Anglo-Bavarian Brewery Co. Ltd
Anglo-Bavarian Brewery Co. Ltd, Commercial Road, Shepton Mallet, Somerset.
Erected 1864 as the Shepton Mallet Pale Ale Brewery by William Clarke of the Red Lion Brewery in Town Street. Bought by Garton & Co. of Southampton 1870 and substantially rebuilt to brew lighter ales.
Recommenced on a smaller scale in 1935 to supply the domestic trade and finally ceased in September 1939.
Buildings now used as a trading estate.
Mary Miles writes:-
“The Anglo-Bavarian Brewery," wrote Alfred Barnard in 1892, "is an extensive pile of massive stonework, ornamented at each end with towers of solid masonry, 24 feet square and 80 feet high. From any point of view it has a noble and commanding appearance, consisting, as it does, of one great central block of buildings, surrounded on three sides by lesser ranges, which comprise maltings, ale stores, cooperages and offices. The general style of architecture is classic, and the buildings are constructed of Lias stone, with Doulting stone cornices, pilasters and dressings".
The first buildings were erected in 1864 for Morris, Cox and Clarke of London specifically for the production of India Pale Ale. In 1872 the business was taken over by Hill, Garton and Company, the owners of a large brewery in Southampton, who made considerable additions and improvements. The name Anglo-Bavarian appears to stem from this date as well. By the end of the Century it had a reputation of being one of the most up-to-date, as well as one of the largest, breweries in the country. It had its own electricity plant, the dynamo being driven by a Westinghouse 70 hp engine, a large maltings, a boiler-house "which contains two splendid tubular steel boilers of the latest pattern", stabling for sixteen horses, a steam-driven fire engine.
When the brewery closed in 1921, all of its fire-fighting equipment was bought by the Urban District Council.
The description of the electricity supply is particularly interesting. The dynamo was of the arc-light type, supplying eighteen lamps giving 1,200 candle-power. These lamps "are arranged in series, that is a single cable passes through the whole of them, and returns to complete the circuit. They burn for sixteen hours without trimming, two pairs of carbon pencils being placed in each lamp, the second pair coming into operation when the first has been consumed, which is usually after about eight hours' burning.
The cost of the maintenance of each lamp averages something like one penny per hour - possibly, in experience, it may be found to be even less - as the consumption of steam power by the engine is scarcely felt. The lamps are distributed about the buildings and yards wherever work has to be carried on after dusk, enabling the operations to be continued at night, which would be otherwise impossible. For instance, at the time of our visit, numerous workmen were busy excavating the foundations for the enlargement of the brewery premises, who, by means of the three lamps in the front yard, each of 1,200 candle-power were enabled to work until dawn".
The water supply had been inadequate and so, despite the scepticism of several members of the management, a water-diviner was engaged. He was Charles Sims, a local farmer and "a notable discovered of wells in the district". His hazel branch indicated exactly where large reserves of water existed, and "after excavating and dynamiting through the rock, to the depth of 50 feet, a magnificent spring was discovered in a fault of the rock, and even a finer quality than the town's supply".
The prosperity of the company was not accidental. It produced an excellent beer, "a brilliant, light and sparkling pale ale, of a very high class". "Light character, pleasant on the palate, and very free from acidity. The system of brewing is such that the keeping properties of the beers have a great reputation, consequently they compare most favourably with the production of Burton on Trent". This keeping property is one of the great merits of the Anglo-Bavarian beer. It had an ability to stand up to continued high temperatures without deterioration. This caused something of a sensation at an international brewing exhibition in Vienna in 1885. This was held during the summer, and the majority of the beers brought from abroad in both casks and bottles suffered badly from the temperature en route and in the exhibition hall. All the Shepton Mallet samples remained in perfect condition, and they received a well-deserved medal. Bottled, they were exported with great success to India, South America, the West Indies and many parts of Africa.
