Friday, 15 May 2015

Watney, Combe Reid (part three)

Still not quite done with Watney.

It’s interesting to see just how the brewery saw themselves. I don’t think “progressive” is an adjective anyone would have used to describe Watney in the 1970’s.

“In many Other respects "Watney's" conforms to the pattern of the most progressive undertakings. Its ramifications are so wide as to surprise even those who know the industry well. Few brewers may know, for instance, that at the firm's Bungay Maltings willows are specially cultivated for sale to manufacturers  of cricket bats! It has kept abreast of the modern methods of scientific investigation; there  is close co-operation between brewing room and laboratory (the brewery claims to be the first in London to have a chemist on the staff). The firm's publicity is marked by freshness and vivacity even in an industry whose advertising is second to none in brilliance and originality. Welfare work takes many forms: there is a Ladies' Visiting Committee dealing with family welfare, a convalescent home, a rest home, a housing estate, to mention only a few. The firm has had its own sports ground at Mortlake for 30 years past.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 43.

Watney were eager embracers of advertising. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, they had the slogan “What we want is Watneys” and used the Watney’s wall on posters. Slogans were scrawled over a red brick background like graffiti. And who could forget their Red Revolution campaign for Watney’s Red? It was so ubiquitous it was difficult to ignore.

Am I reading that right? Does it say that Watney had their own convalescent home, rest home nd housing estate? Wonder what happened to those?

Most would have disagreed with this in the 1970’s:

“But it would be difficult to find outside the industry, together with this high degree of organisation and efficiency, the same thriving family spirit. For all that it has expanded and developed so rapidly in the past 50 years it has never become a mere giant machine. It is a "family business" still, imbued throughout with a strong sense of personal responsibility, and preserving what was best in the old firms while absorbing all that is best in the new.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 43.

Watney was definitely considered a “giant machine” in my young days. But I suppose the family links had been cut by then.

Here’s more stuff about the family nature of the business:

“In welcoming the guests, Major A. C. Bonsor, the chairman, said he would like particularly to emphasise the family side of the business, because many of the present directors of the firm were members of the old original families. Moreover, many of their staff and employees had long family association with the House of Watney. That, too, was in keeping with tradition, because they would rather engage the sons of the older people they had known than introduce new people into their business. He could give instances of people working for the House of Watney to-day who represented the fifth or sixth generation, some of whom, indeed, had been for 50 or more years in their service. That was a fact of which they were extremely proud.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 44.

I believe it was relatively common amongst long-established breweries to recruit from the offspring of existing employees. Isn’t that a form of nepotism?

But Watney wasn’t just about brewing. There was a whole raft of supporting trades:

“That was all the more noteworthy when he mentioned that a business such as theirs had many other connections. Their job was not simply the brewing of beer. They had subsidiary breweries, bottling stores and maltings, apart from vast motor works, laboratories and all sorts of other avenues giving employment to a large number of technical people. Apart, too, from possessing many freeholds in the London area, they employed lawyers, architects and scientific chemists  — the chemist who examined everything used in the process of brewing to ensure that all the commodities used in the brewing were of the highest standard of quality. So far as the architects were concerned they tried to bring all their houses up to date according to the most modern standards.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 44.

For my recollection of Watney’s pubs, the architects had tried to strip out any character or original features. They were generally pretty grim, unless you found one they hadn’t got around to ruining yet. Not all the big brewers were as bad. Tetley were pretty good at retaining Victorian and Edwardian interiors.

This last bit would have caused a good laugh in CAMRA circles in the 1970’s:

“The speaker went on to express the conviction that in most of the company's houses, the public could get not only good drink, but good food, coupled with a general feeling of cheeriness which should be the hallmark of every good public house.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", pages 44 - 45.

You wouldn’t have found any of those in the Watney pubs I recall. Crap beer, crap food, rubbish atmosphere.

Here are the crap beers you might have been drinking at the end of the decade:

Watney's bottled beers at the end of the 1950's
Year Beer Style Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1959 Best Pale Ale Pale Ale 32 0.05 1048.3 1013.9 4.46 71.22% 17
1959 Pale Ale Pale Ale 20 0.04 1033.2 1010.1 2.99 69.58% 23
1959 Dairy Maid Stout Stout 24 1033.3 1012.6 2.67 62.16% 250
1957 Dairymaid Sweet Stout Stout 24 0.06 1033.1 1012.7 2.63 61.63% 250
1957 Special Stout Stout 26 0.05 1042.3 1009.4 4.28 77.78% 200
1957 Reids Special Stout Stout 36 0.06 1045.2 1011.8 4.33 73.89% 225
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

Two bob a pint for Dairymaid Stout? A beer that could be up to 25% returned beer and other junk? That’s just 2d less a pint than the much stronger Special Stout. They must have earned hand over fist with that beer.

Watney's draught beers at the end of the 1950's
Year Beer Style Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1957 Mild Ale Mild 15 0.05 1032 1007.6 3.16 76.25% 100
1957 Best PA Pale Ale 21 0.06 1044 1014.2 3.86 67.73% 20
1957 Keg Bitter Pale Ale 24 0.06 1039.4 1007.6 4.14 80.71% 23
1957 PA Pale Ale 17 0.06 1036.8 1006.9 3.89 81.25% 26
1959 Red Barrel Pale Ale 22 0.04 1038.5 1010 3.70 74.03% 24
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

Lots of lovely Red Barrel. The beer called Keg Bitter looks like it’s Red Barrel. Great how it costs 3d more a pint than the stronger Best PA. What is it I always say? Keg beer – crap value yesterday, crap value today

That’s Watney done. Where to go next?


Anonymous said...

Can you explain how the return system worked? Did the brewery deliver a bunch of kegs/casks and the pub paid for them as they sold, or did the brewery sell them to the pub, and then buy back leftovers if they felt like it?

I know sellers of some non-perishable goods like books are able to send things that don't sell back to the manufacturer, but I'd never heard of this for sellers of perishable goods.

Ron Pattinson said...


I believe the system still works the same way. Pubs return beer thats gone off to the brewery and get credit for it. The brewers in turn get back the duty paid on the beer.

J. Karanka said...

Ha, that is surprisingly sensible. You only ever pay duty on beer that was drank rather than all beer sold to publicans.

A Brew Rat said...

Here in Montana, we used to get Watney Red Barrel on tap back in the 1980s. This was in the days when American craft beer was in its infancy. The Red Barrel back then was a nice change of pace from the usual Budmilloors that was on tap then, although nowadays I am sure the hipsters who frequent the local taprooms would sneer at it.