The arrival of the nineteen-seventies added a significant northern dimension to the Group and some rich new facets of character. The interests of John Smith’s Tadcaster Brewery which merged with those of Courage in October, 1970 included some 1800 pubs, hotels and freehold clubs - spread over Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, County Durham, Cheshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and parts of Cambridgeshire and Shropshire.
Johns Smith's brewery, Tadcaster The origins of the John Smith’s Group were diverse, stemming from the eighteenth century like other members of the Courage Group but contrasting in character and in the nature of its historical build-up over the years. Whereas the concerns in London, Reading and Bristol were closely related to rivers as a means of transportation and to a metropolitan and agricultural population growth, the Tadcaster enterprises were related to a road and were much concerned with industrial growth.
There is an historical link between Southwark and Tadcaster which is very direct. Though it is not immediately relevant to brewing history it is of significance to the foundation of both places. It is the Roman road system which crossed the Thames at Southwark close to the Anchor Brewery and which passes the gates of the Tadcaster Brewery on its way to nearby York.
The existence of this ancient highway and of abundant springs of water at Tadcaster led to the establishment of breweries in that town in mediaeval times. When the township was the Roman staging post it was called Calcaria, a direct reference to the magnesium limestone rocks at Tadcaster which yield a hard water rich in sulphate of lime, comparable to the natural water of Burton which became renowned for brewing. There is no evidence to show that the Romans themselves made beer at Tadcaster though the records of the 9th and the 6th Legions, both based in York, are well documented. It is known, ho\\ ever, that there were two breweries or brew -houses at Tadcaster in 1341 - one of them paid 8d in taxes that year and the other 4d. In about 1400 the best ale sold for 1½d per gallon, but a century later the price had risen to 3d a gallon.
Another similarity in the placing of Southwark and Tadcaster in the Roman and mediaeval setting is that they were both on the approaches to bridges of strategic and commercial importance. Though the Tadcaster Brewery lies on the highway well away from the bridge and has very rarely resorted to water transport. the town owes much of its importance, as did old Southwark, to the crossing of the river - the Wharfe - first by a Roman ford, later by a bridge which was of strategic significance for instance at the time of the Civil War when the Battle of Marston Moor was fought nearby.
The old Roman road has of course continued as a great turnpike highway and it was natural that successions of inns and resting houses should have been built along its route. Five inn-keepers are recorded as being in business in Tadcaster in 1378. The place was also a post town with a post office registered in the time of Charles I for regular communication between London and York. There is plenty of evidence too that the carriage of mail, treasure and wealthy personages led to the highway being a target for robbery with violence. When the sum of 2050 marks was conveyed from London to York in 1319, a journey taking ten days, the guard from London to Huntingdon was eight horsemen, but on reaching the neighbourhood of Tadcaster this was increased to eleven horsemen and twelve able archers on foot, all armed and equipped with tipped arrows. It was Robin Hood country.
By the eighteenth century Tadcaster was enjoying great prosperity as a post town. In the hey-day of coaching some fifty stage coaches passed through and more than thirty of them changed horses in the town daily. These were augmented by great numbers of post-chaises and private vehicles of all kinds.
Very active in the coaching business were Messrs Backhouse and Hartley, partners in the small brewery which eventually came into the hands of John Smith. Together they horsed the York and Liverpool mail coach, and the York and Liverpool “Highflyer". On alternate days they horsed the "Alexander”, another Li\erpool coach providing a team for the fifteen mile journey from Tadcaster to Leeds, the same team bringing back the return coach the same night. In 1777 Backhouse took over Tadcaster's leading coaching inn, the White Horse, where four of the eight London stage coaches, four in each direction, were horsed daily. On his own account Hartley was originally postmaster at Tadcaster in the days before the mails were carried by coach. In 1786 when the change took place he and his son set up a posting establishment to horse the Royal Mails between Tadcaster and York. He seems to have been a diversifier for he also had a share in Deacon Harrison & Co., who operated heavy baggage-wagons - “slow-coaches” - and he is recorded as horsing the well-known Leeds and Scarborough coach, the "Prince Blucher".
