Sunday, 15 January 2017

Whitbread’s brewery in 1960 (part five)

I’m concluding our little glimpse into Chiswell Street. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as me.

Whitbread, beginning in the interwar years, was a major player in the improved public house. Though in the early years improvements often met resistance from the licensing authorities. Hypocritical temperance members didn’t want pubs to be better, more social places. They wanted them to be dismal dens of vice because that made them easier to campaign against. After WW II this disruptive behaviour seems to have mostly ended, leaving breweries a freer rein to improve and enlarge pubs.

“The Second World War necessarily brought about a great change in both the social structure of the nation and in its drinking habits. Restrictions on building and the shortages of supplies and materials greatly affected brewers as they were unable to carry out maintenance or repair work on their own public-houses. As soon as restrictions were lifted brewing companies found it necessary to spend vast sums in renovating existing pubs as well as building new ones. Whitbread's were quick to take up the challenge. In 1949, they reorganised their finances and floated a public issue of shares to give them a sound financial structure in readiness for expansion and development. In the same year, they employed a firm of industrial designers to advise on the redecoration of a number of their public-houses, and created what are now known as "theme" houses. The first of these was the Nag's Head in Covent Garden, which attracts many visitors from overseas as well as those who work in the locality. In its new decor, prints, pictures and other items of interest are used to trace the history of Covent Garden and of the two Theatres Royal. Six other theme houses followed within the next few years. They were The Yorker in Piccadilly (with the theme of cricket); The Railway Tavern, Liverpool Street (British Railways); The Sherlock Holmes, Northumberland Street (Conan Doyle's detective) The Coach and Eight at Putney (rowing), and The Printer's Devil, Fetter Lane (the history of printing). At the same time equal care was being paid to the redecoration and rebuilding of other pubs, the most famous of which is The Samuel Whitbread, in Leicester Square.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 35.

Wartime building restrictions, which continued well after the war’s end, were a big headache for brewers. Many, especially those based in London, had pubs damaged or even destroyed by bombing. But it was difficult to get permission for repairs or rebuilding.

Was this the start of theme pubs? I bet you’d like to know what happened to them.

The Nag's Head in Covent Garden, 10 James St, is still trading with the same name. It's currently a McMullens pub.

The Yorker at 189 Piccadilly, formerly called the Yorkshire Grey, renamed in 1955. Currently a restaurant.

The Railway Tavern, 15 Liverpool Street, is still there and still retians the name. I recognise it because I've drunk there in the past.

The Sherlock Holmes, 10 Northumberland Street, is also still around under the same name.

The Coach and Eight, 167 Upper Richmond Road Putney, is currently trading as the Fox and Hounds.

The Printers Devil, 98 Fetter Lane, was another still operating under its theme name, until its closure a few years ago.

The Samuel Whitbread, 17-18 Leicester Square, was built in 1958 and closed around 1970. It was Whitbread's flagship pub, opened with much fanfare. It didn't last that long. Boak & Bailey wrote about it recently.

Some more general stuff next:

“To-day, Whitbread's, which employ more than 6,000 people, own five breweries, including Mackeson's at Hythe (birth-place of Mackeson Stout). They have also recently entered into association with more than twenty brewing companies in Britain. In Norfolk, Whitbread  have their own maltings, and in Kent they have both maltings and hopfields; most of the ancient oast houses in Kent having been fitted with oil furnaces to replace coke fires. Another innovation at the hopfields is the spraying by helicopters to control pests and diseases.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 35.

Which five breweries would they be? I thought they owned more by then. Or maybe I’m thinking of breweries under the Whitbread Umbrella. Checking, it seems Whitbread had purchased 8 breweries between 1920 and 1958, most of them quite small. Their buying spree started in 1961.

The brewery at Hythe didn’t stay open that much longer, despite being the birthplace of one of Whitbread’s biggest brands.

Finally, some more pretty pictures:

“Two coopers are repairing casks. The company employs sixteen coopers who are masters of their craft; there's also an apprentice coopers' school.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 35.

“In the Mill Room, the malt is cracked between steel rollers before being passed to cases above the mash tuns. There are four machines, each of which is capable of cracking 240 bushels of malt per hour.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 35.
“The filling of casks is known in the brewery as "racking". In this picture the men are "racking" Best Ale in the cellars.”The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 35.

Pretty sure the gyle number on those casks of Best Ale is 348. Which means, assuming the photo is from 1960, it must have been sometime in May. I reckon the beer was brewed on 19th May. It would have been racked 5 or 6 days later. So my guess is the photo is from 24th or 25th May.

“Below: Soldier and Sailor, two of thirty shire horses employed to deliver beer within a three-mile radius of the brewery.”
The Sphere - Saturday 23 July 1960, page 35.

Now wasn’t that fun?


J. Karanka said...

Hi Ron

Theme pubs seem interesting. You have written about precedents. Didn't they have German bierkellers in London before WWI?

Chas said...

Here's a 1962 link to another Whitbread's pub opening in the Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall.

[very recently demolished]

Lee said...

They had them in New York for sure

Anonymous said...

I love the draft horses. Were they kept on for sentimental or marketing reasons, or was the cost of operating trucks in 1960 still high enough that keeping 30 horses was still a pure business decision?

John Lester said...

The five breweries were Chiswell Street, Hythe (Mackeson’s), Wateringbury (originally Leney’s), Stockport (originally Clifton’s), and Kirkstall (originally the Kirkstall Brewery).

Ron Pattinson said...

J. Karanka,

yes, but they weren't really themed pubs, more like real German beer halls.

Martyn Cornell said...

The Nag's Head in Covent Garden was actually acquired by McMullen's in the 1920s and leased to Whitbread for 40-off years until Covent Garden was redeveloped and Mac's realised what a gold mine they owned (I have a feeling I've said that here before ...)