The IPA shipwreck and the Night of the Big Wind

The “IPA shipwreck” is one of many long-lasting myths in the history of India Pale Ale. The story says that IPA became popular in Britain after a ship on its way to India in the 1820s was wrecked in the Irish Sea, and some hogsheads of beer it was carrying out east were salvaged and sold to publicans in Liverpool, after which the city’s drinkers demanded lots more of the same. Colin Owen, author of a history of Bass’s brewery, called the tale “unsubstantiated” more than 20 years ago, and others, including me, being unable to find any reports of any such wreck, nor of any indication that IPA was a big seller in the UK until the 1840s, have dismissed it as completely untrue. Except that it turns out casks of IPA did go on sale in Liverpool after a wreck off the Lancashire coast involving a ship carrying hogsheads of beer to India that, literally, became a landmark – though not in the 1820s – and the true story is a cracker, involving one of the worst storms to hit the British Isles in centuries, which brought huge destruction and hundreds of deaths from one side of the UK to the other.

The story of the IPA shipwreck first turns up in 1869 in a book called Burton-on-Trent, its History, its Waters and its Breweries, by Walter Molyneaux, who described how the Burton brewers began brewing beer for export to India from 1823. Molyneaux wrote: “India appears to have been the exclusive market for the Burton bitter beer up to about the year 1827, when in consequence of the wreck in the Irish Channel of a vessel containing a cargo of about 300 hogsheads, several casks saved were sold in Liverpool for the benefit of the underwriters, and by this means, in a remarkably rapid manner, the fame of the new India ale spread throughout Great Britain.”

Molyneaux’s story has been regularly repeated in the past century and a half. But no one has been able to find a wreck that matched up with his story. This turns out to be, not because the wreck didn’t happen, but because he was 12 years out with the date.

The year after Molyneaux’s book came out, a different version of the tale appeared in the “notes and queries” section of an obscure publication called English Mechanic and World of Science. The account was written by a man who gave himself the name of “Meunier”, and it said: “Forty years ago [ie about 1830] pale ale was very little known in London, except to those engaged in the India trade. The house with which I was connected shipped large quantities, receiving in return consignments of East Indian produce. About 1839, a ship, the Crusader, bound for one of our Indian ports, foundered, and the salvage, comprising a large quantity of export bitter ale, was sold for the benefit of the underwriters. An enterprising publican or restaurant keeper in Liverpool purchased a portion of the beer and introduced it to his customers; the novelty pleased, and, I believe, laid the foundation of the home trade now so extensively carried on.”

Ships off Liverpool in the Great Storm of 1839, painted by Samuel Walters.

Ships off Liverpool in the Great Storm of 1839, painted by Samuel Walters.

The two clues – the ship’s name and the later date – together with the fact that large numbers of newspapers from the time have now been scanned and made available on the web make it easy to trace the story at last. The Crusader was a 584-tonne East Indiaman, or armed merchantman, described as “a fine large ship with painted ports [that is, gun-ports] and a full-length figurehead”, “newly coppered”, that is, with new copper sheathing on the hull to prevent attacks by wood-boring molluscs, and “a very fast sailer”, under the command of Captain JG Wickman. She had arrived in Liverpool early in November 1838 after a five-month journey from either Calcutta or Bombay (different Liverpool newspapers at the time gave different starting ports) with a cargo including raw cotton, 83 elephants’ tusks, coffee, wool, pepper, ginger – and opium, which did not become illegal in Britain until 1916. Captain Wickman and his crew were due to leave for Bombay again on Saturday December 15, after five weeks of roistering in Liverpool, with a cargo that included finished cotton goods, silk, beef and pork in casks, cases of glass shades, iron ingots, tin plates, Government dispatches – and India ale in hogsheads, brewed by two different Burton brewers, Bass and Allsopp, the whole lot being insured for £100,000, perhaps £8 million today.

