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Mail on Sunday The Mail On Sunday Logo
October 29, 2006
Brewery Loses Medieval Joust

by Simon Fluendy

It started over the pints served in a popular local pub. Now the row between the ale drinkers of Lewes and brewery giant Greene King is being hailed as a classic case of a local community taking on a national chain - and winning.

The salvation of the proud burghers of the county town of East Sussex turned out to be medieval laws and the little-known Court of Chivalry founded in the 14th century.

Greene King likes to see itself as a defender of local ales and it boasts of a 200-year heritage.

Drinkers in Lewes, backed by their Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, clashed with the £1 billion FTSE 250 company after one of the town's pubs, the Lewes Arms, owned by Greene King, kicked out the locally brewed Harveys beer and introduced its own 'local' brew called Lewes Arms.

Mayor Merlin Milner said: 'Lewes has kept its character while many other towns have lost their own. Anything that erodes that feeling of difference is bound to be resisted.'

A boycott and a petition failed to shift the brewing group, but then the town clerk Steve Brigden found that the company's use of the Lewes town's coat of arms on the beer's labelling was a potential offence in the eyes of the ancient Court of Chivalry.

This court, convened under the Duke of Norfolk, last ruled in 1954 when Manchester Corporation used it to stop a local variety theatre using the city's arms. Brigden challenged Greene King, claiming it had no right to user the coat of arms and threatening to drag it before the court.

Greene King backed down and dropped the Lewes Arms beer - allegedly for 'commercial reasons.' The rival beer, however, remains banned from the pub.

Lewes is famous for Bonfire Night celebrations in which unpopular characters are burned in effigy. Local sources suggest that Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand may feature next weekend.

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