Before the 1891 fire Courages had already established working arrangements with other brewery concerns. The water from the Horselydown well was admirable for the traditional London beers such as mild ale and stout and, long before the family concern became a public company, the Courage London-brewed beers had become popular outside the metropolis and overseas. But at that time it was thought that the Southwark water lacked the mineral ingredients required for a good pale ale - the increasingly popular bitter. By the eighteen-seventies Courages recognised the need to supply their customers with these other types of beer to meet public demand. In 1872, therefore, they contracted with Flower & Son of Stratford-on-Avon, brewers of a fine beer, to supply them with pale ale for their own distribution.
This arrangement depended of course upon the Victorian transportation system which was already well established. The beer came from Stratford to London by rail. It was then carted across the Thames to the brewery where it was assembled for redistribution. Significantly the youngest of the family partnership. Robert Michell Courage, was taking what was then a forward-looking interest in the problems of logistics. Although railway freightage had been revolutionizing brewery distribution over several decades, he saw a means of simplifying the pale ale operation by reverting to water- transport. So in the late eighteen-eighties the pale ale contract was transferred to Fremlins of Maidstone, whose brewery was on the banks of the Medway. Thus the casks of bitter went by tall- masted brown-sailed barges direct from the Medway into the Thames and up the tideway to the Courage wharf at Shad Thames. At the height of this operation some 32,000 barrels a year sailed in this leisurely fashion.
The brown sails of these beer ferries lingered on into the present (20th) century but not for long. By 1903 there was a further rationalization. It was clear then that it was better business for a prosperous concern such as Courages to acquire the means of production, particularly in an age when distribution was becoming more sophisticated. Courages decided to brew their own bitter beers in some place outside London where the water was suitable, and they began a search for an existing business to acquire. Their acquisition of Messrs. G. & E. Hall’s brewery at Alton in Hampshire was their first move outside London in the creation of the structure which has now become the Courage Group. It should perhaps be noticed that acquisition, merger and amalgamation - which in the contemporary term ‘takeover’ seems to represent so very much the idiom of this mid-century — has been almost a traditional element in the brewing industry.
After the early eighteenth century when brewing was entirely localised, popular demand and scientific methods created larger scale production and stablization of quality. This ‘with improving means, of distribution in the nineteenth century favoured larger units of production and throughout Victorian times there was a tendency for these larger units to take over the smaller breweries with their tied houses. Because of all the long term elements which make up a brewery concern, the tied houses,’ the maltings, the ‘water supply and the local goodwill, it has always been more desirable to acquire an existing concern rather than to start an entirely new one. It is difficult to name a brewing concern at the present day which is not in some way rooted in the takeovers of the past.
The Alton brewery had been bought by Henry Hall in 1841 and it possessed a historical interest in that the Manager, when it was acquired by Hall, was a certain James Newman Frost, who was a relative and friend of John Henry Newman, and the Cardinal had frequently stayed at the Brewers House. During the second half of the nineteenth century the brewery, deriving its exceptional qualities from the Alton wells, built up a substantial localized trade and its beers became well known in London. At the time of Courage’s acquisition in 1903, the output amounted to 20,000 barrels a year. The Hall concern was typical of the well established country- breweries of the period. It possessed its own maltings and its beers were largely brewed from Hampshire barley and hops. During the first decade of the present century Courages reconstructed the buildings and by the nineteen-thirties Alton was producing 4,000 barrels a week.
Alton continues to play an important part in the Courage Group. It is still in service but in these days of specialisation its main significance is as a Group canning and kegging plant. But for all the industrialisation of Alton, there lingers one noble aspect of the past which calls for a digression. Here, adjacent to the brewery, is the stable for the Courage dray-horses which, since the beginning of the nineteen-fifties have moved out of London to a neat well furnished Hampshire home. It is now acknowledged that there is no useful place for the brewer’s horse-drawn dray in this mechanised age. Courages still had fourteen working horses in London in 1951 when it was decided that horse- drawn vehicles were no longer commercially viable.
Fortunately, the splendour of the turn-out was recognised as something to be preserved not only for sentiment but for prestige and publicity purposes. So there remain at Alton six shire bay geldings with a noble dray in the Courage livery painted in maroon and gold. The team is maintained from new stock when occasion arises. Compared with their forerunners these great horses, each more than 17 hands, are much travelled. They go, by motor, all over the country to take part in parades and show events.