However the Crusader did not leave on the 15th, possibly because of adverse winds, which certainly kept increasing numbers of ships in Liverpool from Christmas onwards. Finally, on Sunday January 6, 1839, the wind changed, blowing a south-westerly breeze, and some 60 vessels, including the Crusader, left the port. What none of those sailors on board the fleet sailing out from the mouth of the Mersey knew was that a massive, fast-moving depression was coming in across the North Atlantic, travelling from the west-south-west at around 40 to 50 knots, It was bringing hurricane-strength winds, which would batter towns and cities from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast of England, uproot millions of trees, smash down thousands of chimneys, sink hundreds of boats and kill several hundred people. In Ireland, where estimates have suggested between 200 and 400 people died, that Sunday became known as the Night of the Big Wind. Thousands of houses and cottages were stripped of their roofs from Galway to Armagh, with many left on fire. Limerick resembled “a city on which a park of artillery had played for a fortnight.” In Belfast “not a roof escaped”, while Dublin looked, according to one newspaper report, as if it had been sacked by an army, with houses burning or levelled to the ground, and “the rattling of engines, cries of firemen and labours of the military” presenting “the very aspect and mimicry of real war”.

The winds seem to have struck the west coast of Britain late on the evening of Sunday 6th, and did not finally ease up until Tuesday morning. The lowest air pressure measured was about 922.8mb at Sumburgh Head, Shetland around 2pm on Monday 7th, the third lowest figure ever seen in the British Isles. The effects of the storm were felt in London, with “numerous” chimneys blown down in and around Islington and Camden Town, but were far worse in the North: nowhere from one side of the Pennines to the other seems to have been spared serious damage. In Liverpool, thousands spent a sleepness night listening to slates and bricks crashing down into the streets, as even “the best built houses rocked and shook” with the winds, and at least 20 people were killed by falling masonry. In Manchester, where six people died, so many factory chimneys were blown down, it was reckoned between 12,000 and 15,000 workers would be laid off for weeks before the chimneys could be rebuilt and the steam engines that powered the factories restarted. In Bolton, it was said, “not a house escaped”, in Blackburn alone 11 factory chimneys were felled, and in Newcastle upon Tyne “almost every building suffered, more or less”. In Ayr “the streets are covered with slates and chimney cans”, and in Dumfries “the noise during the entire night was more deafening than the battle field”. Birmingham and Wolverhampton, like many other towns and cities, had scarcely a street where houses had not suffered: much of the roof of Birmingham Town Hall was torn off, with lumps of lead weighing almost half a ton crashing into the street or onto nearby houses. Among the windmills demolished were five at Bridlington: others, such as the water company’s windmill in Newcastle upon Tyne, were set on fire by the friction caused when the fierce winds set their sails rotating far faster than their builders had thought possible. In Barnsley, the lead roof was lifted off the Methodist chapel and more factory chimneys demolished, while Leeds saw at least eight mill and factory chimneys levelled, and a church lose 24 feet off its spire. Hayricks were destroyed, pedestrians blown into the air and innsigns made to fly. One remarkable phenomenon reported by the newspapers after the storm was a covering of what appeared to be seasalt on hedges, trees and houses in districts far inland, such as Huddersfield, more than 50 miles from the coast.

Out at sea, the effects of the storm were terrifying and terrible, with ships in peril from the mouth of the Shannon to the mouth of the Humber. Many of the vessels that had left Liverpool on the Sunday escaped the rage of the winds: but many others did not. Ships on their way home from ports far away, and close to the end of their journeys, were also caught. Between 30 and 40 vessels were either sunk or run aground in the Mersey area alone. Several went down with all their crews drowned. Those ships that ran onto sandbanks were then battered by the high winds and huge waves, and began to break up. Lifeboats could not get out to rescue the passengers and crews until the storm lessened, and when rescuers did arrive, they found many of those they were seeking to save had died of exposure in the preceding hours, on deck or in the rigging. The Lockwood, an emigrant ship bound for New York, which had got as far as Anglesey on the Sunday before being driven back by the storm, had then struck sandbanks and begun to list. Of the 110 passengers and crew, 53 died before they could be taken off by rescuers. One of the Crusader‘s fellow East Indiamen, the Brighton, returning from Bombay, struck a sandbank in the mouth of the Mersey on the morning of Monday 7 January and started breaking up. Some 14 of her crewmen made a raft and launched it into the mountainous waves to try to reach land. They were never seen again. The captain and his remaining crew had to cling to the rigging until Tuesday morning before they could be saved by the Liverpool lifeboat.

