A History of George Peters & Co Ltd
MESSRS. GEORGE PETERS & CO., PORTSMOUTH by Pat Saunders
The registered offices of this company were at 5 Kings Road, Southsea. The company’s title comes from George Peters, who on 1st August 1885 used the Kings Road offices as security on a mortgage of £5,000 from John Wellesley Thomas and John Cornelius Mobey. This was two years before George Peters died on 4th March 1887. His two sons George Henry Peters and John Wyatt Peters were named as executors of his estate along with his widow Emma Elizabeth Peters and Charles Frederick Elston. The later two had also been named as Trustees of George Peters’ estate.
In an order of the Chancery Division of the High Court, on 10th October 1890 (“Peters & Peters 1890” Pno.138) in front of Hon. Mr. Justice Chitty, it was declared by virtue of the Second codicil of the will of George Peters deceased, that George Henry Peters and John Wyatt Peters were trustees as well as executors, jointly with Emma Elizabeth Peters and Charles Frederick Elston.
The 5 Kings Road premises were conveyed, 30th June 1892 from the trustees of George Peters’ estate to George Henry Peters and John Wyatt Peters, both described as Wine & Spirit Merchants and Brewers, for the sum of £6,000. George Henry Peters later sold his half of the business, 4th August 1895 to his brother John Wyatt Peters for £6,721. The relevant indenture listed some 18 properties of which 11 were encumbered with mortgages totalling £24,050, all of which was owed to the trustees of George Peters’ estate.
John Wyatt Peters continued with the business at 5 Kings Road, and in 1910 formed with John Henry Lindsey the new company “George Peters & Co. Ltd.”. Accompanying this was a Trust Deed, 20th April 1910 drawn up to secure £70,000 on debenture stock. The directors of the new company were John Wyatt Peters and Sydney Conrad Peters. The first trustees appointed were Charles Frederick Elston and Sidney John Messenger. There were two agreements drawn up in March 1910. The first of 18 properties included the Kingston Brewery, Portsmouth1. The second agreement listing 22 properties also listed stocks and shares, which were later retained by John Wyatt Peters and Sydney Conrad Peters.
John Wyatt Peters (born 1864 at Portsea) held the position of Chairman from 1910, until his death twenty-eight years later. He died suddenly on 3rd December 1938 aged 74. Lt. Col. Sydney Conrad Peters; who was also a trustee (he was appointed following the death of C.F. Elston on 20th February 1918) followed him as Chairman. Sydney Conrad Peters (born 1866 at Portsea) continued both as a trustee and company chairman until his own death on 3rd November 1946, aged 80. Dr. Clifford Pendrill Charles replaced him as Chairman. John Leslie Messenger was appointed as trustee (he was co-trustee with Sidney Wilfred Messenger, who had been appointed following the death of Sidney John Messenger on 19th October 1936).
Up until 1938 the company had three members of the Peters family on the Board; the third was Eric Conrad Peters. Also on the board of directors were Dr. C.P. Charles, H. Litchfield, Capt. R.C. Lloyd Owen RN, and S.W. Messenger. The company secretary in the 1930s was D. Trotter.
During the 1930s a number of company properties were encumbered with mortgages. In 1938, the company repaid a £13,000 loan from Messrs J.J. Young & Sons Ltd of the Victory Brewery, Portsmouth. This brewery company was run as a subsidiary of Messrs George Peters & Co Ltd. It also supplied the Geo. Peters company with beer at a substantial discount. In 1935, the company purchased the business of W.P. Breach of 79 East Street Chichester for £8,000. Of this purchase price, W.P. Breach agreed to accept a mortgage of £4,000.
In the 1940s the company’s running was affected by the war. At the start of hostilities, the majority of the office staff left to join the Forces. This meant extra duties for the Company Secretary D. Trotter and the Head Clerk Edward Thomas Richman and, to compensate for this they were given increases in salary of £100 and £65 per annum respectively.
