The second generation of Georges and Rickettses seemed to have dominated the partnership until the time of Philip George’s death. Then they were joined by Richard Vaughan who belonged to a well known Bristol family of merchants and bankers. The Vaughans, in the course of time, replaced the Ricketts. When the last of that family died in 1860, £10,000 was paid out to his executors as a share of the capital. When the firm was incorporated as a limited company exactly one hundred years after its foundation, in 1888, Philip Henry Vaughan became the first Chairman of the Bristol Brewery Georges & Co., Ltd., as it was styled. A century of trading had built up a solid and substantial organisation. No wonder the public subscribed £6,300,000 in the first five hours of the first day of the public offer. The prospectus had stated that “The objects of the Company are to acquire, work and extend the well-known business of Georges & Co., Old Porter Brewery, Bristol, which is one of the largest Brewery businesses in the West of England, having been established just 100 years since by the ancestors of the present partners.
“The retirement of the Senior Partner at an advanced age, and the death of one of the Managing partners, make its present proprietors the more inclined to offer their business as a public investment and security. “While it is manifest that the profits of a business of this class must vary in the future as well as in the past, the average profit of the last ten years gives the following result:-
“Average Profit last ten years £43,778
"The business is conducted at Bath Street, Bristol, The Brewery premises are large and commodious with waterside frontage, enabling Malt and Coal barges to discharge direct into the Brewery.
"The business consists of brewing Vatted beers (for which this Brewery has long been celebrated), Mild Beers, Bitter Ales and Stouts.“In addition to its general trade, the Company will acquire 70 licensed houses, of which 63 are Freehold, and 7 Long Lease-hold, all free from Mortgage. There are also a number of Public and Beer Houses under obligation by loans and mortgage advances, besides about a dozen licensed houses leased to the Brewery.”
The success of Georges in going public made a deep impression upon other brewery concerns in the locality. Indeed, it inspired three local brewery firms and one local brewery company to form the Bristol United Breweries Limited, which was incorporated a year later in 1889 and which was to become a chief rival of Georges for more than sixty years.
The story of both concerns until their merger in 1956 follows parallel lines of expansion, both by the build-up of trade and by the takeovers which have been so characteristic of the brewery industry since the eighteenth century.
In the year following their incorporation Georges took over the Bedminster Brewery. Many smaller breweries were afterwards absorbed - The Bath Brewery Co., Ltd.; Walton Brewery Co., Ltd.; Hall & Sons, the Lodway Brewery; John Arnold & Sons, Wickwar; and the Ashton Gate Brewery Co., Ltd. Until 1910 United and Georges were running neck and neck; then Georges took over the houses of R. & W. Miller and steadily drew ahead. During this half-a-century of steady growth Georges retained its very personal character, and the atmosphere of the concern is well reflected in the recollections of F. E. Long who joined the firm in 1910 at 12/-d a week and ultimately became Senior Brewer. “A few incandescent gas lamps, but mostly naked gas-burners and tallow dips .. . In the Brewing Room, however, it was quite bright and warm, and I was greeted by Mr. Philip George, who was Mashing that day. He gave me a pile of loading lists, and told me to balance them with the Stores Stock Books, which at that time were kept by the Brewery Foreman. As I did not know how many firkins went to a barrel it was rather difficult, but I soon learnt. I have always found that the best way to learn a job is with the minimum instruction, think it out for yourself. In addition, I had work in the brewery, checking temperatures, etc., general office boy work, laboratory work, and assistance with the wages. Doing this job, I realised that the Directors were concerned with welfare in those early days. The wages (minimum) were 18/- per week, 6. a.m. to 6. p.m.; 6. a.m. to 2. p.m. on Saturdays. The wages, though apparently small, were 2/-d a week higher than comparable employment in other firms. There was another matter which I thought extremely good for those days. Once a man was recognised as a permanent employee., he was granted during sickness two days pay per week. This compares very favourably with present-day Sickness Benefit, and was a gift and not paid for as at present. There was also a bonus of 1d in the £l for each 1% of dividend.”
Mr. Long includes in his reminiscences an interesting note on the relationships between the rival brewery concerns. “In the early days there were conditions of strict secrecy, on account of so- called ‘trade secrets’. I could not understand this, as there were many text-books by brewers and consultants long before this - I have one dated 1885.
“This secrecy was so strictly enforced that once, when I had to take a message to Mr. Cann (‘Bristol Bill’) at the United Brewery, I was told to go in at the back entrance and straight to the Brewer’s Office. I felt like a thief in the night. This attitude did not change until the early part of the Great War, when brewers had to give all kinds of information in order to make the best use of materials, then in short supply.”
