2016 © Rob Walters
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Suffolk Branch of CAMRA
By Rob Walters, Founder Chairman
Some time in 2007 my friend Mervyn Lamacraft in Suffolk sent me a copy of the local CAMRA magazine. He sent it because it had an article on the early days of CAMRA in Suffolk, sort of commemorating its 33 and third year anniversary. We were both there at the time so I knocked up the following and sent it to the branch. Not sure whether it appeared in the mag, but here it is, as I wrote it.
I can remember the very day that the branch was born. I had read something about the formation of the campaign in a paper called Labour Weekly (guess my affiliation at the time!) The article related the goals of CAMRA and the fact that it was soon to hold it s first AGM. At that time I had two serious drinking friends: Mike and Jim. We all liked Tolly bitter but faced with the growing use of carbon dioxide pressure in pub after pub we had all found some technique for getting rid of the stuff. I twirled my glass around rapidly to release some of the gas, Mike demanded a cocktail stirrer and twirled that around in his pint and Jim, very cleverly, ordered an extra glass and poured his beer from one glass to another. But we all knew that this was not the solution. We wanted the real stuff back, real ale from the handpump or direct from the barrel and CAMRA offered a way of getting that.
So Mike Bennett and I set off by train from Ipswich to London, I had called Labour Weekly and they told me that the AGM was at the Press Club and specified its start time. Part the way through the journey we realised that we were travelling on a presumption. I had not checked that the meeting was to be in the Press Club, London. It could have been in any city in the land! Fortunately it was in London phew.
It was not a big affair I reckon that there were fifty or so of us present. We just happened to sit next to a chap from Ipswich the only other person from Suffolk. His name was Ron Booth and he worked for the local paper, the East Anglian Times, as a sub editor.
The meeting was great, good campaigning stuff together with some much-
Our vows to start a branch could so easily have been forgotten in the sober light
of the following days, but they weren t. With the zeal of people robbed of a decent
pint we set up our inaugural meeting at the Rose and Crown in the Norwich Road
one of the best Adnams pubs in Ipswich at that time -
Mike and I worked for BT in those days and consequently the core membership was initially
from there and the East Anglian Daily Times -
I am still a member of CAMRA, though not an active one. I am better at campaigning for lost causes than maintaining a victory. I have lost touch with Ron Booth but recognise the essential role that he played in the early days of the branch we had excellent press coverage due predominantly to his connections. Mike Bennett sadly died a few years ago. We used to meet at the Oxford Beer Festival every year and I miss him.
Oxford is my home city now, I am a tour guide here (yes, I do lead pub tours) and an author. I look back at those early days of CAMRA with a sense of pride and pleasure. As chairman one of my roles was to ensure that we did not become an Adnams appreciation society Greene King and Tolly Cobbold were the real enemy then. Nowadays I feel that the main problems lie in the changing nature of pubs and increasing government legislation and corporate gerrymandering that diminishes their essential independence. Of course maintaining the variety and quality of real ale is still essential, but I am saddened by the decline in good pubs with both character and characters in the Oxford area. The turnover of licensees is ridiculously high and many good pubs have closed in the decade that I have lived here. We have also lost the only remaining brewery of any size (Morrells) and the neighbouring Morlands.