Sunday, 7 June 2015

Benskin’s Watford Brewery

Here’s another annual report and another famous name from brewing’s past: Benskin’s. Brewers of the legendary Colne Spring Ale.

The 52nd annual general meeting of this company was held on 14th December in London, Col. W. H. Briggs, D.L. (chairman), presiding. The following is an extract from his circulated statement :—

The year's trading has resulted in a net profit of £277,778 after making provision for all outgoings and expenses and after deductions of profits tax and income tax: on the year's profits. The latter with £294,640 in the corresponding period of 1948. The profits for that year were a record, and were £83,529 over the figures for 1947 which were more normal. Therefore this year's profits are more in accord with the company's usual earnings. In all the circumstances the directors consider the accounts for the year to be satisfactory. In the early part of the year trade fell very seriously, and although the company has made up considerable leeway during the summer, it has not been possible to overtake to the full extent the fall in the spring.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", pages  85 - 86.

It looks as if the brewery was pretty solid financially.

A bit about the history of Benskin’s. This being the 52nd annual meeting, you’d expect the brewery to have gone public in 1898. But in fact that happened in 1894. Not sure why there are four annual meetings missing. Isn’t there a legal obligation to hold one each year?

The firm had been started in 1722 by John Pope and it remained in his family for the next century. When Joseph Benskin got his hands on it in 1867 (for 34,000 quid), the brewery already had an estate of 42 pubs. It didn’t last long after this report as an independent company, falling to Ind Coope in 1957. At the time it had 636 pubs. It closed in 1972.*

These chairmen’s reports follow a routine path. First they say how wonderfully the company is doing. Then complain bitterly of how much better they’d be doing, if it weren’t for the government. A bit like today’s business leaders, really.

Here’s a moan about government wage controls:

“The expenses of conducting licensed houses rise in every direction and are steeply accentuated by such Acts as the Catering Wages Act which places very serious increases in wages upon the cost of running a licensed house, but despite this increase in wages, lighting, heating, furnishings, food, rates, and in fact in every way, selling prices are expected to be kept at the same figure, if not lower.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 86.

This is really interesting:

“Brewing materials, though restricted by the Ministry of Food principally to home produce, are good and this year's crop of barley has been very satisfactory indeed. In this part of the country barley has been good and plentiful and obtainable at comparatively reasonable prices. As those notes are being written hops are coming on to the market and what have been seen are up to a good standard.”
"Brewing Trade Review, 1950", page 86.

I’d noticed in the numbers that – and brewing records – that for the first time since the 1840’s exclusively British ingredients were being used. Three things had made this possible: a fall in the quantity of beer brewed, a fall in beer strength and a huge increase in barley growing in WW II.

Next time a look at Benskin’s pub trade and their worry of the government muscling in.

* “A Century of British Brewers”, by Norman Barber, 1996, page 41.


Martyn Cornell said...

The company was reformed in 1898, four years after the initial flotation, hence the apparently missing number of company meetings, since they were counting only from the second foundation. Colonel Briggs had married Doris Benskin, granddaughter of Joseph of that ilk. He became MD of the company in 1910 and retired as managing director in October 1946, when he was 75, He stayed on as chairman of the company until his death at 80 in August 1951

Martyn Cornell said...

Ooo,forgot to say that Pope didn't start the brewery in 1722, but some time between 1714 and 1722, when he was already running a bakery business.