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Victorian Britain’s finest beer ad

Brewers’ advertisements in Victorian newspapers are almost always strictly utilitarian: a list of up to around a dozen beers in three main styles, mild/old ale, pale/ale bitter and porter/stout, each style shown available in three or four strengths, and with their prices listed per gallon/firkin/kilderkin. That’s it. If you’re lucky you might get a reproduction of a medal won at an international exhibition, or, very occasionally, a line drawing of a stoneware jar or a bottle label. Newspaper printing technology wasn’t up to reproducing illustrations cheaply and well. So this ad from the Western Mail in Cardiff in June 1888 by the Hereford brewer Watkins and Son would be a rare and lovely find even without being a feast of unwitting social commentary and unintentional comedy. I love it. I want it on a T-shirt. I want it tattoed on my back. (Alright, maybe not that last one.)

This is clearly meant to be an upper-class or upper-middle class setting. The fashionable game of lawn tennis, which had only been developed in the previous decade in Warwickshire, a short distance from Hereford, is being played (note the young woman leaping about in the background). The languid-looking moustachio’ed young chap with the fashionable monocle, cap and blazer accepting a glass of pale ale is talking in upper-class English: he is drawling “Ah, thanks”, referring to “our people”, meaning his family, and saying “don’t you know”. This is an expression parodied in the 1880s as an upper-class affectation, and still, by Paul Merton, parodied 120 years later don’cha know?

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