We were watching Inside The Factory on BBC iPlayer (watching Gregg Wallace amble around a production line is a guilty pleasure). They were explaining the popularity of oysters in Britain in the nineteenth century and their subsequent decline. The event that really sparked that decline was a banquet at Winchester in 1902, where guests became ill with typhoid and four people died, including the Dean of Winchester Cathedral. What really caught my attention was the source of the oysters – Emsworth in Hampshire.
Emsworth is a pretty little town just five minutes up the road from where I work. It’s quite pretty, with a nice harbour and some good walking routes into the nearby countryside. There are also some particularly good pubs and restaurants. This dark past suddenly made sense. One of those pubs, the Blue Bell Inn, teamed up with a Portsmouth brewery, Staggeringly Good, to make an Oyster Stout called Bishop Slayer.
Some of the proceeds from the beer go to project called the Solent Oyster Restoration Project, which is slowly reintroducing oysters to the Solent (as you might guess from the name). Before the early twentieth century oyster scare and more recent pollution, the Solent was europe’s biggest oyster growing region and the aim is to make it so again – with a goal of five million oyster in five years. Whatever your thoughts are on the subject of fish and beer, that has to be a good outcome.