Monday, 28 January 2013

Bath Brewery Ltd.

I found this cautionary tale of overambition by accident. I was looking for stuff about Eldridge Pope and up popped this article about the Bath Brewery.

The company had been formed by the merger of five breweries, but the process of fusing them together hadn't gone smoothly. In particular, rationalising production in a single brewery hadn't been a great success. Sounds like they should have paid more attention to beer quality.

The annual meeting of the shareholders of this company was held on Tuesday at the Grand Pump Room Hotel. Mr. Walter Long, Chairman, presided, and there were also present Messrs. T. P. Ashley, Mark Baggs, H. F. Clotterbuck, J. M. Hibbard, and E. H. Morgan (directors), F. Cumberland (manager), Austin J. King (solicitor), Fox (Spain Bros, and Co.), L. C. Mundy (secretary), Colonel Fanshawe, Colonel Tabuteau, A. G. D. Moger, E. A. Green, J. G. Robertson, R. Baggs, W. H. 1 agart, H. Hibbard, W. Marsh, G. Strange, E. W. Wood, A. C. Mitchell, W. Home, R. H. Baggs, W. F. Milsom, T. Baggs, E. Baggs, J. Hibbard, and H. Riccard.

The report, which we have published before, was taken as read. It stated that the year's working left a balance available for dividend of £3,661 12s. 2d., and the directors recommended that a dividend of 6 per cent. on the Preference Shares be paid, and £361 12s. 2d. carried to reserve. Mr. R. B. Cater, it was stated, had resigned his seat on the Board.

The Chairman, in moving its adoption, said the working expenses had been reduced £1,808 compared with 1891, but pointed out that the gross profits were only £21,459 compared with £23,240, or a decrease of £1,781, which counterbalanced the results of their savings. This was due to a decrease in the trade of the Company, in 1890 they sold 19,257 barrels, in 1891 they sold 19,371, and in 1892 only 17,837. Dividing the trade under three heads :—The tied house trade, the free house trade and the private or family trade, the Chairman said as regarded the first they had a great many houses which he believed were well let and well managed, and earning a good income for the Company. Referring to the other class of trade Mr. Long reminded the meeting that five different breweries, all producing their own beers and doing an individual trade, were amalgamated, and that when the Company centred their operations at one brewery probably the tastes of the former customers were not suited. He would admit that at first some bad beer was sold, they had to use off old stocks, and other difficulties had to be contended with. That gave their beer a bad name and created a prejudice against it. It was the old story of "giving a dog a bad name and hanging him as soon as you like afterwards." He was sure now tbat their beer was as good as anybody could desire it to be. It was submitted with four other beers to a careful test by gentlemen believed to be competent judges, who knew the sort of beer likely to sell in the district. They had submitted to them Bass's ; Anglo-Bavarian ; Eldridge, Pope and Co. 's ; Messrs. Rogers's ; and Bath Brewery ; and two out of the three selected the last-named as being decidedly the best. They had fixed appliances to enable them to place on the market a bright pale ale, and he urged the shareholders to do their utmost to increase the trade of the Company so that a dividend might be paid on the Ordinary shares. He mentioned that the Company had purchased the Viaduct-hotel, and that they were endeavouring to do everything to extend their trade, while at the same time they kept down the expenses. The Chairman alluded with regret to the resignation of Mr. Cater, and said the Board had placed on record their appreciation of his services.

Mr. T. F. Ashley seconded the adoption of the report and accounts.

Mr. Tagart said they had heard various stories about the enormous sum that the promoter of the company was said to have extracted, he did not know whether the actual amount had been ascertained. He had beard £30,000 suggested. He absolved the Directors from any charge of having had anything to do with that plunder. But they could not absolve them entirely from the responsibility of having added that amount to the capital of the Company. Alluding to the retirement of Mr. Cater the speaker expressed the opinion that it could not bave been to the advantage of the Company to have as a member of the Board a gentleman who had been carrying on a very similar business. Mr. Tagart testified to the excellent quality of the beer sold by the Company saying he drank it regularly. He thought the shareholders could hardly be expected to sell beer which the Directors could not sell.

Mr. Ashley : We are not asking the shareholders to sell it.

Mr. Tagart : To induce their friends to buy it.

The Chairman said it would not help their business in any way whatever to go back into past history or to indulge in recriminations.

The report was then adopted. On the motion of Mr. Moger. seconded by Colonel Fanshawe, Messrs. Ashley and Clutterbuck were re-elected directors.

Referring to some anonymous letters which had been received by him, the Chairman said the Directors did not dream of taking any fees until a dividend on the Ordinary Shares was paid.

The auditors were re-elected and the meeting ended with a vote of thanks to the Chairman, proposed by Mr. Robertson and seconded by Mr. Tagart.

Col. Tabuteau said every shareholder had the utmost confidence in the Chairman."
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - Thursday 10 November 1892, page 3.

Even the combined company wasn't huge. They were brewing less than 20,000 barrels a year. Bass brewed over a million barrels a year at this point. Eldridge Pope had a 70 quarter brewery, which at 4 barrels to the quarter, 300 brewing days a year, gives a capaity of around 85,000 barrels.

The inclusion of Eldridge Pope's beer in the tasting is a demonstration of the high regard their beer was held in. It's there alongside Bass and two other renowned breweries, Anglo-Bavarian of Shepton Mallet and Rogers of Bristol. The latter being another brewery whose beer I've drunk, from the days when it was known under the inspiring name of Courage (Bristol). It was Rogers who took over the Bath Brewery in the 1920's.

From the complaints of the amount of money the promoter - that is the person pulling together the limited company - it's clear this was another slightly dodgy flotation. There were a few highly successful brewery company launches in the the 1880's and 1890's which seem to have initiated a bit of a mania. As in the dotcom boom, most companies were rather less successful and some launches were unadulterated fraud. The Bath Brewery seems to fall somewhere between incompetent and fraudulent.

It's clear from the anonymous letters sent to the chairman that the shareholders weren't happy bunnies. I'll have to see what happened later. But if they weren't doing well in the early 1890's - one of the most profitable periods ever for the British brewing industry - they were likely to struggle badly in the harsher conditions of the early 20th century.

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