A History of R W Randall Ltd

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THE HISTORY OF RANDALLS OF GUERNSEY by Simon Coombe

As is reasonably well known, there is a Randall’s Brewery in Guernsey and in Jersey, though nowadays there is no direct link between the two; not surprisingly, however, both have developed from the same root. As will appear from this article, the name Randall has been synonymous with brewing in the Channel Islands for longer than anyone can remember. It is the last independent family-owned brewery in the Islands and a household word for good beer and hospitality in Guernsey. Founded five generations ago at Vauxlaurens, Randall’s still occupies the same handsome premises in St Julian’s Avenue.

In 1823 Robert Randall, then aged twelve, was brought by his father to Jersey from Yeovil in Somerset. In due course he became a maltster at Minden Place (formerly Old James Street Brewery), St Helier, in the employ of Mr J B Quick. Although the 1841 Census lists Robert as a shopkeeper, in 1847 he bought the rival Clare Street Brewery; the fine house which he built there is now the head-quarters of Randall’s of Jersey, complete with the initials of Robert and his wife, Eleanor Tinckham of St Helier. The couple had been married at St Saviour’s Church on 15th March, 1835. The 1851 Census describes Robert as 39, a Master Brewer, employing three men and as having six children and a maid servant. When Mr Quick died, the Minden Place Brewery was acquired for his third son, Charles Walter, and his second son, William Albert, was installed in the Clare Street Brewery; the two businesses were already being run as one concern. For the record John Tinckham, the youngest child, drowned off the Isle of Wight in 1861.

It would appear that the eldest son, Robert Henry, was anxious to expand outside Jersey and came over to Guernsey in 1868. He purchased from Joseph Gullick a company then trading on the Vauxlaurens site, confusingly, as the Guernsey Brewery; it is said that this business had been in existence since 1821. Mr Gullick also owned substantial parts of St Peter Port, including a rope-walk and a brick-works; his residence was 1 Cambridge Park, overlooking the Brewery. There was until 1914 a public pump in Vauxlaurens Lane called Gullick’s Pump, situated just above the lower entrance to Candie Gardens. It is of interest to note that this lane was a common entry point into St Peter Port from the Cambridge Park area prior to the laying down of St Julian’s Avenue in 1862. In order to accommodate this latter road the Brewery building was remodelled with part of one end being demolished; the name Vauxlaurens obviously relates to its original situation in that St Peter Port thoroughfare. The present St Julian’s Avenue frontage and arch date from 1873.

The Livres de Perchage for Fief Le Roi in St Peter Port (the records of property) do not show Vauxlaurens as a brewery in 1793; by the 1843 edition however it had acquired that status. The site is shown on an 1840s plan of Candie as Gullick’s Brewery. Almanacs for 1866 and 1867 announce, however, that W Frecker had transferred from Rue du Truchot to premises at Vauxlaurens, formerly Gullick’s; for his “Brasserie de Guernesey” he had acquired the services of a celebrated English brewer for the distillation of ales (ten pence to two shillings per gallon), stouts, porter (ten pence to one and four pence per gallon), etc. Barrel sizes varied from 4.5, 9, 18 and 36 to 54 gallons. By the 1868 Almanac, the year of Robert Henry’s arrival, the advertisement was for W Frecker, Guernsey Brewery.

This Robert Henry Randall, described in an 1874 Directory as “ale, porter and stout brewer, maltster and agent for Ind Coope and Co’s Burton ales”, had the gift not only for brewing but for making a sound business and he brought Vauxlaurens into the front rank of the breweries of his day; he even found time to write the Diary of a Brewer, an everyday story, as it were. He began to purchase public houses and, importantly, he laid down the rule that the Randalls should be qualified brewers. Respected by colleagues in the trade in England, it is he who began the Randall’s line which continues in Guernsey to the present day.

