breweries News

Magee Marshall of Bolton is Making a Comeback

Beer advert: Magee Marshall & Co, Bolton

Yet another brewery that closed in the mid-20th century is making a comeback.

We heard this news from an unusual source: a librarian in Bolton. He told us, matter-of-factly, that some of the company records for Magee Marshall, which operated in Bolton from 1853 to 1970, are currently unavailable because they had been acquired along with the trademark by someone who is starting a brewery.

We wrote at length about this kind of thing in an article for Craft Beer Rising magazine a couple of years back (link to flippy-flappy pretend paper interface) but here’s a relevant chunk:

At first, Truman’s re-launched with a straightforward, darkish bitter called ‘Runner’, brewed in Essex and using an inauthentic yeast. This led to accusations that it was merely a logo being slapped on off-the-shelf product… This is the kind of question all revived breweries must face: is this really Truman’s? Or is it a mere opportunistic tribute act?

Magee Marshall is a particularly interesting case because, if the papers we were able to read in Bolton are anything to go by, its beer wasn’t universally admired. It was nicknamed ‘crickets’ piss’ according to one note in the Mass Observation papers that lay behind the famous book; in another document, a pub landlord is recorded as saying, ‘A man who can drink Magee’s mild must be able to feed on rats.’ So we’ll give this new enterprise some leeway in regards to authenticity.

Bringing back these old names, trampled under foot by the Big Six half a century ago, is, we think, something of a noble cause, regardless of motivation. We’d certainly have enjoyed the time-travelling thrill of ordering pints of Magee’s at the Hen & Chickens last week if it had been available. (And if Henry Hall had been on the wireless, even better.)

10 replies on “Magee Marshall of Bolton is Making a Comeback”

Terrible beer, I’m told by the old Boltonians. Bit of a mystery as to why you’d want to revive it, really. I mean if it’s authentic, no one will be bothered. And if it’s not authentic, erm, pretty much the same. These revivals, even where there is seen to be a demand-Robinsons Oldhan Brewery Bitter, for example, hardly set the world aflame. Nice bit of potential publicity, though.

It’s often prompted by out-and-out sentimentalism, to which we’re sympathetic — people who revive old breweries often talk about their grandfathers and childhood memories of the logo, and that kind of thing.

I used to drink their bitter back in the late 50s/early 60s. I thought it was excellent beer. The other main beer at that time was Walkers which I was not keen on.

As an old brewery history buff I think reviving old brands is a lovely idea. Surely it has to be an iconic or fondly remembered beer, though, and some authenticity doesn’t go amiss. Westerham in Kent use the original yeast, preserved for half a century, from Winston Churchill’s local Black Eagle brewery, and produce wonderful beer. Lacon’s in Great Yarmouth have revived a famous name and I think use part of the original premises, but I’m not sure if they’ve done the yeast thing. I wonder what other famous and defunct breweries have their yeasts preserved. I’d like some Fremlins County Ale and King & Barnes Festive, and their Christmas Ale again please.

The Buckley family sold both the brewery and its name to Brains, but Evan Evans is run by a scion of the Buckleys – and he’s obviously hung on to the old recipes, because the beer is as good as ever it was. I’ve got a sentimental attachment to Buckley’s bitter – it was the first real ale I drank without getting too drunk to remember anything about it (that would be London Pride) – and it’s lovely to see (and taste) it again.

I’ve never heard of this particular beer, but I have reservations about trying to revive brands long after their demise. In Merseyside, there have been two separate attempts to revive the old Higsons beers, most recently by Liverpool Organic Brewery who took great care to try to reproduce the old taste. Their licence to use the name lapsed three years ago, although they still brew it under the name Bier Head. I believe the owner of the name is going to make another attempt, but will it be third time lucky? Or is the credibility of the brand now stretched to breaking point?

In music, a tribute act has to be pretty good to be accepted. In beer too, in my opinion.

The Coopers in Burton-on-Trent, across the road from the former Bass brewery, is famous for serving Bass, but of course Bass is now made by Marston’s, and the pub is now owned by Joules brewery, itself a revivalist business using a defunct name. So something of a Frankenstein, but it’s a fantastic pub.

In principle I ought to be against this digging up old brands, but I’d rather they continued in some form than be gone completely.

It’s ironic that MM were closed by Greenall Whitley, who themselves had a reputation for ales that were, let’s say, “variable”.

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