It is Monday morning, late November, and I luckily found a tattered umbrella at my bed and breakfast in North London before setting out for my destination. This is the (British) National Archives in Kew, five minute's walk from Kew Gardens tube station. There is a greasy spoon type of cafe next to the station, so I stop and have a bacon & egg sandwich and a cup of strong tea before braving the rain.
The National Archives are located in a fairly new building, originally built in the 1970s but expanded about ten years ago, very impressive for a visitor from a small country, set in beautiful parkland. I am not here; however, to admire the building, nor the files inside, I have come to visit their small museum where they focus on various aspects of their collections. They currently have an exhibition called Drink: The story of Alcohol 1690-1920.
It is not a large set, but it is very well put together, using paintings, drinking vessels and similar props, but focusing on using the documents in the archives that can tell us about the topic. And the documents are unique. There is the original application for using the bass bottle label as a trade mark, there are other vintage labels. You will find drawings and illustrations showing how alcohol was produced, distributed and consumed. There is coverage on policies towards beer and stronger drinks, including the temperance movement, of legal and illegal distilling and of smuggling.
But the most impressive part is the vintage advertising, first and foremost for beer. I hadn't realised how beer had a role as a food supplement and was hailed for its nutritional and even medical properties. Far better than all the miracle pills the quacks try to sell us today, if you ask me.
The National Archives web site has a good presentation of the exhibition, and there is even an hour long podcast, which you can listen to while sipping a beer. As for me, I continue on my quest for new pubs and new beers in London – more on that over at my blog.