Blatch's Theale Brewery Ltd

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Blatch's Theale Brewery Ltd, High Street, Theale, Berkshire.

Founded 1752 and acquired by the Blatch family 1854.

Private company registered May 1938.

Acquired by Ind Coope (Oxford & West) Ltd. 1965 with 22 houses and brewing ceased.

Penelope Olsen writes:-

Theale, first mentioned in the Charter of Reading Abbey in 1164, was originally a hamlet of the manor of Tilehurst. The whole area was held by the Abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid sixteenth century, and from then was divided up as it fell into the possession of various members of the landed gentry.

The site of the Old Brewery lay in the so-called manor of Beansheaf, a name apparently taken from a family living in Tilehurst in the 13th century. According to local history archives the manor diminished in size as it passed down through the centuries from family to family (due to inheritance or sale). Evidence is fragmentary, however it would appear that the Stonor family owned the area under discussion in the fifteenth century, and the Vachell family in the seventeenth century. It is surprising to note that Van der Keere and Speed's map of Berkshire, dated 1627, omits Theale, despite the fact that a contemporary accounts refers to a quarrel amongst Essex's soldiers at in Inn in Theale during the English Civil War only a decade later.

Theale became an ecclesiastical parish in its own right in 1832, and was divided for civil purposes too, in 1895. Archaeological finds, in the form of hand made pottery, tiles, loom weights etc, provide us with additional evidence that indicates that the area in which the Old Brewery lies was probably occupied as early as the first century AD, by Roman and then Saxon settlements. Its position on the main thoroughfare from London to Bath always made it an important place.

Historical records of Berkshire's breweries tell us that the Old Brewery at Theale was certainly a working brewery in 1830. Unfortunately, the exact date when it was founded is unknown. We do know however that from 1830 until 1854 it was run by the Draper family. First by Jasper Draper (1830-40), then by his son James Hugh and widow Sophia (1840-47) and finally by James Hugh on his own (1850-54). The census returns for the years 1841 and 1851 indicate exactly who was residing at the Brewery on census day in those years.

  • Sophia Draper, 70 years
  • brewer Elizabeth Draper, 30 years
  • William Evans, 20 years
  • servant James Burhule, 20 years
  • servant William Niale, 30 years
  • servant Thomas Manshale, 20 years
  • servant James May, 20 years
  • George May, 10 years

1851 98 Theale Street, Bath Road:- James Hugh Draper, head brewer employing 4 men, also a farmer of 40 acres employing 2 men and 1 boy

Mary Draper, wife Sophie Strange, niece Ellen Andrews, cook William Wheeler, house servant

It is interesting to note that the additional information recorded on the 1851 census tells us that the Draper family were also landowners. A very rare and badly damaged tithe (landownership) map of Theale, dated 1811-17, shows that Jasper Draper owned various fields, both in the vicinity of the brewery and to the south of the village. Other sources record that a certain Thomas Draper owned land in the area back in 1736 although its exact location is not mentioned. The Draper's were clearly an important and wealthy family in Theale during the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries, and it is most probable that Jasper Draper commissioned the building of the brewery and related buildings in the 1820s.

Industrial archaeologists suggest that because the malt house is clearly an older structure than the brewery building, and also because it was unusual for a brewery business to have its own malt house, Draper was probably a maltster long before he decided to start brewing. Derbyshire was of course a most important malting area in England in the eighteenth century, and this alone would have been a very lucrative business.

The brewery building, although slightly altered, is of the Victorian "tower" type, whereby the brewing process dictated its design and shape. The water and malt would have been mixed at the top of the building, the mixture would have been boiled on the level below, and so on till it was ready for storage in barrels in the basement. Originally, the brewery building would have had no windows or chimney stack, and it would have been joined to the malt house. Where the ariel window is today, a hoist would have been fixed to lift loads up to the top.

The other brewery buildings would have consisted of the brewer's family house on the main road (c.1830, unaltered), stabling for numerous shire horses (used to deliver their loads to the public houses in and around Berkshire), storage buildings for malt, brewery grains and fodder, a cooperage for the making and repair of barrels, a steam engine house (disappeared), and of course a well. In 18S4 the brewery was taken over by the Blatch family. It remained in their possession for more than a century until 1965 when the business excluding the brewery buildings and malt house were sold to Ind Coope on the death of the then present owner, Harold Blatch. Ind Coope Ltd's desire to purchase the business was based on acquiring the 26 public houses "tied" to it. Because beer is a perishable commodity, independent brewers such as the Draper and Blatch families would have needed a regular outlet for their produce, thus the development of a tied system whereby the landlord of the public house had a tied tenancy with the brewery, guaranteeing rental income to the brewer and an outlet for his beer. Apparently Blatch's beer had a bad reputation, however they also bottled Guinness and this was very popular!

The Blatch family soon established themselves in Theale, and before long the brewery was known as Blatch's Brewery. The census return for 1861 enables us to identify various members of the family.

1861 122 Theale Street, William Henry Blatch, head, brewer, maltster and spirit merchant employing 6 men (born in Nutley)

Catherine Mary Blatch, wife William Henry, son Alice, daughter Kate, daughter Frank, son Agnes, daughter Frank Blatch, brother, brewer, maltster and spirit merchant Maria Graysmark, governess Elizabeth Lucy Love, cook Charity Shroud, housemaid

William and his brother Frank ran the brewery together until 1887 when William died and Frank continued alone. Frank was a highly respected member of the local community and in 1884 was made vice-president of the committee which organised an Art & Industrial Exhibition. In the catalogue for this exhibition Blatch's Brewery took a full page advertisement and several members of the family submitted artefacts.

Extracts from 1884 Art & Industrial Exhibition catalogue:-

  • Mr Frank Blatch Pair of oak oval frames and leather work (own work) Case of minerals
  • Master Henry Blatch Case of foreign butterflies Case of English butterflies Tray of silk (from egg to fabric)
  • Miss Alice Blatch A handkerchief case (own work)

According to the few remaining old maps of the area, the site occupied by the brewery buildings and gardens remained unchanged from at least 1883, until the time the brewery stopped trading in 1959 (figs 4-6).

Berkshire County Records have tree preservation orders for an assortment of trees on "land to the rear of the brewery". These include limes, Scots pines and black pines, but no medlar. Gainsmead (later Mamm Inn Play) took over the Brewery buildings in 1969 and undertook sensitive renovations. Cobbles were brought from London to replace those missing in the yard, while old beams were renewed along with iron and wooden staircases, and a glazed door. All attempts by the company (together with the local Reading Chronicle) to uncover the "mystery that surrounds this piece of Theale's history" were unsuccessful.

An assortment of images of the brewery