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A HISTORY OF GALES BREWERY by M W Laver
The main purpose of the following historical events, from the earliest period for which evidence exists of the brewing of ale and beer in Hampshire, was really in the beginning to allow me to answer the many and varied questions put to me concerning those two products. During research into this subject the facts were so fascinating that the decision was made to put the general story in writing without too heavy an emphasis on the technicalities.
A visit to Horndean with its pastoral calm and charm is like taking a de-evolutionary trip through industrial history and it is certain that the brewery of George Gale and Company Ltd., has something to do with this. In order to understand how the Victorian Brewery was built in 1869, it is necessary to turn back the calendar to 1702 for it is known that brewing was carried out at that period and possibly before that, for prior to that very few records were kept. Many of the inns in this area at this time were farms and these farms employed many labourers, much more than today, when even at harvest time you will probably see only a couple of tractors working the land. The farmer's wife would brew ale for the workers and she was called the "Brewster", and the farmer would sell the ale to his employees and make a small profit from the transaction. However, like to day, you would find one particular place who produced a far better brew than their neighbours and apparently the "Ship and Bell" was noted for its fine ales brewed with water drawn from a well which was situated beneath the bar.
At the beginning of the 1700's the site of the present brewery was occupied by farm buildings and the "Ship and Bell" at that time was just inside the main entrance to the present brewery, the actual room is still there and is used as a sample room and bedrooms of the inn are used as storerooms. The original well has been covered over with a concrete floor. This hostelry has provided shelter and refreshment for the traveller as well a focal point for the social life of the villagers. During the coaching era, it became first stop on the route which led to the "George Inn" Southwick. Also leading to Horndean, the road from Havant ran through the Forest of Bere and beyond Havant. Hayling Island was once a large centre for smugglers who frequently stayed at the "Ship and Bell", hiding their horses and smuggled goods in the woods before they travelled on to Liphook to dispose of their ill-gotten merchandise!
Because it was noted for its fine ales many of the labourers from the surrounding farms came to the inn instead of purchasing their ale from their employers. This did not please the farmers for they did make a small profit from the sale of their own brew, so they decided to purchase ale in bulk from the "Ship and Bell" and re-sell it to their employees which apparently was received very favourably for some had to come some distance, and as the ale was quite strong would save them from crawling home! Another and more probable reason for the farmers doing this was that the tax on malt had increased and therefore had become not economical to brew. So the "Ship and Bell" flourished with the increase in trade but to the extent that they could not keep up with the demand. It was then decided to build a brewery on the opposite side which is now the present brewery transport yard. This step marked the foundation of the present brewery some 200 years ago.
From the Eighteenth Century the Gale family were contributing to Horndean's commercial life via their activities as Grocers and Bakers. Richard Gale (born in 1802) succeeded his mother Ann in this capacity and branching out as Coal and Corn Merchant, at Pyle Farm, which is today two very active oil wells. In May 1847 he purchased the "Ship and Bell" and its associated brewery. According to legend, this was after seeing his men who were working in the fields nearby heading for the inn on Friday nights after collecting their pay packets!
Unfortunately in the early 1860s the brewery was burnt down, mainly because it was constructed of wood and open fires were used to boil the copper. With the insurance monies paid after the fire the present Victorian brewery was built in 1869. Two of the original brewery buildings because they were constructed of flint survived the fire. The Blacksmith's shop and the Cooper's shop can still be seen today, where they are now used as store rooms.
George Gale and Company should have been Richard Gale and Company but for a tragic twist of fate. For generations the first son was always named Richard, as the founder of the original brewery was also called. Although he lived for thirty-nine more years, his four sons were all said to be suffering from Tuberculosis. The oldest son, Richard Rogers, survived just long enough to produce an heir also called Richard Rogers and so it was a younger son, George Alexander, who took charge of the family business. It was George who was in charge in 1888 when the company was formally registered, hence the name it carries today. In the 1880s George Gale seems to have had some fairly radical ideas regarding the relationship between work and home. He endeavoured to create a family atmosphere within the firm (which still exists today), even going to the extent of building thirty houses for his employees to live in. Some of these houses are still in use today and used by the staff.
By 1859 George Gale had extended his interest to include malting and by 1875 has expanded the business to include Southsea. In 1884 William Smeed joined the company, bringing to it his interests in the Eagle Brewery, Landport. In 1888, it was registered as a Limited Company under the Chairmanship of George Gale. George Gale's nephew, Richard Rogers Gale was one of the first directors after the business became a public company. His son, Richard Newman Gale joined his great-uncle George on leaving school and became a director in 1925. His son Major Richard W. Gale became a director in 1936.
