Brewery History Society

The Brewery History Society: Research Strategy

Towards a BHS Research Agenda and Strategy

1. The Proposal

That BHS Editorial Board, with advice from others as appropriate (e.g. our new Hon. Life Member Peter Mathias), draw up a research agenda to guide future work and then to suggest ways to implement this. This brief paper suggests some reasons for such an initiative and how it might be approached.

2. Why?

2.1 Thus far, research undertaken by BHS members and other contributors to the Journal has in the main been ‘bottom- up’ in origin and has supported an expanding and increasingly well-regarded publication. Whilst this is cause for celebration, such an achievement is an ideal time to review progress, identify gaps in our knowledge and to take advantage of new opportunities provided by improved access to sources and new perspectives in economic, business and local history. An agenda and strategy would be primarily of benefit to BHS but also of value to others working in the field.

2.2 The addition of a top-down approach in the form of a research agenda would complement bottom-up initiatives and would be of particular value to independent scholars and ‘early –stage’ researchers by providing direction and guidance in their work. Also, such an intervention might help to bridge the academic/amateur divide that has been discussed at BHS committee meetings from time to time. It might also encourage more BHS members to take part in research projects and increase output.

2.3 In drawing up a research agenda and strategy BHS would be following the example of others such as English Heritage (i.e. their regional archaeological research agendas and strategies), the Historical Metallurgy Society (2008), AIA (2005) and the National Association of Mining History Organisations (in progress). The issue has also been addressed by railway historians – see Howard Newby’s introduction in R. W. Ambler, ed., The History and Practice of Britain’s Railways: a new research agenda (Ashgate, 1999).

3. How?

3.1 It is suggested that BHS Editorial Board considers the proposal and, if willing to do so, agrees a research agenda to be adopted and published by the society. This might be open-ended or time-based (say, five years initially). It would be for the board to decide how to proceed but they might look at:

  • 'Scoping' (BHS has in the past concentrated on production –is there a need to change this?)
  • Gap analysis (the known unknowns)
  • Geographical coverage or lack of it
  • Particular perspectives/questions/issues/themes that need to be addressed.

    The contents of past journals and a register of current research undertaken by members (which might be conveniently added to the register of interests) would provide guidance here.

    3.2 The next phase would be to suggest a strategy for implementation. This would have to differentiate between the needs of scholarly/funded research in higher education institutions, of independent scholars, and of those wishing to begin research or of those who have started work but are not sure how to take their projects forward.

    3.3 Specific guidance might include:

  • identifying sources and their location
  • availability of digital sources (e.g. newspapers and historical directories)
  • suggest BHS projects to improve access to sources that are not yet available in this way – the Heritage Lottery Fund will now support ‘digital-only’ projects. Special-interest groups might also be formed to undertake projects devised and led by an experienced researcher.

    3.4 Guidance might also be given on the interpretation, uses and potential of particular sources and the writing up of the outcomes of research. Much material of this sort already exists in BHS publications and could be re-packaged or re-launched as part of an implementation strategy.

    3.5 Research outcomes would provide material for seminars, conferences, BHS publications and the website, as was the case during the recent SHIERs initiative.

    3.6 BHS Committee would need to consider the resource implications of implementation strategies, identify possible working partners and the funding opportunities available.

    3.7 The agenda and strategy would need to be reviewed by the board and the committee at appropriate intervals.

    June 2013

    Editorial Board Responses


    Developing a research strategy could/should be a very interesting exercise – the Tiles Soc (TACS) did something similar, though smaller in scope, a few years back and the eventual end results were a successful application to the HLF (project since carried out with much involvement from local people in the Potteries) and the setting up of a research grants system which allows people – not necessarily TACS members – to apply for grants of up to £1,000 from TACS to support research. This has turned up several bits of new work and a few journal articles (+ 3 new committee members!) A research strategy might also allow BHS more access to research funds.