By contrast the Randall brewing family in Jersey died out in the 1930s. Robert, the founder, passed away on 1st December, 1898, whereupon Charles Walter sold his shares and left that business to William Albert; when the latter died in 1912 the Breweries were taken over by his son, Harry Aubin. During the First World War the whole operation was concentrated at Clare Street due to a shortage of labour. Following the Armistice in 1918 Minden Place re-opened but only until Charles Walter’s death in the following year; his side of the family then sold their interest. The family of Harry Aubin Randall continued to run Clare Street but Harry died in 1935 without making a Will. His widow, Violet, neé Green, and his sister, Mrs Kathleen Alice Elliot, inherited the property whereupon the former married Mr Melville Walker. Thus the Brewery was still run by the family even if not by Randalls. Mr and Mrs Walker are believed to have died in 1964 and Mrs Elliot was eighty years old when the Brewery finally left the family’s ownership, coming into the possession of the Honourable Edward Greenall, Baron Daresbury (recently deceased).

Reverting to Guernsey, having purchased Vauxlaurens Brewery, Robert Henry Randall proceeded to modernise. He knocked down the Brewer’s House, which was built on a slope between the present offices and Candie Gardens (which in those days were fields where the Brewery dray horses grazed and which were left to the States to be sold as building plots for the upkeep of the Priaulx Library). The land between the properties was dug out to create a yard as a cost of six pence per box cart load, which included dumping near the Bathing Places. A good water supply was available from the deep on-site well, the water from which is said to resemble that of the Pyrenees; this is an essential element in the trade since water makes up 95% of the product.

On the cleared ground Robert Henry extended the Brewery and built the present house and offices, installing steam machinery. He had come to Guernsey very much a bachelor and designed the house accordingly but he was eventually “cornered” by Eliza Mary, daughter of Jurat William Pierre and Marie Cohu (a family from the King’s Mills with roots in the Fourteenth Century), whom he married at St Matthew’s Church, Cobo, in 1874. He consequently had to enlarge the house and move the kitchen from the basement since Eliza stated categorically that she and the servants were not trekking all the way up and down there - in any case Robert’s meals would be cold! It was Miss Cohu who brought Fief Le Cocq into the Randall Empire. Robert celebrated his first ten years in Guernsey in 1878 by the birth of a son, Robert William, the second child. There were to be six further children, one of whom died and the youngest being only eleven years old when Eliza died in 1901; her memorial plaque in Candie Cemetery reads: “RIP until the day dawns”.

From 1870 Vauxlaurens, on Robert Henry’s initiative, supplied wines and spirits and manufactured, according to the 1874 Directory mentioned above, soda water, lemonade, ginger beer, eau-de-selz, seltzer lithia, vichy, soda potash and Brighton seltzer water. This side of the business was sold to the Guernsey Aerated Water and Jam Company Limited in the early 1920s to allow further expansion of the brewing and the wine and spirit sides and it was transferred to another site further down the hill which again possessed a good well; Mr Stranger, an ex-employee, established this firm which has become the present-day Guernsey Soft Drinks. A licence dated 1869 is still held at Vauxlaurens permitting Robert Henry to cause to be made, to use and to vend the Improved Stoppers and the associated India rubber pads patented two years earlier by John Adams and Henry Barrett, soda water manufacturers, as well as the bottles used by the pair for containing aerated or gaseous liquids. Significantly the telegraphic address of Randall’s Brewery was “Stopper, Guernsey”. It is of interest to note en passant that Jersey’s Clare Street and Guernsey’s Vauxlaurens Brewery both used to malt barley, some of which was purchased from France. The skipper of the ship trading to the Islands demanded payment in sovereigns; those were the days when Sterling was valued throughout the world.

