THE CENTURY through which the Courage family were building and consolidating the business witnessed many changes and important events outside the Brewery, directly or indirectly affecting its fortunes, and it passed through difficult times, in the reigns of George III, George IV, William IV, and Queen Victoria. Through the Napoleonic Wars and the days of Nelson and Wellington, the Courages had seen many legislative changes too, but nothing equal to what occurred in the nineteenth century when a stream of legislation was poured out which directly affected the trade - the tax on making barley, and Mr. Gladstone’s free mash tun with the duty on Beer; the Alehouse Act of 1828, the Beerhouse Acts of 1830 and subsequent years, the Licensing Act of 1872, and many another statute in which the State intervened to regulate the trade. In all these years the Courages had worked incessantly at their business, first with the Donaldsons, and during the last 50 years on their own account, and were finally in a position to float a Company for one million pounds. The secret, or rather the plain cause of their success was a very sound system of finance - viz.: the putting back of all the profits into the business: they lived only upon the interest on capital, as has already been recorded. For years the three Partners, Robert, Edward and Henry Courage, received quite small incomes, and although their profits were large, they were never spent; so the Stock or Capital Account increased from the small beginning of £7,485 in 1797 to £I,238,742 in 1887, the result of 90 years of the strictest economy, attention to work and detail, and devoted service to the family business.
It is a record of which any one might feel proud, for during those years the Courages helped the revenue of their country, and created employment not only in their own business but in the agricultural and allied trades which were then, as now, so closely connected with brewing.
On 21st May, 1889, Messrs. Prescott, Cave, Buxton, Loder & Co. issued the Prospectus for floating the Company with a Capital of 4,000 Preference Shares of £100 each ... £400,000 11,000 Ordinary Shares of £100 each ... £1,100,000 £1,500,000
The three Partners, Robert Courage, Edward Courage and Henry Courage were appointed the Directors, and John Watt junior, who had served the Company since 1847, acted as Secretary. It may be of interest to recall the conditions and quality of brewing which immediately followed the establishment of Courages as a Company. The duty was 6/3d per barrel. The wholesale prices were as follows :-
Price Retail per barrel Price (subject to 5% Discount)
Porter 30/- 1½d pint Stout 43/- 3d " Double Stout 53/- 3d " Imperial Stout 63/- 4d " Mild Ale XX 33/- 2d " Strong Ale 48/- 4d " Strong Ale 58/- 4d " Pale Ale (Fremlins) 40/- 4d "
The newly formed Company continued to prosper, and paid a regular dividend of 10% (placing large balances to reserve) for the years from 1889 to 1899 ; but then the effect of the depreciation of houses began to be felt.
ROBERT COURAGE (1852-1893) Chairman 1888, died 31st December 1893, aged 63
On December 31st 1893, Robert Courage, the senior partner and first Chairman of the Company, died at the age of 63. He had been most assiduous all his life in attention to the business, and a most energetic worker, and at the same time a man of the most kindly disposition. He resided for many years at Moushill Manor, at Milford near Godalming in Surrey, and afterwards at Snowdenham Hall, Bramley, also near Godalming, and which he built in 1887 but did not live long to enjoy.
He was succeeded as Chairman by his brother Edward Courage, who had entered the brewery as Partner in 1856.
EDWARD COURAGE (1856-1904) Chairman 1894, died 10th June 1904, aged 71
In 1894 the Company lost the services of John Watt junior. He died after 47 years’ service, thus ending an unbroken term (including father and son) of 80 years with the Firm and Company. He was succeeded as secretary by Mr. G. N. Hardinge, who joined the Company on its formation in 1889, and later became Managing Director.
To meet the constant demands for capital an issue of £400,000 3½% Debenture Stock at 107½ was made in 1897 through Messrs. Prescott Dimsdale & Co., of 50 Cornhill, E.C. This was readily subscribed, and proved the extreme cheapness of money in those days, outvying even present conditions.
