THE ELAN VALLEY CANTEEN, NEAR RHYADER, RADNORSHIRE
Average Number of Men Employed
1,200 to 1,500
The Elan Valley experiment, the first of its kind in the
United Kingdom, owes both its origin and its success to
the practical wisdom of the Waterworks Committee of the
Birmingham Corporation. It was established in September,
1894, to meet the requirements of the men employed upon
the construction of their new reservoirs near Rhayader.
To accommodate the navvies and others employed, the Committee
had practically to construct a village some three or four
miles from Rhayader, and the supply of liquor at once became
an urgent problem. Prohibition was felt to be impracticable,
so that the only alternatives open to the Committee were
either (1) to let or lease a building to a private publican
in the ordinary way ; or (2) to themselves apply for a licence
and establish a canteen on their own property. The first
of these alternatives, although simpler, was open to grave
objection. While the publican, as the tenant of the Committee,
would to a large extent have been under their control, it
was nevertheless felt that if the house " were run
as a trade venture in the interests of the publican, his
own interest doubtless would be to promote rather than to
restrict the sale of drink." The second alternative
was therefore chosen. The Committee accordingly applied
for a licence, which was granted subject to certain special
terms which the Committee itself suggested. The chief of
these conditions was that the canteen should be placed in
charge of a manager who should be paid a fixed salary and
have no direct or pecuniary interest in the sale of intoxicants.
The second main condition related to the hours of sale,
the Committee not wishing to open during the whole of the
usual public-house hours.
The conditions governing the experiment are, of course,
in certain important respects exceptional and more than
usually favourable to success. In addition to a certain
benevolent despotism which the Committee (unlike a voluntary
company, such as the People's Refreshment-House Association)
is free to exercise, the works are to a large extent isolated.
Rhayader is three or four miles distant, and access to the
works, which are situate on the left bank of the river Elan,
is completely under the control of the Committee. The only
approach for vehicles is by a suspension bridge which the
Committee itself constructed, while a narrow footway leading
to a footbridge at the other end of the village is the only
other means of access. The public have no right of way,
and tradesmen from the neighbouring town are only allowed
to use the suspension bridge on the express undertaking
that they will not introduce intoxicants into the village.
Moreover, the bridge-keeper has instructions to examine
every cart. It is an interesting fact that so far there
has been no shebeening.
The monopoly enjoyed by the Committee is, nevertheless,
not quite complete. On the other side of the river, but
at a comparatively short distance from the village, is the
Elan Hotel, (The distance separating the Elan Hotel from
the village canteen is, by way of the suspension bridge,
exactly a mile; but from the right-hand end of the village
it is little more than half a mile.) a fully licensed
house, which is said to be much frequented by the men from
the works. (The Secretary of the Waterworks Committee,
in his evidence before the Royal Commission on Liquor Licensing
Laws (July 5th, 1898), estimated that the sum spent by the
men at the Elan Hotel, and at the public-houses in Rhayader
equalled in amount the takings of the canteen). The
licence for this house was applied for when the Birmingham
Corporation first began its works, and although the Corporation
applied to be heard in opposition to the licence, the magistrates
refused to hear its representatives, but granted the licence
despite their protest. It is undoubted that the close proximity
of this house militates against the complete success of
the canteen experiment. As a fully licensed house it does
so directly in respect of the sale of spirits. At the canteen
itself no spirits are sold, the sales being strictly confined
to beer and mineral waters. The sale of the latter is, however,
exceedingly small (The Secretary of the Waterworks Committee
stated that out of a total week's takings of £104
18s., only 7s. 6d. was derived from the sale of mineral
waters). There is no sale of food. It was at first proposed
to sell tea, cocoa, and other similar beverages, as well
as food, in the canteen, but the idea was relinquished owing
to the absence of any demand for them. The selling price
of the beer (5d. per quart) is fixed by the market price
in the neighbourhood.
Orders to the brewers are sent direct by the Secretary
of the Waterworks Committee, who charges the goods at selling
prices to the manager of the canteen. Stock is taken each
week on specially prepared forms. The canteen manager, according
to the Secretary's statement, " quite understands that
he is thought no more highly of if his sales are high than
if they are low, whereas should there be any disturbance
or drunkenness he would be held responsible for it."
To ensure the good quality of the beer sold, the Committee
has established a system of taking samples of all the beer
in the canteen at irregular times without notice to the
canteen manager. In response to a private order from the
Secretary of the Waterworks Committee, a man attends at
the canteen and takes samples. The bottles are then sealed
in the presence of the canteen manager and sent to Birmingham,
where they are submitted to the examination of a brewing
The management of the canteen is governed by a series of
regulations of quite exceptional stringency:
1. No credit is given.
2. Music, games, etc., are strictly prohibited.
3. The hours of sale are severely restricted. The canteen
is open on ordinary week-days (i.e. Monday to Friday) from
12.80 p.m. till 2 p.m., and from 5.30 p.m. till 9 p.m. On
Saturdays it is open from 1 p.m. till 4.30 p.m., and from
5.30 p.m. till 9 p.m. At first it was kept open continuously
on Saturdays from 1 p.m. till 9 p.m., but it was found that
there was a tendency on the part of the workpeople to remain
too long in the canteen, and so the canteen was closed between
4.30 and 5.30. p.m. It was originally proposed to open the
canteen for half an hour in the morning on each week-day,
and provision for this was made in the scheme of management
sanctioned by the magistrates, but ultimately it was not
found necessary to do so. There is no sale on Sunday, the
licence being governed in this respect by the Welsh Sunday
4. The quantity of beer to be served to any one customer
is strictly limited, the rules providing that no person
shall be allowed more than two quarts of beer during the
evening for consumption on the premises, nor more than one
quart during the dinner-hour. The total quantity which a
customer can thus purchase during the day is three quarts.
