The Group was consolidated in the nineteen-sixties as an industrial structure, resting mainly upon the four basic walls of Courages, Barclay Perkins, Simonds and Georges, each founded in the eighteenth century, and the subject of preceding chapters. In the late sixties the Group was in possession of assets of approximately £l00m. It was operating five breweries in London, Reading, Bristol, Plymouth and Newark-on-Trent. It owned some 5,000 licensed premises spread over the whole of Southern England, a large part of South Wales and an extensive area of the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.
In the geographical pattern of the Group, features of the past, along with strong local traditions, remained. In many cases, however, their functions had been modified and changed to serve a massive organisation operating in a highly competitive field with up-to-date equipment and a progressive outlook. There was a sensible measure of decentralisation. Courage (Eastern) Limited and Courage (Central) Limited were based in London and Reading respectively to control the Group’s activities in South East England and Central Southern England. From Bristol, in the former Georges Brewery by the bridge, Courage (Western) Limited controlled South West England and South Wales. Toward the end of the sixties the firm of James Hole & Co., Ltd., of Newark-on- Trent, had been acquired and the regional headquarters at Newark looked after the Group’s interests in the East Midlands and Southern Yorkshire. Anchor Hotels & Taverns Limited, the Group’s hotel chain, was managing and progressively modernising a chain of hotels and licensed catering establishments in London and the provinces. The pattern of expansion and nationalisation was continued in the seventies with the acquisition of John Smith’s of Tadcaster with widespread interests in the Midlands and the North of England and with the purchase of the important West Country business of Plymouth Breweries.
Social and legislative changes during the sixties increased the significance of wine and spirit wholesaling and of the off-license business operated by the Group.
One of the largest wines and spirits businesses in Britain, Charles Kinloch & Company Limited, joined the Courage Group in 1957 bringing with it a history of wine trading going back 100 years. This firm was stocking some 4,000 lines of wines and spirits, and, apart from its wholesale and retail trade, supplied outlets throughout Britain.
In the off-licence field, the retail trade of Arthur Cooper (Wine Merchant) Limited extended to some 320 off-licences located in most of the major towns in the South of England and South Wales. Off- licence shops were also flourishing under the flag of Saccone & Speed Limited, the famous wine merchants established for more than a century and a quarter, with a special reputation for supplying the Services and the Diplomatic Corps in the world’s major capitals, for the Saccone & Speed companies had become part of the Group. Saccone & Speed Limited in Gibraltar operated subsidiary enterprises incorporated in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Malta and North Africa.
Both Barclay Perkins and Simonds had significant export and overseas interests. In the Group, export functions were consolidated through Courage (Export) Limited, which also assumed responsibility for the supervision of overseas interests of which the Blue Nile Brewery Limited, Sudan, and the ownership of approximately one quarter of Simonds-Farsons-Cisk Limited, Malta, were important contributions by Barclay Perkins and Simonds respectively.
Toward the end of the sixties the Group extended its interests as far apart as Scotland and Australia. In Scotland, Melrose-Drover Ltd., whisky blenders, was purchased and in Melbourne, Courage Breweries Ltd., was formed in conjunction with British Tobacco Co., (Australia) Ltd.
In spite of this proliferation in enterprise and in territory, the basic elements - and problems - in the operation of the Group are traditional. Techniques and circumstances change with the times. Yet if the first John Courage came back to meet John Perkins, David Barclay, Blackall Simonds and Philip George to discuss their joint interests as they have merged today, the chances are that they would have no great difficulty in picking up the threads of the business once they had got over the initial surprises and found that it was no longer necessary to calculate by what one horse could do in one day. Their own traditions are alive and not forgotten.
“It is with tinges of regret” writes H. A. Monckton “that we witness the disappearance of the traditional brewer wandering around the brewery with only his sensitive nose, keen palate and a few basic scientific instruments to guide him. Many such brewers armed only with these slender resources have made the product under their control nationally, and even internationally, famous. As we move to a new generation of white-coated technicians bristling with scientific qualifications, guided in their work by panels of flickering lights and working short shifts, we should record our tribute to those practical and hardworking brewers who have gone before with such distinction.”