On 28th June 1940, the following is recorded in the Director’s minutes;
“The question of likely damage to Young’s Brewery by enemy action was again discussed and taking into consideration the fact that our purchases from Young’s amount to over £50,000 annually, the matter was referred to Mr. E.C. Peters to know what arrangements he had made to supply us with Beer in the event of such a catastrophe happening. Mr. E.C. Peters informed the meeting that he had approached the local brewers, also Messrs. Friary, Holroyd of Guildford and the latter agreed to brew for Young’s 500 barrels per week at an agreed cost should the occasion arise. Since this arrangement was made a Committee had been formed of the whole of the Brewers of Hampshire and Sussex and as it seemed impossible for any or either the Hampshire or Sussex Brewers, owing to already brewing up to full capacity, to undertake to supply any Brewery that was put out of action, the matter was left in abeyance on the understanding that London Brewers be consulted, with a view of getting an undertaking from them to supply any such Brewery so incapacitated by bombing or otherwise."
It appears that as the brewing output in London had depreciated some 25% and the Committee were convinced that the London Brewers would be in a position to supply all the demands made upon them, and the Committee were taking every step possible to make such arrangements complete.”
A number of the company’s properties did sustain damage from enemy action. In particular early in 1941, the Head Office, 5 Kings Road, was extensively damaged. On 27th March 1941 the directors had to hold their meeting at the Victory Brewery. At that meeting it was decided to rent temporary offices on the third and fourth floors of Coronation House, Kings Terrace, Portsmouth at a rent of £382 per annum. The agreement was made as a verbal monthly tenancy.
The directors continued to hold their board meetings and AGMs at Coronation House until July 1944; by then they had made a move to 20 Landport Terrace, Portsmouth. The purchase of this property, for £2,000, although it had suffered war damage was considered at a meeting on 2nd February 1943. S.W. Messenger and E.C. Peters expressed their opinion that the property should be purchased in view of a Town Planning Scheme which would have the effect of acquiring and taking away a great deal of the company’s old business premises, 5 Kings Road.
However, the company did eventually move back to 5 Kings Road in 1956. In the meantime the company’s business prospered during the 1940s despite the war, which created shortages of staff and materials. From the start of hostilities the government had imposed heavy duties on beer, this affected the discount that J.J. Young & Son Ltd could make to the company. Also affected was the specific gravity of beer, which was lowered to cut down on some of the ingredients used.
Despite the difficulties of the war the company found themselves building up surplus credit. This was then used to pay off all the outstanding mortgages on various company properties. For instance, on 25th September 1941, in the meeting a Memo of satisfaction was produced relating to the paying off of the following mortgages;
- £5,000 on “Crystal Palace” Hotel
- £3,000 on “Horse Shoe” Hotel
- £800 on 282 Shirley Road, Southampton
- £4,000 on 79 East Street, Chichester
The company also traded in stocks and shares for their investment value. However not all proved to be bargains, in December 1941 it was reported to the Directors that the company had purchased 500 Woolworth ordinary stock of 5/- each. These were later sold at a loss in March 1942. S.W. Messenger and E.C. Peters were of the opinion that the Woolworth stock were not worth holding for improvement in value, owing to the conditions existing as regards to production and importation. By December 1941, all outstanding mortgages had been paid off except for the £70,000 Debentures, which were secured on the Trust Deed.
In 1942, the Company lost its secretary David Trotter. Besides being Secretary, Mr. Trotter had also been a director; he had died 25th October. In the minutes it was recorded that “it was resolved that a letter of condolence be sent to Mrs. Trotter expressing the deep sympathy of the Directors at the sad loss sustained by her and the company by his demise.” The Head Clerk, Edward Thomas Richman, was appointed on a salary of £700 per annum, to fill his position.
It seems that the company had a very paternalistic approach to its employees. Early on in the war the company instigated a policy of paying a bonus to the staff. Each year £1,000 was set aside for this purpose. This was in addition to the £460 odd, which was used, at the Chairman’s discretion for Christmas gifts to the staff. In some cases widows of long serving employees would be given financial aid. Indeed for about two years, Mrs. Trotter (widow of David Trotter) received some £250 a year until she remarried in May 1944.
