the Campaign For The Revitalisation of Ale, was formed by four Mancunians, three of them journalists on holiday in Ireland. They were appalled by what they saw there and realised that without action Great Britain would follow.


Cardiff Branch was formed on 24 October at a meeting held at the Old Arcade, which was followed by a visit to Brains brewery. This was in a meeting room that no longer exists located to the left hand side at the rear of the building. The branch would go on to cover the old county of South Glamorgan including the Vale.

The Branch’s first major campaigning activity was to join a national demonstration at Stone, Staffordshire to protest against Bass’s planned closure of Joules Brewery in that town. 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 in Shropshire.


The first proper Good Beer Guide was published. Given that there was now a CAMRA branch in the city, Cardiff was relatively well represented, with the following fifteen pubs being listed:

  • Albert, St Mary Street – The former Brains brewery tap, later redeveloped when the brewery moved to Crawshay Street, off Penarth Road, the pub becoming part of the new Brewery Quarter. It was initially named the Yard but is now called Proud Mary.
  • Blue Bell, High Street – Renamed in the 1980s the Goat Major but is once again the Blue Bell.
  • Cambrian, St Mary Street – This became Kitty Flynn’s and is now the Cambrian Tap.
  • Cottage, St Mary Street – Closed for a while due to inadequate fire exit arrangements but now reopened.
  • Horse and Groom, Womanby Street – A Bass (Hancocks) pub. The premises are now occupied by Fuel Rock Club.
  • Kings Cross, Mill Lane – Now the Corner House.
  • Old Arcade, Church Street.
  • Penarth Railway, Harbour Road, Grangetown – A Bass (Hancocks) pub prominently positioned on the shore of Cardiff Bay, also known as the Red House and now demolished.
  • Rose and Crown, Kingsway – A Brains pub demolished soon after to make way for an office block and cellar bar that operated as a rock bar and nightclub for some years. It then became the Hopbunker and returned to the Good Beer Guide for several years before closing in 2020.
  • Royal Exchange, Cowbridge Road East – Now a restaurant.
  • Terminus, St Mary Street – Now Peppermint Bar and Kitchen.
  • Tŷ Pwll Coch, Cowbridge Road East – Closed but the building still exists.
  • Taff Vale, Queen Street – Closed in the 1970s to make way for retail development.
  • Victoria Park, Cowbridge Road East.
  • Westgate, Cowbridge Road East. Closed and was to be converted into a care home though now for sale again.

In May, Cardiff Branch ran CAMRA’s second ever beer festival, at the Windsor Hotel, Barry.

1977 to 1980

The branch published three editions of Real Ale in South Glamorgan giving details of real ale pubs and breweries in the county.


CAMRA's national conference was held in Cardiff City Hall. Pubs that members were recommended to visit were the Horse & Groom, City Arms, Old Arcade, New Market Tavern (now O’Neill’s), Blue Bell, Cottage, Albert, Cambrian, Duke of Wellington, Terminus and Red Dragon Bar at Cardiff Central Station.

1979 and 1980

Cardiff Branch ran two of the longest duration beer festivals ever. In conjunction with Chapter Arts Centre, the Branch ran the bar at the fortnight-long Welsh Jazz Festival that took place in both these years.


Whitbread closed its brewery at Ely Bridge, one of several breweries closed by the company around this time following the opening of its new production facility at Magor, near Newport. The same year, Brains closed their “New brewery” in Nora Street in Roath, moving production to their main brewery in St Mary Street.


Cardiff CAMRA helped to publish Real Ales in South & Mid Wales, a guide that listed all real ale pubs in the then CAMRA region, which extended down to Pembrokeshire and up to Montgomeryshire.


At this time, standard permitted opening hours applied to all pubs in a locality. Over the years, many areas had extended closing time from 2230 to 2300 at least some nights. Cardiff, however, was stuck at 2230 all week. CAMRA ran a successful campaign to extend hours to 2300 every night except Sunday.

One of the first new breweries to make an impact was Bullmastiff, which started in 1987 and located first in Penarth and later in Cardiff.


The South Wales Beer Guide was published covering Glamorgan, Gwent and the southern part of Powys. This was unusual in that each double-page spread covered a specified area with its own map, a list of particularly recommended pubs that were described in some detail, and a summary of other real ale pubs in that area. It won that year’s CAMRA award for the best local real ale guide.


Following many years without a beer festival in Cardiff, the Branch organised one at the Star Centre in Splott. This was successful and became an annual event.


CAMRA’s Vale of Glamorgan Branch was formed to take over campaigning in the Vale. It subsequently expanded to cover the Bridgend County Borough and is now the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend Branch.

Bass (Hancocks) closed their brewery in Crawshay Street but Brains snapped it up moving production from the increasingly overcrowded St Mary Street site. The Branch, while welcoming this, bemoaned the ending of production at Brains’ existing brewery in St Mary Street, which dated back to 1713, and called on Brains to establish a microbrewery there. Unfortunately, this did not happen although Brains later established a microbrewery at Crawshay Street, called the Brains Craft Brewery.


The annual beer festival moved from the Star Centre to City Hall and was renamed the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival (GWBCF). This proved a resounding success.


CAMRA’s national conference, now titled Members’ Weekend and AGM was held again in Cardiff City Hall. Pubs that members were recommended to visit were the Cottage, Gatekeeper, Glo Bar (in Churchill Way), Old Arcade, Owain Glyndwr, Pen and Wig, Prince of Wales, Vulcan (in Adam Street, now relocated to St Fagans National History Museum) and the Yard (now Proud Mary). Pub crawls were promoted in west Cardiff (Westgate to Chapter via Cathedral Road) and Pontypridd/Treforest. Brewery visits were arranged to Brains, Otley, Breconshire, Rhymney, Celt Experience (at Caerphilly), Vale of Glamorgan and Gwynt-y-Ddraig Cider.