The great brewers of the past would recognise that the four ingredients they acquired and handled with shrewdness and skill - malt, sugar, hops and water - are still as vital as ever in providing a good glass of beer. More than most industries, brewing has retained its close connection with the countryside, for nothing has ever taken the place of the hops and the barley which makes the malt. These mostly come from English fields as they have always done, and the stake of the brewery in agriculture is still significant. Only in the mechanics of growing, harvesting and processing the hops and the barley would the old brewers notice any great change.
The Courage Group in the sixties was still looking to Kent for supplies of hops. Their stake in the countryside was still considerable, with hopfields covering 200 acres. This agricultural aspect of brewing has also followed the general pattern of mechanisation. After the second World War the special trains which ran out of London carrying hop-pickers to Kent and Sussex to their traditional working holiday gradually ceased to run. By the sixties Londoners in small numbers went “hopping” but no longer specifically to pick, rather to work on various jobs in conjunction with the new machines.
As to the traditional essential grain, the old brewers would look upon the modern maltsters barley no doubt with a specially critical eye and find it greatly to their liking. Constant testing and development of new and better varieties has greatly improved the quality. The turning of barley into malt, a natural process, is now speeded up by mechanisation, but basically the operation remains unchanged.
It fell to the lot of the West Country element in the Courage Group to become the chief provider of malt. The Oakhill Brewery, so long associated with the Hobhouse family, became a mechanised maltings during the sixties. “We were making malt here on the old floor system up to May 1960, and used to produce about 8,000 quarters per year.” states H. C. Hobhouse when the new plant was opened. “Under this new system we hope to produce 32,000 quarters a year. We buy the majority of our barleys in Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire.”
Thus mechanisation has been applied during this century to the practices of the maltster who has gone along with our civilisation for centuries as a benign figure linking the fertile countryside with the thirsty towns. The finished product, the malt in its various qualities for various uses, often still finds its way from the maltings to the brewhouse in the traditional sacks which belong to the old brewery prints. It travels no longer by the rivers and waterways but by road. To take an example, in the biggest maLting loft in the Group - that at Horselydown, where the windows face across the river toward the Tower of London as the first John Courage saw it - the sacks of malt stand ready for its various uses, varieties such as Crystal, Burnt Amber and Chocolate Black. As in John Courage’s day the brewing process begins with the malt at the top of the building and finishes at the loading docks - no longer waterside wharves - at Thames level. It is a case of everything being changed yet everything remaining the same. The brewers from the past might well be amazed by the size of the operation and impressed by the scale of mechanisation. They would be astonished, perhaps, at the sight of brewery staff in white coats, like doctors, tending instruments and controls in an almost clinical atmosphere. Yet they would recognise an atmosphere of calm almost bordering on tranquillity which, to the casual visitor, is such a marked characteristic of Horselydown. They would soon recognise too that the mechanised processes of the sixties were following a familiar and still unhurried pattern.
The spirit of Dr. Johnson still presides over the site of the former Barclay Perkins Brewery at Southwark where his memory and many of his traditional relics, including his chair, hold places of honour in the Group headquarters. He and the Thrales and their successors would be gratified by the intense activity on the site of their labours, and those of William Shakespeare centuries before. Dr. Johnson who, it will be recalled, stated “... we are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats...“ would appreciate the prodigious growth of the enterprise, just as he had prophesied. For the brewery site in the sixties, taking from Shakespeare’s theatre the title of The Globe Bottling Store, was established as the most advanced mechanical handling system of any bottling store in the world, with an output capacity of more than a million bottles a day. The beer arrives at the Globe Plant from Horselydown and other Group breweries by road tanker where it is pumped into conditioning or cold storage tanks. Each of these tanks holds 5,760 gallons and together they hold just under 4 million pints of beer. In the warehouse, which has a capacity of more than eight million bottles, overhead cranes stack them to the height of a three-story building.