They serve as a reminder not only of the pride and glory of the past but also of the extent to which the breweries - more than most industrial enterprises - continued to rely very heavily on the services of the horses long after railways and even mechanised road transport were well established. For instance, in 1893 W. J. Gordon in The Horse-World of London saw the Courage horse as a permanent feature of London life: “The brewer’s horse is a splendid animal, the most powerful as a rule of London’s heavy brigade. At the Cart-horse Parade, in which teams of all classes compete, the first second, and third prizes were taken for the only two years in which they entered by Messrs. Courage, whose cart horses are generally sold for an average of £32 each, one of them having fetched fifty-one guineas, the highest price ever obtained for a horse cleared out of a stud as being past the work of the trade in which he made his first appearance in town. In fact, there is no stud in the kingdom of higher level excellence than that under Mr. Laird’s care at Horselydown, which is saying much, considering that the 3,000 horses owned by the larger London brewers are worth at the very lowest estimate £90 apiece.
“A barrel of beer weighs 4 cwt; a brewer’s van carries 25 barrels, which means 5 tons; the van itself weighs not less than 35 cwt., some of them weigh over 2 tons; the harness weighs three quarters of a hundred-weight; the men weigh - what? It is a delicate question. To answer it Mr. Laird weighed a drayman for us, a fine young man in his twenty-ninth year. He weighed 20 st. 10 lbs! And the horse he drove, a five-year-old gelding standing 17.2 and still growing, was then put on the scale, and dipped the beam at just over the ton.
“But this is hardly a fair average. Let us throw the men in with the sundries, and say these tremendous horses have to draw 8 tons; and this is for three horses worked unicorn fashion, two at the pole and one as leader. According to one horse-keeper, who had been twenty-seven years in his position, it now takes three horses to do the work that four did twenty years ago. ‘The vans have improved, the roads have improved, and the horses have improved, especially the horses’.”
When the Courage company was formed in 1889 the stud consisted of 78 heavy draft horses. In 1914 the stud had been increased to 104. The first large garage was erected at Horselydown in 1920 “to meet the new methods of delivery”.
Mechanization of transport was in fact the most significant aspect of the development of the brewing industry in the first three decades of this century, but the changes came slowly for the horse remained for so long the most economical form of transport for the short journeys with frequent stops entailed in delivery rounds. There was also - and this happily remains to this day - a feeling of pride and affection for the splendid horses associated with the trade. Henry Courage devoted himself to this side of the business in the early part of the century. His aim was for the firm to have the best horses on the road, and in this there was keen competition with other great breweries. The Courage teams were arranged in colour. His pride was the unicorns of three matched horses pulling a dray loaded with six tons of beer through the crowded streets of London. The family interest in transportation remained strong for he was succeeded by his son, H. Ernest Courage, and by the thirties when mechanization was almost complete the transport system came under supervision of Captain J. H. Courage.
But the transport revolution, which afterwards had such a potent effect upon the building up of the structure of the Group, was essentially gradual. Although the First World War had seen the disappearances of cavalry and the virtual elimination of horse-drawn vehicles for military purposes in favour of petrol driven power, many of the brewery concerns while retaining their horses turned their attention first to steam. The first mechanical vehicle purchased by Courages was a steam Foden bought in 1916 for £673, and between the wars the Foden steamers were a popular form of brewery transport which are still nostalgically remembered by older people and, when they can be found, collected by veteran enthusiasts.
Example of Foden Steam lorry from early 20th C.
Courages purchased their first Commer car during the First World War and in 1920 their first K type Leyland motor lorry which cost £1,310. By 1930 they were running 34 Leylands, 5 Fodens, 5 Morris Trucks, and 3 Trailers, and there -was still a stud of 32horses.A development which brought new pressure on the transport system early in the present century was the new popularity of bottled beers. At the turn of the century the tied-houses belonging to such concerns as Courages had a free hand to make their own arrangements for bottled beers. At that time the only large brewers who were bottling to any extent were Messrs. Whitbreads. To meet the growing popular demand for bottled beer with their own resources, Courages made their first move in 1904 by coming to an arrangement with the Star Bottling Company to supply their houses. When this did not succeed they contracted with various London firms - Messrs. M. B. Foster for Bass and Guinness, Messrs. R. P. Culley & Co. for Worthington and Guinness, and Messrs. Fremlin Bros. for all the lighter brands. This somewhat cumbersome arrangement weighed heavily on the transport system for the goods had to be collected by the brewery and special staff engaged to superintend deliveries. Bottling trade in fact increased so rapidly that Courages erected their own plant just before the First World War. By 1930 they were running a fleet of 27 bottled beer vans and lorries. In that year their output of bottled beers was some 54,000 barrels a year which represented about 25 per cent of the brewery’s output. From the times of John the Second the Courage policy had been to regard itself as a public-house, rather than a family trade concern. This had meant an ever increasing involvement in what may be loosely termed as “tied-houses”. This involvement from the last century into this has been described by G. N. Hardinge: “The firm’s method of dealing with its public house customers had been the loan method. Its practice was to lend money to business on mortgage of the freeholds or leaseholds of their houses. The pursuit of this method at one time led to the firm’s ceasing membership of Brewers’ Hall, which was enforcing restrictive regulations upon its members on the question of loans. To Courages it seemed best that the Brewery should have a free hand in the matter. As a result of maintaining this policy a very large number of public houses came within the scope of their trade. They would make the licensee a loan on first charge which advance he would usually follow up by a second loan from Pale Ale brewers, such as Bass’s, Worthington’s or Allsopp’s, who thus got the Pale Ale trade, and by a third charge loan from distillers, who thereby secured the spirit trade - the licensee himself finding the balance of the capital needed. Under this system Courage’s outstanding loans would be at times as high as a million sterling; the actual figure in 1887, for example, was £955,675. That was during the days when the business was still a partnership.
