Yorkshire churches & pubs… wine&cheese or chalk&cheese

The churches must owe, as we all do know,
For when they be drooping and ready to fall,
By a Whitsun or Church-ale up again they shall go
And owe their repairing to a pot of good ale
—”Exaltation of Ale”, by Francis Beaumont
Last week I was a morning guest on my local BBC Radio station (Sheffield). It’s a regular slot where 2 people from varying walks of life are brought on to discuss what is happening for them at work, in life and also what’s going on in the news that day. Last week I was paired with a lovely man, Pete, who turned out to be a brewer from Barnsley. To many people we may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum – me working with ‘the church’ and Pete encouraging us all into craziness on a Friday night.

But the link between church and beer is long and fascinating. It is also clearly evident in many villages, where the pub stands either opposite or close to the church. In fact, Sheffield is home to the only remaining pub on consecrated land (in the churchyard) – the Cross Kays at  St Mary, Handsworth.

In Medieval Britain the ‘church ale’ was a regular festival for which ale was brewed by the churchwardens and then sold to raise money for church expenses and relief of the poor. The word ‘ale’ was used for a festival at which the ale was sold, and there would be several through the year, including the leet-ale (held on the manorial court day); the lamb-ale (held at lamb-shearing); and the Whitsun-ale (held at Whitsun). The word bridal originally derives from bride-ale, the wedding feast.

Beer Festival at Holy Trinity, Hull

Beer Festival at Holy Trinity, Hull

With churches now exploring innovative ways of funding repairs as well as encouraging additional use by the local community and visitors, the idea of the ‘church ale’ is undergoing a resurgence.

A recent article by the BBC explores the restoration of brewing at Ampleforth Abbey. The Yorkshire-based monks see their current endeavours as following historic practice. They are currently the only British monks brewing beer, but there has been a global trend of Benedictine orders commercially making and selling beers. Abbey Beer was named best drink of 2012 by Deliciously Yorkshire and the profits they are making on the back of their success are invested back into the upkeep of the monastic community.

For most parish churches the practicalities of brewing and selling beer are very complicated. However, many churches are finding a way to return to the tradition of the ‘church ale’ and are reaping financial and community benefits. There are a number of annual beer festivals taking place in churches, including the Hull Real Ale and Cider Festival at Holy Trinity, Hull (the largest parish church in England). Last year the event attracted 2000 people over 3 days – which this year starts today!

Hull is not alone though… just do a google search for ‘church beer festival’ and a whole host appear!

Lets get out and enjoy them, and know that we are also helping to support some amazing and important buildings.

To read the BBC article ‘How monks mix God, booze and business’ please visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/18786736

To find out more about Pete’s beer please visit: http://www.geevesbrewery.co.uk/

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