Forgotten brewers of East Anglia: a Fishy Tale
I took these photos yesterday, they are of a pub called the Red Lion in Histon near Cambridge. Much to my shame and disappointment [because it looks like a very good pub], I did not actually go there to sit and drink beer, but I was passing and thought that the signs on the walls looked interesting.
Lacons brewery was Great Yarmouth’s largest brewer [clearly a boast made on the basis of limited competition] – started in the 1600s by somebody not named Lacon; Mr Lacon acquired the business in 1760, or so records state. Whatever the murky historical beginnings, this company was by the late 1800s a pretty significant business, catering for the thirsty fishermen and women of Yarmouth, at this time a significant east coast fishing and processing port. Legend states that, every summer, women and girls from as far away as Scotland would descend on the town to work in the fish processing factories – and the town’s air would attain a slightly blue hue due to their robust language as they gutted and filleted the fish pulled up in their thousands from the ‘silver pits’ off the Norfolk and Lincolnshire coasts.
By the mid- 1930s Lacons had an estate of some 170 pubs just in Great Yarmouth, the entire estate topped 350 including around 50 houses in London. This put them in the big league as far as regional breweries went at the time. But in the 1960s, as the market became subject to the inevitable consolidation that affects all such businesses, the company had been acquired by Whitbread.
As with all acquisitions of this kind, the economy of scale theory dominates. Whitbread bought the estate and the brand, and realised that they could brew the beers in their own brewery in Luton for a much cheaper price. As a result, the Lacon brewery in Yarmouth closed in February 1968, and now all that is left are a few admittedly rather lovely signs on certain pub walls.