“A few years later much higher figures were attained. In the late Nineties came the great boom in the brewing trade. Cheap money and the lending of large sums by Banks and Investment and Insurance Companies, and competition among Brewers for the purchase of houses, were the features of the time, and the high prices which in consequence were commonly paid can certainly be described as inflated.
“With Courages the new development meant a further big increase in their loans, which in 1897 reached the colossal figure of £2;202,879, and in that year the output reached 333,400 barrels. To meet these heavy financial engagements fresh capital was issued, and the Company bought a large number of houses; and though it withstood the prevalent temptation to pay almost any price for properties, it nevertheless did pay some very high figures. Later this inflated finance of the Trade had the unfortunate result of drawing the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a further source of revenue.”
Like other great breweries, Courages became virtually bankers to a host of licensed victuallers in the areas in which they were operating which were ever wider as the business grew and the efficiency of transport increased. It was, and still is, an extremely personal business. It was uniquely personal in the case of one George Wyatt, a big man in business in a big way. He weighed well over 20 stone and, as a publican he controlled some fifteen houses for the promotion of which he needed the sizable sum of £100,000. The Courage directors of the period were impressed by Wyatt’s keenness and acumen but regarded the size of the operation as something of a risk, and therefore sought an endowment policy for a large sum on his life. The Insurance company demanded that Wyatt be weighed, but sufficient weights could not be found and hefty office ledgers had to be brought in to balance him on the scales. The precaution turned out to be unnecessary for Wyatt continued to prosper and outlived the policy. After the turn of the century the Company’s loans decreased and the policy of taking over ownership increased. Thus in 1900 the Company’s loans stood at just under £2 million while their estates were valued at about £950,000. By 1930 this balance was reversed - the loans standing at about £350,000 and the value of the estates having built up to well over £2+ million. Throughout all the developments which carried the company through its formation in the eighteen-eighties into the present century, the Courage family continuity was maintained. Robert Courage was the company’s first chairman from 1886 to 1893. He was succeeded by Edward Courage who steered the company with a firmly conservative policy through the inflationary period at the turn of the century until his death in 1904. He always maintained that dividends should never exceed 10 per cent, and this policy paid off when legislation brought fresh taxation on brewers and many public houses were depreciated in value. He had built up large reserves which were used to meet depreciation at a time when other breweries were forced to write down their share capital. He was succeeded by his son, Raymond Courage, who continued the policy during the period before the First World War when drink legislation was hitting the brewery trade particularly hard. Lloyd George’s Finance Act, 1910, (see First Schedule), heavily increased license duties. Until 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. The Act increased this to 50% of the gross assessment, with various other increases. The license duty of the Courage houses rose from £3,000 to £30,000 a year, making a further depreciation of £27,000 a year to be met. Again this was a case where other companies wrote down their capital, but Raymond Courage insisted that the £100 ordinary shares issued by the company should remain at £100 and that depreciation must be met out of income. This was a thin time for the shareholders, practically all members of the Courage family, for between 1910 and 1913 the dividend dropped to 1%.
The First World War of course brought massive drink legislation, a Beer Tax in 1914, restricted opening hours for public houses in 1915, restriction of output amounting to rationing in 1916, and restrictions in the average gravity of all beers in 1917 and 1918. At Horselydown, Courages, their staff depleted by war service, raised a Company of Special Constables and provided makeshift air- raid shelters in the cellars. Residents of Bermondsey whose parents used to come to draw water from the Horselydown wells now came to bed down on the hop pockets when the raiders came by night.
