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Why beer won't be flowing in Ock Street as horns turn 300

A familiar part of the famous Chairing of the Mayor of Ock Street will be missing this year, for the first time in more than a century. Morland's brewery in Abingdon, whose workers have had voting rights in the election of the mock-mayor, has been sold off. The last mash of ale has now been drawn.

The closure comes in the year that the famous Ock Street horns reach the age of 300.

As the largest employer in Ock Street, the company has been a significant part of the tradition - now kept alive by Abingdon's morris dancers, who carry both the horns and the mayor from pub to pub at the end of election day. The mayor becomes the team's leader.

Ballot boxes have traditionally been set up on a stand outside Morland and Co's premises on Mayor's Day. In 1996, for the first time, a sealed box was left there earlier in the week so that brewery workers could vote - since most wouldn't be there on a Saturday.

But now Morland's has been taken over by Greene King and the brewing of Old Speckled Hen and Ruddles transfers to the main plant at Bury St Edmunds.

John Redman of Greene King, speaking on BBC local radio, said the closure was sad, but inevitable. "The beers are a tribute to all those at Morland's," he said, "and we see ourselves now as the custodians of those beers. We're very proud to carry on these brands."

Neil Hogarth, chairman of the Oxford branch of the Campaign for Real Ale, was featured on the same programme. "We are bitterly disappointed," he said. "From our point of view it's a workable brewery. Our sympathies go to the workers who have lost their jobs and the people of Abingdon who have lost one of their remaining traditional industries.

"Morland's was the second-oldest independent brewer in the country. The company was founded in 1726 and they have been on the current site for the last 130 years. So it's a great loss.

"What Mr Redman says is inevitable in the brewing industry, as far as we are concerned is a scythe cutting through our heritage."

This year's Ock Street election will take place on 17 June 2000. Dancers from Bampton, Chipping Campden, Sherborne and Headington Quarry have been invited to join Abingdon Morris Men to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Ock Street horns, along with friends of the side from Normandy and Flanders.

2000 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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