Friday, 2 September 2016

33 years among the barrels and bottles

I love newspaper archives. They help to put some flesh on the bare bones of numbers. Quite literally, as they expose the human side of beer and brewing.

Though one thing slightly puzzles me about this article: why was it written? 33.5 years’ service seems an odd event to celebrate. Unless Nance was about to retire.

33 years among the barrels and bottles
They say that “women are the weaker sex" — but after having seen Miss Nance Walton slinging crates of beer around in the despatch department of Vaux Associated Breweries at Berwick I’m rather inclined to doubt that. Thirty-three-and-a-half years’ service is Nance’s record and she as happy at her work as the day she started.

Nance was born in Berwick and attended the Girls’ National School, now the Parade School. When the first World War broke out she went into a munitions factory at Gretna and assisted the war effort by making cordite.

After that she returned to Berwick and commenced employment at the brewery. In those days she worked for 19s per week, starting at 6 a.m. and finishing at 5 p.m.

Work was a lot harder in those days,” said Nance. The beer used to be brewed here and we used to have to roll the barrels to the cellars. These days we only bottle the beer.”

Nance also has a word of praise for her fellow employees. I have two very good foremen and they make pleasure.” Mr J. Middlemiss, senr., has been with the brewery for about 40 years and his son has also been with the firm for 33 years.

Nance, who keeps house for her father at 37 East Street, can remember when the draught beer was sold at 2.5d a pint. But that was a long time ago. Most of the bottled beer these days comes from the breweries in Sunderland and is despatched from Berwick. Lemonade is bottled and Nance is also an expert bottler.

Another old employee of the firm is Mrs I. Lyall, who has given service for the past 29 years.”
Berwickshire News and General Advertiser - Tuesday 04 December 1951, page 6.

The bottling department was the only part of a brewery where any women were employed. I’m not sure why. Its origins were not a result of a wartime emergency, as it predates 1914. I suspect the reason was that early bottling was quite labour-intensive. And female labour was cheaper.

It wasn’t unusual for individuals to work at a brewery for decades and for children and grandchildren to work for the same firm. That’s one of the reasons why labour relations were often good in old family-owned breweries. There were long-standing connections between employers and workers.

Whether Nance was retiring or not, her employment must have soon come to an end:

"The Border Brewery Company operated two breweries in Berwick–upon–Tweed, Northumberland, England, prior to 1895. These were Silver Street Brewery at 14 Silver Street and Tweedmouth Brewery in Brewery Lane. Border Breweries Ltd was registered in July 1899 as a limited liability company to acquire the business. In 1924 the company merged with Johnson & Darling Ltd, Tweed Brewery, 12 Silver Street, Berwick–upon–Tweed, Northumberland, England, and changed its name in February 1925 to Berwick Breweries Ltd. In 1934 the company was taken over by Vaux Brewery who closed down the brewing side of operations; the company thereafter remained in business as a bottling plant up to the mid 1950s."
"The Brewing Industry. A Guide to Historical Records" by Richmond, Lesley and Turton, Alison (eds), 1990.

Leaving a brewery as a depot or a bottling store was pretty common. Especially in the 1950’s when companies had excess brewing capacity and inadequate bottling facilities. A move away from draught beer and building restrictions left brewers struggling to meet demand for bottled beer.

No comments: