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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