A Short History of the Crown Brewery, Pontclun
The Crown Brewery Co Ltd, Pontyclun
The origins of the present Crown Brewery at Pontyclun are inextricably linked with the creation of Working mens' Clubs in South Wales during the last century. In common with other emerging industrial areas, South Wales welcomed a large influx of workers to previously small and isolated communities and conditions appeared in which groups of "like minded individuals" formed and operated their own clubs for recreation. Not all the clubs so formed were drinking establishments; indeed, the Miners Welfare Clubs did not become "wet" until thirty or forty years ago. However, those clubs in the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act of 1881, public houses in Wales had to close on Sundays, for this impediment did not apply to clubs.
The clubs were supplied then by the many local breweries which abounded in the area. As time went by, there were various difficulties with supplies - some leading to disillusionment.
At a council meeting of the South Wales Branch of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union Ltd., held at the Abercarn Working Men's Club on 3rd December, 1916, the following motion was carried:-
"That in the opinion of this Branch the action of Brewers in raising their prices by such a large amount, having regard to the fact that they have been obtaining sums over and above the increase in taxation since November 1914 is entirely unwarranted and unnecessary".
There is an indication in these words, that the representatives of the club union movement, formed only seven years previously, felt sufficiently powerful to criticise what they saw as the unfair pricing policies of the brewers, and this may be seen as the starting point of a campaign which eventually produced their own brewery.
As the war finally ended, beer amongst other commodities, was in short supply and the clubs did not receive top priority when it came to distributing those supplies which were available. Underlying the whole matter, it must be stated, was the diversity of the industry in those days and whilst mergers had been effected before then, the momentum was not such as it became during the period thirty or forty years on. It is quite understandable that the smaller brewing units should provide for their own estates before accommodating the free trade, which, although growing, was not the force which it was eventually to become in the social life of the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, clubs did exist and they became intent upon ensuring supplies of beer by taking control of a brewery. To this end, a brewery sub-committee was formed in 1918 from the South Wales Branch Executive Committee and a report was made to the executive. The following is an extract from the proceedings of an executive meeting held at Pontypridd on 20th May 1919 (note the fashionable wording):-
"The brewery sub-committee submitted a report that they were now in position to acquire a brewery on behalf of the Branch clubs and suggested that propaganda should be undertaken in connection with the scheme."
The "scheme" involved forming a company, The South Wales and Monmouth United Clubs Brewery Company Limited, the shares in which were only available to clubs which were members of the Clubs and Institute Union and to individuals who were members of such clubs. Directors were elected on the basis of equal numbers of such clubs and individual shareholders and, to maintain the link between the C.I.U. and the brewery, it was incorporated into the articles of the company that two executive members would be co-opted to the board.
Capital was raised by issuing 15,000 Ordinary Shares of £1 each and £10,000 Cumulative Preference Shares also £1. Although a further £15,000 was raised the following year, in 1919 the sum of £25,000 was deemed sufficient to form the company and to purchase a brewery.
D & T JENKINS
In June 1919, an option was obtained on the Pontyclun brewery of D & T Jenkins, known as the Crown Brewery, and the purchase completed shortly afterwards.
Only the brewery itself was involved in the purchase, since the estate, including the public house still operating opposite the brewery, was not required. The first brews of the single product C.P.A. (Clubs Pale Ale) were prepared by the head brewer, Captain Rogers, a one-time cavalry officer in the Boer War. At that time, production was a mere 200 barrels per week.
As time passed, the benefits of trading with the new concern were gradually appreciated by an increasing number of clubs since not only was the product good and the supply assured, but a bonus was paid on each barrel purchased. This bonus enabled the clubs to keep the price of a pint at a low level.
In 1936, the company appointed their second head brewer, Lee Marsh, who has spent a number of years as assistant brewer before taking over. Bottled beer was now being produced and the total output from the brewery was over 500 barrels per week.
Demand for the company's products continued to increase and in 1938, additional fermentation capacity was added to the extent that 900 barrels per week could be produced. Various extensions and alterations had taken place since 1919 but the same building was than having to produce over four times the quantity it had only twenty years before. At this point, the Second World War brought a temporary halt to the continuous growth the company had been enjoying since its inception. This time, however, when the war was over, clubs were able to get a reasonable share of the beer available, due at least in part to the existence of their brewery.
THE NEW BREWERY
By utilising every square inch of space and optimising the vessels and brewing plant, up to 1,2000 barrels could just be brewed. However, the old building was having a much greater weight thrust upon it than was ever envisaged by its builders. Tie-bars were added to keep the walls from collapsing - a case, literally, of a brewery bulging at the seams. Such a situation could not continue and with demand still rising, the board decided to build a new brewery.
Additional land was purchased and plans were prepared for the new brewery to be built directly behind the old brewery yard on the other side of the Nant Felin Fach - a small stream feeding into the main river nearby. As an aside, it is related that all the brewery waste materials, spent hops, yeast, cask washings, etc., were disposed of via the Nant Felin Fach and that this so encouraged the trout that night-lines set from the brewery were invariably productive. Modern disposal methods in the new brewery allowed for only surplus water to discharge and it is some years now since fish have been seen in the river!
The first turf cut for the new brewery was made by the then secretary, Mr. Trevor Williams on 15th October, 1951. Financing this new project was achieved partly by creating additional share capital and partly by an advantageous loan from a sister club's brewery.
Building work progressed slowly for materials were still in short supply but by February 1954 it was completed. Much of the better plant from the old brewery was transferred to the new and it is fitting to remark that one or two items were so well engineered that they are still in use. A new well was sunk to replace the one which had previously provided brewing liquor, via a stream pumping engine, for the old brewery. There are ample supplies of water under the area around the brewery and until a few years ago, this source was used for brewing. Unfortunately, an iron-ore mine, some two miles from the brewery, from which large quantities of water were pumped, was then closed down and the water from the Pontyclun well became over contaminated with iron and calcium salts which now make it unsuitable for brewing.
After some thirty-one years in the position, Lee Marsh retired as head brewer in 1967, and was replaced by his assistant Peter Clark, but not before he had won the championship, in 1964, for the best draught beer, with S.B.B.- Special Best Bitter- a beer which was first put on the market in 1960.
Around that period, the brewery saw many changes, with extensions and new plant. Filtered bulk beer was introduced and distributed in tankers and, in 1969, the company's first keg beer was produced. At that time, it was planned to keg only small quantities of beer and lager was hardly thought of. However, within a short period, the capacity of the plant had to be doubled and then doubled again as the popularity of the company's products, packaged in this form, increased.
In 1983 at Brewex, Brenin Bitter was judged to be the best brewery-conditioned beer and in that year too, the old keg plant was replaced by a fully automatic twin lane, Sankey Flowmaster plant. The differences between racking on this machine and filling wooden casks in the old brewery is difficult to imagine.
The bottling department too has been modernised to cater for the demand for the newer packages. The company now fills its products into both Plastishield and P.E.T. bottles.
When Peter Clark retired in 1979, he was succeeded by David Cox who left the company in 1982. The present head brewer, Bob Smith, is thus only the fifth brewer to have held office during the sixty five years of existence of the company.
Crown Brewery has reached into much more widely spread areas than those served at its inception. There is now a depot in Nabeth, Dyfed and one in London. Its products are distributed in the Bristol and Southampton areas, as well as in the Midlands and the West Country. However, no matter how far afield the company travels, its roots will remain in South Wales, in Pontyclun and the small family brewery which was bought and re-named, to fulfil the vision of Welsh clubmen and which has flourished to become the brewery it is today.