Francis Pelham Whitbread 1867-1941
FRANCIS PELHAM WHITBREAD 1867-1941 by David J Jeremy
Francis Pelham Whitbread was born on 16 October 1867, the third son of Samuel Whitbread (1830-1915), of Sothill Park, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, brewer and Liberal MP for Bedford (1852-1895), and his wife Lady Isabella Charlotte, daughter of the Third Earl of Chichester. Frank (as he was known in the family and firm) went to Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, matriculating in 1886 (but never graduating) and then joined the Inner Temple, qualifying as a barrister in 1891. The following year he entered the family firm as a managing director. His father was chairman and Charles Whitbread was the other managing director; a director's qualification was then £10,000 of ordinary shares. Whitbread & Company Ltd, with a brewery in Chiswell Street in the City and a bottling store (set up in 1868) in Worship Street, Finsbury, was one of the larger London brewing businesses - its "Great Tun Room" in Chiswell Street produced 4,000 barrels of beer a week in 1889 and by 1913 the Chiswell Street brewery had an asset value of £695,585.
Frank Whitbread started in brewing when the trade was in turmoil and the difficulties then affecting the industry strongly moulded the attitudes and objectives of much of his subsequent career. The brewers' problems in the 1880s and 1890s stemmed from a starling decline in the demand for beer. A rising number of London publicans became insolvent as a result and their leases (bought with mortgage loans raised from commercial brewers) fell into the brewers' hands. Initially, the London brewers used joint stock floatations to supply capital for loans to licensees in hopes of conserving the existing volume of trade. For this reason Whitbread & Company Ltd had been formed in July 1889 with a capital of £1,735,484 (£625,000 in ordinary shares and the rest subscribed in cash) and £750,000 of 4% debenture stock. However, Whitbreads' loans to licensees continued to grow, mounting from £1,000,000 in 1890 to £2,000,000 in 1897-1898, without staunching insolvency rates and in the face of falling loan scheme profitability. Other tactics were tried to restore demand - such as reducing the wholesale price of beer (1887) or refusing loan terms to licensees convicted of adulterating beer - but these succeeded rather in souring relations between brewers and licensed victuallers.
Difficulties intensified up to the First World War. Demand picked up in the early 1890s and then fell away again. To secure shares of the shrinking market, competition increased. First the provincial brewers, and then in the 1890s the Burton brewers, had extended their tied-house estates. When smaller London brewers used joint stock floatations to provide capital for buying public house properties, the large London brewers had no option but to do likewise. Between 1890 and 1907 Whitbread's tied house estate rose from £100,000 to £2,000,000 in value. The movement caused an alarming inflation in London public house prices and when the boom collapsed in 1902 a number of smaller brewers failed. Whitbreads survived by depreciating their properties through a capital reduction: their share capital of £2,289,000 (in 1903) was written down to £1,989,000 in 1908. In acquiring large tied estates the brewers forfeited public sympathy, which sided with the independent licensee. This feeling and pressure from the temperance movement enabled the Liberals in 1910 to raise the license duty to half the rateable value of the public house, thereby depressing the value of the brewers' tied estates and further squeezing licensed property profitability. In short, the first two decades of Frank Whitbread's career taught him the clear need to develop trade postures and structures which would harmonise relations between brewers and licensees, reduce competition between brewers and recover tied estate profitability levels, improve the brewers' public image and strengthen their influence with Government.
Within the family firm Frank Whitbread's role awaits detailed research. Throughout his career he was one of two or more (six in 1939) managing directors and presumably (in view of his training and later interests) was concerned with retailing rather than production. Despite the recession which hit London trade in 1900, Whitbreads managed to increase their annual barrelage from 693,700 in 1899 to 828,000 in 1906. Output thereafter fell back to 750,000 in 1908 but recovered again to 862,700 in 1912. The write-off in assets of £300,000 in 1911 was very modest by contemporary standards, so that one could say that Whitbreads - almost alone among the major London brewers - escaped the recession virtually intact. Doubtless Francis Whitbread played some part in all of this. Between the wars the Whitbread board "did not see much of him at the brewery" - he was released to serve the wider interests of the trade. Whitbreads relied on a national market among the free houses and clubs, rather than extensions to its own tied estate which its pre-1914 experiences had taught the Whitbread managers to distrust. The value of Whitbreads' public houses scarcely changed between 1913 and 1936 (at £1,6000,000). Essentially its market position rested on its bottled beers which were produced in about 42 depots throughout the UK in 1947, and its success in persuading licensees to stock, and the consumer to demand, them. During the inter-war period Whitbread as a company did not really progress very much. It may have been a pioneer of public house improvement, but since it owned far fewer houses than either Watney or Mitchell & Butler (both of which were also active property improvers) it can hardly be described as a leader of the industry. In an era of acquisitions and concentrations, Whitbread made only one significant purchase (Jude Hanbury of Wateringbury, Kent) during the whole inter-war period. One wonders whether it would have survived into the 1960s - to become a most active buyer of other breweries - had it not been for the large family holdings of its equity. Within the firm Frank Whitbread certainly helped to build up the company's relationships with licensees, for this became his forte when he moved into leadership positions within the trade - the level at which he made his greatest business impact.
