More on the Revival of Magee & Marshall of Bolton

Our recent blog post about the revival of Magee & Marshall came to the attention of the reviver himself, Edd Mather, who got in touch with a bit more info.

The fol­low­ing is a straight tran­script of a phone con­ver­sa­tion with Edd, a native Lan­cas­tri­an.

First, can you say a bit about your­self? What’s your back­ground?

I’m 40-years-old. I’ve always been inter­est­ed in beer – how it’s kept, how it’s brewed – and I was for­tu­nate a few years ago to find a bit of unpaid work, if you know what I mean, with a local brew­ery, and out of that I devel­oped a bit of knowl­edge.

I’ve also always had an inter­est in his­to­ry – brew­ing his­to­ry and local his­to­ry in gen­er­al.

I heard on the grapevine that the com­pa­ny that owned the rights to Magee & Mar­shall were going into liq­ui­da­tion. From 1853 to 1958 it was in fam­i­ly own­er­ship, then from 1958 to 1970 it was owned and oper­at­ed by Greenal­l’s group. The brew­ery shut down in 1970 but the brand and com­pa­ny was owned by Greenalls PLC up until 1999 when it became De Vere Group, and lat­er Ereved Group Hold­ings. I did a bit of dig­ging and found that the Magee & Mar­shall com­pa­ny was still active. I thought, right, if I can get it for the right price, I will, and took own­er­ship in March this year.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “More on the Revival of Magee & Mar­shall of Bolton”

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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “An Insider’s Mem­o­ries of Brew­ing in Bolton”

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.)

GALLERY: Not Always About the Beer

We spent the last week and a bit flying round the north west of England looking at (a) brewery records and (b) pubs.

Sign: Public Bar, Parlour.

We need­ed din­ner near our hotel in Liv­er­pool and stum­bled upon Thomas Rig­by’s, an inter-war pub inte­ri­or where class dis­tinc­tions and wait­er ser­vice were alive and well.

The seal of the Birkenhead Brewery Company Limited.

On our way to Port Sun­light we stopped to won­der at the beau­ti­ful but emp­ty shell of a pub half-swal­lowed by a bland 1980s build­ing.

Con­tin­ue read­ingGALLERY: Not Always About the Beer”

Book Review: The Pub and the People

Is this post a good idea? Our review is late by either four years (the edition we have was published by Faber in 2009) or seventy (it was first published in 1943). The thing is, it’s made us so giddy with excitement and amusement that we’ve got to tell someone, and you, loyal reader, are in the frame.

The Pub and the People: a Worktown Study by Mass Observation.
The Pub and the Peo­ple: a Work­town Study by Mass Obser­va­tion.

Mass Obser­va­tion’ was a social research group found­ed in 1936 found­ed by an anthro­pol­o­gist called Tom Har­ris­son, along with film­mak­er Humphrey Jen­nings and poet Charles Madge. It ran, in its first incar­na­tion, until the nine­teen-six­ties, and the ‘Work­town’ study was its first major piece of work. It saw Har­ris­son and a team of observers (some locals, oth­ers from acad­e­mia) descend on the Lan­cashire town and, for three years from 1937, watch and record every­thing, how­ev­er appar­ent­ly incon­se­quen­tial.

Time trav­el

If you were to attempt to recre­ate the expe­ri­ence of vis­it­ing a pub in Bolton in 1937, this book would give you every­thing you could pos­si­bly need. Pub archi­tec­ture, the drinks on offer, the cloth­ing and man­ners of the cus­tomers, the behav­iour of the bar staff, and the nature of con­ver­sa­tions in the saloon, lounge and tap­room are all recount­ed. Graphs and tables tell you how much peo­ple of each ‘type’ drank in a ses­sion, on each day of the week, in what mea­sures, and at what pace. (63.8 per cent of drinks were con­sumed in between 6 and 10 min­utes on a Sun­day.)

There is also infor­ma­tion on how much they smoked, and what they did with the fag ends; as well as how often they spat, where, and to what reac­tion from their friends – ‘He is called a “filthy bug­ger”’.