Always a pioneer, in 1887 Randall’s Brewery was the first company in Guernsey to produce its own electricity (for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee). According to a small booklet by John Linwood Pitts “Mr R H Randall, St Julian’s Avenue, had a splendid arrangement of the electric light, which was surpassingly brilliant. It was divided into two series, one a 3,000-candle arc-light and the other a chain of twenty-candle incandescent lamps, thirty in number, festooned from tree to tree in the Avenue opposite the Vauxlaurens Brewery. The smaller lamps were lighted from about 9.30 to 10.30 and ... when most of the people had gone down to the Harbour and the White Rock to see the fireworks, the large upper light was turned on and showed most brilliantly from the piers ... the engine-power required to work the dynamos kept the employees late at their duties”. It is only relatively recently that a dynamo was donated to the Ancient Monuments (Heritage) Committee. The family has always been public spirited. There is a record of a Vauxlaurens Trophy for the Rocquaine Regatta in the early 1900s. The Brewery is a corporate member of the friends of St James and of the National Trust of Guernsey and provides much valued financial support to the latter from time to time. Robert Henry was the founder of the Guernsey Licensed Victuallers’ Protection Association which continues to this day; a founder member of the United Club; and a leading light in the Chamber of Commerce and in the Riding and Hunt Club. He also made himself unpopular with the States (the Island’s Parliament) over the matter of spirits held in bond pending use!

Robert William (Bob), on the death in 1900 of his father at London’s Charing Cross Hospital of an appendicitis, took over the Brewery. Aged only twenty-two and untrained he had much on his plate: head of the family, head of the Brewery and with a number of brothers and sisters still to complete their education. The first step was to make the Brewery a limited company as a protection against future division amongst the family, a fate which befell many of the other Brewery properties under the Guernsey law of inheritance following Robert Henry’s death. This involved the Brewery repurchasing many of its previous assets.

Bob had been baptised at St James-the-Less and educated at Elizabeth College (No. 2495) and at Lancing College. He married “the beautiful” Annie Marion Foote of Meadow Grove, Foote’s Lane, St Andrew, in 1902 at St Stephen’s Church. Professional training was undertaken in Market Harborough before he returned to the Brewery where he soon acquired the sobriquet “The Colonel”. He, in turn, saw the business grow and pursued the policy of good brewing and good service set by his father. He was commissioned in the Royal Guernsey Artillery in 1895, campaigned with the British Forces in Italy in the First World War and was awarded a medal for bravery by that country’s Government.

Both Bob’s brothers were also called to the colours in 1914. Charles went off into the Navy and had a very successful career. When the Royal Flying Corps started he became a navigator and following the transformation of the RFC into the Royal Air Force in 1919, he was commissioned and eventually went to Greece to help that country form an air force. He must have been one of the first to gain a flying licence since its number was in the early hundreds. Charles remained a bachelor, sharing a cottage with a sister; this became the venue for card playing sessions still recalled fondly by the present executive directors.

As for Henry, he joined the Cheshire Regiment and became a Lieutenant Colonel. He subsequently married a poetess from Northern Ireland and settled there, but he did visit Guernsey once a year. This was the occasion for a family celebration, generally at the Rockmount or the L’Erée Hotel, and all would be gathered and fed with cream teas and ice cream. Uncle Jim, as he was known, was renowned as purveyor to the children of sugar mice! Most of the extant poetry, it must be said, centres on unrequited love, something which still causes the family a certain amount of consternation.

During the lean years of conflict, the Brewery continued to function but undertaking bottling only; in fact it probably produced more beer annually because of the number of troops in the Island! It was left in the capable hands of loyal staff and, particularly, of Mr T P Hamel, Managing Clerk, who had already given stalwart service to the firm. He had proffered much good advice to Robert William, including counselling him against spending so much time chasing his bride-to-be and towards concentrating more on the business! Robert therefore returned from the War to find a still thriving concern; he was even offered a chance to buy the Guernsey Brewery.

The Royal Guernsey Militia was re-constituted in 1922 and Robert William became an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel and second in Command. He was ADC to the monarch from 1928 to 1953, riding in the procession to Westminster Abbey at the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. A prominent mason he held high office in many other Island Associations. His memorial in Candie Cemetery reads “Steel-True and Blade-Straight”.