The business emerged unscathed to welcome a wave of prosperity which followed the war. It was still under the guidance of Raymond Courage as Chairman, and during this period there was remarkable intensity of family management. Commander A. V. Courage was Director in charge of production and the maintenance and improvement of public houses. Ernest Courage was Director responsible for transport. Oswald Courage was a Director principally concerned with the buying of materials, hops, etc. Captain J. H. Courage assisted the Commander in the general management of the public houses, and M. V. Courage assisted him - these two being responsible for interviewing all applicants for public houses since it was a rule that all applicants should be passed by a Director of the Company. In addition, Colonel M. R. F. Courage was in charge of the brewery at Alton and the houses attached to it.
At Horselydown the acquisition of freehold interest gave the company a free hand to carry out an ambitious rebuilding scheme which was carried out from 1925 onwards. It is significant that at that time the wooden cask was regarded not only as traditional but as permanent. A steam cooperage which had been instituted after the fire of 1891 was reinstalled, and G. N. Hardinge in his account of the brewery in 1932 states that: “the company makes all its own casks and buys its own timber”. By the nineteen sixties not a single cask was being made at Horselydown or indeed throughout the many breweries in the Courage Group. Steel had taken over.
The prosperity of the nineteen-twenties stemmed from the relaxation of war restrictions on output, a renewal of appetite for the pleasures of life, and a change from the attitude of people toward public houses and drinking. There was a more liberal attitude in social behaviour, a betterment of standards and a removal of the more squalid aspects of drinking which had lingered on since the nineteenth century. It was a period of much rebuilding and improvement in public houses. Much of the war time legislation and taxation remained. Indeed, the taxation of beer had continued to rise since the formation of the company. Beer duty in fact rose 16 fold between 1889 and 1920.
Nevertheless, Courages forged ahead by adapting to the new mood of the times by industrial reorganisation, by developing new amenities and by extending the whole pattern of the business.
The first expansion was north of the Thames, the acquisition of the Camden Brewery in Camden Town. The purchase was decided by the toss of a coin. Colonel John Courage and Charles Perkins, then representing rival concerns, were both interested parties in that they had both acquired seats on the board with an eye to future prospects. When a change of ownership became inevitable they did not bid against each other but settled by spinning. The concern formed into a public company in 1889, the same year as Courages had an output of 42,000 barrels a year supplying 78 of their own houses. It had been founded in 1859 and its heavy gravity beers were well established throughout the north-west side of London, a district where Courages at that time were scarcely represented and its beer unknown. After the takeover the superintendence, collection and division of houses were kept separate within the Courage business, and friendly rivalry was fostered between the Courage interests north and south of the Thames.
The other expansion in the nineteen-twenties was a rural one consolidating the Alton business. In 1927 Courages acquired the Farnham United Breweries Company on the Surrey/Hampshire border. With it went a holding of 196 licensed houses. Its output amounted to 45,000 barrels a year and it possessed its own maltings. In 1969 these were sold to the Farnham Maltings Association, an organisation of local citizens, for conversion to a Community Centre.
The Farnham Brewery was itself typical of the nineteenth century concerns which built up through amalgamation. In 1839 two brothers, Robert and John Barrett who were hop-growers in that district, renowned for its hop gardens, began a small enterprise which they named the Red Lion Brewery. For a decade or so it served the needs of the immediate agricultural community. Then the impact of wars made itself felt in this rural scene. At the end of the Crimean War the British Government bought a tract of land for the creation of a permanent army camp. Thus in 1856 began the military settlement of Aldershot. In that year there were only two publicans in the village of Aldershot. Three years later there were already twenty fully-licensed houses and forty beer houses. The opportunist who had most energetically cashed in on the army construction programme was a local hop grower and property owner named George Trimmer. He built a brewery at Farnham and immediately applied for licences in Aldershot entering into fierce competition with the Barretts. In fact every time the Barretts got a petition signed for a beerhouse to serve the ever increasing military population, Trimmer would obtain one next door or opposite. The struggle later caused redundancy and the closing of certain houses by the Magistrates. The Barretts did well enough with their enterprises in Aldershot, however, to expand in other directions. In 1866 they bought two small breweries with some twenty houses in the Basingstoke area. Their conflict with Trimmer resolved itself in 1889 when they joined forces to form Farnham United Brew- eries Company Limited with both families represented on the board. The Red Lion Brewery was closed down and the Farnham Brewery supplied the requirements of the united trade until Courages acquired it. Then the whole business was transferred to the Alton Brewery where the trade, after much rebuilding, had reached 120,000 barrels by the end of the twenties. By the beginning of the nineteen-thirties, therefore, the Courage enterprise was established as a metropolitan concern with London breweries north and south of the Thames allied with a substantial and widespread interest spread over Surrey and Hampshire and centred at Alton.