November 23, 2016 by Kay Byrne
Although Swansea Camra celebrated its 30th annual beer festival this year, it seems that the history of the branch actually goes back 12 years earlier to 1974.
The founding members in Swansea were DVLA workers John Simms and Graham Larkbey and they got in touch recently to send us their memories and some photos of themselves with hilarious 70s hair cuts and fashion sense (very sporting of them).
Said Graham: “The branch was founded by myself and John Simms (two “incomers” posted to the then-new DVLC from London & Taunton respectively) in 1974, as there was no branch west of Cardiff then.
“We wrote to all the registered Swansea members and invited them to an inaugural meeting in the Adam & Eve; the motley crew who responded became the nucleus of the new branch.”
Added John Simms: “We emerged with the late Ken Atkinson as chairman, Chris Haggett as treasurer and me as secretary. At the end of the evening Ken, Graham, myself and Chris Clement adjourned to the Duke in Wind Street where four pints of draught Bass cost a total of £1!”
Branch members were soon organising social events and even their first beer festival.
“We put on the first Swansea CAMRA beerfest in (I think) 1976,” said Graham. “It was at the TA Drill Hall by the Vetch, and we did the whole thing on a bank balance of about £65. At that time it was the biggest festival CAMRA had put on after Cambridge (this was before the first GBBF in London). It was a great success, and we did several more there, plus one in Llanelli.”
The branch also had a regular branch newsletter, Malt & Hops (pictured) and organised trips to breweries. The photo above shows Swansea branch members about to set off on a minibus to Penrhos Court Brewery in Herefordshire.
“The Penrhos trip was (I think) late summer 1977. I recall John and I missed the Swans v Hartlepool game to go on it, and got home to find the Swans had won 8-0 !” said Graham.
John also remembers doing a live radio phone in along with Graham during the early days of Swansea Sound. “We were on with a landlord from Cadoxton who told us we were wasting our time and that cask ale was finished!
“We also produced a real ale guide to the city which featured many long lost public houses,” he added. “We held ever larger festivals with beers from all sorts of now lost breweries such as Simpkiss, Yates and Jackson and Hartleys. By that stage Swansea University had a Real Ale Society and they were invaluable with staffing. One of the students was Rory Gowland, now of Swansea Brewery.”
Rory is still, of course, very much involved in Camra!
Sadly it seems the original branch more or less died around 1984/5, but was restarted in 1986 by a different group of members, who then began holding annual beer festivals, first in the Patti Pavilion, then the Ostreme Hall in Mumbles, and, for the last ten years, at the Brangwyn Hall.
Have you got any memories of the early days of Swansea Camra? If so, please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org