But the one asset of lasting value which these shrewd men of business created was their brewery. The Industrial Revolution swept across the north of England and brought in its wake the railroads which dramatically swept away the valuable coaching traffic from the old Roman road. The coaching inns of Tadcaster had been closing their doors for some years when the railway reached the town in 1847 and Tadcaster had begun to have the appearance of a ghost town. The brewery however remained. The partners did not live to see the building of the railway station and by that time the business had passed into the hands of Jane Hartley and it was from her representatives that John Smith acquired it in 1847.
Smith was only 24 years old when he took on the somewhat daunting task of nursing a run-down brewery in a depressed town to meet the demands of a changing world. The measure of his success was that, at the time of his death in 1879, he and his partners were planning the building of a new brewery at a cost of £130,000 which opened and flourished a few years after his death.
It is difficult to specify any one reason for John Smith’s success. Like so many young men who made good in the earlier part of the nineteenth century - and contrary to general belief it was a young man’s world - he seems to have been imbued with remarkable energy, much versatility, and a gift for recognising the needs of changing times. He diversified, farming extensively, feeding fat cattle on a fairly large scale, and involving himself with the limestone quarries for which Tadcaster was famous (having supplied much stone for York Minster). As a brewer he was keenly aware of, but undaunted by, the booming breweries of Burton-on-Trent. He saw in their success opportunities for the modernisation and expansion of the hitherto localised Tadcaster business. With his brother William who was to succeed him, he set out to furnish a product of the quality that changing public taste demanded, a clear beer which was becoming popular with the replacement of the traditional pint mug by the glass.
Not least of his qualities was an ability to choose the right man and to create good working conditions as the concern grew and spread. He employed Joseph Grimston, a rule-of-thumb brewer of the old school who was, nevertheless, a gold-medal-winner. Grimston was an individualist who insisted on doing things with his own hands, grinding the malt, mashing, running the wort into the copper, seeing it boiled and himself pumping it from the copper to the coolers. He was succeeded as Head Brewer by Percy Clinch who was appointed by H. H. Riley-Smith and who belonged to a later school of scientific brewing. It was Clinch who managed to overcome the suspicion that lingered in the minds of consumers that there could be anything wrong with a beer that was bright and clear. It was in Clinch’s time, too, that John Smith’s was among the first to establish its own laboratory, its equipment being described in early records as “paraphernalia”. It is often said at Tadcaster that Clinch’s ghost walks the brewery, for much of the technique and method which he instituted has continued as an efficient routine in this century.
When John Smith died in 1879 he had established Tadcaster without question as a brewing centre and the old days of depression following the collapse of stage coach traffic were forgotten.
It should be mentioned that the death of John Smith caused a curious situation locally which still intrigues visitors to Tadcaster. For next to the brewery which now contains the business of John Smith is the Old Brewery operated by Samuel Smith & Company which is an entirely separate organisation though it is housed in the original brewery premises from which William Smith moved his business toward the end of his life. The reason for this strange juxtaposition lies in John Smith’s will. His brother Samuel Smith was a tanner in Leeds and John left his personal estate in equal shares to his brother Samuel and to his bachelor brother William who was with him in his business. His real property of which the Old Brewery formed part was left to the two brothers as tenants in Common for their joint lives; on the death of one to the use of the successor and thereafter entailed generally to the heirs of Samuel Smith. As such items as the barrels and equipment of the brewery came into the category of personal estate, William purchased Samuel’s half share. Brother Samuel died in 1880, and William realizing that the business would go to his brother’s heirs and not to his sister Sarah Riley’s children, who had gone into partnership with him, proceeded to build the new Brewery and before his death transferred the business and the Trade name from the Old Brewery to the new one.
On his death in 1886, the Rileys, as a result of a testamentary request added the name of Smith to their surname. Another result of his death was that the Old Brewery, by that time out of use, reverted to Samuel Smith junior who found himself denied a thriving business which by this time was being carried on next door under the name of and with the goodwill of the founder.
After taking legal advice and finding that as heir to the real property he was not entitled to the trade name, he decided to set up a new business in the Old Brewery which he did with considerable and lasting success. The domestic friction which all this caused was a by-word in Tadcaster in the last century.
