Monday, 2 November 2015

Another Hammonds takeover

You’ve probably noticed my fascination with 1950’s takeovers. Especially those of Hammonds, as I’ve lots of inside information on them.

Seth Senior and Sons was a modestly-sized brewery in a village just south of Huddersfield. It fell into the hands of Hammonds in 1946, their first post-war takeover. In line with their early acquisitions, it wasn’t that far from the original Hammonds brewery in Bradford.

This is how the family came to sell up:

“Seth Senior died and the business passed into the control of his sons and grandsons, who had made the inevitable metamorphosis into country gentlemen, and as inevitably they fell out among themselves. The company coasted along comfortably enough between the wars and survived the Second World War, by which time the two Senior brothers, grandsons of Seth, were in charge, and were not speaking to one another. One was the brewer and the other the bottler, a job as skilful as brewing in the then existing state of technology. The beer passing by pipe under the road to the bottling stores was the sole communication between them. Jack Morrison was the under brewer and the go-between; his father had been head brewer at Campbell Hope and King, a small brewery in Sunderland, later taken over by Vaux, and well known for the quality of its beer, and he had trained under him. It was a situation which could not last, and under the persuasion of a Senior son in law, Harold Wood, who owned the Sovereign Quarries at Shepley and was the neutral Chairman of the Senior company (he lived in a house at Lane Head called One Acre and was locally known as One Acre Wood), negotiations were opened with HLBL for a sale. “
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, pages 50 - 51.

The same old story: descendants inheriting a brewery they weren’t really interested in or committed to. This time with an added frisson of siblings falling out. I love the fact that the two brothers and their empires were separated by a road.

Surely Campbell Hope and King was in Edinburgh, not Sunderland?

The reaction of the workforce to the takeover was unexpected:

“The family took the cash, and Hammonds took the brewery with its one hundred pubs. The workforce, which was Shepley, was devastated; it was seen as a surrender to the their biggest rivals, Bentley & Shaw of Lockwood, already in the Hammonds camp - the wound to village pride was deep. They took the only action they could to express their feelings - they went on strike, unheard of in the brewing industry then - not for money, not for better conditions, not even against unfairness. It was a community expression of despair, frustration and the realisation of the hopelessness of their position.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 51.

Industrial seems to have been extremely rare in the brewing industry before the 1960’s. Paternalistic management probably helped. The same wasn’t true of the new, modern breweries built from 1960 onwards. Many of those had terrible industrial relations. The Bass plant in Runcorn and the Whitbread one in Luton are good examples.

How did they end the strike? In a very modern way. The management lied through their teeth:

“I was spending a few days in Yorkshire, staying with HLBL at his Ripon house, when this happened, and he took me with him in his car when he went over to Shepley to speak to the employees, assembled to hear him, in the cask racking shed on a cold December day. He spoke to them like a kindly uncle dealing with fractious nephews. He told them they were now part of a larger family, and that family had greater opportunity to grow in the post-war world than Senior's by itself; there was room for all in the new mansion; there would be no changes, except changes for the better. It was good evangelical stuff, high on vision, hope and vagueness, credible to the credulous. They believed him because they wanted to, and went back to work. The stoppage had lasted just short of twenty four hours. Within a few years the brewery had closed, the farms had been sold, the gasworks shut, and people just faded out.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 51.

This one aspect of the brewing trade that has largely been forgotten: the widespread bottling of certain high-class beers by rival brewers:

“Bottling of Bass, Worthington and Guinness continued for a few years; in my mind's eye I see still the conical piles of filled bottles maturing, before being cased and sent into trade, in the old stone sheds. The whole system was unbelievably labour intensive and primitive, but the products were acclaimed - the bottled Guinness was generally accounted the finest in the area. The brewery buildings were turned into storage sheds and utilised as an outlying depot for Bentley & Shaw, having regard to the number of former Senior employees living in Shepley and working for Hammonds.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 51.

All three of those beers were bottle-conditioned at the time. Guinness continued to be bottled by other brewers right through until the 1980’s. In the North of England it usually came from Dublin, in the South from Park Royal, Guinness’s London brewery.

Continuing to bottle after the brewery had closed wasn’t uncommon. Guinness in Leeds in the 1970’s was almost always bottled by Musgrave & Sagar, a former brewery which still owned a few pubs serving Tetley’s beer.

Here’s a Senior connection with Tetley’s:

“The old water gathering system, no longer annually cleaned out by the miners in their holidays, with free beer all the week for their efforts, silted up and now lies forgotten beneath the fields. Some time after the Second World War a borehole was sunk in the brewery yard, the extracted drilling cores neatly ranged by it for curiosity, against the possibility it might be needed. In fact it was, as there was a national shortage of water in the mid 1950s, and Tetley's gratefully carted it by the tankerload all the way to Leeds for brewing. Perhaps the old borehole still survives? Slowly the brewery buildings were demolished for the dressed stone and, apart from a number of small buildings remaining, the site is cleared.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, pages 51 - 52.

Shepley is around 25 miles away from Leeds. Quite a way to ship water by road. Having lived in West Yorkshire I’m amazed that it could be short of water. It was always bloody raining. Almost as bad as here in Amsterdam.


Anonymous said...

The feuding brothers story got me wondering whether daughters or sisters or wives ever took over breweries, or whether the brewing business was 99%+ male run?

As an American I'm only guessing, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't unheard of for women to operate pubs in the 1950s, but I have no idea if a widow who inherited a brewery would ever continue on as boss or if she'd sell it off as a matter of course.

Ron Pattinson said...


I can't remember coming acros any women as owners, managers or brewers before 1960.

Yes, women did run pubs in the 1950's. But most breweries would only give tenancies to couples. Female landlords were almost always widows who took over after th edeath of their husband.