So since its inauguration into a company it has been slowly but surely expanding. By July 1888 The Company had bought the "Queen's Head Coffee House" at Farnham for £œ1,300 and the "Bevois Castle Hotel" in Bevois Street, Southampton for £œ2,000. However, the biggest step forward for the brewery was probably when Herbert Frederick Bowyer, a miller from Guildford, bought the major shareholding from George Gale and became Chairman in 1897. How Herbert came to be in a position to buy the major shareholding from George Alexander Gale is something of a mystery, but he is thought to have used a settlement from his marriage to Elsie Carlos Perkins from a Southwark brewing family. This injection of capital by the Bowyer family was a major step in the company's growth for within six years it had acquired the Homewell Brewery at Havant and nine public houses. In 1907 the Square Brewery at Petersfield was bought, followed in 1911 by the "Red Lion" at Chalton for £1,100, The Wickham Brewery, and in 1923 the Angel Brewery at Midhurst together with five more public houses. The last named brewery today is an hotel and was one of the resting places for the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620 and behind the "Kings Head", an inn in Wickham, some of the old Wickham Brewery buildings still stand today. Eventually the expansion brought a total of one-hundred tied houses not only in Hampshire and Sussex, but also Surrey, Guildford, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and the Isle of Wight.
Herbert Frederick Bowyer remained Chairman until 1938 when his son Squadron Leader Frederick Hugh Bowyer, who had been a Director since 1929, inherited the post which he held until his death in 1982. Noel Chambers, another Director, was Chairman from 1980 until his appointment as President of the Company in 1987, the Chairmanship then reverting to the Bowyer family. Group Captain George Bowyer, followed in his father's footsteps by joining the Royal Air Force in which he served for thirty years before joining Gales in 1980. He learned the brewing profession and following the retirement of Head Brewer, Ted Argyle, innovator of H.S.B (Horndean Special Bitter) became the Director in charge of production. Today he is Chairman of both Gales and of Horndean Hotels Ltd., Gale's sister company which controls twenty-two inns under the new name of Horndean Inns Limited which includes the "Ship and Bell" next to the Brewery. This company was formed to administer the Managed Houses in 1973. Richard E. Gale son of Major R. Gale, served with H.M. Forces on the Gold Coast in the early 1950's and then on release gained brewing experience at Stewart and Patersons. He then joined Gale's in 1960 and eventually became a director on the retirement of his father in 1972, and became Managing Director by 1977. He is the twelfth Richard Gale to be born in Horndean. Major R. Gale died suddenly in hospital 10th of September 1983. At this point in this historical record of the Brewery one must remember Mr Steel, the Head Brewer. It is not recorded when Mr Steel joined the firm but it is believed at the turn of this century. This highly qualified and very stern disciplinarian served the Company well and saw it through the 1914-18 war, during which he instigated a new method known as "process brewing". This method was designed to make the best use of the brewing materials available which were in short supply and the method was widely adopted by other Breweries and was recognised by H.M Customs and Excise. He was also famous in the industry for having won almost every top award for his beers at the Brewers Exhibition in London, the medallions of which are still retained in the Brewers Office.
After his untimely death in 1922 he was succeeded by Mr W. B Mears who came from a famous Yorkshire brewing family. His elder brother Frank became Head Brewer of Farnham United Brewery and subsequently at Frome United Brewery, his younger brother being Head Brewer of Darleys of Thorn Yorkshire before joining Allied Trades. This must surely be a record in the brewing trade. Barton Mears carried on with the tradition of process brewing up to his retirement in 1954 and was responsible for keeping the Company's products well to the fore by Mr. Steel's record of award winning beers. Major E.T Argyle succeeded Mr. Mears as Head Brewer in 1954. In 1959 he inaugurated Horndean Special Bitter (H.S.B) which is a product for which Gales' have become nationally known and which many brewers have tried to emulate.
In July 1981 Mr Derek Lowe took over as Head Brewer and Major Argyle remained the director in overall charge of production until his retirement in 1983. Derek Lowe had first joined the Company in 1966 and for eleven years was assistant brewer in charge of quality control before his four years absence as second brewer at Theakton of Carlisle.