“The results of these disagreements”, states Mr W. H. D. Riley-Smith. “left a legacy of ill feeling which affected a generation - our Victorian forbears were pretty forthright individuals and were not averse to showing their feelings.
H. H. Riley-Smith died on 19th May, 1911 and Samuel Smith Jnr. died on 5th March, 1927.
Since then each of their sons has died and as the years have gone by attitudes, which at one time seem to have been inflexible have softened to friendship and admiration for these are now two successful Companies where only one would have been.”
Alfred Barnard compiling his encyclopaedic work on breweries visited the John Smith brewery in 1889 and wrote.
The history of brewing affords few parallels to the rapid and marked progress of Smith’s brewery during the last ten years; so great is the demand for this justly celebrated brew, not only in Yorkshire, but in London and all parts of England, that from 500 barrels, the output has now increased to upwards of 3,000 barrels per week. This rapid expansion of the business is due to the exertions and enterprise of the partners, who, for many years, have devoted themselves to the study of brewing. In their early days, when they both served as pupils in the brewery, they took their turn at three o’clock in the morning with the rest, and lost no opportunity of studying the details of the process, hence they obtained a practical knowledge of the great business which they now possess.
At that time the brewery was employing one hundred people in Tadcaster and there were already sixteen branches opened in various towns. In 1892 the concern became a limited company with a capital of £300,000 and its first directors were the Riley-Smiths who remained on the board until just before the first world war. The present chairman (1971), Mr W. H. Douglas Riley-Smith, started work in the brewery in 1936. He became chairman in 1954.
As the business extended it is interesting to note that it retained one traditional feature, the “Yorkshire Stone Square” system of brewing. This is derived from the fact that the fermenting squares were originally made from stone slabs. The fermenting vessel in which the liquor is contained consists of an enclosed chamber with a manhole in its roof opening into a superimposed chamber of the same area but shallower in depth. The lower chamber is filled with wort and when the fermentation begins the fermenting yeast rises through the manhole into the upper chamber where it collects in a mixture of wort and yeast. About eighteen hours after this frothy head has collected in the upper chamber, the wort is pumped from the lower chamber and discharged into the top chamber. The wort and yeast are then vigorously roused and the wort is run back into the lower vessel leaving the yeast in the top chamber or deck. It was this system which was in use in John Smith’s brewery until in recent years the stone squares were replaced by aluminium vessels.
John Smith’s beer was first bottled in what was familiarly known as “The Coalyard” in Hodgson’s Terrace, Tadcaster, by a local grocer, John William Holiday. It was in about 1907 that the Bottling Store was taken over by John Smith’s, and for some years the bottling of naturally matured beer continued there. Bottle washing was done by a hand machine, the dirty bottles being placed in a wheel which slowly revolved through a tank containing caustic solution; then they were brushed out on a revolving brush and finally rinsed with cold water. Crated, they were kept in a warm room ready for the following day. Filling the bottles was rather a slow process when measured by present-day methods, and corking depended upon the hand and foot efforts of the operator. Labelling was similarly done by hand. Beer in those days required some weeks’ storage for maturing before sale.
In later years mechanisation of these manual efforts took place, the syphon machine being replaced by a small electrically-driven circular syphon tank. The output from the Bottling Stores in the days of hand filling was somewhere in the region of 500 dozen pints per day, then a considerable achievement.
Like other breweries the expansion of the business at Tadcaster depended upon transportation. On his way from York to Tadcaster Barnard describes how “a stream of drays numbering thirteen, came in sight and passed us on their way to York and the neighbouring towns”. John Smith’s brewery horses were indeed famous, not least when they went in procession to York on May Day to compete with others for prizes for the best turned out teams. They were, however, far from being show-pieces. The records show that there were dray deliveries as far afield as Pateley Bridge with many stiff gradients to be negotiated in between. Though the coming of railroads had done so much to ruin Tadcaster, they proved to be of great advantage to the expansion of the brewery. A special train of twenty-five trucks pulled out of Tadcaster for Sheffield several days a week. Before the brewery introduced its own mechanised transportation system the railway accounts, covering all classes of traffic through all sources, had reached £48,000 a year.