    So in principle I support the idea of a research strategy, although unlike EH, for instance, BHS probably doesn’t have enough resources to follow it all up. I guess it might help younger scholars especially (PhD candidates etc) who are looking for appropriate subjects, and older scholars who have the opportunity to do research after perhaps giving up paid work.

    I think the BHS Journal has published on an increasingly wide range of topics and broader geographical range, and I’d like to see the geographical side widened further along with more attention to social/cultural/literary/artistic aspects of beer/brewing. Economic aspects, however, seem very well covered elsewhere.

    Possible translation of papers on brewery history published in foreign languages.

    Identifying sources – I’d like to see a nationwide trawl of record offices etc in search of brewery plans, which turn up in the most unexpected places. Could be done on web initially and would be something very useful but not particularly academic.

    Conferences/seminars/study days or whatever one calls them, are really useful in encouraging recognised scholars to get on and do new papers, and giving newer scholars the chance to show off their ideas. They also usually result in more publications. BHS has a good record of organising or part-organising conferences and I think this should be kept up, although I know it is always much much more work than anybody ever thinks initially. Would an annual conf/seminar be possible? Probably at Burton. Or maybe study day at a particular brewery. The subjects and call for papers could be announced well ahead, along with a few definite papers by people already working in the area concerned.


    An interesting discussion paper.

    I would query how this idea relates to funding of research. Would it be envisaged that BHS actually provides some funds to the researcher to steer the direction of the work on the principle of “he who pays the piper …”. Or, conversely, would it be expected that the researcher would make a small payment to BHS for the advice given and the credence this gives to the work?


    May I suggest that one issue each year be devoted to articles that fit the research strategy and the other issue(s) be open to all kinds of articles?

    Implicit in the proposal is making BH a journal for all kinds of alcohol historical studies. Occasionally articles have moved beyond breweries, but to date the focus has been breweries.

    As a new title how about Brewery and Alcohol History?

    PS: Might want to look at Warwick Drinking Studies Network and the website of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society. There seems to be a couple of conferences every year related to drinking. Upcoming are

    Public drinking in the nineteenth century (conference, 22 Feb. 2014, University of Bristol)

    Teaching alcohol studies in history (workshop, 10 April 2014, University of Leicester)


    I'm probably living on a different planet. What the paper says is absolutely admirable and would apply in Voltaire's best of all possible worlds. But we don't live there.

    The BHS is surely not a research institute with a pro-active role that sets out to determine what should/might be researched and how (unlike EH where such an approach is essential), but acts as a forum for drawing together knowledge and disseminating it to the membership and others.

    Maybe this is seems just negative but I do think a sense of realism needs to kick in.


    I rather value the mixture of material that is carried by the journal. I think this stems best from enthusiasm rather than from direction. That said, however, the proposal did make me winder if there might be value in having some articles which surveyed the field organized by a particular theme - which could be geography, type of beer, types of evidence, etc - which might act as a stimulus to research by indicating gaps and potential. I do know, for example, that I used Century of British Brewers to extract material on the North West for an article in Manchester Region Historical Review and found it a tremendous source. There is so much that could be done to extract patterns from it and perhaps drawing attention to this would be of value. That seems a more attractive approach to me than a formal research strategy - but I think the topics could be inspired by what Mike suggests.


    I am fearful of restricting contributors to the journal and those working on the history of brewing in general by a prescriptive list of tasks. One of the refreshing things about the field is the variety of work and the variety of approaches. That said I am sure that younger scholars would be pleased to have some sense of what has been done, what needs to be done and what materials might be available for them to use. An article in the journal that gives a view of what has been the direction of the field and how new scholarship can add to what has been done I do not doubt would be valuable. Having such an article periodically, say every five years would be invaluable not just for readers but also for the editor.

    The other suggestion embedded in the document you sent that has direct and immediate appeal is to explore available sources. Short reports in the journal, like the photo-supplemented essays on different surviving breweries that pointed to archival materials would be a plus. Such a notice could appear in each number of the journal. The goal would be to publicize potential sources and also promote digitizing some of those records. So it looks like a compromise - not the research agenda so much as attacking more specific issues through less ambitious efforts and so leaving researchers the existing range of freedom for their work.


