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WGC Winemakers Guild - founded 1955

Postcard of the BackhouseRoom

"The real founder of the Guild was Basil Waye of Youngs Rise who had been one of the best known - and loved - beekeepers in the area for many years.

In 1952 he helped Alec Spoor, who had come to the Garden City a year earlier, and was living at in Handside Close, to start beekeeping there. A year later, Basil encouraged Alec to try making mead and both won prizes for the mead they exhibited at the Beekeepers' Association annual Honey Show in 1954.

Soon after this Basil told Alec that many beekeepers in the area were making mead and country wines and suggested that he try to bring them together into an association. Though fired by his own initial success in mead-making, Alec Spoor was reluctant to get involved because of pressure of work. Basil eventually dragooned him into writing a letter to the Welwyn Times and this was published on 17th December 1954; it attracted about thirty replies. Since Alec was writing a book at the time, he took no action until April 1955 when he booked the Backhouse Room and invited all who had responded to a meeting there on 29th April. Thirty three turned up and with great enthusiasm, agreed to form a Winemakers’ Guild, elected Fred Garrod as Chairman and a committee of Basil Waye, Frank Booker (then manager of the National Provincial Bank) , F.J. Bradshaw, John Chapman and Mrs Mollie Kirkland with Alec Spoor as Secretary/Treasurer.

From the start, it was agreed at Basil's insistence to run the Guild as simply and informally as possible. Meetings were held monthly. There was no subscription but each attending a meeting paid a shilling to cover the cost of hiring the room. Speakers were found, as and when possible and member's making wine or mead brought samples for tasting.

The Guild was, entirely self-contained. There was only one other winemaking guild in the country, formed at Andover some months earlier. There were no magazines, few books, no equipment until Archie Kirkland brought along a few stone jars that had been used to store glue(!) and no suppliers of extracts. Soon, however, Basil found a source of cheap honey in bulk and later Alec Spoor found a back street firm in London beginning to import grape concentrate and wine yeast from Spain.

By Christmas 1956 most members had made some good wine and the Guild held its first New Year party. Frank Booker had made ten gallons of elderberry wine which he laced with brandy and served mulled to guests as they arrived. About 80 members and friends turned up and since each brought a bottle - and some more than one - it was a memorable evening; the first of many."

The above information is from a document donated to the Trust's archive by Sylvia L during the 'Where Do You Think We Played?' project. The image is a postcard donated by Mary A.