Friday, 8 May 2015

Watney, Combe Reid (part one)

I’m going a little Watney crazy at the moment. Though it fits in nicely with my 1950’s theme, as that decade could be seen as the company’s heyday.

Watney, Combe, Reid was the first big merger in British brewing. Until then breweries had mostly grown organically, expanding their premises as their trade grew. Guinness, Bass and Allsopp are good examples of this kind of growth. The Watney model was to be followed by all the big players of the 20th century: expansion by takeovers and mergers.

“Messrs. Watney, Combe, Reid & Co. Ltd., have completed 50 years of business since the combined company came into being, though of course the three main constituent concerns as well as some others which now form part of the Watney organisation were far older.

. . . .

Watney's of London
The history of an important brewing firm like Messrs. Watney, Combe, Reid & Co. Ltd., is in several ways the history of many great industrial undertakings. It has its sources in family businesses which were thriving even before the Industrial Revolution. The Stag Brewery at Pimlico, for instance, was "the finest Brewhouse in Europe" in 1722. The Long Acre brewery in which Harvey Christian Combe, a Lord Mayor of London, bought an interest in 1787 was founded in 1740. Reid & Co. of Clerkenwell was a firm in which the Meux family partnered the Reids until 1809, when after a quarrel they called two hackney coaches and went off with the deeds of the public houses as their share of the business—or so the legend runs.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 42.

The Meuxs set up their brewery behind the Horseshoe, a pub at the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. This was the brewery where a giant vat burst in 1814, destroying houses and killing several people.

Having recently watched Wolf Hall, this next paragraph grabbed my attention by the throat:

“Of all the establishments acquired by "Watney's," however, none has had a longer history than the Mortlake brewery, founded in 1487, and perhaps the brewery which was the source from which the Cromwells, first Thomas, and later and indirectly, Oliver, drew their wealth.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 42.

Is that true? I can’t recall hearing this story before. So I did a quick search of the web and found this on the Barnes History website. It gives a rather different account of the Cromwell connection with Mortlake:

"Old Cromwell House stood on a site presently occupied by the Stag brewery and facing onto what is now Williams Lane. The stone and ironwork gates still exist in Williams Lane although they have been moved from their original site some 40 meters to the west. Old Cromwell House was a two-winged, brick-built mansion with high surrounding walls whose land stretched north from the Lower Richmond Road to the tow path on what is now Thames Bank.

There is much evidence that Thomas Cromwell sometime resided in Cromwell House from whom it gained its name. Raymond Gill, in his archives, states that in “1493 John King gave the brewer John Williams half an acre of land in Mortlake on the north side of the wide part of a thoroughfare east of Williams Lane and north to the Thames, nearly opposite the end of the boat race today. On this piece of land, John Williams built a large house.”

Cromwell’s sister Katherine lived in Mortlake in the early 16th century with her brewer husband Morgan Williams, nephew and heir of John, and there is evidence that the couple lived in old Cromwell House in their later years at least. Thomas, who had been born in Putney, also had another local connection in that he was given the manor of Mortlake by Henry VIII in 1536, the manor house of which stood by the river on the eastern side of Ship Lane."

It doesn’t sound to me like Thomas Cromwell had a direct connection with brewing. Only indirectly, through his sister. I can’t imagine he would have been getting money from his sister.

Here’s a little background to the merger:

“Economic causes, the growth of London's population, improved methods of transport, the advantages of centralised production must all have helped to bring about the amalgamation. Yet even the City of 50 years ago, then the heart and brain of the world's financial system and rich as no other capital had ever been in ability and experience, might have held no one able to undertake the difficult work of constructing the great new business. The firm, however, had never lacked leaders before. The redoubtable Alderman Combe, for example, has found his way into history on the strength of his crushing rejoinder to Charles James Fox, after that politician, wit and gamester, having won largely from him at hazard, triumphantly promised: "Bravo, old Mash tubs, I will never drink any other porter than yours." "Sir," flashed back the brewer, "I wish every other scoundrel in London would say the same." Nor has the firm lacked for vigorous leadership since. At the critical time, as at a similar stage in every great firm, an architect for the new structure was found. He was the late Sir Cosmo (then Mr.) Bonsor, a director of Combe & Co. A deed of amalgamation between Combe & Co., and Reid's Brewery Co., was entered into in 1898, but at the desire of Mr. Vernon Watney was torn up in favour of the inclusion of his own company. Sir Cosmo was, however, "the moving spirit in overcoming and com (swing the difficulties which inevitably occurred " and became the first Chairman of Watney, Combe, Reid & Co. Ltd.”