In 1905 he was elected chairman of the newly-formed (1904) Brewers' society, a federation of the County Brewers' Society, the London Brewers' Association and the Burton Brewers' Association. Established to unite the various regional groups of brewers, the Society gathered and disseminated political and economic, legal and technical trade information among members and had a Parliamentary Sub-Committee to monitor parliament bills and to act as a political pressure group in the interests of the trade. A more politically overt and active brewing trade organisation, however, was the National Trade Defence Association, established in 1888 to harmonise the interests of brewers and licensees and watch their interests inside and outside parliament, to secure the election of MPs favourably disposed towards the brewing trade and "to decide upon the general policy of defence". Brewers Almanack (1932)
After serving as chairman of the Brewers Society for two years, Frank Whitbread in November 1907 was elected chairman and treasurer of the NTDA. He held the position of NTDA chairman until his death and for many years was a member of the General Parliamentary and Law Committees of the Brewers' Society. During the 1920s and 1930s he unified the activities of the two trade organisations in his own person. Both bodies shared the same premises at 5 Upper Belgrave Street, Westminster, and Frank Whitbread was generally to be found there in his first-floor front room office, "ready to advise on all questions affecting the trade". The House of Whitbread Sept 1921.
At this industry level he worked extensively in three directions.
Firstly, he promoted harmonious relations between the brewers and their retailers, the licensees, a role for which his temperament, legal training and company experience fitter him:-
The was the prince of diplomacy whose skill could never be mistaken for sharp subtlety. He sincerely believed that when a licensee's grievance was not against the law but against the terms of his tenancy nearly every dispute could be settled without resort to the licensing court, and he justified his belief. Monthly Bulletin Nov 1941
As the brewers' champion of the licensees, Frank Whitbread was frequently invited by the charitable and protective societies of the trade to preside over annual banquets and festivals. For example, in 1915 and 1916 he chaired the festivals of the Licensed Victuallers Asylum and in June 1919 presided at the Peace Banquet of the Licensed Victuallers Control Board. In the 1920s and 1930s he continued to address gatherings of national and local trade societies, particularly on the eve of parliamentary elections when the mobilisation of trade opinion had its highest priority.
Secondly, he actively defended the trade against the temperance movement during the heyday of the Liberal Party. He and William Waters Butler, chairman of the Brewers' Society, organised "the fight against the notorious Licensing Bill of 1907". Neville 1958
which limited the right of renewal of licenses to fourteen years and provided for local option thereafter - a fight the brewers, widely supported by public opinion, won.
Thirdly, at the end of the First World War, Frank Whitbread figured in the small group assembled by Sir Richard Garton and Edward Gifford (chairman of Barclay Perkins) which shaped post-war policy for the trade. They drafted a "constructive policy" which was adopted by a sub-committee of the Brewers' Society, appointed in 1918, on which F P Whitbread, as NTDA chairman, also sat. The new policy was designed to advance rationalisation and responsibility in the industry. A policy of fewer and better public houses would meet the difficulties posed by the competitive proliferation of clubs, by the brewing industry's over capacity and by temperance and public criticisms. The trade took up the challenge encouraged by its policy makers like Frank Whitbread. Between 1922 and 1930 "approximately 27% of the total number of public houses in England and Wales were improved one way or another". Hawkins and Pass 1979
- with the addition of reading and games rooms, music facilities and the sale of non-alcoholic beverages, for example.
Whitbread's position in response to the possibilities of reform emerged most clearly in the minority report he made as member of the Royal Commission on Licensing which sat under Lord Amulree, 1929-1932. Whereas the main report of the Commission recommended the preservation of restricted hours of opening of public houses, Frank Whitbread argued for "some relaxation of the stringency of provisions which are relics of war-time restrictions". Brewers' Almanack 1932
However, he reserved his greatest objections for the proposed National Licensing Commissions (for England and for Wales) and for the extension of public ownership of licensed premises. The former, whose function would be to supervise the reduction of licenses as administered by magistrates, would, Whitbread argued, be an unnecessary expense in view of the National finance emergency; public ownership he also regarded as financially impracticable and politically objectionable. Broadly he accepted many of the objectives in the recommendations of the Royal Commission's main report - the provision of machinery for reducing the number of licenses, the improvement of the public house as a place of alimentation, and more effective control over he supply of liquor in clubs, for example - but, with his legally-trained mind and intimate knowledge of the trade, he foresaw practical difficulties on the administrative level.
Within the industry Whitbread duly filled all the major elective posts, being master of the Worshipful Company of Brewers, 1907-1908 and president of the Institute of Brewing, 1913-1915, and 1926-1928 and president of the Licensed Victualler's school. Beyond it he took no part in any other business activities. Much of his spare time he gave to the social work tradition long maintained in his family. He was elected executive committee member of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1895 (vice-chairman 1911); was chairman of the Royal Society for the Assistance of Discharged Prisoners and then chairman of the Central Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society in 1918 and president from 1921; treasurer of Guy's Hospital, 1924-1935; chairman of the Hospital Savings Association; and chairman of the governing body of Aldenham School, 1907 and 1912 onwards.
Apart from shooting and fishing, especially in Scotland, he found relaxation in his London clubs, Arthur's, Beefsteak and Brook's (where for many years he was chairman of the managers).
He was a good speaker, who enjoyed his own quips and epigrams. And why not? His friends will cherish a vision of his long, slender body rising, as though uncoiling, slowly from his seat, and his deliberation in speaking. He read widely and always drew upon the purest literary sources. In conversation he sometimes affected a cynicism which was an amusing contrast to his buoyant forthrightness in action. "Of course I'm only a blasted brewer, and so I shall hardly be believed, but." Thus was he pleased to lead on from the old to the new. A Monthly Bulletin II Nov 1941.
Francis Pelham Whitbread married in 1894 the Honourable Ida Madeleine Agnes, second daughter of the Fourth Lord Sudeley. They had a son and a daughter. F P Whitbread died at Cooper's Hill Lodge, Englefield Green, Surrey on 29 October 1941, leaving £243,653 gross.