A History of Breeds & Co Ltd

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INTRODUCTION In the 1790s, three brothers Thomas, James and Mark Breeds were the shippers and principle merchants of Hastings. In a document of 1802 they are said “for several years past” to have been involved together in coasting trade, ship agency, trading as merchants, timber and deal trade, barrack agencies, rope and sail making, ship building coal trade, corn trade, porter trade, farming, and other speculative matters.

In the next twenty years, with other partners they went on to found the Hastings Bank and build some of the finest Regency buildings in the town. For good measure they owned Hastings’ oldest and best known hostelry The Swan and ran coaching services to London. In the same period Thomas founded the Hastings Brewery and James, The Phoenix Brewery nearby.

THE HASTING’S BREWERY The Early Years The generally accepted date for the founding of the Hastings Brewery is 1828. But this was by no means the start of Thomas Breeds’ brewing. The “Porter Trade” mentioned in 1802 may or may not have included brewing, but by 1809 Thomas and James had a joint interest in a brewhouse, its utensils and stock of beer. On the break-up of the family partnership the next year Thomas purchased the goodwill. The disposal of the brewhouse is not specified, but he presumably owned one to go with the goodwill.

Thomas bought an acre of commercial land in the middle of Hastings Old Town around 1800. There had been a brewery in the area from the 17th century. Thus it is quite Iikely that he took on a going concern. His ‘yard’ is first referred to in 1810 in depositions for a court case when he is noted as sending beer to Battle, Bexhill and Pevensey.

About 1811, Thomas was joined by his brother Mark and Thomas Farncomb (all were partners in The Hastings Bank) in the running of the brewery. When that partnership ended in 1819, each received the assets they had invested in the bank. Thomas again became proprietor of the brewery, probably with Mark as partner.

Between 1818 and 1822, the old brewhouse and two houses were pulled down and a new brewery built.

In 1819, “Breeds’s Yard” is marked on the first detailed town map. That year Thomas purchased some land by the south entrance. The conveyance plan shows the “road to the brewhouse yard” leading into the south of Breeds’ Yard. The next year, he resold it to the Hastings Improvement Commissioners in part for road widening, which gave far better access to his yard and brewery. The new Town Gaol was built on the rest of the site. Later in the century, this became the Police Station.

By 1819, Thomas’s office was at No 61 High Street, close to the shore. It was his shipping, merchant and brewery office.

In 1823, the earliest available Pigot Directory for Hastings lists under brewers: “Thomas Breeds & Co High Street”.

The first known purchase of an inn in which Thomas was associated was in 1812 when The Hastings Bank bought the Swan. They also bought The Hastings Arms before 1819. Thomas himself reputedly owned the George in Battle by 1816 and certainly the Bull at Bulverhythe by 1821. He bought the Ship at Pett in 1827.

1828-1839 Just why 1828 became the founding date of the Hastings Brewery, I have not discovered. Clearly it was well established before then. Mark’s death that year possibly persuaded Thomas to make a new start. Perhaps the buildings were further modernised that year, or perhaps it was simply the first known use of the name.

Breeds Yard was an “L” shaped block of land behind the High Street entered by an archway at No 33. It ran east some 90 yards down to the Bourne (Bourne Walk when the stream was covered over). To the north was Lower Lane joining Bourne Walk to the High Street. Beside the Bourne the site measured 85 yards, north to south, and had a gate opening into Bourne Street the north end of which was widened as mentioned above. The brewhouse was close to this entrance and beside the Bourne. Its chimney and tall south face with weather vane can be seen in the photograph of a water-colour, painted between 1825 and 1833.

The only view of the inside of the old yard is this photograph of a group in front of the bow window around about 1870. A plan drawn for insurance in 1839 shows numerous buildings including: brewery, stables, coach stands, cottages, a deeze, warehouses and stores. These supported all Thomas’s business operations.

His brewing prospered; when his will was written in 1835 the brewery and inns were regarded as a major asset. But he was still deeply involved in his many other merchant interests.

From the voting lists of 1836/1837 and other documents, the names of some of the brewery team have survived. The brewer in the 1830s/1840s was John Wrenn of Prospect House, St Clements. He was paid £1-18-6 a week plus an annual compliment of £20. Out of this he paid the business for his coal and groceries; the balance was left invested in the brewery at 5%. The Cooper was Charles Moore; Edward Alderton was Thomas’ clerk.

We saw earlier that Thomas had purchased several inns by 1828. That year he bought the Star at Playden. From the 1832 voting rolls, we know that he owned both the George at Battle and the King’s Arms at Ninfield. When he died in 1839, he owned thirteen outlets in the Hastings/Battle area and in London the Plymouth Arms, Tooley Street, Southwark.

1839-1875 Thomas was succeeded by his only surviving son, James. To meet trustees commitments, The Plymouth Arms was sold in 1842; consideration was given to selling the George at Battle but a high enough price was not offered and the idea was dropped.