Cosmo Bonsor – what a great name. I hadn’t realised that the original plan didn’t include Watney. AS the senior partner in the merged business, I assumed they had been the instigators. And theirs was the only one of the breweries to remain open. Combe’s Long Acre brewery and Reid’s in Clerkenwell were closed almost immediately and production concentrated at Watney’s Stag Brewery in Pimlico.

The Combe and Reid names did live on. Combe for Brown Ale and Reid for Stout. Reid’s Stout was still around in the 1950’s. As this table of Watney’s bottled beers shows:

Watney bottled beers 1950 - 1951
Year Beer Style Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1950 Brown Ale Brown Ale 15 0.08 1029.4 1007.8 2.80 73.47% 10 + 40
1950 Brown Ale Brown Ale 15 0.04 1030.4 1007.9 2.92 74.01% 15 + 40
1950 Brown Ale Brown Ale 17 0.06 1032.6 1010.8 2.82 66.87% 16 + 40
1951 Brown Ale Brown Ale 17 0.05 1031.1 1010.3 2.69 66.88% 40 + 17
1950 Pale Ale Pale Ale 15 0.07 1029.3 1006.9 2.90 76.45% 21B
1950 Pale Ale Pale Ale 15 0.05 1029.3 1005 3.16 82.94% 25B
1950 Pale Ale Pale Ale 0.07 1059.9 1017.2 5.55 71.29% B18.5
1950 Pale Ale Pale Ale 17 0.05 1032.6 1009.2 3.03 71.78% 25 B
1951 Pale Ale Pale Ale 17 0.04 1030 1009.5 2.65 68.33% 27
1950 Red Barrel Pale Ale Pale Ale 28 0.07 1047.4 1015.2 4.17 67.93%
1950 Red Barrel Pale Ale Pale Ale 28 0.06 1047.1 1015 4.16 68.15% 23B
1950 Red Barrel Pale Ale Pale Ale 30 0.06 1047.6 1014.5 4.29 69.54% 22B
1950 Red Barrel Pale Ale Pale Ale 28 0.05 1050.9 1014.2 4.76 72.10% 19 B
1951 Red Barrel Pale Ale Pale Ale 28 0.05 1049 1015.9 4.28 67.55% 25
1951 Dairymaid Sweet Stout Stout 18 0.05 1032.7 1015.1 2.27 53.82%
1951 Family Stout Stout 10 0.06 1036.4 1012 3.16 67.03% 1 + 12
1950 Glasgow Special Stout Stout 26 0.05 1032.1 1013.7 2.37 57.32% 1 + 16
1950 Reids Family Stout Stout 21 0.06 1037 1012.2 3.21 67.03% 1 + 13
1950 Reids Special Stout Stout 24 0.06 1045.9 1009.6 4.72 79.08% 1 + 11
1950 Reids Stout Stout 17 0.06 1042.9 1009.1 4.39 78.79% 1 + 10
1950 Reids Stout Stout 0.10 1072.9 1021 6.75 71.19% 1 + 14.5
1951 Special Stout Stout 24 0.06 1045.3 1009.1 4.71 79.91% 1 + 12
1950 Strong Ale Strong Ale 36 0.10 1061.1 1014.5 6.07 76.27% 40 + 16
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

The strong Pale Ale and Stout with no price I’m guessing were export beers, not ones for the UK market. Bottled Red Barrel was about as strong as Pale Ales got in the early 1950’s. It was clearly a premium beer, as indicated by the price. You’ll see from the next table that it cost almost double the price of their draught Bitter.

I've already told you about the nasty stuff  put into Dairymaid Stout and Brown Ale. Lots of lovely ullage, stuff from the bottom of fermenters and pipes and all sorts of other rubbish.

For completeness here are their draught beers:

Watney draught beers 1950 - 1951
Year Beer Style Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1950 Best Ale Mild 13 0.06 1031.2 1006.3 3.23 79.81% 16 + 40
1951 Ale Mild 13 0.08 1032.7 1006 3.47 81.65% 17 + 40
1951 Ale Mild 14 0.08 1032.8 1007.4 3.30 77.44% 16 + 40
1951 Best Mild 20 0.07 1043.1 1008 4.57 81.44% 17 + 40
1950 Bitter Pale Ale 16 0.08 1035.1 1007 3.65 80.06% 26 B
1951 PA Pale Ale 16 0.07 1037.7 1006.8 4.02 81.96% 27 B
1951 Bitter Pale Ale 17 0.08 1036.8 1007.5 3.81 79.62% 27 B
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

The beer described as Bitter and Pale Ale looks like th draught version of Red Barrel to me. The 1951 Best Mild is exceptionally strong for 1951. In fact it looks very much like a 1920's London Mild, or 1930's Best Mild.

More Watney history to follow.

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