Well, that all blew up into something bigger than I was expecting

I have to say I wasn’t expecting THAT – six days after I wrote here about the fact that Benjamin Greene, the man who founded what became Greene King was a slave-owning apologist for slavery, Greene King’s chief executive has now stepped up and admitted that “It is inexcusable that one of our founders profited from slavery and argued against its abolition in the 1800s,” and today the company actually rewrote its corporate website to acknowledge Greene’s deeds:

“After founding the brewery, Benjamin went on to own cane sugar plantations in the West Indies where he was a slave owner. Even in the 1800s, his views on slavery were extremely unpopular and in the brewery’s home of Bury St Edmunds he wrote columns in his own newspaper that were critical of those campaigning for the abolition of slavery.”


Greene King GEO Nick Mackenzie told the Daily Telegraph that the company would make a “substantial investment to benefit the BAME [Black Asian and Minority Ethnic] community and support our race diversity in the business as we increase our focus on targeted work in this area.”

Well done them for standing up and admitting that yes, our ancestors did things in the past that were appalling, we cannot ignore that today, and we owe it to the present to ensure that our ancestors’ crimes have as little remaining impact today as possible.

I can’t claim any credit personally for this, although, bizarrely, the Daily Mail has actually emailed me for a comment: Greene King’s move came after a story appeared in the Daily Telegraph, and as the Telegraph (and I) admitted, the facts have been in the public domain since at least 1983, when Richard G. Wilson wrote about them in his magnificent history of Greene King. Indeed, you might ask why it has taken the company 37 years to finally acknowledge that its founder was guilty of crimes against humanity. (I notice, incidentally, that both the Mail and Telegraph lifted their picture of Benjamin Greene from my website – I recognise the Photoshopping I did to clean it up when I nicked it from somewhere else.).

A belated well done, too, to Camra, for a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement which, sadly but unsurprisingly, brought the real ale racists out from behind the snob screens. I suppose a movement that is rooted in defending a peculiar aspect of Britain’s past is going to attract a number of “British exceptionalist” idiots, but it’s – disappointing – that racist comments should have to be deleted from Camra’s Facebook page. These are people of my generation. WTF, frankly. Still, as I said to a senior member of Camra, at least the campaign seems to have found a cause that will finally rid it of the sclerotic reactionary gammon, as they tear up their membership cards in outrage at threats to vile racist caricatures on pub signs. (His reply was that if he had the time, he would love to investigate how many people saying they were going to resign from Camra over its “Black Lives Matter” support were actually members in the first place.)

The one problem with Camra no-platforming racists (and I have no difficulty about the campaign doing that – it’s not “censorship” to say “I’m not letting you use my premises to spout shite”) is that those racists them migrate to places such as the Pub History Society Facebook page, where they have, unfortunately, been free to reveal their utter, utter lack of understanding of the issues. When racists attempt to recruit George Orwell to support their position, you realise that not only do they not understand their own racism, they don’t understand Orwell, either. As I told one refugee from Camra, who was moaning about his posts being deleted, “The reason why your comments were deleted from the Camra Facebook page is that whatever you think your motivations were, your comments come across as those of a racist idiot, and Camra, quite rightly, wishes to distance itself as much as possible from appearing to endorse those sorts of views from its members. It’s hard enough for Camra to attract younger members: if young people see Camra members posting comments that look like they were made by racist gammon, it will become impossible to attract younger members. That’s nothing to do with free speech: you’re free to say whatever you like, but others are equally free to decide they don’t want to give a platform to views that may reflect badly on them.”

As a matter of actual pub history, the former Black Boy in Royston, Hertfordshire had its name changed to the Jockey in 1963, in reflection of the fact that the name was “problematical” – so this has been a recognised issue for 57 years, at least, and certainly not something that has only materialised since large numbers started taking to the streets over racist murders. (Curiously, the same pub was called the Red Cow in 1905 – how and why it was changed to the Black Boy I don’t know, but it certainly wasn’t a “historic” name.)

The Jockey (now closed) in Royston, Herts, changed its name from the Black Boy in 1963

13 thoughts on “Well, that all blew up into something bigger than I was expecting

  1. Thank you Martyn – I always enjoy your posts and read the Greene King one with interest and then today saw the company’s response in the Guardian and quoted the whole story to my wife in bed this morning before breakfast I was so excited.

    She is St Lucian and we live in Barbados and I am always boring her about beer and real ale so having an anti-slavery connection was just wonderful.

  2. Enjoyed the Greene King story and the follow on twist and turns. Entirely agree with you on the no platforming of the reactionaries and well done for calling them out.

    I’ve been to the Jockey a few times as my wife’s family live opposite the Heath. It was always very quiet and had a Thai restaurant in it at the end.

  3. Well done Martyn, I fully expected you to be credited on our local news when I heard about it this morning – but sadly not. As an adopted SuffolkBoy, I’ve never really warmed to GK, though many of the locals rave about it. To be fair, back in the day, when the only other local brewery was Tolly Cobbold, they had a point!

  4. Spot on, Martyn. As a white elderly male I have often been seen as a suitable person to address objectionable opinions to, presumably because the morons concerned think everybody of my demographic shares their hateful opinions. Normally all I can do is say ‘I can’t agree’ and walk away. It really does need organizations like pub companies, breweries and Camra to lead the way as has been shown in the field of professional sport.. Well done Camra and Greene King. But I will still drink other beer than Greene King (it’s not a favourite for me).

    1. What I was intending was to make people realise how deeply slave-owning entered into British history. But GK stepping up to the plate was definitely a plus

  5. Good article – we have the Black Boys at Alysham and TBH the local press are forcing the issue – I like the landlords comment about changing the name in view if the current closure of pubs – “we have more pressing problems at present” – too bloodly right – lets get it open and worry about changing it once it is trading again!

  6. Your informative historical research is damaged by your use of racist phrases such as ‘gammon’ and your approval of efforts to censor,via,’no platforming’ those who might have different historical views to your own. Slavery and its close relative ‘forced labour’ continue to be practiced today and perhaps Greene King should have made a donation to those attempting to combat this crime today both in Britain and overseas.

    1. As a red-faced elderly white man myself, I would utterly deny that “gammon” is racist: it’s an excellent piece of shorthand for a particular type of racist reactionary, who is always a red-faced elderly white man. And don’t try to argue that “no platforming” is censorship. Anybody has the right to say “you can say what you like, but you’re not using my platform to say it.” It’s insisting that all platforms should be open to everybody that is oppressive. Certainly racists, Terfs, and similar types are no-platformed from this blog, because it’s mine, and I say what goes on it.

  7. Well done Martyn. Shame that you didn’t get any credit for the story and also a shame what Camra is having to deal with. While I’m not the biggest fan of their beer, it’s good see Greene King taking steps in the right direction.

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