Fine as City Hall is, the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival had outgrown it and the festival moved to the Cardiff International Arena (now Motorpoint Arena).

Cardiff Council acquired the rights to an event known as the Great British Cheese Festival, which it held in the Castle. Cardiff CAMRA was asked to organise the beer and cider bar. This was the branch’s fourth beer festival in less than a year – November 2007 GWBCF at City Hall, April 2008 Members’ Weekend at City Hall, June 2008 GWBCF at the International Arena and September 2008 Great British Cheese Festival at the Castle.


A newsletter was launched. This was distributed around Cardiff pubs and initially used mainly to publicise Cardiff CAMRA meetings and social events, though in 2013 it expanded to include news and other information about CAMRA and its campaigns.


CAMRA launched its national Whatpub online database and Cardiff CAMRA contributed to this, surveying and photographing all the city’s real ale pubs for uploading to the database.


The Council’s relationship with the Great British Cheese Festival had ended in 2012. Such had been its success that the Council organised a similar event at the Castle in 2013, called the Cardiff Country Fair but this did less well and was not repeated.


GWBCF had enjoyed larger attendances at the Motorpoint Arena than had been possible at City Hall but not enough to justify the huge size of the venue and the cost of hiring it. Consequently, Cardiff CAMRA started looking for an alternative venue. The one that was found, ironically, was even larger, the Millennium, now the Principality Stadium, but the CAMRA festival was to be only part of a much larger event organised by the Welsh Rugby Union. There was talk of repeating this the following year but it remained a one-off.


With no GWBCF at the Principality Stadium, CAMRA went in search for an alternative venue and found it at the Depot, a converted warehouse in Dumballs Road. This quirky venue, despite its problems, proved popular and the festival was a success, resulting in a further three festivals being held there until it became no longer available in 2019.

The Cardiff CAMRA newsletter was replaced by Beer Necessities, a magazine published jointly by the four CAMRA branches in south east Wales. This started off as a 24-page A5 booklet and soon expanded to 40 pages.


Brains brewery made its second move in 20 years when the company sold its Crawshay Street site for redevelopment and moved to a new purpose-built brewery on East Moors. Admin staff moved towards the end of 2018 while the brewery itself was being kitted out ready for production to begin early in 2019.

In August, Cardiff CAMRA organised a City Of Ales event, based upon similar ones in other cities. Pubs that signed up were listed in a special City Of Ales passport copies of which were distributed in participating pubs. Drinkers who visited these pubs could get their passports stamped and earn themselves rewards.

With the Depot no longer available, a search was mounted for a new venue for the GWBCF. This was found at the Cricket Training Centre at Sophia Gardens, a suite of rooms that includes a large sports hall. This was moderately successful and it was agreed to hold another festival, in April 2020, in a marquee sited nearby. This was to be organised by CAMRA’s national organisation and be known as Great British Beer Festival (Wales) rather than GWBCF.


2020, of course, was the year of Covid, which proved a huge setback for Cardiff CAMRA. From March, all pubs were closed and even when they reopened in August, restrictions applied. CAMRA’s National Executive banned all face-to-face CAMRA meetings, not that there was anywhere initially where they could legally be held anyway.

Needless to say, the beer festival and the City Of Ales were cancelled and Beer Necessities became available only online. Further online issues of Beer Necessities appeared during 2020 mainly covering pubs doing takeaway food and drink and breweries doing home deliveries.

Even prior to Covid there were setbacks. Brains, it was discovered was in financial difficulties and announced plans to sell off 40 pubs. Former Cardiff Pub Of The Year and the pub with the best range of beers in the city centre Hopbunker, closed its doors.

Towards the end of 2020, meetings in pubs again became possible in Wales, though not in England, and members of Cardiff CAMRA decided to get together again. Despite the law now being different in Wales from in England, CAMRA’s ban on meetings still stood so gatherings short of official CAMRA meetings took place. Although members were extremely happy to be able to get together and talk about beer and pubs again CAMRA’s national executive took an extreme view about this and relations between the executive and members of the branch suffered as a result.

At the end of 2020, with the number of Covid cases rising again, the lockdown on pubs was reimposed.


Pubs in Wales were not allowed to reopen fully until May, although outdoor drinking areas could be used from the end of April. This second period of closure was the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as Brains was concerned and was to result in them selling all their remaining pubs to raise money to keep the brewery going.

CAMRA eventually allowed proper face-to-face meetings to resume and the August 2021 meeting was Cardiff CAMRA’s first for 17 months.


Cardiff’s beer scene has changed immeasurably over the past 50 years. The one constant factor has been S A Brain and their beers served in many local pubs. The four breweries that existed in Cardiff in 1973 have all closed although several new breweries now exist in the city, including Brains at East Moors, plus many more just outside the city.

Nearly all of Cardiff’s pubs in 1973 were brewery-owned and served only their own brewery’s beers – usually a bitter and sometimes a mild and/or a stronger bitter. Pubs today offer far greater choice although this trend seems to have gone into reverse in Cardiff in recent years.

CAMRA still has a role to play, however. Pub closures is a continuing cause for concern and Cardiff Branch, along with CAMRA nationally, campaign to make it easier for pubs to operate and to make it harder for potentially viable pubs to be converted to other uses.

The Branch, through GWBCF and by other means helps promote brewing in Wales. Through the Good Beer Guide and the national CAMRA pub website Whatpub, the Branch promotes high quality pubs in the city.

This is the first 50 years. What will happen in the next 50?