History of the Stroud Brewery Co. Ltd

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The History of the Stroud Brewery Co. Ltd

Peter Leversage, a farmer of Middle Lypiatt, established the Stroud Brewery in 1760. He was soon joined by Mr Grazebrook and Mr Burgh. The very early days of the brewery were conducted under the name of ‘Leversage, Grazebrook and Burgh’. After the retirement of Messrs Grazebrook and Burgh, Mr Leversage took Mr Joseph Watts into the business. Mr Watts soon took on an active role at the brewery and, following the death of Peter Leversage, became its sole proprietor in 1819. The brewery became a prosperous concern under his leadership.

Joseph Watts was a prominent and influential character in the town of Stroud. Apart from running the local brewery he was also involved in local politics and was a devoted Christian. When returning home from church after a Sunday service a beggar walked up to Mr Watts and asked for money. Upon receiving the princely sum of sixpence the beggar thanked Mr Watts and assured that the money would be very well spent as he would invest the sixpence in a few pints of Stroud Brewery ales at the nearest pub!

When Joseph Watts died in 1855 at the age of 84; the brewery was bequeathed to Joseph Watts-Hallewell, one of his grandsons. The brewery business was then carried on by the partnership of Messrs. Watts-Hallewell, Biddell and Stanton. It later became known as Watts & Company.

In 1888 a company was formed under the title of the Stroud Brewery Company Limited, with J. Watts-Hallewell as chairman. Upon the death of Mr. J.Watts-Hallewell in 1891, Mr J.T. Stanton was appointed chairman of the Company and Mr Colchester-Wemyss was elected to fill the vacancy on the Board, and on the retirement of Mr J.T. Stanton in 1897, was appointed Chairman.

The following is taken from an advertisement in the July 1907 publication ‘Stroud and Neighbourhood’: “The brewery with its high chimney (built in 1901), which forms a prominent landmark, stands at the lower entrance to the town by the GWR station, and is fronted by the magnificent suite of offices, including a fine board room, built of stone, in the picturesque Cotswold style and covered with grey stone tiles, the whole presenting an imposing and pleasing appearance. Some twelve years ago the brewery itself was re-modelled and fitted with every modern appliance, no expense or trouble being spared in that respect”.

The Stroud Brewery Company was using sugar as an adjunct for brewing as early as 1910. Mr Colchester-Wemyss argued that the English barley crop was deficient in yields compared to foreign barleys and the addition of sugar in the brewing process compensated for this deficiency. In wishing to support English farmers he considered that the use of brewing sugars was beneficial to support agriculture. He told the Stroud News (17th June,1910) “that it was quite possible to brew beer from foreign barley without the addition of sugar but when made from English barley, or a mixture of foreign and English, the taste in beer had so changed that the brewers had found it necessary in order to suit the palate of the public that a certain amount of sugar must be used”.

During the Great War a substantial increase in beer duty had put an extra penny on the price of a pint, and the original gravity had been reduced on the instructions of the Government. The result was an enormous reduction in the consumption of beer. It was impossible to use quality ingredients and many small family breweries could not survive these difficult times.

Messrs. N & W Cook's Tetbury Brewery was acquired by the Stroud Brewery in 1913 with 33 public houses. Stroud Brewery had already taken over George [[Playne & Sons][], Forwood Brewery in Minchinhampton in 1897, and went on to acquire Charles Richard Luce’s Mill and Abbey Breweries in Malmesbury (1912), Duck & Co’s Brewery in Malmesbury (1920), W.S. Butler’s Brewery, Marlborough (1920) and Warn & Sons Ltd, Tetbury Brewery in 1931.

The most significant acquisition, however, was that of the established Godsell & Sons Ltd, brewers of Salmon Springs, Stroud. The continued high price of beer and the decreased spending power of the public meant that breweries had to find ways of surviving with diminishing sales of beer. In March 1928 Godsell’s brewery was acquired with ‘keen buyers and sellers on both sides’.

The Stroud Brewery Co. were always very keen to introduce the latest in new brewing technology. A chilling and carbonating plant was built at considerable expense as early as 1926 to enable the brewery to ‘chill and aerate beer by a special process’. They claimed that there was a tendency for people to prefer this new bottled beer as it was ‘fit to drink, brilliant in colour, properly aerated, and it could be drunk to the last drop’. Naturally conditioned bottled beer was deemed to be a thing of the past. The closure of the Godsell’s Brewery enabled the transfer of the bottling and processing plant to the Salmon Springs site securing employment for the old Godsell’s workforce and relieving space for brewing at the crowded Rowcroft brewery site.

In October 1928 an unfortunate incident occurred when the head brewer of the Stroud Brewery, Mr. J.D. Wilson, died in a motoring accident in London Road, Stroud. Ironically, a motor lorry belonging to the Stroud Brewery Company was responsible for the tragedy having skidded and passed over him.

The brewing industry continued to have difficult times until well after the end of the Second World War. The Stroud Brewery Courier reported in March 1948: “As from January 1st, the Government has cut down supplies of brewing sugars, which means that brewings have to be reduced again, consequently supplies to our houses have reluctantly been further curtailed. This is unfortunate, as every house is asking for more beer, not less, and no Stroud house appears to have sufficient supplies to open the full number of hours. It is gratifying to know that ‘Stroud Beers’ are so popular, but it is regretted that supplies are not sufficient to meet the demand”.

The operations of the Stroud Brewery eventually extended into a large proportion of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, with outposts in Oxfordshire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. Expansion was made possible with the advent of the motor lorry. By 1929 the brewery had about 400 tied houses making it an important regional brewery.

The Stroud Brewery took over the Alton Court Brewery Co. Ltd at Ross on Wye in 1956. In 1959 the Stroud Brewery Company amalgamated with the Cheltenham & Hereford Brewery at Cheltenham to form West Country Breweries Ltd. For a time brewing at Cheltenham and Stroud continued. In 1960 the Stroud Brewery produced draught Stroud Bitter, Stroud XX, and Stroud XX Mild. The bottled beer range at Stroud included Cotswold Ale, Cotswold Brown, All Bright, Nourishing Stout and Home Brewed.

Brewing at Stroud continued until 1967. However, the traditional draught beers were transferred to Cheltenham and the old Stroud Brewery was used as a production centre for bottled beers and Double Gloster Keg. West Country Breweries were taken over by Whitbread in 1963 and the Stroud Brewery was used to process Whitbread branded beers. As more production was transferred to Cheltenham the brewery at Stroud was declared redundant and it closed without a fight in 1967. After standing derelict for a number of years the Stroud Brewery was finally demolished in October 1973. The vacant space was purchased by the Stroud and Swindon Building Society and their headquarters were built on site of the old Stroud Brewery in the late 1980’s.

The green tiled frontage of the Olde Robin Hood Inn in Hopewell Street, Gloucester (just off Barton Street) is without doubt the most impressive feature of the Stroud Brewery which can still be seen to this day. The Olde Robin Hood closed about 35 years ago and when the corporate Whitbread signage was removed the words ‘Stroud Brewery Co’s Ales & Stouts’ were revealed in magnificent raised tiled lettering. There are a now only three pubs in the county that retain their original Stroud Brewery etched windows. The words ‘Stroud Ales’ can be seen in faded paint on the walls of the Nelson in Brimscombe and the Llanthony Bridge Inn in Gloucestershire (both closed).