Towards the end of the 1970s it was clear that the Brewery was experiencing increasing pressure on its production capacity. This became no more so than when they entered into Free Trade and began exporting bottled beer to America in 1980. Because of this large increase in sales a Trade Manager, Mr George Turner, was appointed and a Trade Department was formed. The decision was therefore taken to expand. Because the Brewery is on a cramped site the only way was upward and a new process floor was constructed at a cost of £600,000. It contains a whirlpool hop separator, hot liquor tanks. liquid sugar tanks and a paraflow heat exchanger besides three stainless steel fermenting vessels, two of 150 barrels and one of 75 barrels. On the 22nd June 1984 in front of an invited audience Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC, OM, DSO, DFC, formally opened the new process room.
This gave the Company a potential 40% increase in the output of beer. From all this it can be seen that Gale's did not shun modernisation, providing it can help maintain consistency in the beer. They also grow their own yeast in a yeast propagation plant and therefore always have pure yeast for their brews.
So many changes yet the brewing process remains essentially unchanged form 100 hundred years ago. From the "Ship and Bell" acquired in 1847 the Brewery has developed so successfully that it is the only major independent brewing company in Hampshire. This surely is another record in the brewing industry, for in Portsmouth alone in the 1860's there were 49 breweries in operation!
But more changes were in store. In July 1990 the brewery bought 43 pubs from Friary Meux in a £9,000,000 deal, this included 14 in the Portsmouth City area and the rest in the Fareham, Gosport, West Sussex locality, bringing them a total of 137 public houses. In November 1990 the Bottling Department was closed and the bottling of their beers were contracted out. The space vacated by the disposal of the bottling line was used to house four newly acquired, traditional, fermentation vats of 150 barrels capacity. In March 1991 Gale's expansion continued with the acquisition of 20 tenanted public houses spread across the Isle of Wight, from Whitbread, with 20 year leases.
But much more was to come. In the early hours of a Saturday morning on 1st June 1991 a six tonne copper arrived at the Brewery and the A3 was closed to allow this copper to be hoisted by crane and installed in the new process room with a capacity of 200 barrels (57,600 pints). It replaces the existing 1926 copper that has a capacity of 112 barrels, and therefore will double the brewing output.
Towards the end of November 1990 Nigel Atkinson joined the Company to take up the new appointment of Assistant Managing Director and Richard Gale became deputy chairman as well as retaining his post as Managing Director until November 1st 1991, when he stepped down after serving 13 years in that capacity. His new non-executive role enables him to concentrate on his many outside interests including Chairmanship of the Board of Governors of Highbury College and Havant Magistrates. Nigel Atkinson then became Managing Director. He came to Gales after 12 years with Courage where he held a number of senior positions.
Although modernisation has come to Gales, the visitor will see how the old blends very well with the new technology for they are still using beautifully crafted round fermenting vessels constructed from specially imported Cowry pine from New Zealand, a timber which is hard and knot free. The malt dresser was installed in 1898 and is still in use.
The oldest part of the Brewery and now the Malt Room was once part of the range of farm buildings which became the first "Ship and Bell" and that inn's saloon bar was once the brewery house. The current Sample Room was originally the old bar and the bedrooms are now used as storerooms and what is now the Cellar was once stabling. The copper that was put in the tower in 1926 can still be seen. It was installed when its predecessor blew up, but by brewing in the Underback they managed to keep their production for the three weeks that it took for Adnams of Bristol to install the 112 barrel replacement. Grist is carried to the Mash Tun by means of a bucket elevator known as "Jacobs Ladder". This type of elevator was installed in breweries from about the 1860's. In the 19th century refrigeration was making its appearance and this was mainly one large cooler pan coupled to open refrigerators. A very fine example of this can still be seen in Gales although made redundant by the new process room. It measures some 27ft X 121/2ft X 1ft deep and installed in the early part of the 1900's.
Although renowned for its H.S.B., Gales also produce a very special bottled ale called "Prize Old Ale" which is made only in 30 barrels at a time. After it has been brewed at a gravity of 1094 deg., it is then carefully matured for 12 months before bottling. It is bottled by hand in 1/2pt bottles and is unique because it is sealed with a cork, not a crown closure. The last know location using the long cork was in Northern Ireland in 1970. The bottling machine used is a syphon filler and this type of filler came into use in the breweries about 1860. After corking and labelling by hand it is then stored for three months to naturally condition with residual yeast giving a secondary fermentation before being allowed into trade.
In conclusion I must quote these words which are painted on the wall in the Fermenting Room of the Portsmouth and Brighton United Breweries which surely must also pertain to George Gale and Company, Ltd.
"Let a man write a better book, make a better mousetrap, preach a better sermon or brew a better beer than his neighbour, Then the world will make a beaten track to his door, even though it may be in the midst of a forest".