Saturday, 26 September 2015

Bentley’s Old Brewery

Remember me telling you about absentee owners? I’ve an example of how they could paralyse a business and just leave it ticking over. It’s the case of one of the breweries Hammonds purchased in the 1950’s.

Bentley’s Old Brewery in Rotherham was bought by Timothy Bentley, of Bentley & Shaw of Huddersfield, in the 1820’s. (Bentley & Shaw itself was bought by Hammonds in 1944.) He sent his son Robert to run it. On his death it was passed on to his son, Robert John Bentley. But that’s where the family succession ended. When Robert John Bentley went crazy in the 1870’s, he had no obvious successor.

"RJB [Robert John Bentley] had four sons and three daughters. Of the sons, Netherwood and Philip worked as brewers in the brewery and lived at West House; Philip remained single and predeceased his father, and Netherwood continued living there until his death in 1893. He remained single and died in the Angel Hotel, Grantham, from tuberculosis at the age of thirty six; he had fallen out with his father and had been struck out of his will. It was generally accepted in the family that he had displayed no capacity to take over father's widespread business interests; he had been accustomed to idleness, alcohol and profitless amusement; and on the insanity of their father not one son was appointed his trustee. Of the daughters, one was mentally unstable, and the other two married as now mentioned. RJB in his will appointed Arthur Hirst and his sons in law as his trustees. One daughter had married William Needham Longden Champion of Cantley Hall, Doncaster; and another Leonard Foster of Thorne. Arthur's son, Wilfred, in addition to assisting his father in the brewery, had established his own wines and spirits firm in Rotherham, and after his father's death in 1900 he sold it and gave up management of the brewery. He moved south to Middlesex. Bentley's brewery was thereafter looked after by a general manager appointed by the trustees, and the financial affairs by a firm of Sheffield solicitors."
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 40.

Arthur Hirst was the brother of Robert John Bentley’s wife, so a kind of family. But as his son wasn’t interested, that’s when direct family involvement in the brewery ended. The business was run by a manager and at first things went well:

"The brewery firm continued to expand under the control of its general manager, John T Batkin {JTB}, until after the First World War. From the 1930s it lapsed into stagnation, being restricted in financial resources and lacking direction. The handful of trust beneficiaries lived in the south of England, their only interest being in the income which could be extracted; and those members of the family who became directors after its incorporation visited the brewery just once a year, as an act of grace. The board was made up of Major G B Foster as chairman; his son Michael; his nephew Lt. Col. N P Foster; his cousin Mrs D M Follett; another cousin's husband Mr E H L Rowcliffe; and Brigadier E L G Griffiths Williams - a relative too. They all lived in distant parts of the country, other than the Fosters. A limited company was formed in 1949 to take over the business, although the business assets remained in the ownership of the trustees of Robert John Bentley. This legal structure made administration very complicated, and was done for the sole purpose of avoiding payment of stamp duty on the transfer of assets; the expectation among the beneficiaries was that the company would continue for at least another thirty years and enable the company to offer a possessory title; in fact, it lasted just a further seven years as an independent company. A further aggravation to proper administration worth mentioning is that RJB's will trusts deliberately restricted the income which the brewery could retain, insisting that most of it should be distributed to the beneficiaries."
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 40.

It doesn’t sound like a construction destined for long-term success. By paying out most of the profits, there was always going to be little left to reinvest in the business. It stagnated, with no ambition or purpose in its management.

"From being a brewery business which had regularly built new high trading public houses in strategic locations and had its finger on the pulse of local affairs, it opened just one at Parkgate in the last thirty years of its existence. There was no point in the general manager asking for the resources to increase the business; his role was just to continue the status quo. In its last years its output was some six hundred barrels weekly; its tied houses numbered fifty five, painted in the company colours of brown and white - one coat only, varnished for longevity, if not brightness. It had a limited free trade, but the houses were good outlets, and the beer undoubtedly popular. The manager did his best, but as stated, was kept short of capital to build new outlets, to improve existing houses, and to modernise the brewery; he lost heart."
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 41.

With an output of around 30,000 barrels, it wasn’t a huge brewery. Just one of hundreds of modest, local breweries with a few dozen pubs. It’s this class of brewery that was disappearing fast in the 1950’s, as owning families lost interest and cashed in. It was only a matter of time before that happened to Bentley’s Old Brewery.

When several trust beneficiaries died and estate duty needed to be paid, the only solution was to sell up. The remaining beneficiaries approached Hammonds and the deal was done.


Tandleman said...

So Bentley's Old Brewery is different to Bentley's Yorkshire Brewery of Tower Road York Established in 1828?

I ask as I have a mirror of the latter.

Ron Pattinson said...


yep. And different from Bentley's of Woodlesford. Though some to have been from the same family. I'm still trying to get my head around the Bentley brewing dynasty.