    1 I certainly agree that now would be as good a time as any for the BHS to, to quote Mike, take the opportunity to review progress, identify gaps in our knowledge and look at new opportunities provided by improved access to sources and new perspectives in economic, business and local history. Every organisation needs to look at itself occasionally

    2 It could be potentially very helpful if, from this, areas where efforts could usefully be directed were identified and communicated to possible researchers.

    3 However, I would be very wary indeed of anything that might alienate what might be called the "enthusiastic amateur" tradition that has always been, from the start, an important part of the BHS, its membership and its driving force and enthusiasm. The sorts of people who founded the BHS must always be made to feel extremely welcome.

    4 Of course, it is vital that the BHS remains rigorous in its dedication to excellent scholarship: but like others, I am not sure there are the resources available to the society for "guided" research or the setting-up of "special interest groups". That is not to say that it could be useful to draw up a list of sources that would-be researchers need to look at. But I an deeply dubious about the idea of a "research agenda": it seems to me, on the face of it, likely to be difficult to draw up and unlikely to be met with huge enthusiasm. In any case, without wishing to be complacent, the society seems well served at the moment by the mixture of individual enthusiasms and serendipity that have kept it going since its foundation.

    5 If it is decided to review the progress of the society, however, it might be useful to sketch out just how far the society's research realm now stretches, and produce a "statement of purpose" setting out as much as possible those areas the society is now interested in, which may itself crystallise people's thoughts on what areas of research need doing. While the BHS began as, effectively, an organisation interested almost solely in business history, and may still appear to many as being primarily interested in the history of the growth and progress of individual businesses in the brewing world, its coverage has expanded, in my view very properly, in recent years to encompass wider aspects of the history of beer and brewing.

    These now include the history of the product itself, not just the technological history, but the history of beer styles and types, and the history of raw materials. It might be useful to remind people that we are not just interested in the history of Blogg's brewery (of Roman Road, Islington) but of the beer styles and types that Mr Blogg produced, where those beer styles and types fit in to the greater history of beer, where they came from and where they went, and what raw materials Mr Blogg was using, as well as what technology he was using. More than that, I believe we are (or should be) also interested in who drank Blogg's beers, where and how, and under what circumstances. "Brewery history" is a field, to me, that encompasses economic history, social history, agricultural and technological history, political history, architectural history and a host of other historical disciplines. If the BHS agrees with that, it would be good to get that message across to researchers and potential researchers.


    The 'research agenda' proposal has certainly triggered an interesting and useful discussion. My thoughts are in line with much of what has been said already: the formulation of an 'official' agenda may be too ambitious and prescriptive, but the journal could certainly assist researchers with occasional surveys of 'the state of play' and/or guides to particular sources. Given the steady expansion in our thematic coverage - from production and distribution to consumption; from economic to social / gender / cultural dimensions - it may be a good time to take stock (incidentally, is it heretical to ask whether the title "Brewery History" has become a little restrictive?).

    One interesting format used by some journals is the "Forum"; i.e. a record of a real/virtual roundtable involving a group of specialists discussing a particular topic. Something like that could also be conducted on our website.


    It's good to have such a lively response to Mike Bone's paper. All take the view that we cannot be prescriptive and dictate anything resembling a research agenda. I concur. The BHS is not for example the Economic History Society which is composed entirely of academics at various stages in their careers; the Agricultural History Society has a mere handful of farmers, etc. as active members. Nevertheless, our journal does need to maintain a good standard and this might be aided by occasional articles commissioned from 'specialists' on key themes. I wonder if the responses to Mike's paper and those of the Editorial Board would be best forwarded by a one day forum or conference where members of the Society could discuss the issues raised around four of five papers.


