Breweries with Chimneys: Endangered Species?

The number of breweries in the UK keeps growing every year but, at the same time, a certain type of brewery keeps on disappearing: that is, big old ones.

They have great towers and gateways, their own wells, signs you can see for miles across town, and shelves creaking with dusty leatherbound brewing logs. They were ‘Est.’ between the 17th and 19th centuries. They brew bitter and best bitter and maybe even mild. Their founders might have looked a bit like this:

Henry Boddington I, aged 33, in 1847, a year before he became a partner in the Manchester brewery he would later take over and to which he would give his name.
Henry Boddington I, aged 33, in 1847, a year before he became a partner in the Manchester brewery he would later take over and to which he would give his name.

They are at the romantic end of industrial, you might say, where the whiff of horses and beeswax is potent.

In his 1973 book The Beer Drinker’s Companion Frank Baillie listed 88 ‘Regional (Independent) Brewers’, from Adnams to Young & Co. We’ve just reviewed that list (only quickly, mind) and realised that, in the last 40+ years, something like another 47 of that number has been lost.

(Where ‘lost’ means that the brewery buildings have gone, are derelict, or have been converted to other uses, even if the trading name lives on.)

Here’s the list of casualties as we reckon it:

Boddington’s, Border Breweries (Wrexham), Brakspear, Matthew Brown, Buckley’s, Burt’s (Ventnor), Carlisle and District State Management, Castletown (IoM), Cook’s (Halstead, Essex), Darley’s (Doncaster), Davenport’s, Devenish, Eldridge Pope, Gale’s, Gray & Sons (Chelmsford), Guernsey Brewery Co, Hardy & Hanson, Hartley’s (Ulverston), Higson’s (?), Home Brewery, Hoskins, Hull Brewery, Simpkiss, King & Barnes, Maclay & Sons, Mansfield, Mitchell’s (Lancaster), Morland, Morrell’s, Northern Clubs Federation, Oldham Brewery Co, Paine (St Neot’s), Randall’s (Jersey), Ridley’s, Ruddle’s, Shipstone’s, South Wales & Monmouthshire Clubs, Thwaites, Tollemache & Cobbold, Truman, Vaux, Usher’s, Ward’s, Workington, Yates & Jackson, Yorkshire Clubs, Young & Co.

So that’s about half, allowing for quibbles, some of which have gone as recently as the last five years. That’s something of a counter to the narrative (one to which we’ve contributed) of Upward, Ever Upward, for British Beer!

Yes, we have a lot of breweries now; and we’re still not sure anyone should drink beer they don’t like out of a sense of duty; but this particular type of brewery constitutes a kind of endangered species and that does make us think, well, maybe we ought to force down the odd pint of Wadworth 6X when we see it.

7 thoughts on “Breweries with Chimneys: Endangered Species?”

  1. It will be interesting to see how many of the recent wave of new breweries succeed in building enduring businesses. Some of the post-CAMRA startups certainly seem to have done, such as Butcombe, Exmoor, Wye Valley and Black Sheep. But I doubt whether they’ll be building magnificent tower breweries.

    Of those that remain, some, such as Hydes and Everards, have moved to new, purpose-built plants that don’t have the architectural appeal of the old ones.

  2. Breweries with chimneys? There were no others when I started drinking in the early 70s. My local independent breweries – Tomson and Wootton of Ramsgate (never tried their beer, I was too young, but I remember the wonderful aroma over the town on brewing day), and Cobb’s of Margate – had been bought out by Whitbread and closed down a few years earlier. So my first beers were keg, Whitbread Tankard, Trophy, and Truman’s bitter. My real ale epiphany was discovering Harvey’s while at polytechnic in Brighton later in the decade. Through the 80s, holidaying around the UK, I discovered, among others, beers by Wadworth,Wem, Devenish, Eldridge Pope, Gales, Gibbs Mew, Adnams, Donnington, and King & Barnes. All in their home territory: and in most cases I went and marvelled at the wonderful breweries, chimneys and all. It’s a huge sadness to me to know most of these are now long gone. The beers were all distinctive, with their unique yeast strains, I guess , and you knew you were on holiday in Dorset with a pint of Eldridge Pope Royal Oak in your hand. I’m not grumbling: I know things are better for the beer drinker than they’ve ever been, and don’t wish to suffuse all old regional breweries in a hazy nostalgic glow which they may not have deserved, but I can’t help missing those of the above which are no more. Their sheer presence in town, Victorian brick and steaming tower, was certainly more impressive than a microbrewery in a shed on a modern industrial estate. So, yes, cherish those of the above which are still remaining. Oh and Palmer’s, and Hook Norton too!

  3. Brains could be added to the list – they closed their Old Brewery in central Cardiff in about 2000 after buying the former Hancocks Brewery from Bass and moving production there.

    Ian

  4. I think you should also add Websters to your list. They were a true regional brewer in the 1970’s with TV adverts featuring Fred Trueman. “Webters Pennine Bitter drives out the northern thirst” was the tag line. The rather beautiful fountain head brewery is now a school, amongst other things.

    Wikipedia seems to suggest that that some websters products are still being produced. I cant say I have encountered them recently. From memory they richly deserved to be discontinued.

  5. Was wondering why Flowers weren’t on the list, checked in Arnot’s Britain’s Lost Breweries (which is great but also SAD) and it confirms they sold out to Whitbred in ’68. The Cheltenham brewery fits all of yr other descriptions above though…

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