Packet and Emigrant Ships Ashore, another image of the Great Storm, published in 1841.

Packet and Emigrant Ships Ashore, another image of ships from Liverpool in trouble during the Great Storm, published in 1841.

What happened to the Crusader while she was out at sea appears to be unrecorded, but like other ships she was driven back by the violence of the storm, or, having failed to get past the tempest, tried unsuccessfully to return to the safety of port. On the morning of Tuesday 8th January, nearly two days after she had left Liverpool, and after a “fearful night of wind, hail, thunder and sleet and forked lightning”, the Crusader was seen just off the coast at Blackpool, more than 25 miles north of the Mersey. She had struck a sandbank that is still, today, named Crusader Bank, in her memory, and suffered “much damage”. The ship’s crew were firing the Crusader’s guns to try to attract attention onshore, but soon after, according to the Blackburn Standard newspaper, “two boats put from her, and after crossing the breakers, landed a crew of 26 seamen, when a loud huzza proclaimed their safety.”

While the crew were safe, however, the ship had broken her back, and with her hull being almost covered by water at half-tide, her cargo began to wash up along a 15-mile stretch of coast from the Ribble in the south to the Wyre in the north. “A great deal” of the cargo, however, was gathered in by customs officers and locked up, including 79 hogsheads of ale that had been driven on shore, along with other goods, on January 16. (There was much cargo from other ships also cast up on the coast, along with dead bodies from ships that had sunk.) The Crusader began properly to break up only on Sunday 17th February, more than five weeks after she had run aground, though she then fell to pieces within four days. However, the first sale of cargo saved from the wreck of the Crusader had already taken place in Liverpool on Thursday 7th February. It included cotton fabrics, woollen cloth, silk scarves and veils, tin plates – and “India ale, Bass and Alsop’s [sic] brands”.

Advertisement from the Liverpool Mail, Thursday 31 January 1839, for the sale opf India ale rescued after the wreck of the Crusader East Indiaman in the Great Storm three weeks earlier

Advertisement from the Liverpool Mail, Thursday 31 January 1839, for the sale of India ale rescued after the wreck of the Crusader East Indiaman in the Great Storm three weeks earlier

Another two sales of goods saved from the wreck of the Crusader, including more India ale, were held in Liverpool on March 14 and March 28. (There were three more sales of items from the ship, in May, June and July, including broken rigging, chains, pumps and anchors, but no more beer).

The story is true, then, that casks of beer destined for India and rescued from a shipwreck in the Irish Sea did go on sale in Liverpool, though at the end of the 1830s, not the middle of the 1820s. But were these sales in Liverpool of several dozen hogsheads, at least, of India ale brewed by Bass’s brewery and Allsopp’s brewery in Burton upon Trent the foundation on which was built the popularity of IPA in Britain? Alas, there is still no hard evidence for that part of the story: and what evidence there is suggests even Liverpool knew about IPA before the Crusader went aground. Beer brewed for the India market had been available in Liverpool since at least 1825, when the Middlesex brewer Hodgson’s of Bow, one of the earliest suppliers of pale ale to the Far East, had an agency in Liverpool for the sale of “pale bottling ale” to “merchants and others”. The first known use of the expression East India Pale Ale in a British publication actually comes from a Liverpool newspaper, but in 1835, four years before the Crusader shipwreck, when Hodgson’s beer, again, was being offered to “merchants and private families”.

Judging by the surge in adverts for IPA in London newspapers, the real take-off for the beer’s popularity appears to be a couple of years after the Great Storm, in 1841. That was certainly the year when Bass finally opened a store in Liverpool for the sale of “pale India ale”, declaring in a notice in Gore’s Liverpool General Advertiser on April 22nd that announced the new store that “This ale, so long celebrated in India, has now become an article of such great consumption in this country (where it is almost superseding every other sort of malt liquor)”, and at the Burton Ale Stores in Ironmonger Lane “a Stock is kept of an age suitable for immediate consumption”. Was this, two years on from the wreck of the Crusader, a result of that ship’s cargo having gone on sale in Liverpool? The verdict here, I think, has to be “not proven”.

