Saturday, 30 May 2015

Dutton’s of Blackburn

Here’s another brewery celebrating an anniversary back in 1950, Dutton’s of Blackburn. A brewery whose name I recall well, but whose beers I never drank.

It’s another brewery than fell under Whitbread’s spell, being bought along with their 784 pubs in 1964. * The brewery closed in 1978 but, along with most of Whitbread’s northern breweries, had phased out cask several years before.

Owned by Whitbread – it means there’s a good chance some brewing records still exist. Just checked and sure enough they do. Well one does, for 1967. More interestingly I see there’s a gravities book. If that’s what I think it is – analyses of rival breweries beers – it could be a little goldmine. I assume it would contain mostly northern beers, Dutton’s trading region.

I’m pretty sure I own a copy of the book that’s mentioned.

Dutton's of Blackburn
In the book produced by Messrs. Dutton's Blackburn Brewery Ltd., to commemorate their century-and-a-half of business, the present chairman, Mr. Stanley W. Jamieson, aptly observes that to-day a director is no less a servant than the most junior employee. That is true to a marked degree in the brewing industry, which gives place to no other in the extent to which directors are practical men who really run the day-to-day activities of their companies. Mr. Jamieson recalls that when he first joined the Board as a young man in 1908 the company was not in a very happy position, that it had an excessive share issue and a lack of sufficient working capital. That position was put right and he dates the present era of prosperity of the company from 1916. In the years which followed, the Blackburn Brewery Company was acquired, and with five later acquisitions the business was extended not only through a large part of Lancashire, but also widely into Yorkshire, and more recently northward into Westmorland.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 46.

The pubs that Dutton’s had acquired through takeovers of their own were doubtless what attracted Whitbread. 700+ pubs would have made it a large regional concern. Just the type of business the proto-Big Six gulped down on their route to national status.

I’ve mentioned before the crisis in brewing in the years leading up to WW I. A drop in the value of pubs meant many breweries were hugely overcapitalised. A massive marking down in share capital was often the result. Ironically, given all the restrictions that it brought with it, it was WW I that turned the brewing industry around.

“Unlike some other breweries of to-day, this business is able to trace back specifically to its origin in the name by which it still remains known. The business was founded, and the brewery built on land acquired from the Vicar of Blackburn, by Thomas and William Dutton, father and son, in 1799. Although the name is preserved, it appears that the Dutton family disappeared from the record in 1871 with the death of Thomas, junior, son and grandson respectively of the two founders. In 1897 it was incorporated as Dutton & Co. (Blackburn) Ltd., and later in the same year in its present name. During its career it absorbed the Blackburn Brewery Co. already mentioned, along with its subsidiaries, Crabtree's Brewery of Clitheroe and Horsfall's Brewery of Blackburn ; to be followed in turn by John Mercer Ltd., of Adlington, the Kirkstall Brewery Co., of Leeds, and its subsidiaries the Albion Brewery and the Willow Brewery, Richard Seed & Co. Ltd., of Radcliffe, and quite recently Jonas Alexander & Son Ltd., of Kendal.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 46.

That is unusual for a brewery to have kept the same name for all its history. Before the 1890’s, when most breweries, even the largest, were still partnerships, a brewery’s name might change when the partners did.

“War years held up the projected development and the work of reconstructing and re-equipping the breweries at Blackburn and Leeds, but the company is now able to record that at the Kirkstall Brewery at Leeds the work has been accomplished and the brewery is now fully equipped with modern plant and machinery which enables an increase of output and more economical production. At Blackburn the work is in progress, refusal of permits has been a grave handicap, but a part of the former Swan brewery premises has been converted into a first-class bottling store.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 47.

The Kirkstall brewery was bought in 1936 and, ironically, survived longer than Dutton’s, only closing in 1983.**  Now there’s a brewery whose beer I did try, when Whitbread belatedly re-introduced cask in the early 1980’s.

The war placed huge restrictions on construction work. And there were more urgent uses for metals like copper in wartime. This is one of the factors that pushed breweries to sell up – knackered equipment meaning a large investment of capital was required. Many owners simply didn’t have the cash.

Let’s finish with some of Dutton’s beers from the 1950’s, taken from Whitbread’s own industrial espionage document, the Gravity Book:

Duttons Bottled Beers 1952 - 1959
Year Beer Style Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1952 Nut Brown Ale Brown Ale 20 0.05 1029.9 1005.8 3.13 80.60% 4 + 40
1953 Nut Brown Ale Brown Ale 18 0.06 1031 1006.1 3.23 80.32% 3 + 40
1953 Green Label Light Ale Light Ale 18 0.06 1032 1006.8 3.27 78.75% 24 B
1953 O.B.J. Old English Ale Old Ale 32 0.07 1060.9 1013.7 6.15 77.50% 11 + 40
1959 Pale Ale Pale Ale 24 0.04 1035.9 1009.4 3.31 73.82% 17
1953 Special Pale Ale 28 0.06 1045 1007.2 4.93 84.00% 28 B
1953 DPA Pale Ale Pale Ale 24 0.06 1038.9 1005.2 4.39 86.63% 20 B
1952 Mercers Stout Stout 26 0.06 1045.3 1014.1 4.04 68.87% 1 + 21
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

The Pale Ale and Nut Brown Ale were doubtless bottled versions of their standard Bitter and Mild.

* “The Brewing Industry a Guide to Historical Records” by Lesley Richmond and Alison Turton, 1990, page 131.
** “The Brewing Industry a Guide to Historical Records” by Lesley Richmond and Alison Turton, 1990, page 131.


Anonymous said...

My dad still remembers drinking OBJ back in the 50's.
Thanks for blogging, Peter Brown

Unknown said...

I have an unopened bottle of OB J