The var­i­ous pubs are analysed and mapped – what’s the dif­fer­ence between the saloon, lounge and tap­room? How many pubs have music rooms? What’s a ‘vault’? There are even sta­tis­tics giv­en for the dis­tri­b­u­tion of pot plants.

Though at first it seems absurd – where will the obses­sion with minu­ti­ae end? – it even­tu­al­ly leads to an almost hyp­not­ic sense of ‘vir­tu­al real­i­ty’.


Mass Obser­va­tion had some of the trap­pings of a sci­en­tif­ic study and had pre­ten­sions of objec­tiv­i­ty. The fact is, though, that the per­son­al­i­ties and prej­u­dices of the edi­tors, writ­ers and observers comes through quite clear­ly. This often results in fun­ny lines, either inten­tion­al or oth­er­wise. This ‘obser­va­tion’ (anec­dote) is not only amus­ing in itself, but also because the writer is so coy about it:

Navvy type of per­son aged about 35, says ‘If I get three pints down me I can…’ (What he said is the sort of thing con­sid­ered ‘unprint­able’. It amount­ed to the fact that when he went home he was able to have sex­u­al inter­course with his wife with the max­i­mum of effi­cien­cy, and when he woke up in the morn­ing he was able to repeat the process with the utmost sat­is­fac­tion.)

Those under obser­va­tion also often express them­selves wit­ti­ly or at least pith­ily: ‘You can do almost any­thing you bloody well like in the vault, short of shit­ting on the place.’ Entire pages are giv­en over to illus­tra­tions of stream-of-con­scious­ness, ram­bling ban­ter, full of free asso­ci­a­tions and Pythonesque silli­ness which we recog­nise from pubs with ‘reg­u­lars’ who know each oth­er well.

At one point, in an attempt to mea­sure the social make­up of clien­tele in cer­tain pubs, the authors use head­wear as a proxy, and thus invent ‘the bowler hat index’. That real­ly tick­led us. What’s the mod­ern equiv­a­lent?

Assume noth­ing

The pint, as we all know, is the one true mea­sure – the only prop­er way to drink beer – and it has ever been thus. Except that’s not true, and The Pub and the Peo­ple in fact devotes quite a bit of time to the strange phe­nom­e­non of those few odd­balls who drinks pints, espe­cial­ly Irish navvies in their dirty, spit-and-saw­dust, near-seg­re­gat­ed pubs. Most Bolto­ni­ans in 1937, espe­cial­ly the man­li­est of men, in fact drank ‘gills’.

Binge drink­ing and town cen­tre ‘no go’ areas are a new thing, too, right? Part of the col­lapse of our soci­ety? We already know about 1958 and 1927, but the lengthy descrip­tion in The Pub and the Peo­ple of a week­end in Bolton reads like an episode of Cops With Cam­eras in a peri­od set­ting. (Bob­bies with Cin­e­matographs?)

Pass­ing down the street observ­er saw a man of 30 run­ning across the road, through the entrance of this pub, up the steps and shout­ing. The next sec­ond the sound of break­ing glass. The man then comes tum­bling down the steps with anoth­er man on top of him. They begin to fight in the mid­dle of the street… [Lat­er] a sergeant with a stick and  P.C. came up… ‘What’s the mat­ter? What’s it all about? Now then, come on there, get out of it, get out of it!’.

The pre­ten­tious bit

(OK – the more pre­ten­tious bit.) There are times when the observers’ prose reflects the poet­ry of its time. Some pas­sages could pass for a lost bit of T.S. Eliot, such as this list of ‘things peo­ple do in pubs’:

A passage from the text illustrating its resemblance to poetry.

There are lots of moments where an oth­er­wise clin­i­cal descrip­tion is enlivened by a star­tling piece of imagery or turn of phrase, which per­haps deval­ue the text as ‘obser­va­tion’, but make it much more pleas­ant to read.


We’re not sure why this book isn’t talked about more. Any­one with an inter­est in the his­to­ry of beer and pubs in Britain ought to read it, but don’t let that ‘ought’ make you think it’s an ordeal: it’s engross­ing, com­pelling and amus­ing, despite the aca­d­e­m­ic fram­ing.