The history of Wirral CAMRA
In the very early days of CAMRA in the early 1970s, one of the first Branches set up was Merseyside. The Branch obviously covered a very large area including Southport, St. Helens and Wirral. With a number of active members living and drinking in Wirral, the Wirral Branch was set up in 1977.
Wirral was dominated by Whitbread pubs and at the time that company had little sympathy with real ale. Whitbread had taken over and closed local breweries (including Birkenhead Brewery) and flooded the market with their own keg products. There was some relief from Whitbread with a handful of pubs serving beers such as Davenports, Burtonwood, Tetley, Bass, Thwaites and of course Higsons from Liverpool. Later Boddingtons took over a couple of pubs but that benefit was soon lost when Higsons sold out to Boddingtons who were then acquired by Whitbread. This gave Whitbread a virtual monopoly in Wirral, although a small number of Whitbread pubs did supply real ale. There was some hope of improvement when Oak Brewery set up in Ellesmere Port but in those days it was impossible to sell beers into the tied pubs of the national and regional brewers and Oak beers were a rarity in Wirral Pubs. Oak subsequently moved to Manchester and renamed Phoenix. There was clearly a lot of campaigning to do.
The sale of the national brewers' tied houses to pub companies did bring some benefits in that the range of real ales available increased dramatically. The fact that many of the tenanted pubs of those pub companies could buy a locally sourced also allowed locally produced micro brewers' beers on the bar. With Brimstage Brewery, soon to be joined by Peerless, we were finally able to enjoy Wirral produced beers in Wirral pubs once again. However there are still too many pubs tied to a pub company list which is restricted to national brands.
Wirral Branch had been active in running beer festivals from the early 1980s. These were usually run in conjunction with other organisations such as Round Table and Rugby Clubs. Although not ideal this did give us a chance to build our organisation and cellar skills. Later the Branch ran its own festivals at Hume Hall in Port Sunlight, Birkenhead Town Hall and later in Pacific Road (until the site was closed). We also ran the beer tent at the Wirral Show in New Brighton for three years although for the first two years we were stuck in the tent because of heavy rain.
Mersey Drinker was the CAMRA newsletter for the whole of Merseyside in the early years. This was a paid for newsletter and this meant we were not reaching as wide an audience as we had wanted. As circulation declined Wirral Branch set up its own free newsletter, Wirrale Drinker. The first issue in July 1992 was an experiment to see if we could produce a newsletter which could cover its cost with advertising income while promoting CAMRA's campaigns - in July 1992 it was promoting independent breweries. Although the first issue was very poor quality, the experiment was a success and we went on to publish regularly for many years. The Branch is attempting to re-launch Wirrale Drinker, starting with an electronic version but that may evolve into a printed version in time.