Spotlight on Special Collections - The National Brewing Library

Monday, 25 July 2016

Signboard National Brewing Library

In the second instalment of a new regular feature about the Special Collections at Oxford Brookes University, Archivist Eleanor Possart puts a spotlight on The National Brewing Library.

“Oxford Brookes is the home to The National Brewing Library, a collection relating to brewing, distilling and other alcoholic beverages and dependent trades. The collection was formed in 2001 from the libraries of The Institute of Brewing, The International Brewers' Guild, The Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association and the Whitbread Brewing Company, and includes a wealth of information on anything and everything relating to the history of brewing, from malting, brewery histories and inn-keeping, to bottle labels, temperance and inn signs.

“My pick of the collection is a book that concerns the last of these topics - The History of Signboards by Larwood and Hotten (1866). The book begins with a survey of the use of signboards from the Romans to the 19th century, and then investigates the origins of over 1,700 inn titles.

“Animals feature heavily, such as the Goat in Boots, which most likely started life as part of the title of the Dutch Legend Mercurius is der Goden Boode (Mercury is the messenger of the gods).

“Some are inspired by stories and legends, such as the (Valient) London Apprentice from a ballad concerning an apprentice who, despite his humble origins, had many adventures including one in which he ‘robbed a lion of its heart’.

Signboard 2 National Brewing Library“Lawyers, priests and women were frequently the subject of inn-sign humour or abuse; one such example being the Man Loaded with Mischief. The book includes an engraving of a sign of this name, complete with a rhyme ‘A monkey, a magpie, and wife; is the true emblem of strife’, and sober inscription ‘Drawn by experience, engraved by sorrow’.

“But my personal favourite is the Vulcan, where drinkers would presumably go to drink beer in order to live long and prosper!”

For more information about the National Brewing Library, please visit the Special Collections webpages

Last year, as part of the University’s 150th anniversary, Oxford Brookes launched its own limited edition real ale. Oxford Brookes alumnus and proprietor of The Shotover Brewery, Ed Murray used the National Brewing Library to recreate a historic recipe which reflected how a premium beer might have taste in 1865 – the year The Oxford School of Art, Oxford Brookes’ predecessor institution, first opened.