The first hint of mechanisation was the acquisition of a Fowler steam traction engine reputed to have been first used for hauling stone from the quarries for the building of the new brewery. Later this machine dragged a train of three trailers between the brewery and the railway station - until the authorities complained of damage and the company directed their attention towards steam lorries which they introduced in 1911. In that year the brewery still owned over 250 horse and pair-horse drays did not go out of service until 1929. At the beginning of the first world war the company was running the first of its petrol driven lorries and these were taken over by the War Department together with some forty of the company horses. During that war, owing no doubt to the shortage of transport, the brewery tried water transportation. They chartered a barge named the “Rosa-Belle” to carry casks of beer from York to Sheffield in time for the Christmas trade, allowing ten days for the trip. She had barely left before the river flooded and the “Rosa-Belle” eventually tied up at her destination some time after the Christmas trade was finished.
At the end of the first world war the company mechanised in a big way purchasing twenty heavy petrol driven lorries. In the 1930s these were superseded by lighter and faster vehicles which were capable of covering the whole of Yorkshire and Lancashire as well as parts of Lincoinshire, Derbyshire and County Durham. These in turn were replaced by the diesels which cover the much greater area now to be serviced.
The Tadcaster Brewery may have had small success with water transport but in the nineteen fifties it had some success with an air-lift. At the end of the second world war John Smith’s established a market for Magnet Ale in Belgium, shipping casks from Hull to Antwerp, bottling stores being established in Belgium. The supply was jeopardised by a dock strike in 1950 and John Smith’s for a period organised a “Beer-Lift”. Two old Halifax bombers were converted to carry seven-ton loads twice daily from an airfield near Tadcaster, the wooden casks being rolled straight from the tails of the diesel lorries into the bomb bays of the Halifaxes. In 1970 the company was still sending some 7000 barrels a year to Belgium - by sea.
During the post-war years the continuing expansion of the business was a major factor in the establishment of Tadcaster as a brewing town. In 1953 John Smith’s became a public company. Towards the end of the decade there began a series of mergers and acquisitions which formed the basis of the John Smith’s Group which was later to join Courages. By the nineteen-seventies 700 people were being employed by the Tadcaster Brewery and the Company was running a special bus-service to take people to and from work. The most important of these new alliances was with the Barnsley Brewery Company which began with a mutual trading agreement in 1957 and was finalised in a merger in 1961.
The Barnsley Brewery, some eighty years old at the time of the merger, possesses a character unlike that of any other element in the Courage Group. The Brewery had been founded and developed largely on the coal mining industry. Situated fairly and squarely in the midst of the capital of the South Yorkshire coaffield, Barnsley’s first concern was to quench the prodigious occupational thirst of the pit-workers with Barnsley Bitter and in the boardroom they still say this is “a good ale-supping district”. There has always been a strong local feeling for Barnsley Bitter, an emotional loyalty which is as keenly expressed as that for the Barnsley Football Club whose ground adjoins the brewery. That has not meant that the brew was completely localised - fortunately, as it was to turn out. When the merger with Tadcaster took place the Barnsley Company was in possession of over 250 licensed properties already spread over a wide area beyond the confines of the South Yorkshire Coalfield. It was fortunate indeed that the business was not concentrated in Barnsley itself for the pit closures which took place in the ‘sixties left not a single colliery working within the town boundary. In the whole area, the rationalisation of the pits brought fewer miners’ thirsts to quench but the wider distribution which followed the Tadcaster-Barnsley merger more than compensated for the industrial changes.
