Shakespeare the Conner

During the mid-14th century, Ale-Conners were appointed by the City of London, with other towns following by creating local Ale Tasters. Duties included checking the measures in which ale was served and also monitoring the quality of ale on sale. They of course did not have any scientific equipment to perform these tasks, and relied solely on sight; smell and taste.

Legend has it that by Elizabethan times they had another weapon in their armoury, their leather trousers. The Ale taster would pour ale onto a wooden bench, then settle himself upon it. If, after a certain period of time, his trousers stuck to the seat (or did not, depending on which version of the legend you prefer), then the ale was declared good.

Ale Tasters and Conners continued to drop in at the pub for 400 years – John Shakespeare, William’s father, was appointed Ale Taster of Stratford upon Avon in 1556. But by 1750 they had taken on other roles, often as market inspectors, though they can be described as the prototype of the modern Trading Standards Officer.

With the introduction of excise duty on beer, the quality and sale of beer came under the eye of the Revenue (Customs & Excise), but the Ale Conners still exist in London and appear on ceremonial occasions, especially the opening of a new pub!

(Courtesy of BLRA, “The Story of the Pub “)

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