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The
Great Beer Catastrophe of 1905

Fear of ale shortages haunted medieval Essex. The precious liquid served as germ-free bathing water before the age of chlorination, while the flow of its waste products powered the watermills.

Ancient anxieties about ale depletion underpin Cult of Ffynche priorities to this day, and in the Georgian period had inspired the construction of an underground piping system to the bawdy-houses of the village, ensuring 24-hour availability of fine beer.

The ale-pipe network was centred on the Lion Inn -- which remains the central control and tanking hub. An estimated 17 miles of supply and venting tubing was initially fed from barrels that 'fell off the back of a cart', thanks to the midnight work of the Brigandage of Worp.

 

Today’s supply, in accordance with recent edicts of the Cult Hopping Procurement Committee, now complies with the 1953 Finings Treaty with local brewers, rewarding high consumption with lower prices, thus minimising recourse to cudgels and bommiknockers.

In the late 19th Century, the system had performed magnificently for more than 200 years. But, as the subsequent incident inquiry found, this may have led to a false sense of security on the part of the Committee of the Skulk, responsible for the network’s safe operation.

All empty m’luds! The end is nigh!

The village has always welcomed 'incomers' from the far north and west of our god-fearing isles, and when Ted O’Callahan and Iain McGregor arrived in 1898, it was determined that spirits should be added to the range of beverages on 24-hour availability.

 

McGregor, who had established a small haggis orchard on School Lane, offered to set up a distillery in a shed to the rear of the Lion.

McGregor’s still: but not for long     (photo: E. O’Callahan)

The Skulk Committee usually relied on a member of the Marlowe family for technical advice in scientific matters, but in 1905, the entire Marlowe clan were in Zurich at the invitation of a young patent clerk to check over his work before publication.

 

As a result, committee members took the unfortunate decision to dedicate half of the ventilation pipework to a pocheen service. Very little adaptation was required, and spirits could be delivered straight to the glass, using de-gassing keys on the ubiquitous MarloweFrack refrigerators and radiators installed in most of the village housing.

As Silas Marlowe later wrote: 'The evaporative enthusiasm of strong spirits is scarcely a recent discovery. Photonic energy of a naked flame in proximity to compressed alcoholic vapour will inevitably trigger an exponential oxidation. According to the latest discoveries of my colleague Albert E., a detonation was inevitable.'

 

If the underlying source of the disaster was an appalling lack of chemical engineering insight, the immediate cause was never fully determined. Horace Bletherworp, 90 years of age, confessed to knocking out his pipe on his fridge as was his bedtime habit, and Tommy Fairbuck, aged 4, was caught the next day with matches but denied any reckless use. 

 

In fact, the most likely spark came from McGregor’s still itself. The cap on the supply inlet had not been replaced during a long afternoon of quality-testing in front of the stove. McGregor was unable to recall any events of the day, save for a 'terrific trembling and shaking of the earth after 15 cup-fulls -- the sure sign of a fine blend'.

Venting cisterns exploded under the Bell Inn

The blast was heard for miles about. It shattered the venting expansion tanks under the Bell Inn and blew the building to pieces. Luckily no-one was hurt -- customers having spilled out onto the road at the sound of rumbling --  though the five pipe-smokers out in the back lean-to lost several ounces of fine shag.

 

Long stretches of pipework around the village were ripped from the ground, twisted and torn apart by the very high octane of McGregor’s explosive brew.

Hydraulic Terminal Number 3: Wethersfield Road (Silas Marlowe and Albert E. on left as part of the inquiry team)

Northern Tubular Routing unit, Duck End: utterly destroyed

Tangled MarloweFrack refrigerators litter the Green

One bright spot in the disaster was a discovery of a nefarious and secret ale theft siphon pipeline, which had been cunningly installed by the dastardly Cult of Bard several years before.

The terrible energy of the explosion forced beer through every part of the network. So when vast quantities of Netherworp’s famous Ominous Thunder strong porter began pouring from the upper floors of the Bardfield Workhouse -- the assembly-room where the Cult of Bard held its mamby-pamby rituals -- the crime was exposed to all.

 

In the midst of the smouldering ruins, the Cult of Ffynche immediately turned its mind to the most pressing problems of the hour -- restoring ale supplies and delivering vengeance against the pilfering foe.

 

As fortune would have it, the Bastards were celebrating their annual Effete Day. Visitors from London and the university cities would come to ‘admire the light’, cut out paper chains and doilies, and snigger at the more earthy rural pursuits of natives, including the famous barrel-rolling event.

A crime exposed: ‘Ominous Thunder’ pours from the Bardish mafia den

With Bardfield engaged in its festivities, the Skulk committee called for an immediate raid on the neighbouring village’s brewhouse for a replenishment of the ale supplies stolen and blasted to kingdom come.

Emergency beer raid. Ale shortage threatens social stability

Bardfield’s brewery yard was broken into, and kegs hastily retrieved and then danced through the village to the applause of tourists.

A total of 137 barrels were given a new home by this daring trick, right under the noses of the Bardists and their foppish hangers-on.

 

Fired up by the successful raid, villagers set about immediate reparations to the piping system and the rebuilding of the Bell Inn.

Yet another barrel departs for Finchingfield... revenge in plain sight

The Bell Inn was renamed The Green Man -- the fabled secret agent of yore who covered himself in burrs for disguise -- thus honouring the pagan spirit of subterfuge that had so successfully restocked cellars and holding tanks. 

New titanium-alloy vent compression tubes. Masks protect against lingering pocheen vapour

Open for business again: now under pagan management

McGregor rebuilt the pocheen still in his orchard, where friends and admirers regularly re-lived the ‘terrible trembling’ of the ground brought on by his Haggis No 37 blend.

 

By 1906, the piping network was reconfigured to its modern semi-automatic form, with the refurbished Central Control Unit in the cellar of the Lion. Three additional holding tanks were added under the Lion carpark, with hair-trigger ballcocks that sound air-raid sirens in the church tower at the first sign of unusual depletions.

The MarloweValve ‘Central Control Unit’ as it is today

The mechanism was digitised in 2012, and can be shut down in emergency by any Skulk Committee cryptographic keyholder who delivers a sharp kick to the nearest MarloweFrack radiator.

 

The village continues to pride itself on easy access to ale at all times, whether for children doing their teeth at night, relaxing midday showering, or to resuscitate wilting compost heaps.

 

The Cult of Ffynche is always happy to advise other communities operating the MarloweValve ‘Ale-on-Demand’ system. Standard consultancy rates apply.

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