Except for its headquarters Beevor Hall, a Georgian mansion built by a bleacher, the Barnsley Brewery, unlike so many other units in the Group had no roots in the eighteenth century. It more than makes up for this by the sense of Victorian and Edwardian tradition which emanates from the place. The brewery was founded about the middle of the nineteenth century by Guy Senior on a site adjoining the Hall. He married the daughter of the owner of Beevor Hall which he later purchased. He prospered. The business was known as Paul and Guy Senior’s Oak Well Brewery and something of the energy and purposefulness of the great Age of Steam is recalled in a magnificent advertisement which was in recent years recovered from an attic. “The original,” writes Mr Yorke Crompton in his account of Barnsley, “is several feet long and printed in red and biscuit, blue-grey and green. The Oakwell emblem holds the centre. The advertisement is adorned with drawings from two busts, one of George Stephenson and the other of Joseph Locks. To link the brewery with Britain’s other expanding industries, the drawings are reinforced with four vigorous mottoes: ‘Coal and Iron England’s Greatest Wealth’, ‘Working Men England’s Greatest Strength’. ‘No More Bad Trade at Home’, ‘No More Horse Corn from Abroad’. For good measure, the bottom rim adds: ‘Steam Versus Horses - Traction Engines - Home Production - Work for the Million’. The two lower quarters represent a steam traction engine hitched to a brewer’s dray. On the left they are standing in front of the Industry Inn, then owned by one George Wilkinson, and still unchanged today in its appearance outwardly; the scene is set, though the picture does not say so, on Barnsley’s Baker Street. The other drawing may be described as a high-speed action shot. In it the traction engine is seen puffing down a country road under the direction of a man who usually walked ahead of it to wave a flag. The road is bordered by hedges with curly leaves; behind their cover a policeman crouches like a leopard. For the driver of the traction engine is committing an act of reckless lawlessness - he is driving to the public danger at a speed of over four miles an hour.
“Many times the Seniors were fined for allowing their driver to rush through Yorkshire at this hair- raising pace. Guy Senior welcomed the court cases and the fines, for they proved the enterprise of the brewery in keeping ahead of the times with such rapid deliveries. On the third occasion he told the Bench that he considered these penalties had first-rate advertising value, - indeed, he added, he would gladly pay £10 to Beckett’s Hospital for every subsequent conviction.”
In August 1888 the Senior’s business became the Barnsley Brewery Company Ltd with seven directors, all Londoners. Their Memorandum of Agreement covered an exceptionally wide field:- “To carry on business as Brewers. Maltsters, Corn Merchants, Distillers, Hop Merchants, Wine and Spirit Merchants and Importers, Manufacturers of Aerated and Mineral Waters, and other drinks, Licensed Victuallers, Hotel Keepers, Beerhouse Keepers, Restaurant Keepers, Lodging-house Keepers, Farmers, Dairymen, Ice Merchants, Tobacconists, Brick Makers, Bath Keepers, and to buy, sell, manipulate and deal (both wholesale and retail) in commodities of all kinds which can conveniently be dealt in by the Company. . . .“ A member of the family, Arthur Senior, stayed on as brewery manager.
The Company fared badly in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The 1891 Director’s Report stated: “The Directors are greatly disappointed that the results of the year’s working have not been more satisfactory. The loss in profit is greatly owing to the fact the Malt Kilns have not been used as in former years to their full capacity.” In the early part of the present (20th) century however things looked up. In 1911 the Chairman reported: “In presenting the 23rd annual report the directors congratulate the shareholders on the continued prosperity of the company. This has been a record year, both for sales and profit in all departments of the business in spite of the high price of hops, and all the inconveniences and drawbacks to which, in these times, brewers have to submit.” By that time there was again a Senior on the board and significantly H. E. Umbers a newcomer from Birmingham, who joined the Board in 1908.
After the First World War the business was again in a weakened state and its rehabilitation owed much to a close association between the then Chairman H. J. Wells and Umbers. “The working partnership of the two men, which brought about the renaissance of the company was close.” writes Mr Crompton. “For three or four years they actually lived on the premises together as bachelors in one of the cottages. Day and night they talked of the conditions and possibilities at the brewery, to which they dedicated all their efforts. Often they disagreed; sometimes they would argue a point for hours, with warmth as well as with conviction; but basically their common absorbing interest made their relationship harmonious. Their life together at such close quarters was eventually broken up when Wells married and went to live in Victoria Road, Barnsley. But H. E. Umbers, when he also married not long afterwards, continued to live in the cottage at the brewery. And there his son, was born.”