This traditional air of secrecy was certainly manifest again in 1956 when negotiations between the two great rival breweries began. The idea of a merger was not entirely novel since Georges had approached Bristol United at the beginning of the century and again in the nineteen-twenties. When Mr. A. C. Hadley, Chairman of Georges, began his talks with Mr. A. R. Boucher, a director of Bristol United and son of its Chairman, negotiations were conducted in private houses. The secret was very well kept; the parties indeed did not even entrust clerical work to confidential clerks in the normal way, and the drafting of the transfer terms was effected and copied in manuscript by the members of one Board or the other. No whisper of the impending amalgamation had been given until the formal announcement was made in February 1956. Yet it was typical of the brewery industry in the west country that the amalgamation had all the characteristics of a friendly treaty. Indeed, it brought back to Georges Brewery one of the family names that had been associated with it from the very beginning. It was Isaac Hobhouse who had at first built a brewery on that site in 1730. His descendant Mr. H. C. Hobhouse came over from Bristol United to become a director of Georges.
When Bristol United started as a public company in 1889 they had not fared so well as Georges, at least not through press support. One London newspaper whose request for the advertisement of the prospectus had been turned down, published a lengthy attack on the issue headed “A Queer Beer Prospectus”. Public support nevertheless was forthcoming, and B.U.B. Limited were soon launched on a career of expansion and acquisition which began with their takeover in 1897 of Daniel Sykes & Company Limited, proprietors of the Redcliff Brewery, one of Bristol’s oldest having been established in 1753.
Many of the records of B.U.B. were destroyed in the German air attacks on Bristol in 1940. One curious detail preserved from the beginning of this century concerns the original auditors who had looked after the company since its inception. At the Annual General Meeting in 1902 this firm made the unexpected announcement that it did not seek re-election. It seems that the partner responsible for the brewery accounts had aligned himself with various teetotal interests in presenting a memorial to the local Justices containing severe strictures - upon the Licensed trade, and his conscience forbade him to continue to benefit professionally from beer. Strict teetotalism, however, began to flag as the century wore on, and at the time of the amalgamation the auditors were restored to look after the affairs of Georges.
Two amalgamations of special significance to B.U.B. took place during the present (20th) century, the acquisition in 1925 of the Oakhill Brewery and of the Charlton Brewery in 1937.
The village of Oakhill in the Mendips was a remote, almost unlikely setting for an important enterprise. Yet it was already flourishing in the eighteenth century, having been founded in 1767. The Rev. John Collinson in his history of Somerset published in 1791, referring to the parish of Ashwick, wrote: “A great part of the hamlet of Oakhill lies within this parish.. . it is now only famous for a large Brewery carried on with a great reputation by Messrs. Jordan and Billingsley and both these gentlemen have good houses there.”
It is known that Jordan left the business and that Billingsley carried on until his death in 1811 when he was succeeded by W. P. Jillard. Oakhill Cottage which was Jillard’s home was demolished in 1872 as not being grand enough for its then owner; while Billingsley’s house, Ashwick Grove, was demolished in 1956 as being too large and grand for everyday use. The Jiliards dropped out and the Spencer family came in and were in command when the concern went public like so many others in 1889. To celebrate the inauguration of the Oakhill Brewery Co., Ltd., a grand dinner was held inside a 500 barrel vat.
The following year maltings were established at Oakhill covering not only the needs of the brewery but supplying other breweries at Shepton Mallet and Bristol. But the product which became so famous that it was sold all over the country was Oakhill Invalid Stout. A pair of traction engines maintained a line of communication between the brewery and the nearest rail-head at Binegar. They were sometimes hard-pressed for in its heyday the output of the Oakhill Brewery was between 2,000 and 2,500 barrels a week. Because they damaged the roads of Mendip, they were replaced, in 1904, by a 3’ gauge railway-line between Oakhill and Binegar, on which two engines called “Oakhill” and “Mendip” pulled truckloads of Oakhill stout. This intriguing little line was dismantled in 1919, when engines, rolling stock and track were sold to the contractors who were at that time constructing Barry Docks.
The descendants of Isaac Hobhouse became connected with the Oakhill Brewery at the beginning of the present century. Mr. H. C. Hobhouse writes: “My father, Mr. (later Sir) Reginald A. Hobhouse had married the daughter of Mr. F. Spencer, but the Hobhouse family had in fact been connected with brewing for a considerable time, my great-great-grandfather having been a Managing Partner in Whitbread’s Brewery in 1800. The Hobhouse family were related by marriage to the Jillard family, for when, in 1872, my grandfather first met Mr. F. Spencer, he had come to Oakhill to settle up the affairs of a Mrs. Jillard, for whom he was an executor. It was this meeting that eventually led him to ask Mr. F. Spencer to take his son, my father, into the business in 1904”.