Why Molyneaux got the date of the IPA shipwreck so wrong is a puzzle, when there would have been many alive in 1869 who could still remember the Night of the Big Wind 30 years earlier. But while it is part of Ireland’s folk memory – there are poems, and a novel, written about it – the 1839 storm is pretty much forgotten in Britain, probably because in this island it was only the second-worse storm of the 19th century, beaten in impact by the so-called Royal Charter storm of 1859. This was named for a ship that went down off Anglesey with the loss of 450 lives. Another 350 people also died during that storm, which sank 133 ships.

As a footnote, although large numbers of factories were damaged in the 1839 storm, breweries seem to have got off lightly. Newstead and Walker’s brewery in Bolton saw “considerable” damage. In Borrisokane, Tipperary, “the chief part of the Ormond brewery was blown down”. In Dublin, nine horses belonging to Guinness & Co were killed in their stalls by a falling wall. That, however, appears to be it.

The Bass red triangle: things AB-InBev won’t tell you

Bass pale ale labelThere are stupid marketeers, and there’s AB-InBev. The Belgo-Brazilians have decided to rename one of the oldest beer brands in Britain, Bass pale ale, a literally iconic IPA, as “Bass Trademark Number One”. It’s a move so clueless, so lacking in understanding of how beer drinkers relate to the beers they drink, I have no doubt it will be held up to MBA students in five years’ time as a classic example of How To Royally Screw Up Your Brand.

The move is predicated upon the red triangle that is found on every bottle of Bass pale ale, and on every pumpclip of the draught version, being the first registered trademark in Britain. The generally accepted story is that after the passing of the Trade Mark Registration Act of 1875, when applications to apply for trademark registration opened on January 1, 1876, a Bass employee was sent to wait overnight outside the registrar’s office the day before in order to be the first in line to file to register a trademark the next morning, and that is why the company has trade mark number one. There is no evidence for this story: but it is certainly true that a label with the triangle on it, and the words “Bass & Co’s Pale Ale” is indeed the UK’s Trade Mark 1, having been the first to be registered on New Year’s Day 1876.

So why now rename a beer that has been around since the 1820s, when Bass first started brewing a bitter pale ale for the Far East market, after an event that happened when that beer was already 50 or more years old? Because AB-InBev is flailing around for a way to rescue the beer, once the most famous in the world, from the miserable position it has been in since, to be honest, long before what was then Interbrew acquired the Bass brands in 2000. Some idiot marketing focus group got together and tried to think of a unique selling point for the beer: and the only one they could come up with was that it bore the UK’s first registered trade mark.

As Pete Brown has already remarked, this is pretty much a result of the AB-InBev mindset, which knows far more about trademarks than it does about beer. Bass pale ale is a beer with a fantastic heritage: it was, for more than a century, a hugely highly regarded brew, globally as well as in the UK (my grandfather told me that before the First World War, he and his pals would scour North London looking for pubs that sold draught Bass), so much so that it suffered more than anyone else from lesser brews being passed off as the red triangle beer. That was one reason why Bass was so keen to register its own trademark as speedily as possible.

Before we continue, here’s a panegyric on Bass from a book published in 1884 called Fortunes Made In Business which will show you how much Bass was an icon:

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Worthington ‘E’ is NOT a Burton Ale

This week’s letter comes from a Mr R Protz of St Albans, who writes:

I took a snap of the clip for ‘E’ in the National Brewery Centre Bar y’day. I’ve included it in 300 More Beers … in the Best Bitter section but I notice it’s now labelled Burton Ale. What are your thoughts? Thanks,

Ale fail: ‘E’ is NOT a Burton Ale.

The answer, of course, is that Roger is completely correct, Worthington ‘E’ is a pale ale or bitter with a strength that puts it in the “Best Bitter” category, and NOT a Burton Ale, which is a different style of beer altogether– darker and sweeter. (Nasty clash of 1920s and 1970s typefaces on that pumpclip there, too, but let’s move on …)

Indeed, back in the 19th century, Worthington ‘E’ was described as an India Pale Ale, as these two ads below from the early 1890s show. Apparently to distinguish themselves from all other brewers, Worthington labelled their brews with a strange and not particularly logical naming system. Their Burton Ales, strong, bitter-sweet and rather darker than an IPA/best bitter, were called G (the strongest, equivalent to Bass No 1), F (the second-strongest) and D (the third-strongest, in the 20th century sold as a mild) – they’re the ones called “strong ales” in the ads. It looks as if the beers, mostly, go up in strength from A mild through B and C and up to G – but what about M light dinner ale, and S and SS, which to most brewers would mean “stout” and “single stout”, but to Worthington mean their cheapest mild and their cheapest light dinner ale, respectively. And XE IPA looks to be weaker than the E … Continue reading

An 1875 Arctic Ale tasting

Legendary: it’s an overused word. But some beers literally are legendary, in the sense that far more people will have heard of them than will ever see them or taste them.

1875 reputed quart AAA bottle

Reputed quart bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale with date ‘1875’ painted in punt

One indisputably legendary beer is Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, the powerful, rich Burton Ale, original gravity 1130, north of 11 per cent alcohol, brewed in Victorian times specifically for expeditions to the Arctic Circle by British explorers. There are a very few bottles left of the Arctic Ale brewed for the expedition under Sir George Nares which set out in 1875 to reach the North Pole. And this week I drank some.

I can’t think of superlatives high enough to describe how thrilled, privileged, lucky, honoured I felt to get this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try a beer 137 years old, with so much history behind it. This is exactly the same beer the Victorian journalist Alfred Barnard drank when he visited Allsopp’s brewery in Burton upon Trent in 1890. Subsequently Barnard wrote the experience up in his chapter on Allsopp’s in Noted Breweries of Great Britain. How often do you get to compare someone’s 122-year-old tasting notes with your own experience?

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The mysterious Australian Ale

IPA, or India Pale Ale, was not the only beer British brewers exported to far-away places in the 19th century. There was plenty of stout and porter shipped to the East and West Indies – and also the mysterious Australian Ale.

Pulling together the scattered references to the beer, Australian Ale appears to be a name given to “No 3” grade Burton Ale, 1080 to 1085 OG or so, around 7 or 8 per cent alcohol, stronger and, probably, slightly darker and rather sweeter than a Victorian IPA would have been.

In 1841 the Burton upon Trent brewers William and Thomas Saunders advertised in the Liverpool Mercury their “East India and Australian Beer”, “each brewed by them expressly for those markets, also the Australian Strong Ale”, doubtless hoping to catch the eyes of shippers exporting goods from Liverpool to the Antipodes. This is the earliest reference I have found to “Australian Ale” used to designate an apparent style of beer: all sorts of British brewers, including Saunders’ Burton rivals Bass and Allsopp, had been exporting to the Colonies, but none was calling its beer specifically “Australian” (and Burton Ale, brewer unnamed, had been on sale in Australia since at least 1821). This was still a time when the word “ale” generally indicated a less-hopped article than “beer” did (though “pale ale”, specifically, was by now a hoppy brew), so the “Australian Strong Ale” was likely to be less hoppy (but stronger, to make up for the lesser amount of preserving hops) than Saunders’s Australian Beer.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 1850

In April 1856 the Derby Mercury reported that three labourers “in the employ of Messers Bass and Co, brewers”, Thomas Stretton, Charles Carter and Dominic Kilkenny, were sentenced to two months in jail at Burton upon Trent Petty Sessions “for stealing seven quarts of Australian Ale, by plugging the bottom of the cask”. (One of the magistrates who put the three away was Sir Oswald Mosley, Bart., great-great grandfather of the British Fascist leader.) Which of Bass’s beers was “Australian ale”? In the 1840s and 1850s it was exporting both its No 2 (1090 or so OG) and No 3 grades of Burton Ale to Australia. But in December 1862 the medical magazine The Lancet, in a report on that year’s Great International Exhibition in South Kensington, London, talking about the beers on show, said: “Messrs Bass and Co exhibit their strong ale and their No 3 Burton or Australian ale.” The No 3 grade was also the Burton Ale that Allsopp’s exported to Australia.

