The National Brewing Library at Oxford Brookes University

Oxford Brookes UniversityThe National Brewing Library at Oxford Brookes University

By Tom Martin, Chairman, National Brewing Library Management Committee

The National Brewing Library (NBL) has a much broader content than perhaps its simple name suggests. In addition to extensive coverage of the production of beer, whisky and other UK alcoholic beverages there are major sections on  social aspects of alcohol consumption, cooperage, transport, inn signs, etc, and of course, pub history. The library should provide a primary research resource for members of the Pub History Society and this article explains how the library came about, what it contains and how you can access it. 



As many readers will be aware, concentration and internationalisation of the brewing industry at the end of the 20th century led to a rationalisation of the professional and technical organisations supporting the industry

In January 2001, The Institute of Brewing (IOB), with origins going back to1886, and The International Brewers’ Guild (IBG), which dated back to 1906, merged to form The Institute and Guild of Brewing, re-named in 2005 as the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD). At about the same time the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association (BLRA), formed as The Country Brewers’ Society in 1822, becoming the Brewers’ Society in 1904, reviewed its objectives and as the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), moved to smaller premises where they could no longer house their library.

Both the IOB and the IBG had held technical libraries and the BLRA had a particularly broad archive of books, journals and ephemera resulting from many years representing the industry to the public, pressure groups and the government.

Under the auspices of the IGB these three collections were brought together to form the nucleus of the NBL.

Within the brewing industry the effects of the “Beer Orders” on major players and their withdrawal from brewing also resulted in release of archive material. Artefacts from the large Whitbread archive were sold at a dedicated auction but, through the good offices of the Whitbread Archivist, Nick Redman, the bulk of the books were donated to the NBL. As a result of the Allied Breweries merger with Carlsberg’s UK interests and further sale of the Burton Brewery, the Allied Breweries research library has been donated also to the NBL. These major accessions have been accompanied by many smaller, but valuable, donations from both companies and individual friends of the IBD.

The present NBL collection is basically English language and in addition to long runs of major UK and international technical and trade journals it contains some 4,500 individual items. The library continues to collect new material through both purchase and donation and is negotiating supply of reference copies of relevant journals in current publication. It is supervised by a Management Committee with representation from the IBD, BBPA and Oxford Brookes University.

Readers should note that the NBL concentrates on manufacture, technology, product and retail aspects of the industry, it is not a major source of finance or licensing law. The minute books and business records of the BLRA are archived at the University of Warwick School of Business Studies. Those from the Whitbread Archive are deposited at London or County Record Offices according to their geographical origin. The recovery and dispersal of the Allied Breweries business archive has been described in the Summer 2004 issue of the PHS Newsletter.

Housing the Collection

The IBD advertised widely for a suitable partner who could house and assist in maintenance of the library. There was a limited response to this appeal but the IBD was fortunate in attracting a sympathetic response from Oxford Brookes University. The University library has developed a successful policy of attracting and housing specialist collections, especially in the fields of the history of medicine, public health, food and drink. The University also has strong academic links with the brewing and distilling industries.

With the aid of a generous grant from the IBD Grants Committee, the NBL is now housed, on permanent loan, in a dedicated room in the university library where it complements the John Fuller collection of some 6,000 books on catering, cooking and gastronomy. In 2005 the NBL will move again to a specialist wing being built to house these collections.

Although the NBL has not found a preferred London location it is in a home in a major city with good public transport access and has guardians with a long term commitment to its use and viability.

Scope of the Collection

Capitalising on the long history of the founding partners the library contains most of the major historical brewing texts such as the 18th Century “London and Country Brewer”, Combrune and Richardson, through to the late Victorian masterpieces, Alfred Barnard’s “Noted Breweries of England and Ireland” and the “Distilleries of the United Kingdom”. Journals include, for example, the “Country Brewers’ Gazette” (1877-1904) and the “Brewers’ Journal (1865-1967) with many period advertisements and illustrations.

Of the collection’s 4,500 items, some 2,000 are not found in the catalogues of the British or other major libraries. Some of these items appear unique, others are industry reports, foreign language publications, company and pub histories etc., which would not normally be held in libraries, although they may not be rare within the industry. The NBL Catalogue, for the first time, brings these diverse books and documents together to provide an extensive research resource.

Major sections of the library include

  • A comprehensive collection of English language brewing books on raw materials (barley, malt, hops, sugar, water, etc.), beer production, fermentation technology, excise and gauging, product quality and flavour
  • Books on other British alcoholic beverages - whisky, cider, wine, etc.
  • Information on ancillary and support industries - cooperage, engineering suppliers, transport, etc
  • Company histories, anniversary publications, house journals
  • Histories of public houses, licensed trade, inn signs
  • The temperance movement, alcoholism, alcohol and health
  • Complete runs of scientific and technical trade journals including a selection from Europe and North America
  • Information published by the Brewers’ Society or BLRA
  • Random ephemera that contribute to an understanding of the social and technical history of the industry

Pub History

Through Oxford Brookes University’s interests in catering and hotel management their general library contains a number of current books relating to the public house and its management. The Fuller Collection also holds a selection of relevant, older works.

The National Brewing Library is most appreciative that the Pub History Society has agreed to donate reference copies of its Journal and Newsletter to the library. It joins other societies such as the Brewery History Society and the Inn Sign Society in preserving current research and promoting the long term viability of the NBL as an information resource on the brewing trade.

NBL Catalogue and Access

The NBL is a reference library and items are not available on loan.

Internet access

The NBL Catalogue and access details are available on-line at:

Personal access

For readers not on the Internet, the NBL is housed in the Headington Library on the Gipsy Lane Campus and all enquiries should be addressed to -

National Brewing Library Enquiries
Attention of Donald Marshall
Oxford Brookes University Library
Gipsy Lane
Oxford OX3 OBP

Tel:  (01865) 483136
Fax: (01865) 483998

The library is open to bona fide researchers on prior application either in person or by post. Applicants will be required to complete a form giving their reasons for wishing to consult material in the library and provide proof of their address. Rules for the use of the library will be provided to approved applicants

Admission to the NBL is during normal University Library opening hours but some rare and valuable items, kept in locked cabinets are available only Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm.

This article is based on similar information prepared for the Brewery History Society. (BHS Journal No 116, Autumn 2004)

  • Diary Dates

    What we're doing and when we're doing it. You might even find a date or two for your diary from other like-minded groups. More details can be found by following the link below.

    Continue Reading »

  • Mail List

    Not sure if you want to be a full member yet? Why not sign up for our occasional newsletter, no obligation, no pressure! More details can be found by following the link below.

    Continue Reading »

  • Membership

    Becoming a member of the Pub History Society is a great idea. You'll have access to all of our back issues of our newsletter and even a downloadable bibliography should you need it. More details can be found by following the link below.

    Continue Reading »