The First World War, with its restrictions on the use of grain and difficulties in distribution from such a relatively remote base, led to a decline in this remarkable village industry. A disastrous fire in 1925 - how often these fires change the course of brewing history - dealt a fatal blow to Oakhill and the business was taken over by Bristol United. But the industry at Oakhill has not waned. The maltings were maintained by their new owners and are now with modern equipment, an important element in the activities of the Courage Group. The Charlton Brewery at Shepton Mallet was another venture which flourished from deep country roots. During the eighteenth century when the wool trade was still thriving in Shepton Mallet, the factory was built at Charlton on the outskirts close to a spring which supplied pond water sufficient to drive the water-wheels. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the wool trade had declined and the factory fell into disuse. But it was solid and well sited and the active spring of good water attracted the attention of Francis Berryman, the son of a wine and spirit merchant in Wells who had carried on a small brewery concern in that town in conjunction with the family business. He decided to open a new brewery at Charlton and took as his partner William Bide who was in the glove business in Yeovil - then the centre of glove-making. The firm was designated Bide and Berryman, but its management was entirely in the hands of Francis Berryman, who took over with the factory, a dwelling house, yard, stabling, eight cottages, a ‘plantation’, two large ponds and the water-powered equipment which that served. When he arrived in 1844 he built No. 1 Maithouse by the millpond and No. 1 Cellar by the yard. The wages account for this work shows that the ‘walling masons’ were paid 8/-d a week and the ‘banker’ masons and carpenters 18/-d a week.
For the first decade it was a struggle to make the business pay. But between 1856 and 1886 things greatly improved. The Bide family withdrew in 1865 and Charles R. Burnell, an enterprising young man with good brewing experience, became a partner in the following year.
Between 1866 and 1884 the business expanded considerably and the name changed again to Berryman, Burnell & Co. When it became a limited company in 1886, C. R. Burnell was Chairman with two Berrymans as Directors. The two families continued in active management until the merger with the B.U.B. in 1937. At the time of writing the Charlton property is still in use as a depot for the Courage Group. It is inevitable that the placid self-sufficient life of such enterprises should taper with the increased pressures and need for centralisation in this century. The mill pond is still pretty but covered with vegetation. The water-wheels have long since ceased to play their part in the production. Though the factory premises and the yards are still full of activity the elegant brewer’s house stands empty in its walled garden. After being a private residence it served its time as brewery offices but now, in its empty well-proportioned rooms, an atmosphere of spacious good living still lingers. One can well imagine some former occupant as a rustic Thrale who enjoyed elegance and good comfort but who nevertheless kept open his pass door to the brewery yard so that he could slip away at all times to keep an eye on the brewing and make his important decisions.
Bristol United Breweries and its Oakhill and Charlton subsidiaries and other acquisitions by Georges, notably Hall & Sons of Lodway (acquired in 1911), and the Ashton Gate Brewery (acquired in 1932), provide other examples of family continuity. Reference has already been made to Captain Isaac Hobhouse and to the Hobhouse family. Mr. H. C. Hobhouse was a director of B.U.B. at the time of its acquisition by Georges and became a director of Georges. Mr. Charles Robert Hancock, a director of the Redcliff Brewery. Daniel Sykes & Company Limited, one of the early constituents of the B.U.B. became a Director of B.U.B. and was joined there by his son-in-law, Mr. G. H. Boucher who later became its Chairman. He, in his turn, was joined by his son, Mr. A. R. Boucher who ultimately became a Director of Georges. The three generations of this family were all Solicitors. On the acquisition of the Lodway concern Mr. Joseph Hall became a Director of Georges. His brother Frank joined the staff later, becoming a member of the board and, after the First World War, Joint Managing Director. On his death in 1926 he was succeeded by Mr. Joseph Hall, father of Mr. John Hall a Director of Courage (Western) Ltd. Similarly, Mr. Inman Harvey and Mr. William Harvey became Directors of Georges following the acquisition of their family business, the Ashton Gate Brewery Co., Ltd., in 1932.
Such units as Oakhill and Charlton had gone to build up the strength of B.U.B. and there was a Hobhouse and a Burnell on the Board when the amalgamation with Georges took place in 1956.
The merger of the two giants of West Country brewing did away with much redundancy and duplication. It was a well consolidated integrated organisation which joined the Courage Group, a year after the arrival of Simonds, in 1961.