The Wenlock Brewery emerged from the difficult decade leading up to WW I in pretty good shape. Many breweries had to revalue their shares after 1910 when the value of their assets, principally pubs, fell after extra burdens were put on the trade in the 1909/1910 budget. They found themselves in the unenviable position of not having enough assets to cover their capital. A decline in pub values was kicked off by an earlier Licensing Act which made it easier for magistrates to refuse licence renewals.
That didn't stop the brewery chairman having a good moan. It's a common feature of Edwardian annual brewery meetings, the chairman complaining about government policy driving them towards ruin.
Sir John Bell, presiding at meeting in London of the Wenlock Brewery, spoke of the great difficulties the trade laboured under owing the very heavy rates, and he hoped this would be borne in mind when the new London County Council came to be elected next year. He also complained of the war tax being still kept on. The effect of the war tax, the tax on sugar, and the compensation claims was to take an account which would be sufficient to pay 4 per cent on the capital of the company. Referring to the deputation of the trade which waited upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chairman stated that the Prime Minister, who was present, said he would not lift his hand against clubs. He also said he would not interfere with teetotalers sitting on the Licensing Committees, but he would not allow the brewing interest to be represented. This he (the Chairman) considered most unjust. He did not think that Government would dare confiscate their property as had been threatened."
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Friday 07 December 1906, page 9.
If you're wondering why the hostility to clubs, brewers saw them as unfair competition for their own tied houses. He does have a point about temperance campaigners being allowed to be part of Licensing Committees but no-one connected with the brewing trade.
He was still moaning two years later. Though he did let slip one really handy piece of information:
"WENLOCK BREWERY COMPANY.
Presiding at the annual meeting the Wenlock Brewery Company in London yesterday. Sir John Bell complained of the 1s. a barrel war tax, which made a difference them during the past year of £4,337. Malt had been exceedingly high in price, while rates and taxes were a very heavy item. The brewers, he said, would always lend their support furthering real temperance, but the Licensing Bill was mere confiscation. He advocated dealing drastically with grooers and clubs. The most gratifying feature of the year was the increase in the barrelage, and the improvement had continued since the end of October. Malt was not likely to fall in price, but their hop position was favourable. The report was adopted."
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Wednesday 16 December 1908, page 12.
Did you spot it? He let slip the barrelage of the brewery. An extra shilling a barrel tax had cost them £4,337. Just multiply that by 20 and you have how many barrels they brewed in 1908: 86,740. Which puts Wenlock somewhere in the Second Division of London brewers, quite a way behind First Division outfits like Barclay Perkins, Whitbread, Truman and Watney. This is how much they brewed that year:
|Largest London breweries in 1908|
|The British Brewing Industry, 1830-1980 T. R. Gourvish & R.G. Wilson, pages 610-611|
Let's take a look at Wenlock Brewery's financial results from 1899 to 1939:
|Wenlock Brewery profits and dividends 1899 - 1939|
|Year||net profit||brought in||carried forward||dividend Ordinary shares||to reserve||reserve fund||write down properties and loan account|
|Aberdeen Journal - Tuesday 08 December 1925, page 11.|
|Aberdeen Journal - Wednesday 07 December 1927, page 10.|
|Aberdeen Journal - Wednesday 10 December 1924, page 11.|
|Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 07 December 1916, page 7.|
|Derby Daily Telegraph - Monday 09 December 1929, page 9.|
|Dundee Courier - Friday 18 July 1930, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Monday 09 December 1935, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Monday 11 December 1939, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Monday 19 November 1900, page 3.|
|Dundee Courier - Saturday 10 December 1938, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Saturday 27 November 1937, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Thursday 06 December 1928, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Thursday 06 December 1934, page 4.|
|Dundee Courier - Thursday 08 December 1932, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Thursday 23 November 1899, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Tuesday 08 December 1936, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Tuesday 19 November 1901, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Wednesday 10 December 1924, page 2.|
|Dundee Courier - Wednesday 26 November 1902, page 3.|
|Gloucester Citizen - Wednesday 22 December 1920, page 6.|
|Hull Daily Mail - Thursday 10 December 1931, page 8.|
|Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Thursday 16 December 1915, page 2.|
|Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Tuesday 08 December 1914, page 3.|
|Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Tuesday 09 December 1913, page 4.|
|Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Tuesday 14 December 1909, page 5.|
|Sheffield Daily Telegraph - Thursday 26 November 1903, page 11.|
|Western Daily Press - Thursday 10 December 1931, page 9.|
|Western Daily Press - Wednesday 08 December 1926, page 10.|
|Western Morning News - Monday 09 December 1935, page 9.|
|Western Morning News - Thursday 08 December 1921, page 6.|
|Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Friday 25 November 1904, page 10.|
|Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Monday 26 November 1906, page 18.|
|Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 11 December 1930, page 14.|
|Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 12 December 1918, page 9.|
|Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Tuesday 19 November 1901, page 10.|
It's a shame that a few years are missing, but you can see the general trends. The profits fell up until 1913, after which they started to pick up. The dividend started to fall sometime after 1906, which is what you'd expect. It only started rising after the outbreak of the war. In 1916 things were going so well that they retrospectively issued a 2.5% dividend for each of the years 1914 and 1915.
After 1901 they weren't able to add to their reserve, instead starting to write down the properties and loans account. This could be the reason they didn't get into real trouble in 1911 - 1913. They'd started early, before the trade really started to be hit by government legislation. Added to this, at £250,000, their capital was relatively modest.
Which has got me thinking. I always saw WW I as being a disaster for the brewing trade. Whereas in reality it was the saviour of many brewers. After a decade or so of falling profits, brewers started to make decent profits again. Without it, many would surely have gone bankrupt.
By 1918, the dividend was back to the 10% level of before 1906. The 1920's, were very good for the Wenlock Brewery with net profit rising to over £100,000 and the dividend hitting 17.5% by the end of the decade. With large surpluses, they were able to stack away a considerable sum in reserve, with it reaching almost half a million by 1929.
Though profits were lower in the 1930's, Wenlock still managed to pay a dividend greater than 10% every year. Even Snowden's disastrous emergency budget of 1931 didn't reduce the dividend by much, 12.5% being the lowest paid. It's clear that while the 1930's were challenging times for brewers, they were nothing like as bad as the period 1904-1914.
Time to look at Wenlock's draught Stout. All but one example is of the weaker 8d (7d after 1923) type of Stout. Which makes it difficult to compare with most of the other breweries examples. It does have one very obvious feature: a low degree of attenuation. Were they leaving the FG deliberately high to give it more body? The low OG and high FG leave it with an average ABV of less than 4%. Not very Stout at all.
Let's see how the scores went:
|Wenlock Stout quality 1922 - 1925|
|1922||Stout||1017||1046||3.75||63.04%||v good for price||3||8|
|1923||Stout||1015.6||1045.6||3.88||65.79%||compares well with the others at 9d||2||8|
|1923||Stout||1018.2||1045.7||3.55||60.18%||good compared with others @ 9d pint||2||8|
|1923||Stout||1017.6||1045.1||3.55||60.98%||v good for the money||3||8|
|1925||Stout||1014||1045||4.01||68.89%||poor & thin||-2||7|
|Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001|
Nine of the eleven examples get positive scores, which is pretty good. Ironically one of the two bad scores is for the stronger 9d type of Stout. Two 3's and 5 2's leave it with the very respectable average score of 1.36.
Stout-drinking time-travellers should head directly to a Wenlock pub. They just need to remember to order the cheaper Stout.