An Insider’s Memories of Brewing in Bolton

A few weeks ago we visited Bolton which prompted us to write about the apparent revival of the Magee & Marshall brewery brand. That in turn led Anne Edwards to email us:

‘I was very interested to read about Magee Marshalls Brewery on your blog as both my husband and I worked there in the 1960s.’

This is the kind of thing that gets us a little excited. After some back and forth by email, here’s Anne’s story, with some small edits for style and flow.

B&B: First, what’s your background? Are you a native Boltonian?

I was born in Bolton in September 1943 and was educated at St Paul’s, the local primary, Bolton School (thanks to the 11 Plus), Salford Technical College, where I took my A levels, and Salford University, where I took an integrated course in Microbiology, Parasitology, Entomology and Biochemistry.

B&B: How did you get into microbiology and the brewing industry?

I worked in the Co-Op Technical Research Labs in Manchester while I was doing my course at Salford. Then, in 1966, I answered an advertisement for a microbiologist at Magee’s. I was interviewed by Malcolm Donald and given the job. I always felt destined to work in a brewery. Brewing is in the blood of some of the Settle family.

Anne has written extensively about her family history and at this point directed us to several articles and papers she sent us by post. Here’s a summary: William (W.T.) Settle was born in 1868. His parents, Rachel Settle and Robert Booth, were not married at the time. It was Robert Booth and his wife who established The Rose & Crown in Bolton as a homebrew house; when his wife died, Rachel married him, and took over running of the brewery. When he was 13-years-old, William effectively became head brewer, and took over the firm completely in 1891 when his mother died. Under William’s leadership, the brewery expanded, gaining a small estate of seven pubs – The Rose & Crown, Rope & Anchor, Red Lion, Skenin’ Door, British Oak, Alfred the Great, and The Britannia. After a dispute with a half-brother, the beers ceased to be Booth’s Ales and became Settle’s. Anne’s father, also called William, was born in 1910 and took over day-to-day running of the brewery from 1931, having graduated from Manchester Brewing School. Another branch of the family were bakers and W.T. Settle invested in that business, ensuring that its Fullomeat pies were also sold in Rose & Crown Brewery pubs. In 1951, W.T. Settle died and for a brief moment, the younger William became co-owner with his sister Ivy. Unfortunately, Ivy wanted to sell up, and so the Rose & Crown Brewery and its pubs were bought by Dutton’s for £30,000 and the brewery closed. William never brewed again.

Portrait c.1950s.
William Settle the younger, 1910-1981. Copyright © Anne Edwards.

B&B: Were you a beer drinker yourself?

Yes, and I started at a very early age! Until I was two we lived in the terraced house next to my grandparents main pub, the Rose and Crown, and I loved being with the two of them, very often until after closing time because if I was put to bed before 11 pm I would wake my mother at 4 or 5 am. My grandfather always had a meat pie (Fullomeat) and a glass of bitter when he had closed and cashed up so I asked if I could have similar. I was given a pie and a small glass of ‘beer’ – lemonade coloured with a small amount of bitter. My mother wasn’t happy but my Dad, who was teetotal all his life, knew I wouldn’t be harmed, and this was part of the very special bond I had with my grandfather and Settle’s beer.

I loved him dearly — he was a very kind and generous man, as was my father. I remember in the late 1940s when there was no NHS my grandfather would ask our doctor, a family friend, to go to see anyone who lived in the houses around the Rose & Crown if they or their children were sick, and have the bill sent to W.T.S.

I didn’t become a regular beer drinker but I can pick out flavour notes and recognise a quality bitter made with good malt and hops.

Business card: W.T. Settle.
Copyright © Anne Edwards.

B&B: How did your parents feel about you going into brewing?

My father was very happy when I went to work in Magee’s and, later, Wilsons Brewery. He could also see that at 22 years of age I had moved on from working in a lab, doing a lot of routine testing of water and milk, to being in charge of a lab and having significant input in the actual brewing process.

B&B: There weren’t as many women working in the brewing industry back then — did that pose any challenges for you?

The only other women in the brewery were in the bottling hall or the offices but working at Magee’s was not a problem. All the operatives had many years’ service and always treated me with respect. Okay, when I had to get into FVs [fermenting vessels] to take swabs after they had been cleaned they would hide my shoes or bang on the outside of the closed vessels, but it was harmless fun.

B&B: What was your typical day at work like back in the 1960s?

I checked the pH and gravity of wort and beer samples, swabbed FVs after cleaning, checked CO2 in bottled beer, went out to pubs and checked tank cleaning, and carried out OG testing on samples brought in from trade. I also carried out weekly checks on the three-strain yeast culture and grew up the replacement from agar slopes every twelve weeks.

B&B: Three-strain?

Flocculent, moderately flocculent and a chain-former, in equal measures.

B&B: What was life like in a family brewery at that time?

We felt as if we belonged to one big family at Magee’s.

Extract from book.
SOURCE: The Brewery Manual 1966.

B&B: We have reference book for 1966 here which lists W.B. Shields, chairman; J.D. Whitley, T. Calderbank and R.H. Graddon as board members; and Mr M.P. Donald as head brewer. You’ve mentioned Mr Donald but what do you recall of the others?

W.B. Shields was married to Nancy Magee. They had a large house on Chorley New Road and he drove a Bentley.

B&B: And you met John, your husband, while you were working at Magee’s?

John joined Greenall’s in 1965 and worked in their Warrington, Chester, Bolton and Salford breweries. [Greenall’s took over Magee’s in 1958.]

B&B: How did you and your colleagues feel in the run up to the brewery closing in 1970?

There was great sadness when the closure was announced. Many people had worked there all their life. It was very difficult for the men who at 50 plus had to find a new employer. John transferred to another brewery, Groves and Whitnall, Salford, which was also then owned by Greenall Whitley, and I went to Wilson’s Brewery in Manchester.

I earned a place on the tasting panel there which, as it was part of the Watney Mann group, meant I was involved in the development of Watney’s Red, which launched in 1970 but, unlike Red Barrel, was not a huge success. I always preferred Watney’s Special Bitter as did the brewers who were on the panel. When we married in 1971 I moved from the brewing industry and went to work for Tate and Lyle in Liverpool.

John gained his Membership of the Institute of Brewing by examination in the mid-1970s and stayed with Greenall’s until the closure in 1992. Then he went to Russia for a short time setting up breweries. I don’t drink beer now and neither does John – we prefer a glass of Malbec or Rioja with a meal.

3 thoughts on “An Insider’s Memories of Brewing in Bolton”

  1. Lovely & interesting stuff.
    E.g. that an old twiggy brown bitter brewery in the 60s was doing more QC than a bunch of breweries in the UK & elsewhere today!

    1. Cheers.

      FWIW, this only took about as long as one of our normal ‘proper’ blog posts, as it was all done by correspondence and therefore Anne did most of the actual writing.

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