Kelly's Directory for 1894 says they were producing Pale and Mild Ales, Stout and "Celebrated Amber Ale". Advertising material of the period also lists "High Class Family Ales - Bitter, Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Family Pale Ale, Mild Ale and Stout". Barnard also commented upon the beers saying they were, "..bright and sparkling as the Vienna and Bavarian Beers ...combines the special properties of the high class English ales with those of the lighter beers brewed upon the Bavarian System ...they unite a pleasant flavour of the hop, without being too bitter, as is the case with the majority of the continental light drinking beers". He also comments on the fact that they brewed special gyles for consumption in hot climates, bottled by their sole export agents, T P Griffin and Company of London. His description of the brewing process shows nothing too unusual, and he does describe skimming rising yeast.
With the repeated references to Vienna, Bavaria and Amber Ale it might be convenient to conclude that the brewery produced lager. However, it is a case of not proven, as they certainly were brewing standard British beers and the brewing process used does not imply lager. Keith Osborne, President of the Labologists Society, has over 50 labels from the Company and not one advertises lager.
The brewery employed 2,000 men - a large proportion of the male labour force in Shepton Mallet - and three head brewers. Even by Burton-on-Trent standards, it was a very sizeable concern. It was economically important to more than the 200 men actual employed at the brewery. The two railway stations were much involved in shipping the casks of beer away and in bringing in malting barley, hops, wood for casks and other materials. Local shopkeepers also benefited from the existence of the brewery.
The Anglo-Bavarian was not the only brewery in the town. In 1900 there were four others: three of these were maltsters as well, and the fourth and smallest, a public house brewery, was run by Alfred Marquis Showering, whose family emerged from rural obscurity in the 1940s to launch Babycham on a marvelling world and to become millionaires in the process. The post-war Showering mansions and parks smile indulgently and perhaps patronisingly across the valley at the remains of the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery on the opposite hillside.
The closing of this large, well-established brewery in 1921 still remains something of a mystery. Its name, and its supposed German connections, made it unpopular when war broke out in 1914, and it was rapidly rechristened the Anglo Brewery; but the stigma, which was wholly undeserved, remained. In times of peace there was no harm, and indeed a positive advantage in telling the world, as the British Commission on Beers had done in the 1880s, that "The Anglo-Bavarian Brewery Company's beer combines the special properties of high-class English ales with those of the lighter beers brewed upon the Bavarian system".
With Germany as an enemy, however, any suggestion to an Englishman that his beer might have a German taint to it was an appalling thought. The Garton family was undoubtedly subjected to a great deal of malicious and ignorant gossip and persecution during the war years, despite the distinguished military service of one of its members, and this may quite well have undermined the will to continue in business once the war was over. Of some importance, too, was probably the crippling of the firm's export trade between 1914 and 1918, as a result of Government restrictions. Business of this kind can take several years to recover and, since the pattern of world trade was not at all the same once peace returned, the company may have lacked the drive and the flexibility to compete under post-war conditions.
One reason - and it may have been the decisive one - for the unwillingness to carry on was publicly indicated by Colonel Archie Garton, who found himself running the business on his return from active service. During the war, troops were given a substantial ration of rum before being sent to attack the German positions. This, as the months moved on and the casualties mounted, produced in Colonel Garton a loathing of drink and the drink trade, and he came to feel that he could not go on drawing his livelihood from it. The great brewery at Shepton Mallet had to be sacrificed as a matter of principle.
It is ironical, even so, that the firm which, in the 1870s, had been hailed as the saviour of the town should have decided to withdraw from the field at a time when it was needed locally as much as it had been half a century earlier. The grand brewery premises, like Shepton Mallet itself, decayed steadily during the 1920s and 1930s, with bits and pieces of the buildings being used for other purposes, sections pulled down from time to time and a general feeling of hopelessness about it, like an Imperial palace in Russia after the Revolution. The space became more valuable during the Second World War, and a Government research department found itself housed there for a while.
The buildings now lead a distinctly second-best existence as the Anglo Trading Estate, a final flowering before the end. What remains, however, is a powerful reminder of the money that was made in brewing in Victorian times and of the grand style of architecture that was considered appropriate to the social prestige of the industry.
The brewery features in The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland by Alfred Barnard published 1890.
An assortment of images of the brewery
A gallery of images from a visit to the town in August 2020. Courtesy Jeff Sechiari