Edwin Harry Umbers MBE JP, now President of The Barnsley Brewery Co., born in the brewery cottage, occupied the Chairman’s office for many good years, saddened only by the fact that his son who was already prospering in the business died in his prime. During his reign in the post war years a great many of the brewery properties were reconstructed and reconditioned as the mood of the times moved away from austerity toward affluence. These years also saw a phenomenal rise of Working Men’s Clubs in the north of England generally but more especially in the South Yorkshire Coalfield where in the Barnsley area alone one hundred and fifty of these clubs were flourishing in the ‘seventies. This new social manifestation which originated in the ‘thirties and by the ‘sixties was so potent in membership, finance and property, is virtually unknown in the south of England. The amenities offered by many of the clubs are lavish, with decoration, with entertainment for all ages from pop to bingo, with games, sometimes with food and always with the mainstay of beer. The freeholds of a certain number of them are owned by the breweries but the great majority are “free”. Such a brewery as Barnsley however has very close trading arrangements with many of the free clubs which are made in competition with other breweries.
In 1957 a paragraph in the Yorkshire Post heralded the beginning of a closer association between Barnsley and Tadcaster. “Both companies are in a flourishing condition, and for many years have paid substantial dividends. The Tadcaster company’s distribution for the 1st financial year was 15 per cent from an earned surplus of 33½ per cent, while the Barnsley company earned almost 36 per cent and paid 20 per cent.” From the trading agreement announced with those figures the companies moved closer and four years later they merged.
That year 1961 the pattern of the John Smith organisation changed dramatically for at the same time as Barnsley, Yates Castle Brewery of Manchester came in under their Chairman J. A. Poe. A few months later they were joined by Warwicks and Richardsons of Newark-on-Trent. This latter concern had older roots than most in the eighteenth century. It was founded on the town wharf at Newark by a brewer named Sketchley who came from Burton-on-Trent in 1766. It afterwards followed a tradition of other breweries in being associated with banking when it was acquired by the Handley family who combined banking with an interest in the Baltic Timber trade. As a result large quantities of ale and porter were shipped to London and the strong ale from the brewery was exported to Archangel in exchange for timber. Mr Richard Warwick, whose great-grandson is a director at Tadcaster, acquired the business in 1856 and two years later was mayor of Newark. The new Northgate Brewery buildings were erected in 1871 and they seem to have been exceptionally well served by their own fire brigade. The Tourist and Traveller of 1886 referred to this “None of the amateur brigades have approached in completeness those of Messrs Warwicks Brewery brigades. In the fire engine house is an excellent steam Merryweather kept warm by steam and with its fire ready for immediate ignition 100 lbs of steam may be got up in from five to six minutes and the firemen are summoned by horn during the day and automatic and electrical communication at night. ”By 1890 133 people were employed in the business which had a brewing capacity of 100,000 barrels and there were twenty-four branch offices. Over the years Warwicks and Richardsons, as they became. took in other breweries in Doncaster, Peterborough, Chester- field and Oundle. These with their licensed houses and hotels merged first with Tadcaster then with the Courage Group whlch already included another important Newark concern, the busi- ness of James Hole.
John Smiths brought into the Group a unique feature - a museum. In a side street off the old turnpike road through Tadcaster is the Ark Museum*, a late fifteenth century house owned and run by the Brewery who took it over in 1959 as a building of historic and archaeological value. In 1672 it was licensed as a Dissenters preaching-place and over the years may be said to have fallen from grace to become in turn dwelling house, cobbler’s shop, public house, and plumber’s workshop. It now houses a curious collection of domestic and industrial by-gones and a growing selection of brewing trade exhibits - open free to the public.
In mid 2007, Scottish & Newcastle closed down production of John Smith's 'Cask' in Tadcaster and moved production to Burtonwood near Warrington. The beer was reported as having a different taste and to be going flat too easily.
*Ark Museum. The building was used as a museum until 1984, when it was threatened with sale for commercial use. This would have closed it to public view. The Civic Society stepped in and hosted a Town meeting in 1985 when a proposal for a second museum was adopted, to be run by trust and volunteers. This was very successful in terms of visitors but not financially viable, and by 1989 the Ark was empty once again.
In 1992 the Tadcaster Town Council bought the premises to use as its Council Offices and Council Chamber, thereby, hopefully, ensuring future accessibility to all who wish to see the building. As Mr Riley-Smith said on the opening in 1962 "such a unique piece of architecture should, if possible, be preserved not only as a beautiful relic of the past, but also as a source of interest and instruction to students of the future". Members of the Public are welcome to view the building during office hours.