Friday, 14 October 2011

Protz writes Barclay Perkins out of history

I’ve got my copy of the Oxford Companion to Beer and shall be busy with it for some time. I’m 2000 words into my review and I’m only in the Cs. A long, nit-picking review will be along shortly, but I’ve just seen something that is so gobsmackingly appalling that I have to post it right now.

I was in the middle of praising one of Roger Protz’s articles — when he writes on social history, pubs and clubs, he can be very good indeed — when the narrative turns to brewing itself and it all goes wrong:
Thrale’s Brewery, in which Dr Samuel Johnson was a shareholder, dates from the early 18th century. It closed following the death of its owner, Henry Thrale, in 1781 and merged with the rival Anchor Brewery founded by John Courage in 1787. Courage was taken over by members of the Barclay family, who also went into banking with some success. The name Courage was maintained and the Anchor Brewery survived until 1981 when its brands were transferred to a modern plant in Reading.
Roger has managed to disappear the 175-year history of Barclay Perkins. Even though there are entries in the Companion for both Barclay Perkins and Courage which contradict the account above (If you don’t know what’s wrong with this narrative, get yourself over to Ron’s).

Given that beer experts, and Horst Dornbusch, have worked on this thing for the best part of five years, this is unbelievably shoddy. I was expecting some poor stuff but this is just incredible. Especially since Protz has written stuff in the past that shows he did once know Barclay Perkins and Courage were separate concerns and didn’t merge until the 1950s.

How can I trust anything in this book on the subjects that I don’t already know about?


  1. I don't understand how on earth he could get that wrong. It's not difficult. Even Wikipedia gets it right.

    He's even got it wrong about what happened after Horsleydown closed. The Courage brands, the cask versions at least, were brewed in the old Geeorge's brewery in Bristol. Can't he remember that? It happened during his lifetime. He may even have been editing the Good Beer Guide at the time.

    Which article is that quote taken from?

  2. Short answer is you can't. That's the problem with this kind od setup. You rely on the contributors to get their facts right. If they don't, you're knackered.

  3. Ron, it's from the article on coaching inns. Why exactly he drifts on to the history of Courage and Barclay Perkins is not really clear, except that they were near the George in Southwark.

  4. I finished the 'companion' the other day. On a whole, I think it does a pretty good job. Some things, like this and Horst's stuff specifically are drivel and continue to perpetuate the falsities that have been going on for so long.

    These books are massively difficult to put together. It goes back to who you choose to do what. Which is the problem. Who chooses whom to write what?

  5. @ Kristen: It's not just choosing - or finding - competent contributors,swhich indeed is a problem, it's editing down a lot of the contributions, as they often tend to be too long. An non-specilalist editing team at a publishing house may completely miss the point on why an information is included, deem it useless and cut it off...

  6. I think Laurent is likely to be on the right track: this is more than probably not Roger's fault, but the OCB's editors. I had a piece I wrote on beer bottles returned to me "edited" in such a way as to garble much of what I said and introduce unbelievably stupid errors. I am saving my own comment on the book until my copy arrives from the US …

  7. What is the point of them sending you proofs if you then don't get a chance to correct the edited version? It seems a bizarre workflow. We're not talking about daily newspapers with tight deadlines here.

  8. (face palms) - what a legend, eh?

  9. In the Porter section (p663 right column top)Horst goes on about `Robust Porter` in the Victorian era. I thought this `style`was a modern invention and never appears in any documents from the time. Why did they not get Martyn Cornell to write the sections on British beer styles. He is the world authority on them!

  10. I understand your frustration, but I hope you realize that not everyone that wrote for the companion was a researcher in the professional sense.

    I wrote a paltry 10 articles on hops and hope that my articles stand up, and if someone does find some errors, please feel free to forward them to me.

    I haven't even gotten my copy, I have to buy it, but it should be on the way, and since I am using it as a textbook, I will look forward to the community "editing" I am sure it will receive.

    Jon Griffin
    Adjunct Professor UNLV

  11. Thanks for commenting Jon. I'm not a professional researcher either. But I am aware of the concept of fact-checking and peer review.

    I'm certainly not an expert on hops. If there are errors in your articles, I wouldn't realise. That's why it's so dismaying to find such obvious mistakes elsewhere in the book.