Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The transformation of James Aitken & Co.

There a few threads running through the reports in the Falkirk Herald about Aitken's brewery. There's the attempts to secure a water supply. Then the series of nasty accidents. But there's another that documents how Aitken's business was transformed around 1900.

First there's the death of John Aitken in 1898:
The death took place at Falkirk to-day of Mr John Aitken, head of the well-known firm of James Aitken & Co., brewers, Falkirk. Deceased, who was about 65 years of age, was a native of Falkirk, his father being the late Mr James Aitken, brewer. Mr Aitken served his apprenticeship as a brewer in Edinburgh, and afterwards was engaged as manager in a large brewery in England. On the death of his father he returned to Falkirk, and with the late Mr Hardie, assumed the joint control of the business. On Mr Hardie's death a number of years ago, he took the entire management of the concern. He was a keen golf player, and was president of the golf club at Gullane, where he built a residence.
Edinburgh Evening News - Friday 15 April 1898, page 4.
He was succeeded by his son, appropriately called James Aitken. The brewery held a normal public-house licence, which strangely was in the name of the head of the brewery. There wasn't really a pub at the brewery. They just required a licence to be able to sell beer to the public and that was the one they were given. In reality they only made off sales, though technically they could have sold beer to be consumed on the premises. It was a quirk of licensing in Falkirk that brewers and bottlers had full on-licences even though they only made off sales.
At a sitting of Falkirk Burgh Licensing Court to-day, Provost Weir presiding, James Cameron Turner, Oban, was granted a transfer to the grocer's license in High Street, formerly held by William C. Baird. A public-house license for the sale of beer at the Falkirk Brewery, held by the late John Aitken, brewer, was transferred to James Aitken, his son. Mr Fivey, of Fivey & Muir. publicans, High Street, having died, the license was transferred in the meantime to Mr Borthwick Watson, executor of the estate, but it was explained that it would be necessary at some future time to transfer it to Mr James Muir, the other partner of the firm.
Edinburgh Evening News - Tuesday 16 August 1898, page 3.

Aitken's new brewery was opened in December 1900 after two years of construction. Which means it must have been started in 1898, the same year John Aitken died. Even before the new plant was finished, the company had gone public:
Falkirk Brewery. -
Among the new stock companies registered in Scotland this week is that of James Aitken and Co., Falkirk, which is to acquire the brewer's business carried on in that name at Falkirk: capital, £150,000 in £10 shares: the subscribers being James H. Aitken, Falkirk: Misses E. Aitken, Mary H. Aitken, Helen T. Aitken, Lily E. Aitken, Agnes Alice Aitken, and Mrs Elizabeth M. Aitken.
Falkirk Herald - Saturday 9 June 1900, page 4.
Looking at the list of subscribers, it doesn't look that public. Everyone on the list is an Aitken. How ere they related? Was Mrs Elizabeth M. Aitken James Aitken's wife or his father's widow? Probably the latter. And the five Miss Aitkens - were they James Aitken's daughters? Hang on a minute. How old could James Aitken be? His father died at the age of "about 65". He couldn’t have been older than his early forties. In which case he'd be struggling to have five adult daughters.

£150,000 was a considerable amount back in those days, when painters were earning 8d an hour. Even £10 was a lot of money. The top copper in Falkirk, the Superintendent of police, only earned £65 a year.

This gives us some idea of the value of the new brewery. What was beung assessed was the rateable value, supposedly the annual rent that could be acquired for the premises. The rateable value was the basis of local rates, the tax imposed by the council.

Messrs James Aitken and Co. appealed against the valuation proposed to be put on their old and new brewery.

Mr Hunter appeared for the appellants, and said that last year the old and new breweries were assessed at £400 each. The assessor now wished to raise the valuation to £1500. He did not know how he arrived at that figure. This year the assessor wished to reduce the valuation of the old brewery to £300.

The Assessor- No, no; there is no separate valuation. The £1500 includes the whole thing.

Mr Hunter (continuing) said that £300 was far too much for the old brewery, which was practically useless, and had been idle for some time. He submitted that £200 would be a fair valuation for it. Rosebank Distillery was only valued at £830, and yet Mr Bunbury wished to have the brewery assessed at £1500. That figure was excessive. The new building, apart altogether from the moveable plant, cost £16,000. He was quite willing to take it at 5 per cent which would make £800, and to agree to a valuation of £200 for the old brewery - making a rental of £1000 in ail. This- would be the largest valued property they would have in the district.

The Assessor said that 6 per cent. was the  amount taken on business premises, and that rate had been observed all along. That was below what other towns imposed. The regular thing was, he thought, 7 per cent. He had not had the time to scrutinise the different machines and he had accepted his statement as to £16,000 being the cost, although it might be open to question if they went into it thoroughly. He would accept £1100 as the valuation.

The Provost moved that £1100 be fixed and this was agreed to.
Falkirk Herald - Wednesday 11 September 1901, page 4.

The new brewery, inclusive of the fixed machinery (which I take to mean things like the mash tuns, coppers and fermenters), had cost £16,000. If only you could still build a big new brewery for that money. I'd have two. Incidentally, Aitken seems to have appealed every year about the valuation of their brewery. The council probably deliberately over-valued it in anticipation of an appeal.

Finally, Aitken now had a disused old brewery on their hands. One that was costing them money because it added to the rateable value of their premises. They tried to sell it, but had no takers:

The Property Market. -
A number of properties were exposed for sate in the Crown Hotel on Thursday afternoon. The property at No 10 High Street, Falkirk, with the site and buildings of the old Falkirk brewery, were exposed for sales. There were no bidders, however, and the sale was adjourned. Messrs John & W. K. Gair & Gibson, writers, Falkirk, were the agents.
Falkirk Herald - Saturday 15 February 1902, page 4.

They can't have had much luck trying to unload the old brewery, because 9 months later this appeared:

The committee had again under consideration the offer of James Aitken and Co. (Falkirk), Ltd., to sell the old brewery to the Town Council, but the committee could not see their way to recommend the Town Council to entertain the offer in the meantime.
Falkirk Herald - Saturday 22 November 1902, page 6.

Doesn't sound like the council was very keen on taking it on. And why should they be? The company were still paying rates on the building.

In a period of just four years the head of the firm had changed, a new brewery had been built, the company floated and the old brewery abandonned. Exciting and challenging times.

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