A History of the Bristol Brewery Georges Ltd

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THE BRISTOL BREWERY (GEORGES AND COMPANY) LTD compiled by Ken Smith

The last pint has now been brewed at Courage’s Bristol Brewery. The majority of the production has successfully been switched to Tadcaster. The last week of operation was a difficult and emotional affairs for those who remained to switch off the lights. Not to mention the cloud that seemed to hang over the quality of that last brew. A sad end to 300 years of brewing excellence. The BHS presents a small tribute to a famous old brewery.

The original brewhouse of the Bristol Porter Brewery appears to have been built by Isaac Hobhouse and others in or about 1730. Hobhouse was one of the most famous of the Bristol slave traders, many of the records of his business can be seen in the City archives. After his death he left his share in the brewhouse to his two nephews, John and Henry.

John Hobhouse's great grandson, Sir Charles Parry Hobhouse was the grandfather of Mr Hugh C Hobhouse, Managing Director of the then Charlton and Oakhill Breweries and later a director of Bristol Brewery (Georges & Company) Ltd., after the merger between Georges and Bristol United Breweries in 1956.

By 1787 it had passed to a Mr James Grimes who, in 1788, leased it to a partnership led by Philip George but included 2 members of the Fry confectionery family. George was the son of William George, a distiller who was also a Freeman of the City of Bristol. The minutes of the first meeting of George’s, then styled Philip George and the Bristol Porter Brewery, show that this was held on 3rd January, 1788. Philip George and his six partners then agreed to acquire from James Grimes, the original brewhouse, malthouse and warehouse in Tucker Street.

From these small beginnings, the Company developed into the largest brewery in the West Country, dominating the banks of the floating harbour from Bristol Bridge to St. Philips Bridge, in extent about a quarter of a mile. The Old Porter Brewery initially brewed exactly that, porter only. A pale ale brewery was eventually opened in the mid 1790s which proved extremely successful. It was the original intention that there should be eight equal shares in the concern of £2,000 each, but in fact, there ended up only being seven as James Morgan, who is named as the eighth partner in the draft co-partnership agreement, never actually took up his share.

The partners were most eminent Bristol merchants, some being in the slave trade, then a dominant feature of the commercial life of the City:-

“P George and Co. beg leave to represent to their friends and the public that their present stock of Porter is very large, and in the highest state of perfection, they have in their power to tender a constant supply of what is Old and Good. Private Families may be accommodated with half barrels, or in bottles:- Such as do not find it convenient to take a cask, may procure it at several of the Inns, and most of the public houses in the City; at Four pence per quart, full measure. They have also now on sale, a stock of fine flavoured Old Strong Beer”.

“For home consumption or exportation, either in Cask or in bottle: they have also just established the brewing of Ale and Table Beer, which is ready to be delivered in Barrels or Half Barrels to any part of the City.”

“As they presume the quality of their liquor will be found equal to any in use, and as a constant supply of may be depended upon; they hope for the patronage of the friends and the public.

NB: Orders sent by post or left at their brewery, will be duly attended to.”

On 18th March 1789, Mr George told his partners that trade had been opened up with Ireland and Liverpool, that 80 barrels of porter was being shipped to Cork, the same to Waterford, and a further 100 barrels to Liverpool. In 1790, Mr George purchased Bayly’s Premises and in the following year bought Ellis and Overton’s, presumably this property was to be embodied in the Pale Ale brewery which was to be built within the next few years.

Prosperity did not appear at once as is borne out by the annual accounts of the partnership which regularly showed a loss from 1788 to 1795; the largest in 1793 being £3,102. 16s. 2d., and in the year ending 31st July 1797 they showed their first profit.

The export trade varied always, some months it was as high as 257 barrels (795 in February 1795) in other months none at all. In August 1800 trade reached a peak of 2,462 barrels but thereafter declined slightly. By 1828 the average monthly barrelage was circa 1,000 although there were seasonal fluctuations.

In 1795, the Company seemed to have realized that it was necessary to offer a wider range of beers, and to that end built a further brewhouse in Tucker Street for brewing light ales.

Before the end of 1816, all the original partners were either dead or had retired with the exception of Philip George and Jacob Wilcox Ricketts. These decided to retire in favour of their sons, three Georges and four Ricketts, the firm now styled Georges, Ricketts & Company.

This was the period when the firm began to acquire its own licensed houses and so to some extent at least, free itself from the fierce competition between brewers that drove many small firms into liquidation. In 1827, Richard Vaughan, a banker, became a partner and from this point the firm was styled George & Company.

In February 1888, one hundred years later, the firm became a limited company, the original capital is shown as being £300,000, the average annual profit over the ten preceding years being £43,778. Besides acquiring the brewery, the new company, called Bristol Brewery Georges & Company Ltd, also acquired 70 freehold and 12 leasehold public houses. It was intended, when the prospectus was issued, that the lists should remain open for a week, but in the first five hours of the first day no less than £6,300,000 was subscribed by the public.

Over the next 70 years the company grew, acquiring the following local firms:-

  • 1889 James & Pierce Ltd, Bedminster Bridge Brewery, Bedminster, Bristol
  • 1911 R Miller & Company, Stoke Croft Brewery, Bristol
  • 1912 Hall & Sons, Lodway Brewery, Bristol
  • 1917 John Arnold, Wickwar
  • 1918 Welton Breweries Ltd, Welton, Somerset
  • 1923 Bath Brewery Ltd, Combe Down Brewery, Bath, Avon
  • 1926 Richard Slade & Sons, The Brewery, Union Road, Chippenham
  • 1931 Ashton Gate Brewery Company Ltd, Ashton Gate, Bedminster
  • 1932 Wyld & Company, Bristol (wine & Spirit merchants)
  • 1944 Crocker Bros Ltd, Bristol
  • 1959 Wigmore & Company Ltd, Bristol (Mineral water manufacturers)
  • 1960 E J Allen & Sons Ltd, (Mineral water manufacturers)

In 1956, they merged with Bristol United Breweries and then in 1961, Bristol Georges and Co. Ltd. were welcomed into the Courage, Barclay and Simonds fold, bringing the whole of the West country into an operational area that already encompassed the Central and Eastern sections of Southern England. Since that time, until its closure in 1999, it brewed continously as the major West Country brewery of a variety of operators, including Courage Ltd and Scottish Courage.

Source History of The Bristol Brewery Georges and Company Ltd by G H Wilshire.