Although I have often been in a pub, until a few weeks ago I had never visited a brewery. However, while spending a few days with my cousin Paschal in London, we went to Faversham, Kent and spent a few very pleasant hours touring the Shepherd Neame Brewery. It has operated since 1698 and is the country’s oldest brewer – and with beers like Spitfire, Spooks and the wonderfully named Bishop’s Finger (it’s so Carry On!) it would have been rude not to drop in.
We joined twenty-or-so other visitors and after a short video history of the company we were off. I was elected as ‘Shepherd’ for the visit, making sure that nobody was left behind, or God forbid, fell into a vat (a tonne, actually) of beer. We were taken through the whole process, and it was fascinating to learn how the different roasting procedures (of the barley) could make such unique and distinct flavours. At the end of the tour we were each given six small glasses with a selection of beers and lagers. We sipped, swirled and, of course, swallowed the precious liquid and there was much ‘I like that one,’ comments from those around the tables. And, surprise, surprise I was given a bottle of beer for the ‘demanding work’ (not my words!) as Shepherd. A visit to a brewery and I come away with a free drink – now that’s what I call a result! Cheers.
A few days later I was in London and heading towards the Thames, at Albert Bridge, with my friend Don. He had heard about a race Doggett’s Coat & Badge and was keen to see it, and thankfully we had a great day for it. The sun shone and the breeze was gentle as we leaned over the most attractive bridge on the river and, like the line of viewers with cameras at the ready, watched the race.
The race dates from 1715, making it the oldest rowing race in the world – the first Cambridge/Oxford Boat Race was not held until 1829! The race begins at London Bridge, passes under 11 bridges, before ending at Cadogan Pier (a few hundred yards from Albert Bridge). It was conceived and financed by Thomas Doggett (an actor from Dublin) who used to travel along the river between Drury Land Theatre, The City where he worked for many years, and his home in Chelsea.
Back then there were only a few bridges across the river and most people had to use the services of a waterman (we would call him a taxi driver) to get across. Legend has it that a waterman rescued Doggett after he fell into the river, but there is, sadly, no definitive proof of this. Anyway, he decided to organise a race (length 4 miles 5 furlongs) and offer the winner a prize of a red waterman jacket, a large silver badge with the word ‘LIBERTY’ inscribed on it, and some money. Six apprentice watermen were invited to compete, for what has subsequently become a prestigious honour. It has continued to this day with the record winning time of 23 mins and 22 secs set in 1973. The race was usually held on the 1st August in celebration of the accession of George I in 1714, but is now run on a Friday in July with an incoming tide to help the rowers.
On the day we went there was a big crowd on the river (in three large ‘Gin Palaces’) following the racers and a a few celebrities waited at the finishing line, including Prince Philip. The local Mayor, photographers and TV crews all added to a colourful event that next year will celebrate it’s 300 hundredth anniversary. Well done Thomas.