In 1840 there was a serious fire in a shipping warehouse in Breeds Yard but there is no record of damage to the brewery.

The business continued along the lines that his father started and his name was normally still used. The price of beer was, however, increased in 1847 - by 2d a gallon - because of a rise in the price of malt. An advertisement in the local guide of 1855 reads simply:- “T.Breeds & Co. .Coal Merchants and Brewers”.

A plan of Breeds Yard c.1870 shows a similar outline to that of 1839 but there are several changes. More buildings are associated with brewing. Some stables are replaced by cottages for staff and there are three beerhouses. The enactment of the Wine and Beerhouse Act of 1869, which passed licensing to local magistrates, encouraged brewers to invest in the licensed trade and better outlets. At the same time the gradual introduction of bottles and, after 1885 of screw stoppers, expanded the sales of breweries.

Between 1842 and 1875 about nine more houses were acquired in and near Hastings, plus the beerhouses in the Yard:-

  • The Beehive by the Bourne Street Gate
  • The Duke of Wellington at No 28 High Street
  • The Diamond at the junction of Bourne Walk and Lower Lane.

A fourth, The New Found Out, was in the Yard for a year or two.

With purchases and a few disposals, by 1875 James owned about twenty-four licensed houses. After 36 years he left a thriving business in which the brewery and its estate was the main element, then valued at about £32,000. 1875-1897

James’ eldest son Thomas (Tom), then aged 23, took over. He accelerated the move to brewing as the main activity. The last ship was sold and trade in coal ended. The York Hotel and The George at Battle were sold, as were some unlicensed properties. Several inns were bought including The White Hart at Guestling in 1877 and the lease of The Anchor, George Street in 1879. These transactions created an estate of twenty-eight roughly similar establishments. The brewery at this time was still run by a staff of only ten to a dozen men. Some improvements in the yard had already been made including the building of more cottages and a brewer’s house. Within a year Tom started modernising the brewery itself. The employment of Mr Horace Cheshire as chemical analyst, suggests that he was also intent on a high standard of production.

On 13th March 1883, The Hastings and St Leonards Observer reported that “within the last few years this old established brewery has been nearly rebuilt and refitted with the newest and most improved machinery and plant”. In the Hastings Surveyor’s Department are some plans from this period.

January 1881 taking down and rebuilding the north end of the brewery. (In 1880 the south end had been rebuilt and shaft moved.) In October 1881 the well engine house was extended. There were then two wells within a few feet; some further work was done to the pump room in 1893.

The main office moved to No 32a High Street. By 1890, a branch office was opened at No 38 Robertson Street. In that year Breeds & Co., Pale Ale & Stout Brewers, advertised in the County Advertiser offering eleven different beers.

1897-1930 Tom now decided that the best way to take the enterprise into the next century was to make it a limited company, a move taken by many of his contemporaries. BREEDS AND COMPANY LIMITED was registered on 28th October 1897. Its object was the purchase of the brewery, inns and business. The total price £105,000 was formed in three parts:- • £25,000 in ordinary shares • £25,000 in preference shares, mostly going to Tom • £55,000 in 4% debenture stock.

Tom became Managing Director, with a salary of £150pa. Mr Morris, the Company Secretary, received £300pa.

The brewery needed further modernisation. On 12th January 1898, a contract was signed with Wall & Co for building a new chimney shaft and boiler house in the courtyard, and with Yates and Thorne of Blackburn for two Lancashire Boilers. One month later, plans were agreed for a new bottling store and a superb range of stables with modern accommodation for ten horses which for the next 20 years remained the brewery’s hauliers.

At the same time, it was decided to purchase Nos. 31 & 32 High Street for £1,400. This gave the brewery the complete High Street frontage from 28 to 35A. Those not required for brewery business were leased as a source of income. The Forester’s Arms, Clive Vale, was bought in July 1898.

Mr Joseph Stephenson retired as Brewer in July 1899 and was granted a pension of £100pa; when Mr Morris, the Secretary, retired sick ten years later he was granted a similar pension. Assistance was also given to employees when ill, until 1912 when the National Health Insurance Act was passed.

Tom saw the furtherance of trade as a responsibility and was Chairman and Treasurer of the National Trade Defence Fund for the Parliamentary Borough of Hastings. The aim was to secure the election of friends of the trade on elected bodies at all levels. In the 1895 General Election, there was a clear division of view between the parties about the payment of compensation for the termination of licences. The Liberal candidate gave evasive answers and it was decided that the Conservative Mr Lucas Shadwell deserved the support of the Trade. In 1900, the trade as an organisation stood neutral as both candidates gave favourable answers. At both elections the Conservatives won Hastings and Lord Salisbury’s Administration was returned.