Apart from the odd cases of empty bottles that are not neatly stacked on the returning lorry, at no time does a man have to lift a crate of full bottles or empty ones. This is automatic to a degree that has never been known in the brewery world, and it has this remarkable end result: a vehicle arriving back at Park Street can have its empties unloaded, a new load put on, and be away again in only three minutes.
This increased speed and precision of mechanisation was a characteristic of the sixties in which the Group was greatly concerned with industrial development. In addition to the developments at The Globe, at Horselydown and at the Oakhill maltings, the Group joined forces with Arthur Guinness Son & Co., Ltd., and Mitchells & Butlers Ltd., to build the Harp Lager Brewery at Alton, the first brewery to be built in Britain since the early thirties. When Harp production began at Alton, lager brewing ceased at Southwark. Also at Alton, but not connected with the Harp enterprise, the Courage Group converted the bottling plant of the old brewery into a canning factory and a bond for export trade. At Bristol the Group extended the brewery site by the bridge and opened an important new bottling store at Avonmouth. In April 1969 Mr. R. H. Courage stated in a speech: ”... on the work of reshaping ourselves in order that we are ready to cope with the sales forecasts of the seventies, we have spent more than £10m. on our production plants alone.”
All that science and technology has given to the brewing industry since the founder members of the Group started their enterprises in the eighteenth century has been made possible by the revolution in transport. The old brewers were tied down by their distribution facilities: Fortunately their successors were always alive to the opportunities offered by transport development. They kept their horses long after many other industries because the horse was so useful for short metropolitan deliveries. But they were quick to make use of steam traction on the roads and to develop an impressive system of distribution by motor vehicle by the middle of this century. By the sixties a fleet of nearly a thousand vehicles was being operated from the breweries, bottling stores and depots spread over the Groups trading area. They range from 24-ton tankers to small delivery vans. More than 12,000 deliveries were being made each week. 4,000 of them in the London area alone. Distribution was extensively method-studied and large sums were spent on specialised articulated vehicles and on the long distance bulk transport fleet to meet the rapidly growing bulk export trade with Europe and to take advantage of the permission to run larger vehicles on British roads.
It was the localised nature of distribution which originally led to the acquisition by the brewer, often also a banker, of retail outlets within the area in which his transport allowed him to operate. This system of tied houses became even more of a necessity during the latter part of the nineteenth century and afterwards, when the law demanded more exacting conditions in pubs and hotels. Alterations and enlargements were often too onerous for the local inn-keeper with limited capital, faced also with increasing rates and overheads and the steady rise in property prices. So the brewers, apart from the kind they acquired for their own industrial plant and their agricultural needs, bought property on a scale which of course increased as transportation enabled them to spread their territories, and mergers further extended the territorial scope. “The tremendous responsibility for property in the form of licensed houses is not always realised,” recently noted the editor of the Brewer’s Guild Journal; “Many skills are required in its administration and a vast amount of money has been and still is spent on maintenance and improvement of property.”
Writing in the mid-sixties in the National Provincial Bank Review, Mr. R. H. Courage explained the current operation of the tied house system as it applied to brewing in general. “While admittedly at the outset it proved far from satisfactory in operation, it has by evolution become the highly efficient system for which there is no exact parallel in any other industry. It enables the brewer to plan production and, as the majority of his outlets are reasonably concentrated, he is in a position also to plan the maintenance, repair and general administration of the houses to the best advantage. He can ensure a regular flow of orders and regulate production accordingly. He is able to zone his deliveries and, indeed, throughout most of his operations to work to fine limits with a maximum of economy.“
It would not be very wide of the mark to say that the ultimate test of efficiency in any industry must be the value the customer receives for his money. By this standard the tied house system is one of the most efficient marketing methods of the present day.”
The application of this line of thought specifically to the activities of the Courage Group led to the formation of the Horselydown Property Investment Company which operates in partnership with leading companies in property development and on its own account throughout the territory in which the Group is interested. In common with the other great brewery concerns, the Courage Group was involved throughout the sixties in a continuous programme of modification and improvement involving property development.
