While the Simonds business was being consolidated at Reading in the first half of the nineteenth century, fundamental changes were taking place in the organisation and structure of the British Army. In the early part of the century the soldiers’ food and drink was supplied by Sutlers who accompanied the army wherever it happened to be. This system had gradually been regularised into a pattern of regimental canteens. But at the time of the Crimean War in 1854 the Hon. Sir John Fortescue, a great authority on the subject, has written, “... as of all previous wars ... for all comforts and luxuries the army depended upon private adventurers.” He goes on to explain: “Vast changes, administrative and other, were effected in the Army during and immediately after the Crimean War, though the Indian Mutiny followed so closely upon it that the greater part of the Army was abroad, practically from 1854 till 1859. Foremost among these changes was the transfer of the Cornmissariat from the control of the Treasury to that of the War Office, and the establishment of what was called the Military Train, a forerunner of the present Army Service Corps.”
This reorganisation of army catering arrangements meant that it was possible for a concern like Simonds to build up a military connection in the same way that brewers in Southwark and elsewhere had built up a trade with the navy. This of course was facilitated by the concentration of military forces in nearby Hampshire.
Aldershot was originally purchased as a military exercising ground in 1853. Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort rode over the site with Lord Hardinge who had acquired it for the Government, and it was said that the Prince pointed to part of the newly acquired land and said: it would be a pretty site for a camp. Hardinge treated this as a royal command and sited the camp there without further question. It was opened for militia in 1855. It was the first and for many years the only training area for military manoeuvres. “The idea of an exercising ground was excellent” writes Fortescue, “for in time of peace there was only one quarter in the British Isles - Dublin - where troops enough could be collected even for the drilling of a brigade. Furthermore the situation of Aldershot, strategically, was well chosen. But there seems to have been some halting between the two opinions whether Aldershot should be merely a training ground or a permanent station; and apparently the Crimean war decided that it should be more or less permanent. As a kind of compromise, wooden huts were erected instead of stable buildings, and thousands of pounds were wasted in throwing up these shelters of green timber, which were cramped, uncomfortable and, in the matter of married quarters, not too respectful of decency. In fact, as one member of Parliament truly described it, Aldershot became a kind of squatters village; and through extreme bad management, the undesirable population, which invariably haunts a camp, was able to settle down close to it and yet beyond the reach of control. For the camp was placed on the edge of the government’s property; and the Government, having raised the value of the adjacent land, so to speak, against itself, was obliged later to buy it up at an excessive price. Altogether Aldershot at the outset was far from an attractive place.
Nevertheless the mere concentration of a comparatively large body of troops was productive of good to the soldier. At Aldershot crime diminished, while the general health of the men was bettered beyond precedent; and thus it was proved that with a little care the lives of thousands of men could be saved. Moreover, provisions could be bought in greater bulk and so retailed more cheaply to the rank and file. The soldiers were very suspicious of this latter change at first, but presently became reconciled to it, and then welcomed the improvement. The Commissarjat, of which more shall be said later, was learning its business, and the bread which it issued at Aldershot was far superior to that baked in London. Gradually these benefits were extended to foreign stations. . .“
With Simonds owning property at Sandhurst, an army connection had been made even before the Battle of Waterloo. On 15th June 1814, the year before Waterloo, Blackall Simonds wrote a letter, which is still preserved, about the supply of beer to Sandhurst.
I have taken the liberty to address you respecting the supply of your canteen at Sandhurst with Beer. Having supplied the College for some time past I beg leave to refer you to the Commanding Officer of the same for the satisfaction I have given should you have it in your power to assist me I shall esteem it a particular favour. I am Sir...Yr Obd. Svt."
So, the records say, the victory at Waterloo was duly toasted at Sandhurst in Simonds’ beer, and the firm was well placed for contracts for the supplies to the canteens of Aldershot, and to the public houses established there to serve the needs of the ever increasing static population.
During the second half of the nineteenth century Simonds became so closely associated with the army that they followed the troops overseas, establishing branches in Malta, Gibraltar, Egypt, South Africa and Cyprus.
The firm’s connection with Malta, for instance, started with the appointment of an agent there, Mr. Hearn - a relative of the Simonds family - in 1875. The trade flourished and in 1890 a branch was established which ultimately became Simonds-Farsons, and from 1928 - when the brewery at Hamrun was built - was associated with a famous local enterprise and became known as Simonds-Farsons-Cisk. A similar development from an agency to a branch took place at Gibraltar where it ultimately became associated with Saccone & Speed Limited, renowned as suppliers to the armed forces, and now a part of the Courage Group.
In this country these developed a speciality in catering for the troops which became a byword. Not only the regular army but the militia and volunteer forces were much taken up with manoeuvres. Whenever the time and place of such exercises were rumoured it was always said “Simonds’ man will know”. The firm in fact developed an innocuous intelligence service in order to be on the spot with their barrels and bottles even before for supplying the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1925. After the Second World War they reopened trade in Antwerp and acquired an interest in East African Breweries Ltd. in Nairobi, Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam.