Saturday, 2 January 2016

Guinness’s Park Royal Brewery in 1949

Let's start the New Year with a real treat. Or a new interminable series, depending on how you look at it.

You may have spotted my obsession with Guinness. Not sure where it comes from. Maybe fond memories of bottle-conditioned Guinness Extra Stout. So I as dead happy when I found a long article about the Guinness brewery at Park Royal, London.

Why did they build the brewery in the first place?

“The construction of Park Royal was an event in the history of English brewing in that it was the first time in this country that a large brewery had been built on a clear site— one might even say, a green field—with nearly 200 years' experience of an existing brewery to draw upon and the difficulty overcome of starting up a completely new plant for a process which depends so much upon carefully conditioned vessels and other equipment. The operations of the Company and the Dublin Brewery are well known to the Brewing Industry, and as for some years it had been apparent that, since so large a proportion of the output from Dublin was being sent to England it would be economical to establish a brewery here for that trade, in 1933 it was decided to do so. Once the capacity of the English brewery had been determined by considerations of trade and distribution, the design of it was commenced and at the same time a survey made of probable sites.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 55, Issue 5, 1949, page 278.

I don’t totally believe the argument about why they built a brewery in London. Irish independence I believe was the key factor. It left Guinness in a vulnerable position, with the bulk of what had been its domestic market suddenly a foreign country. Should a British government decide to whack a hefty tariff on beer imported from Ireland, they’d be totally screwed. Having a plant in England removed this possibility.

Had the argument about shipping from Ireland been true, then you would expect all of the UK requirements to have been brewed in London. But they weren’t. Park Royal supplied the South, but the North of England and Scotland still got their Guinness from Dublin.

This explains the choice of site:

“The site selected was convenient to the Great Western Railway (now British Railways, Western Region) and the Grand Union Canal, and had excellent road connections, being adjacent to two of the main arterial roads in north-west London. The site was planned with a view to developing it on modern lines not only from the point of view of factory operational efficiency, but also to provide those amenities and facilities for the staff which have always been a feature of the Company's activities. The area of the site selected was about 137 acres, the eastern portion of about 45 acres being allocated to the brewery proper and the remainder of the land north and west to playing fields, employees' houses and other amenities. A feature of the site is the fall of the land contour from south to north, and the main brewery buildings were arranged with a view to the maximum use being made of this fall, the process flow following it as far as possible. ”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 55, Issue 5, 1949, pages 278 - 279.

Interesting that even in the 1930’s access to the rail network was still considered to be important. That’s an enormous site. Not sure anyone could afford so much land in London now. Which is probably why Guinness closed the brewery and sold off the land.
This lets slip that the brewery wasn’t intended to provide for all the UK’s supplies of Guinness:

“The brewery was designed for a normal production of 650,000 barrels per annum, with an overload production capacity of just over 1,000,000 barrels per annum with all plant in operation. The wisdom of this latter decision was manifest during the War, when with so many difficulties affecting materials, fuel, and transport from Eire, the ability of the Park Royal plant to produce this additional output was invaluable. Construction was commenced in November, 1933, and the first trial brew was run through in February, 1936. By the time War broke out in 1939 production had begun to approach the design figure as more and more plant was conditioned and brought into operation.”
Journal of the Institute of Brewing Volume 55, Issue 5, 1949, page 279.

If you look at the sales of Guinness in the UK before WW II, you can see that it was only designed to produce about half of the UK’s needs. Even running full tilt, it wouldn’t produce enough:

Guinness sales 1930 - 1939
Year Britain Ireland FES/Export total
1930 1,380,718 784,863 31,352 2,196,933
1931 1,260,587 733,810 18,240 2,012,637
1932 1,056,670 668,326 14,735 1,739,731
1933 1,076,436 680,179 18,610 1,775,225
1934 1,143,271 689,194 22,717 1,855,182
1935 1,190,741 724,032 18,843 1,933,616
1936 1,200,751 726,741 21,430 1,948,922
1937 1,223,524 741,423 26,472 1,991,419
1938 1,166,782 757,827 20,419 1,945,029
1939 1,159,136 754,655 24,053 1,937,844
"A Bottle of Guinness please" by David Hughes, pages 276-279

Next time we’ll start looking at the different sections of the brewery in more detail.


Matt said...

Wasn't it the start of the Anglo-Irish trade war in 1932, after the election of Eamon de Valera's Fianna Fail government, which prompted Guinness to build their Park Royal Brewery in London rather than the creation of the Irish Free State ten years before?

Anonymous said...

What did they mean by a new brewery being at a disadvantage because they needed time to condition the equipment?

I was under the impression that as breweries aged, they had more and more problems as odd yeast and bacteria populations took root, and as a result they often struggled to track down infections in the equipment and sterilize them.

At any rate, I'm surprised that large industrial breweries didn't emerge sooner, given the trend during the industrial revolution toward huge facilities in textiles, steel, ship building, and other industries. I'm sure it's a tangled story involving casks, tied houses, regional tastes, and all the rest.

Ron Pattinson said...


well, that was ultimately a result of Irish independence. No tarde war possible without independence.

Ron Pattinson said...


large industrial breweries appeared in London in the 18th century. Some of the first steam engines in the capital were installed in breweries.

Not sure what they mean about conditioning the equipment.

StuartP said...

Maybe it is an error.
'Conditioned' might really mean 'commissioned'

Ron Pattinson said...


I think I know what they mean by "carefully conditioned vessels": maturation vats. Guinness still aged beer in oak vats and you'd need ones with the right microflora for the process to work properly.

Mike T said...

Park Royal apparently sent out a fair bit beer by rail. Beer for South Wales and West Country bottlers was sent out in Road Rail tankers. There was also a Park Royal Newcastle working three times a week. Not sure how accurate that is as that's from a railway source, but beer sources say north of the Mersey and Humber was supplied from Dublin.
Doubt many will read this as I,m commenting on an old post but a topic combining railways and Guinness, my two favourite subject can,t be missed.