The 19th century saw a further increase of legislation, which continued into the 20th century. In 1904 we had the Compensation Act, placing fresh taxation on brewers ; while houses continued to depreciate in value. This fall had to be met by writing off against profits, and the dividends, which had always been 10%, were reduced.
It is well to allude now to the conservative policy of the Chairman, Mr. Edward Courage, who had all along maintained that in such a precarious and dangerous trade the dividend should never exceed 10%. By the pursuit of this policy large reserves had been built up, which were now used to meet the depreciation ; while some Breweries had to meet the situation by writing down their Share Capital.
In 1904 Mr. Edward Courage died. The Company sustained a great loss by his death. His strong and sterling character, his wise judgment, his sound knowledge of finance, and his devotion to work, had helped greatly to build up the business during his connection with it of 48 years.
He resided nearly all his life at Shenfleld Place, Shenfleld, Essex, where he was much esteemed and respected. He was a great supporter of hunting and a liberal donor to many good works. He entered the Brewery as a partner in 1856, became a Director in 1889, and Chairman from 1894 to 1904. Mr. Raymond Courage, his son and the present Chairman (1932), succeeded him.
(Shenfield's recreational areas include the Courage playing fields on the Chelmsford Road and playing fields on Alexander Lane, next to Shenfield High School. The Courage playing fields contain a play area and a cricket pitch used by the third team of Shenfield Cricket Club. Next door to the Courage playing fields is the cricket club itself. The land was granted by the Courage brewing family for use by the cricket club. The club's badge is a cockerel, which echoes both the trade mark of the Courage brand and the weather vane on St Mary's church).
The heavy depreciation of licensed premises, and the cost of writing them down, had greatly reduced the profits of the Company, but there was another heavy blow in store for the Brewing Trade. The excessive boom of an earlier day had shown up the potential value of licensed premises, and that astute politician Mr. Lloyd George, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced in 1909 the Finance Bill, which gained so much notoriety, particularly when it was held up by the House of Lords. It eventually became law as the Finance (1909-10) Act, 1910, (18Mb). Among its other achievements was a heavy increase in license duties.
Up to that time the license duty for a public house had been £10 above 10% of its gross assessment, with a maximum of £60 per annum. Beer houses only paid £3.15.0 per annum.
The new Act increased the license duty to 50% of the gross assessment for fully licensed houses up to those assessed at £500 a year; if above that amount, their owners might apply for an Annual Licence Value. The duty on beer houses was raised to one-third of their gross assessment.
This drastic legislation raised the licence duties of the Company’s houses from £3,000 to £30,000 a year, making a further depreciation of £27,000 per annum to be met. It was a heavy blow after what the Company had already gone through. Though other Brewery Companies wrote down their Capital the Chairman of Courage & Co., Mr. Raymond Courage, following his father’s policy, with the approval of the other Directors, insisted that the £100 ordinary shares which the Company had issued should remain at £100, and that depreciation must be met out of income. This policy was carried out, but it fell very heavily on the shareholders, who were practically all members of the Courage family, for the dividend dropped to 1% for four years (1910 to 1913 inclusive), but they had confidence in the management, and bore their troubles loyally and without complaint.
In 1903 the Company had acquired the Alton Brewery (as described in a previous chapter) for the brewing of the Company’s own Pale Ales. These were gradually introduced in the place of Fremlin’s, and were of great advantage in increasing the trade of the houses and improving the profits. They were of excellent quality and very consistent in character, and became very popular in London. In a further effort to meet these losses of income and improve the profits the Schneible Hill process for producing chilled and filtered beers was introduced at the instance of Mr. A. V. Courage. It cost the Company, with the various incidental alterations in building, £50,000. This process made a great improvement in the beers, increased the sales, and lessened the returns. Luckily it was installed and completed in July 1914, just before the Great War broke out on August 4th.