Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Messrs. Salt and Co. (part one)

I'm gradually working my way through Barnard's descriptions of Burton breweries. It's now the turn of Salt.

History has been cruel to some of Burton's brewers. World-renowned for a few fleeting decades, then thrown down into the pit of obscurity. Salt is a member of this uunhappy band. Much like Allsopp, Salt was hit badly by the downturn in the brewing trade after 1900. Bankrupt in 1907, they limped on until being puschased by Bass in 1927. In their day, they had been almost as famous as Bass and Allsopp. Who remembers them now?

As you can see from the newspaper advert to your right, Salt's Pale Ale was shipped all the way to New Zealand in 1866. Now there's a journey.

Barnard caught Burton at its peak, when the town was stuffed full of massive breweries, their tall chimneys and cavernous brewhouses dominating the landscape. It wasn't to last much longer. The Boer War and WW I depleted their ranks. The depression that followed finished off a few more.

That's enough nostalgia. Let's get on with description of Salt's brewery.

"To trace the origin of the firm it would be necessary to go back to the year 1774, when, according to the statistics of that period, Messrs. Salt and Co.'s maltings were in full work in conjunction with the brewery of Messrs. Clay and Co. The founder of the establishment was the great-grandfather of the present Messrs. Salt; but it was not until the year 1823 that the firm came into its present notoriety. In that year the idea first occurred to the Burton brewers to produce pale ale, which would compete with Hodgson's India ale ; and this firm were among the first to bring the experiment to a practical issue, and in the course of a few years from that time, Salt's Pale and Burton ale became well known in all parts of the world.

At the close of the "Great Exhibition," the taste for pale and Burton ale had increased to a considerable extent in London as well as in the provinces, and Messrs. Salt and Co. benefited largely by its popularity."
"Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 2", Alfred Barnard, 1889, page 112.

Interesting use of the word notoriety there. I think he means "renown". A hundred plus years on, Burton is only remembered for its Pale Ales. But the town was never a one-trick pony. Its strong, rich Burton Ales were almost as famous as its Pale Ales. Now I'd heard the tale of the Great Exhibition boosting the popularity of Pale Ale. But not that it had a similar effect on Burton Ale. I wonder why the Great Exhibition had this impact on beer taste, given that no beer was exhibited.

"On our way to Messrs. Salt and Co.'s establishment, next morning, we passed no less than four large breweries, all within a quarter-of-a-mile of our hotel, whose lofty buildings, water towers and tall chimneys seemed to hem us in on every side. As we proceeded, a smell of beer and the odour of hops pervaded the air, whilst burly brewers met us at every turn. Here and there, engines glided noiselessly about, dragging trucks heavily ladened with casks, and the clean streets were full of animation and life.

Messrs. Salt and Co.'s brewery, which stands on four acres of ground, is bounded on the right by Allsopp's Old Brewery, on the left, by the Burton Brewery Company, and at the back, by the river Trent and the Hay-branch of the Midland Railway. From the High Street, where is situated the principal entrance and the general offices, there is not much seen of this large establishment, as it is obscured by tall buildings. It is only when you emerge from the long entry you find yourself in a large open space crossed and re-crossed by railway tracks, and surrounded by extensive red brick buildings, that any idea can be formed of the magnitude of the concern. The most prominent object before us was the brewhouse, a noble and lofty structure of several storeys, on a portion of the front of which has been erected a mill building of modern description."
"Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 2", Alfred Barnard, 1889, page 118.

Burton must have been an impressive sight in Barnard's day. Has there ever been anything like it in the world? London had many giant breweries in the 18th and 19th century. But they were spread around the metropolis. The effect in Burton, effectively a small market town, must have been far more dramatic. I can't think of any other place in the world where so many large breweries have stood shoulder to shoulder.

In the next instalment, we'll take a peak inside the brewhouse. What will we find?


StuartP said...

Interesting items on the sales list: not much call for 'sperm candles' these days.
Probably best not to do a web search on that subject.

Thomas Barnes said...

Downturn in the beer trade after 1900?
Problems with the trade due to the [2nd] Boer War? I never knew. Please tell more.

@StuartP: You have a filthy mind. Sperm candles were made from sperm whale spermaceti - sort of a natural equivalent of paraffin wax.

Graham Wheeler said...

Thomas Barnes said...
"Downturn in the beer trade after 1900? Problems with the trade due to the [2nd] Boer War? I never knew. Please tell more.

I do not think that it was a downturn in the beer trade as such, but a downturn in breweries. The Burton brewers neglected to buy tied pubs; they expected their beer to continue to sell purely on merit.

About that time there was a pub buying spree; the big London brewers in particular were buying every pub that they could get their hands on. This gradually excluded the Burton brewers from more and more outlets.

The majors were brewing their own versions of Burton beers and they expanded their breweries to cope. This caused serious over-capacity in brewing and those breweries without sufficient tied houses were hit hard. Almost 5,000 breweries closed in that period even though consumption increased by 20%.

Ron Pattinson said...

Thomas Barnes, a couple of things hit breweries. Increased taxation to pay for the Boer War and legislation that allowed licensing authorities to close pretty much any pub they chose.

Beer production fell from 60,724,628 barrels in 1900 to 56,133,867 in 1910. Over the same period the population of the UK grew from 41,154,646 to 44,911,346.

The number of pubs in England and Wales fell from 102,189 in 1900 to 92,484 in 1910.