History of Bent's and Montgomery's Breweries, Stone
MONTGOMERY’S BREWERY COMPANY AND BENT’S BREWERY CO LTD OF STONE, STAFFORDSHIRE, by Philip A Talbot, MA BA Hons ACMA FMAAT AIMgt, Staffordshire University Business School
Stone in Staffordshire was the location of John Joule & Sons Ltd, distinguished for the brewing of the famous Stone Ales.1
The town was also the home of a rival and lessor known brewery, Bent's Brewery Co. Ltd that ceased production in 1968. Bents was located at the “New Brewery”, Stone but this company was not the original occupier. The first brewery that was established there in 1888 was Montgomery’s which was later taken over by Bent’s, at an imprecise date at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The “New Brewery” was built in a former old brickyard, known as Beech’s brickyard, in Mount Road, Stone.2 The brewery was a seven story “Tower Brewery” which was reported in detail in the local press as:-
“The object of having so many floors is the application of the tower process of brewing, which is now rapidly coming into favour both in this country and Germany. By this method of brewing a great economy in ground is possible, since, instead of a series of buildings only one or two stories high and spread over a large extent, the whole of the operations are performed in one structure from the putting of the malt into the mill to the racking of the finished product in the barrel”.
Staffordshire Advertiser, 12th October 1889
The location of the brewery was clearly evident to passengers on the North Staffordshire railway and was located conveniently near to Stone railway station, which was used as a distribution channel. This detailed newspaper explanation may have been required because the New Brewery was significantly different to the existing and long established Joules brewery. Indeed, the arrival of a new competitor led to acrimony between Montgomery and Joules that had to be settled by law.
Thomas Montgomery who hailed from Liverpool, is variously reported as being originally a successful house painter who diversified into the purchase of a public house and then became the owner of several others.3 This Victorian entrepreneur was apparently so successful in the pub trade that he decided to brew his own beer at Stone. The Liverpool connection is important because the owners of Joules were John Parrington, Thomas Harding and John Harding, Liverpool brewers, who had purchased Joules in 1873. Montgomery it transpired had sold Joules beers in his public houses in Liverpool, which is unsurprising since this, was one of the main markets and port of export for the Stone Ales.
It will be recalled that this was the era of exceptional prosperity for many brewers and it is unremarkable that someone such as Montgomery was a new entrant into the market. However, it appears that Montgomery was devious and unethical in the original marketing and business strategy for the New Brewery. He was ultimately found guilty of attempting that which would now be termed “passing off’, that is using the established brand names and reputation of existing businesses, in this case Joules to promote his own business.
The case was decided in the Chancery Division of the High Court in November 1888. It transpired that Montgomery, now described as a Liverpool hotel keeper and plumber was attempting to induce the public to believe that his brewery was in fact the plaintiffs brewery, i.e. Joules. The case, known as the Stone Injunction Case, was Thompson and Others v Montgomery, and thus the Joules name was ostensibly hidden from adverse publicity. Montgomery it had transpired had marketed his new product in the Liverpool press as “Stone Ales” and his brewery as the “Stone Brewery”. Furthermore he had printed and distributed business cards, which bore striking similarity to those of Joules and their trademark, a Red Cross. Montgomery eventually realised that his chances of winning were remote because he agreed to rename his brewery, “Montgomery’s Stone Brewery”, or “Montgomery’ s Brewery, Stone” or “Montgomery’ s, Stone” . He also offered an undertaking not to further use the trademark object on his business cards. Nonetheless, he remained resolved to use the name “Stone Ales” since he believed Joules had no monopoly to the title and that he could sufficiently distinguish his products so that no confusion would arise for the public. The verdict of the judge, Mr Justice Chitty, was reported thus:-
“the plaintiffs had sold their ales for a century as Stone Ales and that this term was well known in the market as a secondary use, that it no longer denoted as it originally did - ale brewed at Stone but it denotes ale brewed by the plaintiffs. He was satisfied that the defendant’s action was to obtain the benefit of reputation, which the plaintiff had acquired.... As the evidence stood he thought the injunction asked for ought to be granted without qualification”.
Staffordshire Advertiser. 10th November 1888
Significantly, the term “Stone Ales”, was copyrighted by Joules in 1888. No advertising materials relating to Montgomery’ s has survived locally other than a narrative advert taken out in the local press.
