Friday, 17 February 2012

Arrol gives evidence in a murder trial

Today we turn our attention for the first time to another of Alloa's great breweries: Archibald Arrol. Given its size and longevity, surprisingly obscure. Perhaps because in its later years it didn't operate under the Arrol name but either as the Alloa Brewery or Allied breweries.

Yet Arrol's role in the development of Scottish brewing in the 20th century was key. In particular in the development of Lager. In 1921 Allsopp's Lager plant, which was no longer in use, was transferred to Arrol's. Lager was to form an important part of both Arrol's and Calder's (for whom they brewed) business.*

We'll be getting back to that later. Especially the Lager plant, about which I've a few nice details.

Searching old newspapers can throw up some odd material. Lets' face it, what are newspapers interested in? Crime, death, war and politics. You'd be surprised how often I find beer-related material in all those categories. Though, admittedly, it's often just in passing. Many crime reports start with a few beers in the Vaults and end with a pile of mutilated corpses.

The text today is a crime report, but not quite along the lines I've just described. This is an excerpt from a report on the trial of John Webster, who was accused of poisoning his wife. The case attracted huge public attention, as is demonstrated by the reports of the trail which ran to several pages. The beer connection comes about because Webster was the landlord of a pub.

Some details of the pub trade emerged during the trial:

"Webster had by this time instructed him to look out for a public house for him. When he did this prisoner told him that if he could secure a place for £800 or £700, he (prisoner) would be able to manage £500. Soon afterwards he told him (witness) that be was negotiating for the purchase of the Newton Tavern Hotel, but that he would have to employ Messrs Congleton & Dickson, solicitors, in connection with the purchase. Witness advised him not to let this stand in the way. Up till the date of his arrest Webster, after his wife's death, conducted his business in the usual way. After arrest witness took possession of the hotel, and conducted the business for five weeks before it was sold. The place was in his possession from 4th December until 10th January, and the business during that time was flourishing and lucrative, the weekly payments being £10, £15, £17, and £41, the large increase during the last week being


It appeared to him that Webster could have done well in the Newton Tavern. Altogether, the gross receipts during that period came to £90, but any little disbursement made then was drawn from the till, and therefore had been deducted from the drawings.

Mr James Suttie, clerk in the Bank of Scotland, Dundee, was examined in regard to prisoner's bank account The account was, he said, transferred on 28th June, 1890, to the Kirriemuir Branch. Q. — What was the balance at the credit of accused on 28th Jane, 1890, when the account was transferred ? A. — The account was closed by a cheque drawn from Edinburgh, and amounting to £25 7s 1d.

By Mr ASHER — The balance carried forward at the commencement of 1889 was £144 odds, and the total at his credit by the close of the year was £1142, the deposits during the year amounting to £990 odds. Of this, £300 had been transferred from a deposit receipt In June, 1890, the balance at his credit was £25, the rest having been drawn by cheque. James Cowpar, Over Migvie, parish of Kirriemuir, said he was joint agent of the Bank of Scotland at the Kirriemuir Branch. Accused opened an account with their branch on 25th June, 1890. It was closed on the 30th January last. On 5th December last the amount at his credit was £70 11s 8d. When he came to Kirriemuir Webster carried


from Mr Freeman, Bank of Scotland, Dundee, who therein stated that Webster was most respectable in character, steady in habits, and in every way an exemplary citizen, and, further, that he had been a customer at the Dundee office for the last nine years. The amount that bad passed between Webster and the Bank since he went to Kirriemuir was £618 19s 8d, including the balance of £70 11s 8d already spoken to. He never required any accommodation.

