Bristol Brewery Georges & Co.

Nov – Dec, 1943




By Arthur Hadley

In the year 1788, this firm was inaugurated by Philip George, who successfully laid the foundation stone of the present undertaking.  Philip George was the eldest son of William George, a distiller in Baldwin Street, and a Freeman of the City from 1739.  He was the great grandfather of Christopher George, the present Chairman of the Company, who was President of the Institute of Brewing in 1934-36.

On January 3rd, 1788, Philip George was authorized to purchase from a Mr. Grimes, at a sum not exceeding £2,400 a brew-house and malt-house in Tucker Street, in the Parish of St. Thomas, and to negotiate for the purchase of a warehouse and cooperage adjoining at such prices as he could obtain the same “they being essentially useful (sic) to the other premises.”  It was further resolved “that the Firm be styled Philip George and the Bristol Porter Brewery.”  Parts of the original building still exist in the present-day brewery.  At this same meeting it was decided that the number of shares in the concern should be eight, each of £2,000.  On 3rd November, 1788, Mr. Arthur Tozer was appointed “Manager and conductor of the business, at a sallary (sic) of £150 and allowance of house rent, coal, candle and beer.”  On the 18th of the following March, Mr. George reported that 80 barrels of porter were shipped to Cork and the same to Waterford, and that 100 barrels were sent to Liverpool.

It is of interest to look back to the early days and read the report of one John Bradley, who represented the firm in its endeavours to bring trade from far afield to this historic city of the west.  From the commencement of the undertaking, Philip George realized the possibilities of Ireland as a market for the brewery’s Porter.  The first year proved this assumption to be correct, as the shipments of Bristol Porter to Cork and Waterford previously mentioned, were very considerable.  Within a few years, Philip George pursued his policy further and decided to send a representative to Ireland.  On 30th January, 1792, John Bradley proceeded to Ireland to secure further orders and to investigate the state of the Irish trade.

Travelling was then more often than not, a very arduous task. John Bradley’s journey occupied five months and his report will give some idea of travel in those far off days.  His manuscript “Report of the Irish Journey,” is now in the possession of the Company’s Chairman: It constitutes not only an interesting contemporary record of the competition of Bristol, London and Liverpool firms in supplying Ireland with beer and of the early days of the Irish brewing industry, but is a document of historical value, as it throws many sidelights on Irish life of that period.  By the middle of February, Bradley reached Waterford, where he had some successful interviews with large firms, but saw that a Liverpool Company would prove a dangerous competitor.  Horse-back was then the only method of getting over the ground, and 20 miles a day was as much as a traveler could do.  He visited various small towns, and on one occasion completely lost his way.  Eventually we find him at Cork on 26th February, where he was received “with great politeness.” Among the many that he interviewed was one Edward Haynes, of whom he writes:

“I find he began with but little, but is believed to be worth money and still getting forward rather rapidly, and no wonder, for besides being an active pushing man in business, he calls in the powerful aid of various Spirits, and being well acquainted with them, I’m informed they assist him greatly, and on his part, if they at times happen to be weak, it seems with great readiness he’ll strengthen them, in return for the services rendered him; thus mutually supporting each other.”

Haynes was persuaded to take 500 barrels and Bradley, after other successful negotiations, wrote:—

“It is likely you will have, at least for the present, a good sale here for, I’m informed Cork imports 60,000 barrels annually.”

He reached Limerick on March the 6th, 1792, where he found the people “rather against the Bristol Porter.”  At Galway on March the 11th, he records that “people here complain of the colour being too deep, but approve of the body, which they acknowledge considerably superior to the London, therefore they mix them to make the London better and sell it as London Porter where they can, tho’ some will prefer at the Pot Houses the Bristol Porter and ask for it as such, which is a proof of its gaining ground here.”

His accounts of Irish inns and cabins, where he often slept on the floor or sat all night by a turf fire, of the pride, sensitiveness and poverty of his hosts, of the appalling state of the roads, and many other impressions, form a remarkable pen picture of Ireland at that time.

“Black Ale” was at the height of its popularity in 1802, and when peace was proclaimed during that year, the brewery displayed an alliterative illuminated motto—Peace, Plenty and Porter.

Before the year 1816 ended, all the partners were either dead or had retired from business, with the exception of Philip George and Jacob Wilcox Ricketts.  These two survivors decided to retire in favour of their respective sons and a fresh partnership was formed consisting of three Georges and four Ricketts, the firm being styled “Georges, Rickettses & Co.”

From 1788 to 1943, a period of 155 years, there have been four generations of Georges, i.e., Philip, Alfred, William and Christopher; in the other branch of the family there have been five generations owing to Alfred George being married twice.  From 1861 dates the partnership of Philip Henry Vaughan, who was Chairman of the Bristol Brewery Georges & Co., Ltd., from its commencement in 1888 until 1891; he remained a director until his retirement in 1914.