In 1943, the director Captain R.C. Lloyd Owen retired from the Company’s board. At the meeting on 20th July 1943 it was resolved to appoint Captain John Leslie Messenger as a company director. However as he was serving abroad with HM Forces, it was agreed that no fees would be paid to him until he returned to Britain. J.L. Messenger’s appointment was confirmed at the 34th AGM in July 1944.
From 1946 the Company started on their rebuilding plans, for which a fund was set up, in to which monies were transferred. However it was not until April 1949 that any progress on rebuilding, particularly for Kings Road, was reported. At a meeting on 29th April 1949, S.W. Messenger submitted a plan for the rebuilding of the first portion. This was approved in principle so that, steps could be taken to obtain permits and estimates.
On 29th November 1946, following on the death of Lt. Col. S.C. Peters, at a meeting of the board, E.C. Peters called attention to the fact that no agreements had been drawn up for he and S.W. Messenger in their office of Joint Managing Directors. Their appointments had originally been made in 1938 following on the death of J.W. Peters. They had each been appointed on a salary of £1,000 and £150 travelling expenses per annum. S.W. Messenger’s salary being paid by Geo. Peters & Co Ltd and E.C. Peters paid by J.J. Young & Son Ltd. This was in addition to their director’s fees of £200 per annum.
The formal appointments for S.W. Messenger and E.C. Peters appointments as Joint Managing Directors were produced at the meeting on 7th January 1947. Also at that meeting it was reported:-
• S.W. Messenger held the position of Chairman to the Portsmouth Bonding Stores Ltd & owned shares in the Imperial Tobacco Company and Charles Mumby & Co Ltd. • E.C. Peters held the position of director of Charles Mumby & Co Ltd & also owned shares in the same company. It was unanimously decided that these positions & share holdings in no way conflicted with the agreements.
The fortunes of the company came under pressure during the 1950s. At a meeting on 16th September 1949, Mr. S.W. Messenger reported that George Gale & Co Ltd and the Portsmouth & Brighton United breweries Ltd had expressed their desire to unite with the company. After discussion it was resolved to decline the offer submitted by the Portsmouth & Brighton United Breweries. It was also resolved that Mr. E.C. Peters call upon the Chairman of George Gale & Co Ltd to have an opening conversation on the possibility of a working arrangement between Gales and Peters. However after negotiations throughout 1950, by November of that year no decisions had been reached and the proposal to amalgamate was dropped.
On 1st August 1952 the meeting’s minutes record the death of the Secretary Mr. Richman after 34 years faithful and efficient service with the company, for the last ten years of which he held the position of company secretary. In October 1952, Mr. L.A. Jarvis ASAA was brought in to the company and appointed as Secretary on a salary of £1,200 per annum. Two years later on 17th March 1954 Dr. C.P. Charles died. Following a discussion for the election of a new chairman, it was agreed that the two Managing Directors should act in that capacity alternatively for periods of approximately 12 months.
During the 1950s the Company appears to have had some cash flow problems. In a meeting on 9th December 1955 business to 30th November 1955 was reported showing an increase of £39,630. Although this increase was considered satisfactory, the Chairman (S.W. Messenger) pointed out that the rate of gross profit was tending to decline.
However, despite this the company maintained a policy of expansion. In October 1954, the Company commenced proceedings for the purchase of the business of Preston Watson & Co Ltd of Havant. At the meeting on 14th October 1955, this report on “Preston Watson & Co Ltd” was made – a draft account of the subsidiary company for the 5 months ended August 1955 was produced and discussed. It was felt that while the position showed improvement it was too early to judge the success or otherwise of the mineral water undertaking. This company’s ordinary and founder’s shares had been purchased for £12,050.
In the mid 1950s the Company was still receiving approaches for its take-over. At the meeting on 3rd December 1954, the Chairman (E.C. Peters) reported that several of his brewing friends had been approaching him confidently to ascertain if there was any chance of their acquiring the Ordinary Share Capital of Messrs George Peters & Co Ltd.