During the Second World War, Bob was deported to Biberac in Germany together with his wife and younger daughter, Betty, a notable badminton player in happier circumstances; a saying of Annie Marion became a camp motto:- “Don’t worry - all this will pass”. They were accompanied by Taffy Dawe, the Bottling Store Manager, and by Mr Bodkin, a drayman; the latter dominated the scene as he was a good actor and mimic. There is a story told about Mr Bodkin from earlier days back in Guernsey. It was well known that Robert William, like all the Randalls, had a very bad temper in the mornings. He came in at seven to brew and as usual everybody avoided him. Mr Bodkin was hiding behind a lorry looking for him but Robert William was on the other side, peering at Mr Bodkin, until eventually he informed the latter of where he was. Mr Bodkin apparently jumped out of his skin! Those were the days when deliveries to Torteval (nine miles from the town) took all day; the lorry was once discovered in a field entrance with the drayman fast asleep, overcome, perhaps, by the aroma of alcohol.

No family saga would be complete without mention of the distaff side. Marie Randall, known as Auntie Tottie, became the first woman Deputy (Member of Parliament) in the 1920s, an honour she retained until Kitty Robilliard joined the States. Elsie (Auntie Frizzy) founded a School of Domestic Economy for young ladies in Eastbourne which closed in 1996. The School and Randall’s Brewery at one time used the same Chartered Accountants and Brian Randall pays tribute to this firm for having kept the local company on the straight and narrow financially and for introducing modern business techniques early in the century at a time when chartered accountancy was a developing profession.

Both Robert William’s sons entered the business and became well known characters in the Island; these inter-war years saw expansion and progress made. The elder, Robert George, had been born in 1903 and was also baptised at St James-the-Less and educated at Elizabeth College (No. 3262). He went on to Sandhurst, having gained the Tupper Scholarship, and became a Second Lieutenant in the First Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, joining up in India in March 1923. Robert passed the Instructor’s Course at the Signalling School, Poona, in 1924 and became an instructor there in the following year. He was seconded to the Royal Army Signal Corps and undertook a course at the Signal School in Maresfield and at Catterick in May 1925. However, in August of the following year he was forced to resign his commission due to his father developing a serious infection. He went to Ashton Gate Brewery in Bristol to study brewing and then joined the family business. He had met Mary Duncan Cross in Bristol and he married her on 22nd October, 1928, at St Anselm’s Church in Clifton, taking up residence in Guernsey at Fermain. Mary’s father was a solicitor and the family was strictly teetotal; fortunately they took a shine to the brewer from Guernsey and so overcame any scruples they may have felt! Their two daughters are Jennifer Ann and Caroline Mary.

Robert George remained on the Army Reserve, being called up to the Royal Signal Regiment in 1939 and sent to Prestatyn in North Wales where he ran the Signal School. From there he travelled to North Africa where he fought in the desert with the Eighth Army under General Montgomery. He remained in Syria and Palestine until 1944 and then took charge of a Signal Department at the staff College, Catterick, until 1945. He returned to Guernsey on the Hantonia in August of that year with his family to restart the brewing business with his father and his brother, John Montagu; their house was found completely stripped (it had been used by the Germans as a clothing store) so they went to The Hermitage in St. Martin, Robert William’s home, and this became the mustering station as others returned from war or exile.

Robert George was Chairman of the St Peter Port Branch of the British Legion, being awarded the Gold Badge, and was Treasurer of the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Air Force Association for some years. He was elected as a Deputy for St Peter Port from 1964 to 1970, serving on, amongst others, the Natural Beauties (later Island Development) Committee and the Ancient Monuments (Heritage) Committee. He was also Commodore of both Yacht Clubs, sailing being one of his interests; he had a boat, Carolann, built to his own design at Bulley’s Yard, Teignmouth, Devon. His father’s boat, Marion, from the same yard, was bombed at the beginning of the Occupation. Dog breeding was another particular interest and he was a keen sportsman. Robert George died on 7th October, 1975, and was buried at Le Foulon Garden of Rest where there is a memorial.

