Thursday, 17 September 2015

The nearly men

Looking at Flowers and J.W. Green got me thinking. About some of the early brewing groups attempting to go national in the 1950’s.

With hindsight, it’s easy to assume the Big Six I knew from my youth was an inevitable development. That a few large combines would come to dominate the industry was. But not which ones. Some of the early front runners fell. Few could have predicted in 1955 who would look back as winners 20 years later.

There were a few companies who managed to amass a clutch of breweries and in excess of 1,000 pubs. Some continued to grow. Others were gobbled up by even larger groups. I’m intrigued as to why. Was it purely a question of economics?  I think not. Personalities played a part, too.

Expect lots more about the nearly men: Flowers, Hammonds, John Smith, Truman and some others I’m sure I’ll remember as I go along.

As Hammonds is going to play a central role, let’s introduce you to some of the characters there:

Drop in profits
More realistic attitude urged on Chancellor

The Annual Ordinary General Meeting was held on Monday, January 16, 1950, Bradford, the Vice-Chairman, Mr. L. S. Dumaresq, presiding in the absence of the Chairman (Mr. H. L. Bradfer-Lawrence), who was indisposed.

The following are extracts from the Chairman's circulated statement:—

Group profits amounted to £261,374 after taxation, the comparable figure for the previous year being £328,300. I made it clear in a statement last year that a drop profits would be inevitable; and when we come to deal with the difficulties with which last year was fraught, I feel sure you will agree that we have reason to congratulate ourselves that this drop is no more than £66,926, or roughly 20 per cent.”
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Tuesday 17 January 1950, page 5.

You’ll be seeing the names Dumaresq and Bradfer-Lawrence much more. They were the driving force behind Hammonds’ early acquisitions.

Seeing a 20% drop in profits as a good result is an interesting viewpoint. But the next section will explain why that isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

Effect of onerous Beer Duty
Beer Duty Is still fundamentally the greatest "bugbear" of our trade. Following the Budget prices all were reduced 1d. per pint to the public. The rate of duty paid by the brewer, however, was not reduced in like proportion; the effect this Duty reduction was therefore twofold, first of all we, in common with all brewers, paid 24s. per barrel on all unconsumed stocks including those held by our customers the time the price change was brought about, and secondly we lost and are still losing 3s. per barrel of our profit on every single barrel brewed since the Budget announcement.

You will appreciate that in our size the continuing cost this Budget runs Into many thousands pounds. That the reduction was inadequate was obvious when it was announced, and subsequent trading results have confirmed this opinion; had it not been for the exceptionally hot summer, there is no doubt the results now before you would have been worse than they are, and trade generally would have declined more seriously throughout the country. As it is, with trade continuing to decline, we must expect proportionately lessening results next year, unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer adopts a more realistic view.

The Catering Wages Act of 1947 and its accompanying Statutory Instruments are still with us in even more complicated form. A very great deal has been written about this Act and Its effect upon hotels, restaurants and licensed houses; and have only remind you that your Company owns number hotels and managed houses and suffers accordingly.”
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Tuesday 17 January 1950, page 5.

Some classic complaining chairman there. Though he has a point. Brewers were told to cut the retail price by 1d a pint, even though the duty reduction was less than that. In April 1949 the tax per standard barrel fell from 343s 4.5d to 364s 4.5d*. On a beer of average gravity for that year, 1033.43, that comes to just over 0.5d per pint.

I must look up the Catering Wages Act to see why brewers hated it so much. Probably made them pay fair wage.

Dividend and bonuses maintained
During the year we extended the range of qualities of draught and bottled beer offered to the public, within the restrictions enforced the Ministry of Food. Last winter we reintroduced Guards Ale, a strong bottled beer which, before the war, was marketed by one our Subsidiaries, Bentley and Shaw Ltd. This became popular Immediately.

In all the circumstances your Directors considered it only right that the dividend and bonus should be maintained this difficult year at the same rate as last year. A bonus at the same rate of 5% will also be paid salaries and wages to staff and employees.”
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Tuesday 17 January 1950, page 5.

Nice he mentions a specific beer there. It was indeed a pretty strong beer, clocking in at over 7% ABV.

Hammonds bottled beers 1952 - 1964
Year Beer Style Price per pint d Acidity OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1952 Guards Ale Strong Ale 45 0.07 1073.7 1016.5 7.48 77.61% 15R + 40B
1952 Unity Ale Ale 26 0.07 1036.2 1008.2 3.63 77.35% 18 brown
1952 Prize Medal Ale Light Ale 22 0.06 1033.8 1006.9 3.49 79.59% 21 B
1952 Brown Jack Ale Brown Ale 18 0.06 1029.5 1005.8 3.08 80.34% 16R + 40B
1952 Guards Ale Strong Ale 48 0.07 1072.8 1016 7.43 78.02% 15R + 40B
1953 Guards Ale Strong Ale 45 0.10 1073 1011.9 8.02 83.70% 15 + 40
1956 Senior Sovereign Sweet Stout Stout 31 0.06 1050.4 1016.2 4.43 67.86% 300
1959 Brown Jack Ale Brown Ale 20 0.05 1034.7 1009.3 3.18 73.20% 70
1964 Brown Jack Brown Ale 20 0.03 1034.2 1013.7 2.56 59.94% 65
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

Time for a final moan about government restrictions:

Controls retard development
On the manufacturing side, progress in concentrating our production centres, to which I referred in my Report a year ago, has been slow for a variety of reasons.

The upkeep and repair of properties on the scale owned by your Company, in these prolonged days of licensing and controls, are a perpetual problem. The race to complete deferred repairs continues; but although our applications for licences to carry out these deferred repairs have received sympathetic consideration from the Ministry of Works, it must be apparent to all that the postponement of their completion only increases the cost when they are finally tackled.

Our relations with our tenants and managers continue to excellent. Your Company has adopted entirely the principles the new Model Tenancy Agreement.”
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Tuesday 17 January 1950, page 5.

Can you imagine having to reply for a licence just to repair a pub? It must have been frustrating if you had the money and inclination to invest in your tied estate.

* Finance Act 1949.


Ed said...

Benskins were another.

Martyn Cornell said...

Anthony Avis's fabulous memoirs, with the deeply dull title of "The Brewing Industry 1950-1990", are fascinating on the rise of Hammonds, which he joined in 1956, staying with it right through to the Bass Charrington years. Sadly, he only produced 200 copies, and they're bloody difficult to obtain, but as an insight into 40 tumultuous years in the British brewing industry they're irreplacable.

Ed: Benskin's ran out of steam a bit after the Second World War, though they were certainly pretty active in the period 1890-1930.

Ron Pattinson said...


I'm half way through scanning "The Brewing Industry 1950-1990", being lucky enough to own copy 94. I've lots of stuff lined up from it. It's a wonderful insight into what was going on behind the scenes.