Brewery worker at Greenall Whitley

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Greenall Whitley (St Helens)

Recollections of a Brewery worker at Greenall Whitley, St Helens, born c.1902

(From 'Industrial town: Self portrait of St. Helens in the 1920s' by Charles Forman. Publisher: Cameron & Tayleur, 1978.)

In the brewery the day turn used to be on at six in the morning. You had to get the malt out, which came in hundredweight sacks, and put it in the dissolving tanks. You got a dipstick out which stated the quantity of water that was wanted to dissolve the malt in. When you got that quantity you let them know on the mash tuns where the malt is left. The mixture is pumped up to the coppers, where they used to put the malt and hops to boil. There were three copper boilers altogether - the biggest one held 500 barrels.

When they're satisfied they've got enough hops, they shut that manhole and put the steam on to get it to a certain heat for boiling the brew. They're supposed to boil it just over an hour, but sometimes you were waiting for empty vessels, so you had to boil it longer. There were only two of us there, so you couldn't go away and leave it.

Hundreds of barrels a day had to be boiled within two and a half degrees on the heat. You took samples, and when you were satisfied, you'd stop the steam off and pour all the hops into the hop-backs. The farmers got all the spent hops - there's no strength in them at all. They were left overnight, and had to be shovelled down with spades into the transport.

The mixture is boiled upstairs and it then goes down into what they call a receiver, and from there it's pumped through a cooling process to get it down to a certain temperature. The yeast goes in as they run it from the receiver. It goes into the vessel in the fermenting room at 70 degrees F or something like that. While it's fermenting for a week, it's roused every few hours. When it's mixed up the yeast is got working.

There's a certain gravity to work to in the beer. Once they get it to the gravity they want, you can't do anything till the excise officers come along and check it - what they call the declaration. You put more malt in for higher gravities. On the job, if you got it wrong, there'd be an enquiry about it. If it was too high, they'd break it down with boiling water to make sure it was the right gravity that they're tied down to.

I got a job in the brewery in what they call cleaning the vats - most people started with cleaning. It was repetition work - just do the job till it's done. We used sand and mixed it up with vitriol, you'd get the copper boilers which they boiled the beer in shined up - and they had to be cleaned inside. After a brew of beer had been let into the fermenting vessels, we had to have the coppers ready for the next day. Everything had to be cleaned and sterilized with hot water. I worked through every floor till I got to the brewing department.

The beer was all right - they had different strengths. They don't brew any stout now - it’s only bitter and mild. We used to get beer free at half past ten and half past two in the afternoon. The chap dished it out in the cellar. You'd have to take a can with you. Two pints a day, that's what if used to be. One chap got sacked for pinching it - they were very keen on that.