He thought it his duty to report this to the Board; saying that he thought the best offer could be obtained from Mr. Chambers of Strongs. In this case the company would be allowed to continue in its present existence, as a subsidiary of a large combine spreading westward and in this way the minimum disturbance to employees would be caused.
The Directors considered the matter might be worth exploring and permission was given the Chairman to show any necessary accounts of the Company. However the Directors expressed concern as to the future of the Joint Managing Directors in the event of a sell out, and were unwilling to entertain any scheme in which they would not be well provided for and their future assured.
Following this at the meeting on 14th July 1955, this statement on Strong’s Brewery enquiry was recorded: -
“Chairman (E.C. Peters) reported that Mr. Chambers had written to say his company were no longer interested in making a bid near the suggested high valuation.
Chairman further reported that he had received several other tentative enquiries of a similar nature from several other Brewer’s Society friends; he had felt his duty to shareholders to ascertain what sort of price could be obtained in a take-over bid, as in the case of Henty & Constable and others. A general discussion followed. Mr. John Charles then suggested that owing to the National decline in beer sales it might be worth considering selling off Messrs J.J. Young & Son Ltd, but it was unanimously agreed that it would be mistaken policy to thus split up the Companies and that a serious decline in profit to G. Peters & Co Ltd. would result from loss of sales in foreign beers, wines & spirits to Young’s houses.”
Even though the company had started putting capital aside in a Rebuilding Reserve Fund at the end of the war, there was not sufficient to meet all their needs. At the meeting 9th December 1955:-
“The financial position of the Company was reported, and it was pointed out that the building programme envisaged would call for considerable capital expenditure during the next year or so.
Mr. E.C. Peters reported that he had approached the London Assurance Company, who were prepared to lend a maximum of £50,000 at 6% to be repaid over 20 years. An approach had also been made to the Royal Insurance Company, but so far there had been no reply from them. After discussion it was decided to make enquiries from various companies and banks.”
At the next meeting on 24th February 1956 under the title of Financial Arrangements it was stated: -
“The proposed loan from the Royal Insurance Co was discussed and during the meeting a telephone call was received from the Insurance Company stating they were prepared to advance £50,000 at 6% repayable annually after the first two years, the loan being for 20 years. Repayments other than annual repayments would be accepted only when properties specifically charged were sold.
Mr. Charles was asked to advise in due course the necessary meetings of Preference and Debenture Holders, to sanction the acceptance of such loan and charge.
It was further agreed that in the list of properties to be submitted to the Royal Insurance Co the “Emperor of India” should not be included. This public house has been conveyed from J.J. Young & Son Ltd to Geo. Peters & Co Ltd in May 1955 for £10,000.”
From the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s the company had consistently paid dividends totalling 14% each year to the holders of Ordinary Shares. During the war years a bonus of 2% was included on the final dividend. After the war and during the 1950s this bonus was increased to 4%. However, an extra-ordinary meeting was held 22nd January 1959 to pass special resolutions:-
“Members were free to transfer their company shares to Friary Meux in pursuance of the offers made by Friary Meux - Chairman S.W. Messenger.”
Then another extra-ordinary meeting was held 3rd January 1964 to voluntarily wind up George Peters & Co Ltd. The assets, that is the pub estate was conveyed from the company then in liquidation to Friary Meux 21st September 1964, as Friary Meux were the beneficial owner of the whole issued capital, i.e. company shares.
- Geo. Peters & Co. Directors Minute Book, 1934-1956
- Packet of Royal Insurance deeds & documents, 1956 (at Burton-upon-Trent)
- Brewing Trade Review’ December 1886
- Brewer’s Journal’ May 1910
- “Hampshire & Isle of Wight Illustrated” Hate’s Illustrated Guides c. 1895 (Southampton Records Office)
- Friary Meux papers, at Effingham Depot 23 January 1987