British Brewing: Horses and Tweed

Colonel W.H. Whitbread.

Colonel W.H. Whitbread.

The image above, taken from the 1978 edition of Whitbread’s official history booklet, Whitbread’s Entire, captures perfectly, we think, the aristocratic manner of the families behind Big Brewing in Britain in the post-war period.

Watneys was also run by members of several wealthy families, and the company was proud of it. Sanders Watney (Winchester, Trinity College Cambridge) founded the British Driving Society in 1957, and Nick Handel, whose father, E.C. ‘Ted’ Handel was Director of Public Affairs at Watneys from the late sixties, told us:

Every year, my father arranged for him to drive the Red Rover stagecoach from London to Southampton, changing horses at all the local pubs with stables. This made great copy for the local press.

These days, it seems, to us, breweries are more likely to play down any sense of inherited wealth in their PR, though photographs of brewery directors in tailored suits, blazers or tweed, looking rather like minor royals, do occasionally crop up in trade publications. They are very rarely astride horses, though.

12 thoughts on “British Brewing: Horses and Tweed”

  1. Several members of family brewers still shoot or even ride to hounds, while I remember a What’s Brewing article on pre Roger Ryman St Austell in which Roger Protz was invited to go grouse shooting…On the other hand Miles Jenner at Harvey’s is much more bohemian and likes amateur dramatics or musicals or something like that.

  2. A lot of landed and titled brewing families were ‘new money’ in the nineteenth century. The link between the peerages they acquired and their support of the Tories is entirely coincidental of course, but I suspect that quite a lot of new entries in Debrett’s from that period might not be entirely accurate when it comes to historic family origins.

    1. It’s funny, but my immediate reaction to that picture was “New money”. Not new as in Peter Andre, but a lot closer to that end of the spectrum than the other one (old as in Duke of Devonshire). Apart from anything else, surely it’s usually grooms who wear a bowler.

      I used to work for Swinton Insurance – a firm which was built up from nothing in the 60s and 70s, and which for quite a long time had a board consisting of the founder, his immediate family and some of his mates. The family sold out to what was then Sun Alliance in the early 90s; the last I heard of it, they’d essentially bought a valley somewhere and devoted themselves to carriage driving. That’s social mobility for you.

  3. The few big cheeses from family breweries I’ve met still seem very posh, but as you say no horses any more.

  4. New money apes the old. From what I read, as soon as brewers made big money they bought a stately pile in the country and married into the aristocracy.

    Still, it’s interesting to know what scions of brewing families did with their money. Frank and George Mann captained England at Cricket. Piers Courage became a racing driver. Peter Kershaw of Holts was a top Real Tennis player. Thankfully, they no longer seem to be the idle rich these days. But don’t get me started on Kirstie Allsopp.

    1. The great grandson of Robert Cain is the third Baron Brocket, whose autobiography, detailing among other things, his time in prison for selling fake Ferraris, is titled “Call Me Charlie”. He also appeared in the jungle on “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” several years ago. I’m not sure Robert Cain (born in poverty in Ireland and raised in a Liverpool slum) would have approved.

  5. Dickens nailed it in the 19th century: “I don’t know why it should be a crack thing to be a brewer, but it is indisputable that while you can not possibly be genteel and bake, you may be as genteel as never was and brew. You see it every day.” (Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations).

    1. Has anyone read this? We’ve only skimmed the bits about beer/breweries so far, but they’re very much about class and the respectability of the trade:

      ” My life,” she went on, speaking softly in the twilight,
      ” begins to-morrow. What am I to do with it ? Your own
      solution seems so easy because you are clever and you have
      no money, while I, who am well, dear, not devoured by
      thirst for learning have got so much. To begin with, there
      is the Brewery. You cannot escape from a big Brewery if it
      belongs to you. You cannot hide it away. Messenger,
      Marsden, and Company’s Stout, their XXX, their Old and
      Mild, their Bitter, their Family Ales (that particularly at
      eight-and-six the nine-gallon cask, if paid for on delivery),
      their drays ; their huge horses, their strong men, whose very
      appearance advertises the beer, and makes the weak-kneed
      and the narrow-chested rush to Whitechapel my dear, these
      things stare one in the face wherever you go. I am that
      Brewery, as you know. I am Messenger, Marsden, and
      Company, myself, the sole partner in what my lawyer sweetly
      calls the Concern. Nobody else is concerned in it. It is
      alas ! my own Great Concern, a dreadful responsibility.”

      1. I haven’t, but it looks excellent. The brewing concerns were just part of it I think–many of them were very powerful. I really only know about the Cain family in Liverpool in detail, but Robert Cain (and other brewers such as Andrew Barclay Walker, who became mayor) were very involved in local Liverpool politics and divided the city up between them. That mention of the slightly scary draymen reminds me that Cain was known as “King of the Toxteths” which is a nice way of saying he was a New York-style “boss” who pretty much controlled South Liverpool in the second half of the nineteenth century. Complex deals done when he negotiated the accession with his sons after 1900.

  6. Just realized how the opposite occurs in US craft brewing when men of industry who’ve worked up from little over three decades pretend the still shovel out the spent grain and rely on bank account overdraft.

Comments are closed.