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.

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GALLERY: Modern Watney’s Pubs from Matchboxes

These were carefully removed from matchboxes produced, we would guess, in about 1968, probably for sale in Watney’s pubs. (Any matchbox collectors who want to correct us, go for it.)

The Silver Sword, Coventry, which now looks like this.
The Silver Sword, Coventry, which now looks like this (Google Street View).
The Roebuck, Erdington, Birmingham, described in 2010 as 'like a wild west saloon'.
The Roebuck, Erdington, Birmingham, described in 2010 as ‘like a wild west saloon‘.

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Red Storm Rising

‘Surely there must be a picture of one of these posters we can include?’ said our editor at Aurum when he read the passage about the campaign for Watney’s Red in Brew Britannia.

The ads were controversial because they used lookalikes resembling communist dictators to promote keg bitter — a (ahem…) left-field approach for a big Tory-supporting UK brewery. As a result, it was referred to in numerous articles and books from the 1970s, and much-mocked by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). So, yes, you’d think there would be some documentary evidence of its existence.

But, after much searching, the only image we could find to include in the book was this one, scanned from a contemporary magazine:

Watneys Red Army poster c.1972.

It gets the point across but it’s not one of the classics — where’s Fidel Castro? The snap of a billboard illustrating this article at Retrowow might have done the job but the web editor there didn’t know the source, we couldn’t track down ‘Edward Hahn’ ourselves, and couldn’t get access to a higher resolution copy, so that was a dead end.

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English Pubs on the Continent

In 1965, British mega-brewery Watney Mann opened a pub in Paris — the Sir Winston Churchill.

According to Helga Graham in an article in the Guardian published in 1970 (‘Mild and Bitter Spoken Here’, 27/09, p.15), this started when Watney’s hired Serge Herblot, ‘a very French Frenchman in an English blazer and tie’. He was tasked with driving a Bedford van with a mobile bar in the back around Paris and giving the hard sell to Bistro owners; they thought him ‘seriously affected by English eccentricity’ and weren’t interested. It was he, Ms. Graham says, who came up with the idea of building a pub, for which Watney’s put up 50 per cent of the capital.

The pub sat on the corner of the Rue de Presbourg and the Avenue d’Iéna, near the Arc de Triomphe. It was designed by a Russian, Vyacheslav Vasiliev, AKA ‘Slavik’, who said: ‘It is not a real pub — only a parody of the French bourgeoisie.’ (‘In an Alien Culture’, A Monthly Bulletin, June 1966.)

From the outside, it certainly looked like a Watney’s pub with the familiar Design Research Unit branding, as shown in the photo above. In the Red Barrel in-house magazine for April 1966, there was a short article about its November 1965 opening:

The bars, with their oil lamps and red plush seats are as unmistakably English as the Victorian exterior, and the name… Sir Patrick Reilly, British Ambassador, [opened] the Sir Winston Churchill by drawing the first pint of Red Barrel.

By 1968, Watney’s chairman, D.P. Crossman, was boasting in the company report (Financial Times, 04/01, p.6) that the Churchill was ‘without doubt the most famous pub on the continent’, and that Watney’s beers were ‘selling well’ at similar pubs in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart and Munich, with Florence in the pipeline.

When in the same report he added that ‘Outside this country the image of the public house has never stood in higher esteem’, he was taking a dig at the government and their ongoing threat to interfere in or even abolish the tied-house system. Exporting the concept of the English pub abroad, opening up new markets for (easy-to-transport kegged and bottled) British beer, was seen as a vital insurance policy. It lay behind numerous instances of what we would now call ‘pop up’ pubs at trade fairs across Europe and around the world, beginning with the Britannia in Brussels in 1958.

A report in the Financial Times (08/02/71, p.14) summarised the extent of the British invasion by the beginning of the next decade:

This afternoon Bass opens its seventh pub in Sweden — the Francis Drake at Uppsala… All the major British brewers are now on the Continent. Allied has its Double Diamond houses in Rotterdam and Brussels, Courage’s golden cockerel swings over the Cockney Tavern and the Pill Box in Paris as well as other pubs in Amsterdam and elsewhere. Whitbread has 17 houses in Paris and, of course, Watney Mann is probably the daddy of them all… In Paris the red barrel hangs over The Clipper, The Sir Winston Churchill, The Golden Hat, The Mayflower, The Ten Gallons (opened only last month under the famous Olympia Music Hall), the Red Lion and the London Tavern. In Bordeaux there is The Drug Store. At La Baule… it has The Kent Arms. And in Northern France the Queen Victoria rules over Lille. Watney has another 25 pubs Belgium, 12 in Germany, five in Italy and one each in Sweden and Switzerland.

The same article also explained that the whole enterprise relied on marketing British beer as a high-quality premium product for connoisseurs, and jacking up the price accordingly:

In the more sophisticated city centres, with their cosmopolitan populations, the cachet of drinking bitter seems to have had some success, particularly in Paris where there is a distinct preference for top-class beers.

A pint of brown ale at the Winston Churchill cost 6s 6d in 1965, according to a writer in the Guardian (01/12/65, p.11) which, as far as we can tell, is about three times the going rate at home.

Charrington advert: The Pickwick, Geneva.
Detail from a Bass Charrington advertisement, 1973.

Even so, the author of the FT piece concluded, most such pubs were not generally profitable and were really exercises in ‘flag-waving’, and intended to hold territory in advance of Britain’s entry into the Common Market when the real fun could begin.

With the demise of the Big Six and their tied pub estates in the UK, their Continental pub chains also seem to have fallen apart, though it’s hard to say for sure as it happened slowly and apparently wasn’t considered newsworthy. Certainly most of those listed above seem to have disappeared or been renamed. We could not find the Kent Arms in La Baule, for example, although there is a pub called The Salisbury which, despite its name and distinctly English design, calls itself a ‘pub Irlandais’ — how many Whitbread and Watney’s pubs reinvented themselves in this way, with a pot of green paint, and a Guinness font where the keg bitter used to be? We’d guess this Irish pub on Rue Lincoln, Paris, is what remains of Whitbread’s King George.

There are still plenty of faux-English pubs — Charles Wells of Bedford has a decent French pub estate, for example — though it our impression that they aren’t as trendy as in 1970, and we’ve certainly seen some tatty-looking examples on our travels.

Much to our surprise, unlike most of the trendily-designed new-build pubs trumpeted in the Red Barrel in the mid-1960s, the original — The Sir Winston  — is still there proudly declaring itself ‘Un des plus vieux pubs anglais de Paris‘. We’ll have to pay homage next time we pass through.

Kegronomicon: Watney’s Brown, 1965

The 1965 Watney’s quality control manual we’ve borrowed contains recipes for two brown ales: Watney’s and Mann’s.

Both have rather different recipes, perhaps surprisingly, given their similar specifications: for example, Watney’s contained black malt for colour, while Mann’s got most of its from caramel. The water was also treated very differently. (And, by the way, bottled Watney’s Brown was also quite distinct from their draught mild.)*

Because Mann’s is still in production, we’re a bit twitchy about sharing the details, but the following information should enable you to produce at home something resembling Watney’s Brown as it was in 1965.

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