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A treasure trove of local brewing memorabilia

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: October 29, 2009

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IT’S NO secret that we at the Bugle are often invited to take a look at fascinating finds from underground — relics of long-gone local brewers and pop makers which have ensured that those old company names have survived; at least in glass form, moulded onto the sides of thick glass bottles.

But never yet have we come across a hoard quite like the one which Ernie Harris of Pensnett asked us to take a look at recently. During a clearout of his garden shed, Ernie gathered together the vast array of bottles, jars and other containers that he has amassed over the years, and surprised even himself with the amount he’s got. It’s a veritable treasure trove of local brewing memorabilia, with a good few items from much further afield, though no less interesting for it.

Ernie’s hoard ranges from tall, heavy beer bottles of all ages down to little ink bottles and tiny phials of mysterious powder, some still half full. In between are square ink bottles, large stoneware jars and little ceramic pots, some with curious pouring spouts which may offer clues as to what they were originally made for.

All were found locally during various jobs over many years, some dug up and quite a few found in hedgerows, Ernie tells us.

There’s far too much to go into in one go, so for this week we’ll take a random sample and show them in more detail. Two of the famous ‘codd’ bottles, those with the ingenious marble stoppers trapped in their necks, are from, we must assume, the same brewer at slightly different times. One is marked B GREEN, MINERAL WATERS, BRIERLEY HILL, and the other, the same size but of slightly greener glass, says GREEN’S AERATED WATERS, HARTS HILL the second one slightly more specific about where the firm was located. Which all ties in very nicely with what Kelly’s Directory of 1900 has to tell us.

There was a Benjamin Green manufacturing mineral waters from 118 Hart’s Hill at that time.

A couple of miles down the road were Rolinson & Son of Netherton, who at some point in the distant past were pouring their beers or whatever else they may have been brewing into thick, dark, green glass bottles like the one shown here. This bottle looks perhaps a hundred years old, though we can find no reference to a brewer by that name.

Smethwick is well-represented too, with a glass codd bottle from Allbrookes Mineral Waters of Stone Street, and an earthenware bottle from Merrick’s Aerated Water Co., which should have been returned long ago, according to the stern warning on its front.

There are over thirty little earthenware pots, all narrow-necked and from a couple of inches to six or seven in height, but some of the largest and most curious have tiny grooves cut into their tops, leading to a small pinched spout.

Surely this was a design for a quite specific purpose, but what? Please let us know if you can tell us anything about it, or any of the other bottles.

In the meantime, we’ve had some further information regarding an earlier bottle article, which appeared in our 10th September edition.

Brian Essex, of Northfield in Birmingham, writes: “The bottle in question, which bore the words ‘Big Guns’, is associated with the Boer War, in particular the siege of Kimberley. The Boers had a long range gun to shell the town, and not having one to fire back, the British built their own and called it ‘Long Cecil’. I believe the Boers’ gun was nicknamed the ‘Long Tom’ by the British garrison.

“When the war ended mineral water makers in Birmingham and round about produced a pop bottle to mark the event, and in all there were six such bottles. I have all six in my collection: Cresswell’s of Smethwick’s Peace Beverage; Hedges of Smethwick’s ‘Long Cecil’; Keystone of Birmingham’s ‘Long Tom’; Lissimore’s of Smethwick’s ‘Long Guns’; Shaw’s of Cradley Heath’s ‘Big Guns’ and Merrick’s of Smethwick’s ‘Pom-Pom’.

“All these bottles are 18 inches tall; what were called Jumbos.” Mr Essex tells us he’s been collecting for many years, but the prize that has so far eluded him is a stone ginger beer bottle from Albert Shaw’s of Quarry Bank.

If you know of one, let us know, and we’ll pass the message on to Mr Essex.

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