Recalling the Birth of a Legend
The tale of Bishops Finger has its origins in the privations suffered by the people of Kent following the Second World War.
Once the initial euphoria of the Allied victory had subsided, the 1940s and 1950s proved to be a frugal time as people struggled to rebuild their lives amid the years of rationing and controls that still lay ahead.
During the war, malt had been strictly rationed and the Government’s message to brewers was “quantity not quality”.
Rationing finally ended in the mid-1950s and in 1957 Shepherd Neame’s Head Brewer Gordon Ely was given the go-ahead by the Board of Directors to produce the Faversham Brewery’s first strong ale for nearly 20 years. The beer was to be a celebration following the grey postwar years of austerity.
The ale Gordon Ely brewed was introduced to freetrade customers in a letter dated February 1958.
Les Wood, who succeeded Gordon Ely as Head Brewer and retired in 1992 after a career with Shepherd Neame spanning half a century, remembers:
“If ever there was a master brewer it was Gordon. His recipe for Bishops Finger, which relies so strongly on Goldings hops grown on our doorstep, is quintessentially East Kent and has stood the test of time. It remains a classic”.
The name was chosen by former managing director, Laurie Neame, to emphasise the beer’s Kentish heritage.
Bobby Neame, chairman of Shepherd Neame from the early Seventies, developed the brand. He explains the thinking behind the choice of name: “Clerics and beer have been linked with one another for centuries, but what particularly attracted us to Bishops Finger was its uniquely Kentish associations.
“Bishops fingers were found only in Kent because they were fingerposts sited along the Pilgrims Way to show the pilgrims the route to Thomas à Becket’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral before it was destroyed by Henry VIII in the 16 th century.”
Those were the days…1958
The young Queen Elizabeth II had been on the throne for six years, Harold Macmillian was Prime Minister and, the year before in 1957, the first Premium Bonds had been drawn and the Russians had successfully launched their Sputnik satellite.
February 1958 is remembered for the death of seven ‘Busby Babes’ in the Manchester United Munich airline disaster. The Empire & Commonwealth Games were held in Cardiff; the first Hovercraft made its maiden flight; Lycra was invented; the first parking meters appeared on London streets…and beer was about 1s 6d (7½p) a pint.