In 1903, the Hastings Licensing Justices mooted the idea of reducing the number of licensed houses in the town. Needless to say the Company did not agree! In the previous February one did close, Mr Mullen, tenant of the Prince of Wales beerhouse in Pelham Street, was convicted at the Hastings Police Court for “permitting it to be used as a brothel”. The licence was forfeited, without compensation. The building was of no use to the business; it was sold on 19th June. The proceeds were used for improvements at the King’s Arms, Ninfield.

After some good years, 12% was paid on ordinary shares in 1899, there was a period of decline in the brewing industry. From 1903 to 1908, only one to three percent dividend was paid. Then from 1909 to 1917, there was no dividend and the directors fees were halved to £100pa. However, preference shareholders were still paid 5% and debenture holders were also paid. So the financial position, though poor, was not a disaster.

This was a difficult time for many; Hewett & Co Ltd of St Leonards went into receivership in 1907. Six years, later on 17th July 1913, Breeds & Co Ltd took over their business leasing their six inns and the Tower Hotel in St Leonards, together with associated unlicensed property. One other inn was bought and the Hastings Brewery estate was then thirty-four houses.

In May 1914, a further building was erected in the yard as a cover for empty barrels outside the cooper’s workshop to protect them from the sun. This virtually filled the yard, except for roadways, making further expansion on the site difficult. By 1916, trade was so bad that there was discussion about selling property to improve finances, but this was not actioned. Fortunately at the end of the war, trade began to improve, and 7% dividend was paid in 1918. By April 1919, the property market was more favourable and unwanted holdings were sold.

The minutes record very few problems; though in June 1920 the tenant of the Prince Albert was removed for watering the beer, another landlord denied the same charge. Amongst many repairs and improvements were the panelling of the Royal Albert and the provision of mains water at the King’s Arms, Ninfield.

If any proof was required of the standard of the beer produced it came in the 1920s, at the Annual Brewers Exhibitions when the Hasting’s Brewery won many prizes. A display in the Whitbread Archive lists the following:- • 1920 Prize Stout • 1921 Prize Stout • 1923 Prize Ale and Prize Stout • 1924 Prize Pale Ale • 1925 Prize Ales 1st, 2nd & 3rd

In 1921, as a further reflection of the improved state of trade the Chairman’s salary was raised to a realistic £750 pa; and Tom was made Chairman for life. Dividends rose to 16% in 1925 and 20% in 1930.

In 1923, the Cock Inn at Peasmarsh was purchased and the next spring the Cambridge Hotel (£4,050 & £5,500 respectively). In 1926, the freehold of The Anchor (£1,800) and the King’s Head, Udimore (£1,250) were also purchased. Property transactions continued to increase revenue, plots being sold for building and existing buildings being let or sold. In 1930, the Plough Inn, Priory Road, was bought for £1,600, having previously been rented.

The weekly wage bill by the late twenties was about £62. This indicates a staff of about 30 in the Brewery, Plant, Cask, Yard and Bottling Stores. Monthly salaries were shown separately. In July 1929 Mr H.P.Adams (Secretary) earned £50, Miss L.Igguldin (Cashier) £23 and Mr J.Webster (Foreman Brewer) £26.

There were thirty six tied houses bringing in an annual rent of £1,430.10.0 and with a barrelage in 1928 of 6,020 and in 1930 of 5,654 to which have to be added bottled beers and sales through other outlets.

1930-1931 By 1930 Tom, then 78, was finally aware that no family member was prepared to take over the brewery. That summer he started negotiations for the sale of the business. By September informal contact was made with George Beer & Rigden of Faversham, Kent. In due course the asking price of £155,000 was agreed, Tom having first acquired the freeholds of the seven licensed properties which Breeds held leasehold from Hewett & Co. The completion date was to be 8th April 1931.

On 18th March, two directors of Beer & Rigden, William Jennings and Charles Rigden were elected to the Breeds board. Two days later, in the absence of Thomas Breeds through illness, Mr Jennings was in the chair; a letter was sent to tenants regarding the change in control. Tom Breeds died on 31st March 1931.

It was Beer & Rigdens’ intention to close the brewery. Brewing ceased on 10th April 1931.

After 1931 The bottling plant continued in operation and the offices in use, for some years. Fremlins took over George Beer & Rigden in 1949. Annual meetings which since 1946 had been held in Faversham were then held at the new registered office at The Pale Ale Brewery, Maidstone. It was not until March 1952 that the brewery was finally sold. The main brewery building was subsequently taken down as part of Hastings’ Bourne Road project to bypass the very narrow High Street. Though the entrance to Breeds Yard and the warehouse behind No 33 are still there, many of the other buildings have been demolished. The 1898 engine house built inside the yard, and the base of its chimney are now beside Bourne Road.

In 1968, Whitbread bought the Company as part of Fremlins. By then Company property was valued at £348,630-6-0.

Breeds & Company Limited ceased trading on 31st January 1970 and the Company was liquidated on 28th December.

The Author wishes to acknowledge his main sources: The Hastings Museum for early 19th century family archive, ESRO Lewes for later 19th century family archive and the Whitbread Archive for company records from 1897.