More than at any other time during the present century, the sixties showed changes in public taste and attitude toward refreshment (both food and drink) and entertainment.
The brewers, more than most industrialists, have to be aware of such social changes and to keep abreast of them in a highly competitive situation. Fortunately tradition has helped. Throughout the long history of family brewing, some of which is recorded in the preceding pages, the fact emerges that the brewer always had to be on the alert for changes in public taste and need. This was shown in the switchover to porter when it was in great demand, to the increase in the production of beer in bottles, to the various emergency measures taken in two wars. To be sufficiently flexible in operation and sensitive to the market is indeed a tradition without cobwebs to be cherished.
The social conditions of the sixties effected a dramatic rise in the standards of living and entertainment which had to be reflected in the amenities of the public houses if these were to survive and flourish in an atmosphere of intensified competition. The impact of almost universal coverage of the British Isles by television - and in the sixties it became unusual for a family not to possess a television set - created a new sophistication in public taste and a new focus on home life. The ‘local’ found itself in competition with the family ‘telly’. Consequently the ‘local’ had to brighten itself up and sometimes to provide some television facilities. Its new look also had to appeal to the more sophisticated appetites which television was producing. The effort was made and it succeeded. In spite of the prophets of doom, the ‘locals’ held their place in the Television Age. The pattern of drinking changed; there was more consumption in the home. For the Courage Group this change was well served by the chain of Arthur Cooper and Saccone & Speed off- licences. But a mass audience for television did not seriously diminish the affection of the public for the ‘local’. The pub remained a social amenity but only through having moved with the times.
The sixties was also a period of unprecedented foreign travel for people in every income group. This again increased the sophistication of public taste for such drinks as lager and wine, for entertainment and for decorative environment. So more and more facilities for good food were needed and provided. Not only in the Anchor Hotels and Taverns, but in public houses throughout their territory the Courage Group - like the other big brewers - offered their customers good food on a scale unknown before. The emphasis on food went with a new social attitude toward drinking, and the overall effort made by the brewing industry was described as a “package-deal” by Lord Boyd, Chairman of The Brewer’s Society writing in The Financial Times in the mid-sixties: “Investing nearly £l,000m. in licensed properties, brewers have replaced the comfortless drinking shops of the last century with attractive and well-furnished ‘locals’, selling food as well as drink and providing facilities for club meetings, receptions and other social activities. It is the sort of positive effort which probably has far more effect on national sobriety in the long run than many of the inhibitions imposed by law. This special contribution by the trade has been well described as a ‘package- deal’. The ‘pint in a pub’ is not a commodity in itself but part of the deal. Not more than 15 per cent of customers choose their public house primarily for the beer, if a Hulton survey made some years ago is generally applicable.”
Another aspect of the changing scene in the sixties as it affected the Courage Group was in advertising. The emergence of the television networks provided new platforms for products to be advertised on a massive scale. When the brewer was operating in small units advertising was localised and on a small scale. The formation of the Courage Group and its association with Harp Lager, the brewing industry’s most notable success story of the period, enabled the enterprise to benefit from national and regional advertising in all media, including television.
Finally, the association with lager products has been significant in the export trade. Each of the constituent members of the Courage Group has a history of overseas trading going back to its earliest days - not least to the Court of Catherine the Great. These activities were integrated by the formation of Courage (Export) Limited which markets beer, wines and spirits all over the world in bulk, bottle and can, and Courage products are to be found on most of the world’s shipping lanes.
In reviewing the state of health of the Group during the sixties, employing some 15,000 people and producing something like 75 million gallons of beer yearly, it is not possible to explore all the complexities of an intricate industrial organisation which still remains closely related to agriculture. It can only be noted that tradition continues to play a dynamic part, although it must be skilfully blended with a day to day flexibility and an adventurous attitude toward the techniques of the times. These qualities were all shared in some measure by John Courage and Philip George, by Blackall Simonds, by Barclay and Perkins and by John Smith, the founders.