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Pub passion personified

Nick Sharpe of the St John's Tavern, pub enthusiast

It’s an ill wind that doesn’t have a silver lining – or something like that. Anyway, I’m delighted to be able to give you a chance to see and hear Nick Sharpe of the St John’s Tavern, Archway, North London, give one of the most passionate expositions on the British pub, its present and its future, that I’ve heard. What I particularly enjoy about Nick’s views on pubs is that they are clearly rooted in a love of pubs’ past, without being fetishistic about it: he’s running a 21st century business at the St John’s Tavern, he delights in being able, thanks to help from English Heritage and his local council, to reflect some of the pub’s 19th century origins in the renovations that have been carried out, but he’s not about to turn it back into the multi-bar warren it would have been when it opened, because we no longer live in a society where Public Bar Man never mixes with Saloon Bar Man.

Click on the video you’ll find here, ignore (sorry) the first two minutes 45 second of the video – Jack Adams is a nice guy, but he’s a better interviewer and video maker than presenter, go and make a cup of tea, take the top off a bottle of beer or something until he’s finished – and then come back and listen to Nick talk with feeling and depth about pubs, about why he did what he did with the St John’s Tavern, and what he would like to do with it if his pubco would just let him.

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IPA: much later than you think part 2

king-barnes-ipaClick to read part 1
From 1823 the Burton brewers began to brew pale ales for the Indian market. I’m not going to go into the development of Burton pale ale here, but between them the big Burton brewers and Hodgson of Bow certainly never had a monopoly of the Indian pale ale trade. In November 1831, for example, when the Hope brewery, “near the Friend at Hand”, Hammersmith (in what is now West London) was put up for auction, its stocks, according to the advertisement in The Times, included “150 barrels of pale ale for the Indian market”.

But this was still not being called “India Pale Ale”. Even Hodgson’s product, even when it was being advertised directly at “Families from India”, as it was in an advertisement in The Times in July 1833 (clearly the brewer was hoping for custom from people now back in England who had enjoyed its beers out East), was still only referred to as “Hodgson and Co’s Bottled Pale Ale”. No mention of India in the name of the beer, no indication that this was special or different from anybody else’s pale ale, except for the brief hint in the note that “The Nobility, Gentry and others (especially Families from India”) could be supplied with the product.

In October 1834 a London wine and spirit merchant, WG Field and Co, of Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, was advertising in The Times “Burton, Edinburgh and Prestonpans Ales, Pale Ale as prepared for India [my emphasis], Dorchester Beer and London and Dublin Brown Stout”. Earlier in the century Thomas Field of London had been a big customer of Bass in Burton upon Trent, and it seems quite likely this was the same firm, probably selling Bass’s “Pale Ale as prepared for India”, carried down from Burton by canal or wagon. In the 1840s Field was certainly selling Bass pale ale. What was “Pale Ale as prepared for India”? William Loftus explains, under the heading “India Pale Bitter Ale”, in his book The Brewer: A Familiar Treatise on the Art of Brewing,, published in 1856. The book says about “Bitter Ale” that “that prepared for the home market is less bitter and spirituous than that which is prepared for exportation to India.”

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Kent hops, hedgers and Pale India Ale

Here’s another titbit* from the Times archives: a report from 1840 on the hop harvest with some fascinating clues about what hops went into IPA (I was wrong, incidentally, in saying the archive is not available to the public – if you can use your public library card to access resources like the Oxford English Dictionary from your home computer, you can probably use it to access the Times 1785-1985 archive).

One of the reasons The Times carried hop harvest reports was because of the betting that went on over the yield of the hop tax. By the mid-19th century, according to Peter Mathias’s magisterial The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830, as much money was being bet on the hop tax yield as on the Derby.

This was not simple gambling, however, but a way for hop growers and hop dealers to lay off, or hedge, the risks that came with involvement in a trade that could see prices triple one year and halve the next, as yields went down and up depending on the weather, outbreaks of pests and the like. If you were a hop buyer and you thought yields would be low, and the tax take (based on quantity) subsequently low as well, but the price high because of scarcity, you bet on a low tax take, and at least made some money as you paid top whack for your hops. If you were a seller and feared a big harvest and low prices, you bet on a high tax yield, and made up for the smaller amount you got for your hops by winning on the hop betting.

The most interesting part of the Times report from September 12 1840 on “Hop Intelligence”, however, is not the details of the bets being made on the size of the hop harvest, at 25 guineas or 50 guineas a time (huge sums when a guinea – 21 shillings – was as much money as a labourer might earn in a fortnight.)

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