William Crockatt Dickson, solicitor, Dundee, who purchased the Newton Tavern for Webeter, was then called. He deponed that he received his instructions from Webster, who was accompanied by Mr John Robertson, of Messrs John Robertson, wine merchants, Dundee. The property, goodwill, and fittings of the place were put up for sale together, and he bought them for £1903, the upset price having been £1000. Adding interest and expenses, the total to be paid on settlement was £1913. As an interim payment to the price of the hotel, Webster gave £300 of his own money. This was on the 9th June, and on 18th July he (witness) paid the balance of the purchase price, amounting to over £1600. Of this sum £1000 was secured from a client on a bond over the property, interest being at a rate of 4.5 per cent. This left a balance of £600 to be provided, and Webster on 18th July paid him (witness) £696 14s 1d towards the settlement. The following day witness returned the balance not required, and amounting to about £70. He was aware that, in order to meet the balance of £600 odds, Webster raised £700. In addition to the interim payment, he gave £107 for the stock in the premises at the time. This was paid by himself.

By Mr ASHER - The bills for the balance were granted jointly by the Messrs Robertson and the Messrs Arrol, wine merchants and brewers. That was


for people to get into a hotel. Brewers and wine merchants assisted people to get into hotels

Sir CHARLES , PEARSON-That is what is known as a tied shop ? A— Yes.

Wm. B. Robertson, wine merchant, Seagate Dundee, deponed that Webster approached his firm for assistance towards purchasing the hotel. He did not ask any particular sum, but they gave him £350, taking his acceptance on a bill for three months. They granted the bill on the understanding that Webster would take part of his supply from them. Before accepting Webster's bill they assured themselves that he was in a sound financial position.

Walter Arrol, of Archibald Arrol & Sons, brewers, Glasgow, had a similar story to tell. They had advanced Webster £350 on a bill of six months, receiving in security, and jointly with Messrs Robertson, a postponed bond over the hotel property, and also a life policy.

Mr HAY now for the first time during the case tried his hand at the cross-examination. In reply to his queries, witness said he was thoroughly satisfied with the result of his inquiries made into Webster's position.
Dundee Courier - Thursday 19 February 1891, page 3."
Walter Arrol was one of the partners in the brewery and quite an important figure.

My apologies for the length of the quote, but I needed to include all the financial details for it to make sense.

The excerpt explains exactly how you entered the pub trade. To be honest, £2,000 doesn't seem cheap for a modest pub in a village (remember £50 a year was a reasonable wage). I wonder how much it's worth today? Because, much to my surprise, it's still a pub. Or at least was when the Google van passed:

I knew brewers gave loans to publicans, but this is the first time I've heard of wine merchants doing the same. Notice how Webster only agreed to take part of his supplies from the wine merchant in return for the loan. It seems quite a generous arrangement. Hardly the "tied shop" that it's called.

That life insurance policy used as security played an important role in the trial. Webster had taken out a joint life insurance policy for himself and his wife. When she died, he trousered £1,000. Which was the principal reason suspicion fell upon him, his wife was dug up and her body searched for signs of poison. They did find some. Actually quite a lot of arsenic in her stomach.

There isn't room to go into all the details of the trial here. But Webster was acquitted - surprisingly so, if you read the evidence. He looked bang to rights to me.

You can find (if you have access to the British Newspaper Archive) the reports of the trial here:

Dundee Courier - Wednesday 18 February 1891, page 3.

Dundee Courier - Thursday 19 February 1891, page 3.

Dundee Courier - Friday 20 February 1891, page 2.

* "Alloa Ale" by Charles MacMaster, page 16.

1 comment:

Gary Gillman said...

A striking picture which evokes the loneliness characteristic of many parts of the Scottish landscape. Very similar buildings can be seen in the parts of Ontario settled by Victorian Scots, e.g. Fergus. One could almost be fooled save for the narrow roads and the chimney pots-in-a-row.

By now, I have trawled through almost as much 1800's temperance material as brewing and beer writing per se. An abiding impression is the claim that crime, especially violent crime, is associated closely with the sale of intoxicating drink.

One reads similar claims today, but I've always wondered if the evidence actually bears it out.