The Secretary states that, in practice, it is found impossible
in the rush of business to keep an eye upon every individual
customer, and it may sometimes happen that in the "
great rushes" of trade this rule is sometimes evaded,
but, speaking generally, it is enforced.
In the case of " off" sales the rules provide
that " no hut-keeper [i.e. a workman in whose hut from
eight to ten other workmen are lodged] shall be supplied
with more than 1J gallons of beer in any one evening, nor
with more than 2 gallons for the mid-day meal from the jug
department, except on Saturday evening, when a hut-keeper
may purchase double the quantity." The latter proviso
is to cover Sunday consumption, the canteen being closed
on that day.
5. It is further provided that " no person who is
in the slightest degree intoxicated shall be supplied with
drink on any pretence whatever." This rule is said
to be enforced absolutely and without regard to the quantity
of beer which a man may have had.
6. Women are not allowed to enter the bar, but are strictly
confined to the jug department, where only "off"
sales are made. The total number of women in the village
is not more than from 120 to 150.
7. An " age limit" is imposed both for "
on " and " off" sales. In the case of the
former the rules provide that only men above the age of
eighteen shall be allowed to enter the bar; and in interpreting
this rule the management " leans to the side of strictness
rather than to the side of laxity." In respect of "off"
sales the rules provide that no boy under the age of sixteen,
nor any woman under the age of twenty-one, is to be served
with beer or porter in the jug department.
COUNTER-ATTRACTIONS TO THE CANTEEN
As already pointed out, no music, games, or other attractions
are allowed in the canteen; but a public hall or recreation-room
has been built near to, but entirely separate from, the
canteen, and there newspapers, magazines, games, and amusements
of various kinds are provided. A supply of non-intoxicating
drinks was also formerly on sale there, but the demand for
them was apparently not great. This room is said to be "
a great success " and " tends to minimise the
drinking in the saloon." The Secretary of the Waterworks
Committee, in his evidence before the Royal Commission on
Liquor Licensing Laws, stated he knew that "in many
individual cases men who had been addicted to drink, having
had the means provided them of spending their evenings in
a more rational way, had been kept away from the drink."
On its financial side the experiment has been an unquestionable
success, and is said to make " a very considerable
profit." For the three and a half years ending March
31s,t, 1898, the gross profits amounted to £5,450,
and the net profits to £3,262. The ratio of net profit
on takings was 22 per cent. This latter figure is noteworthy
in view of the heavy cost of carriage and the further fact
that an eighth part of the total capital outlay is annually
written off the profits. The average percentage of profit
on capital invested was slightly over 93 per cent, per annum.
These surplus profits are devoted to the maintenance (wholly
or in part), of the various village institutions, of which
the chief are the day school, the public rooms (including
the free library, reading-room, and recreation-room), and
In its general results the experiment has certainly justified
the policy of the Committee. There has been very little
disturbance, and only on one occasion, or at most on two,
has the management had to have recourse to the power which
it reserves to itself of closing the canteen. " Very
shortly after the house was opened," said the Secretary
of the Waterworks Committee in his evidence before the Eoyal
Commission, " we had to close it on one night. Our
people had not then been got to realise the lines on which
it was intended the public-house should be conducted, and
they began to comport themselves as one would suppose they
would do in an ordinary public-house. We immediately cleared
them out and closed it. Since then we have had no trouble."
There have been cases of drunkenness, but these have been
comparatively few, and in general orderliness and sobriety
the settlement is said to compare " extremely well"
with similar settlements in other places. The Chief Constable
of the county, writing in October, 1896 (two years after
the opening of the canteen), said:
" Drunkenness in the Elan village is undoubtedly suppressed
through the stringent rules and measures adopted by the
canteen; and, further, I have no hesitation in saying that
it is attributable to those regulations."
In June, 1898, he wrote again as follows: "Drunkenness
has slightly increased in the village; I do not, however,
think it is attributable to any bad management of the canteen.
I still adhere to my former opinion expressed in my letter
to you, dated October 5th, 1896."
The slight increase in drunkenness referred to (of which
the letter quoted above was the first intimation received
by the Committee) may or may not have been attributable
to the canteen. The probability is that it was not, for
it happened to coincide with an actual falling off in the
takings of the canteen.
It is interesting, finally, to notice that while the rules
and regulations of the canteen have been altered slightly
from time to time according to circumstances, such changes
have always brought the management more and more within
the original conditions laid down when the Corporation first
applied for the licence.