By 1888 the business had grown to such dimensions that the partners decided to make an incorporated Company of the under taking.  Accordingly in 1888, just over 100 years after the foundation of the firm of Georges & Co., the present Company was formed under the title of “The Bristol Brewery, Georges & Co., Ltd.”  After over 100 years of successful business as a private concern, the change to a public company had the effect of renewed activities and a programme of further expansion was adopted.  In 1889, the business of James and Pierce, the Bedminster Brewery was acquired; in 1911 that of R. W. Miller & Co., The Stokes Croft Brewery; in 1912, the Lodway Brewery of Messrs. Hall & Sons, at Pill; in 1918, the Brewery of John Arnold & Sons, Wickwar; in 1919, The Welton (Somerset) Breweries, Ltd.; in 1923, the Bath Brewery, Co., Ltd.; in 1926, Slades Brewery, Chippenham; and the latest acquisition, The Ashton Gate Brewery Co., Ltd., Bristol, in 1932.

The Chairmanship of the Company has been held successively by the late Philip Henry Vaughan, the late C. E. A. George, who was Chairman and Managing-Director from 1890 until his death in 1907, and the late W. E. George, the last of whom established a record of 57 years’ connection with the firm.

In 1919 the Company purchased the extensive premises originally known as the Talbot Hotel at the corner of Victoria Street and Bath Street.  In this building the offices of the Company are now situated (although considerably damaged by enemy action).  It became necessary to extend the brewery to meet the increased demand and premises were purchased adjoining the brewery, formerly occupied by Finzel’s Sugar Refinery, which covered about two-thirds of an acre.  On this site a building has been erected on a reinforced concrete raft lying on the river bank.  This concrete raft carries the whole weight of the building and alone cost some £40,000 to construct. Lying below the level of the river is a vast cellar perfectly dry, cool and airy; above this on ground level, is the transport garage, sufficiently extensive to house the entire fleet of vehicles of the Company.  On the floors above the garage are the new automatic cask washing departments, above that again the cooperage and stores. 

The directors and employees of this brewery are mutually interested in one another—the Company paying a bonus at Christmas dependent on the profits of the preceding year.  There is also a benefit fund to which all workers contribute, thereby insuring for themselves benefits additional to the National Health Scheme in case of sickness, accident or death.  Although the brewery has always been provided with mess rooms for the brewery draymen and women employees, a large and up-to-date canteen was opened in 1943, where upwards of 500 meals are supplied daily to the staff and employees.  In 1931, the Company purchased a six-acre field at Brislington, and constructed a sports ground, provided tennis courts, with a pavilion and staff.

The brewery was famed in early days for Porter, hence its early title “The Bristol Porter Brewery.”  Afterwards “Old beer” became one of the main products, and many vats of considerably over 1,600 barrels’ capacity were in use for storing the heavy beer for at least 18 months, the competition with cider no doubt influenced the character of this old beer.  In more recent years beers of a lighter character have been introduced.  For delivery to over a thousand houses, a large transport service is necessary, and it is still found that the horse-drawn dray is economical for city delivery; the fine stud of grey horses is well-known in Bristol; in 1909 there were 40, now there are only 14, mechanical transport having replaced the others.  The grey horse is the registered trade mark of the Company.

Some of Georges’ houses are of considerable historic interest, and these have been modernized with regard to cellarage, service and sanitary arrangements, wherever possible, without destroying their old-world atmosphere and appearance.  All cellars have been provided with stainless steel pipes leading to the beer engines, while in the largest houses the pressure system is adopted.

The most precious gem of Georges’ old licensed houses in the West of England is the famous and historical house “The George Inn,” situated in the hamlet of Norton-St. Philip, about 10 miles south of Bath.  This half-timbered house is one of the oldest licensed alehouses in the kingdom, and dates back to 1397: through an ante-room on the first floor, in which their orderlies slept, one enters the bedroom occupied in turn by Cromwell and the Duke of Monmouth.  Monmouth made this Inn his headquarters shortly before the battle of Sedgemoor.  On 26th June, 1685, a battle, the last on English soil, was fought between his troops and the King’s forces under Faversham.  Judge Jeffreys is believed to have tried prisoners in the Inn courtyard on his way to the Assizes at Ilchester.

The “Fourteen Stars” stood on the ground at present occupied by the Brewery; this Inn was a popular resort for captains of West Indiamen and Slavers, and was built a number of years before 1606, at which date there is definite information of its existence.

The Assize Courts Hotel can be traced back to the early seventeenth century; there is a plaque in the wall of the old kitchen commemorating one Sarah Anne Trip—died 29th January, 1601.

The “Cat and Wheel” opposite the site of the old Newgate Prison, was standing before 1606, and was one of the last remaining old timbered houses.

Many others of the firm’s houses are described and illustrated in their souvenir book “One hundred and fifty years of Brewing,” 1788-1938.

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