The younger son of Robert William, John Montagu (born 1910), was also educated at Elizabeth College (No. 3486) and then went on to Lancing and finally to Exeter for training in the business; his particular interest was the bottling side, entry into the firm also being in 1926. Through the Guernsey Amateur Dramatics and Operatic Company he met Mary Margaret O’Mahoney, a landowner’s daughter from Clonmel, Eire, and marriage followed on 4th April, 1934; in contrast to his brother, his issue were both male. He followed in his father’s footsteps and was a Gunner during the 1939-45 war, seeing service in India and Burma with the Fourteenth Army and eventually being discharged as a Captain. “Monty” was president of the local Gunners’ Association and gained a Royal British Legion medal. He now lives in retirement in the Island but remains active, both physically and mentally, taking a keen interest in proceedings at Vauxlaurens. He looks back with affection to the 1900s, to the time when there were five other breweries in the Island; the Guernsey, formerly the London; Mansell’s and Park Lane situated in those respective St Peter Port streets; one in the Truchot; and the Anglo-Bavarian which closed during the First World War because of its name and the site of which now accommodates the Foresters’ Arms.

During the dark days of the German Occupation, Vauxlaurens had to cease to brew, although Mr Bichard remained in post as Managing Clerk. The resumption of normal business was difficult owing to limited supplies, but gradually the Brewery came to life again as Guernsey’s pulse started to beat healthily, as the effects of those difficult days wore off. Soon the labels of Vauxlaurens’ popular beers started their circulation again and business was built up. The metal pressurised kegs, now supplying the familiar “heads” which served the enjoyable glass of foaming beer, were introduced around this time and greatly appreciated by “Bobby” fans. Modernisation had to come and in 1948 the Randalls began to re-organise their plant, equipment and distribution. It was in this year that the present chimney became a feature of St Peter Port; those grandchildren then in the Island were each invited to inscribe their initials on a brick prior to its being laid.

Randall’s Brewery in the fifties was still no place for a female - indeed even Jennifer’s daughter could not secure a holiday job many years later because “the plumbing facilities were not suitable”! The succession thus fell to the sons of Monty. This new breed began to make its mark in 1954 when Brian Robert joined the firm; at that time there were three generations of the family in the Brewery. Brian undertook a certificate course in brewing at Birmingham University, a first for Randall’s, and then trained at Starkey, Knight and Ford in Tiverton. Two years later The Colonel died and management became the responsibility of Robert George and Monty. The year 1966 saw another addition in the person of Patrick John Randall, Monty’s younger son, who, having also served with the Gunners, was trained in brewing in Tiverton and was then Under-Brewer at Buckley’s in Llanelli. These four held the fort until 1975 when Robert George passed away. The most recent descendant of the original Robert Randall to join the firm is Neville Randall Scott, son of The Colonel’s eldest daughter, Joan. After serving at sea (P&O) and in banking, he completed a short course at Donnington Brewery and then came on board at Vauxlaurens in 1977. Joan, subsequently Mrs Graham, was Company Secretary, until her death when her place was taken by Jenifer Jee, elder daughter of Robert George.

The familiar, popular taste of such traditional beers as Randall’s Original VB and IPA are very much a part of Guernsey’s heritage but modern methods are not ignored. For example, in 1988 the firm was a pioneer again in adopting a new brewing process and thus became the first British brewery to produce a low alcohol bitter. Now some of the UK giants have adopted this method, but Randall’s LA was first!

The current Head Brewer is David Cox who continues the practice of bringing in new ideas from the United Kingdom and avoiding Randall’s becoming introverted. He follows on from Messrs. Nichols, King and John Davis. The future lies in the hands of Ben Randall, Brian’s son. He is, at the time if writing, at Harvey’s in Lewes, also a family brewery. His eventual return will ensure the continuation of the sense of tradition, of very strong family feeling, that characterises Randall’s Brewery of Guernsey.