NEW BREWERY STONE Montgomery & Co.’s Stone Brewed Ales Ales at 1/- 1/3 and 4/6 per gallon
Staffordshire Advertiser, 8th February 1890
News Items 1890-1899. 45. William Salt Library, Stafford Bent’s Brewery Co Ltd who took over Montgomery’s also originated from Liverpool. Prior to 1877 it had traded as Roland Bent and Co from Johnson Street, Liverpool. However, there was an existing strong Staffordshire connection. The Bents family originated from Stonefield near Newcastle Under Lyme. Between 1761-1772, Robert Bent, a farmer, had five sons one of which, Richard became a brewer on Scotland Road, Newcastle Under Lyme, between Hare Place and Bent Street. Three of the other brothers moved to Liverpool and two of these became merchant ship owners. In 1809 a John Bent was apprenticed to his uncle Richard and worked there until 1820.
This was the year John’s father died and Richard Bent in declining health closed the brewery in Scotland Road. John Bent returned to Liverpool and invested his inheritance and skills by founding a new brewery in Johnson Street, Liverpool. The Bent’s apparently were also prepared to diversify their business interests because some of my unrelated research on the financial management of the nineteenth century Theatre Royal, Macclesfield, reveals that listed amongst the original twenty-eight shareholders was as follows:-
Macclesfield Theatre Original Shareholders 1811
- Shareholder Shares Held Status
- William Bent 0.5 Wm Bent & Co Brewers
- James Caldwell 0.5 Bent and Caldwell, Brewers
Source D877/2045/5 Macclesfield Theatre Company, remarks on title 1876, Stafford Record Office
John Bent prospered and ultimately became the Lord Mayor of Liverpool and was knighted in 1851. Sir John Bent died childless in 1857 and the business was taken over by his nephew, Roland Bent. He died in 1864 and the business was then taken over by his cousins, William and Edward Bent. The business became incorporated in July 1889 and was known as Bent’s Brewery Company Ltd. The ostensible reason for incorporation was that the Bent brothers had become too ill to manage the brewery further without outside assistance. Subsequently the Bent’s Brewery Company Ltd was managed by a series of publicly prominent Liverpudlians, Edward Chevalier, Sir Archibald Savage and Sir Thomas White. In the meantime the Bents business empire had continued to expand and a successful wines and spirits business had been created. It later purchased from Montgomery the freehold “New Brewery” and twenty-three licensed houses. It would appear that this was done prior to 1902 when Bent’ s expanded further by acquiring the Chester Lion Brewery Company Ltd. Much later on it acquired the Gartsides (Brookside Brewery)Ltd in 1939.4
Amongst the inns taken over by Bent’s were Montgomery’s first two local public houses, the Dog and Doublet at Sandon and the Darlaston Inn at Meeford which still stand today. The last two specific Bent’s public houses were opened in late 1967. These were the Luck Penny at Crab Lane, Stafford, and the Bonnie Gem at Pirehill Lane, Stone. These were the last of the five hundred and twenty licensed houses that extended from Liverpool into Wales and into the Black Country. However, by then Bent’s had been acquired by the Bass Charrington group in the same year. A company spokesman had stated that:-
“The future of some of our own brands now that we a part of a large group is uncertain and we felt we would like to perpetuate one our oldest brands” Mr W Lloyd, Bent’s District Manager, Stone
Unfortunately, this optimism was misplaced because the Bass Charrington group unexpectedly closed the brewery early in 1968 as part of a rationalisation process with the loss of eighty-eight jobs. The closure was surprising given that the brewery had been reported in 1966 as one of the most modern breweries in the Midlands and had installed a new bottling plant in 1957 capable of handling 7,200 bottles an hour. The company had also recently carried out £100,000 worth of expansion which included a new malt store, hop room, copper, mash tun and hop back. This also had resulted in the installation of a new oil firing system that had used 6,000 gallons of oil a week. It was also reported that a new grain elevator had been introduced because of the weakness of the brewery tower. This had arisen apparently because of excessive wartime production at Stone to compensate for lost production at the Liverpool site, which had suffered damage from enemy bombing.
Brewing in Stone would only survive for a further six years when the Bass Charrington group also closed down Bent’s main rival, Joules. Bent’s reputation locally never attained the same esteem as Joules as many older consumers of today will testify. The New Brewery still survives today but is now an industrial park and many small businesses occupy what was the brewery site.
- 1 Brewery History, Number 100, Summer 2000, pp44/54
- 2 Cope A, Stone in Staffordshire - The History of a Market Town, Wood, Mitchell and Co Ltd, Hanley, (1972) pl32, William Salt Library, Stafford
- 3 Stone Guardian, Stone Industries No 1, 6th November 1948, William Salt Library, Stafford
- 4 Richmond L and Turton A, The Brewing Industry, A Guide to Historical Records, (1989), Manchester University Press, pp68/69