    In my opinion, there must be a strategy which encourages enthusiastic amateurs, on one hand, and the more scholarly, structured agenda of the academic, on the other. The BHS's membership is diverse, and I am quite sceptical whether imposing a rigid research framework would be met with anything short of open revolt by countless members.

    Hence, I would propose that individuals who have interest in offering a wide agenda put it forward for discussion, perhaps in a new end section in the journal devoted to debate.

    From my prospective, we need to explore the following in greater detail:

  • When and why did brewers begin purchasing large numbers of pubs and beerhouses as a strategy for expanding their tied house estate? Too little work has been done on the late 18th century. There are valid scholarly differences over what motivated brewers to resume purchasing tied houses in the late Victorian era (see P. Mathias, The Brewing Industry in England; Gourvish & Wilson, The British Brewing Industry; and D.W. Gutzke, Protecting the Pub).
  • To what extent did 18th century brewers seek to buy land as the first step into the gentry? This has attracted some interest, but much more remains to be unearthed for a clear picture to emerge.
  • Did women undertake the role of brewster before World War II? (Judith Bennett's book, Beer and Brewsters in England, provides copious evidence of women's participation in brewing in the medieval era, but little is known about brewsters' contribution to Britain's brewing heritage thereafter).
  • Did most brewing families divest themselves of their shareholders in the "Brewers' Wars" in the 1880s-90s? If so, why?
  • Likewise, what motivated breweries to sell out during the merger mania of the 1950s-60s?
  • How valid is the three-generation model in which brewing families gradually lost their taste for business and plunged, wholeheartedly, into country life? Thompson and Gutzke both explore this topic (F.M.L. Thompson, Englilsh Landed Society in the 19th Century (1963) and Gutzke, "The Social Status of English Landed Brewers in Britian since 1840.")

    These areas require further study from the enthusiastic scholar, whether amateur or professional. Please understand, I do not discourage the eager amateur interested in exploring the history of the local brewery. I would argue that there must be room for such individuals in the BHS as for those thinking more broadly, putting history in a wide conceptual framework. Both groups could benefit from each other.

    Responses to the Research Agenda Consultation: a report to BHS Committee

    The extent and nature of the response from members of the editorial board was good - 10 (of 18) of the group took part in the email discussion and, in addition, the views of BHS committee members who are also members of the board were already incorporated in my paper after the issue was first raised at Derby in 2013. A copy of the proposal and the responses are annexed to this summary. Individual responses have been numbered for reference purposes.

    The later responses (R. 8, 9 & 10) provide a good summary of the overall reaction to the proposal and it is unnecessary to repeat this in detail here. In a nutshell, this is that BHS should not be prescriptive in directing research but might provide some guidance on possible topics and useful sources. I suggest that we keep these individual responses on record and that the following specific proposals merit further notice/discussion at committee and editorial board.

  • Widen the scope of publication to include geographical/social/cultural/literary/artistic aspects (with a possible change of name for the journal) and to include translations of articles published in foreign languages (R 1 & R 8)
  • Discover fresh sources e.g. brewery plans (R 1)
  • Hold an annual seminar on a particular area of interest with an accompanying publication (R 1 & R 9)
  • Add a ‘forum’ feature to the journal (R 8)
  • Publish more thematic issues (R 5)
  • Include an occasional (five-yearly?) article on recent work on brewery history with suggestions for future research, possibly relating to particular sources (R 6 & R 7)
  • Publicise potential sources and possibly digitise some of these (R 6)
  • The last response (R 10) went further than the others in listing more specific suggestions that might appear on a research agenda – the development of the tied estate, the entry of brewers into the landed elite, women in brewing, trends in share ownership in limited companies, and decision-making on merger proposals.

    Finally, a few general issues were raised e.g. funding of research (R 2), a significant broadening of focus (R 3), keeping amateur/independent scholars and researchers on board (R 7) and encouraging a variety of approaches (R 6), a sentiment that takes us back to the overall outcome of this exercise

    June 2014