Ushers of Trowbridge 150 Years Brochure

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USHERS BREWERY LTD Parade House, Trowbridge, Wiltshire A HISTORY

This short article is extracted from the 150th Birthday Celebrations Brochure

In 1824, Thomas Usher acquired a small brewery in Back Street, Trowbridge, which grew in the face of fierce competition from hundreds of households where people brewed their own liquors. Success for Thomas Usher came not as a matter of course but as a result of sheer hard work. Living with his family in a house in Back Street, known as the Brewery Tap, he saw trade grow and the number of customers increase steadily. However, no matter how many customers arrived, morning or night, the inner doors would be closed while the family held their prayer meeting. Customers knew they had to wait, and wait they did. The drinking was supervised by Thomas Usher's wife who, having decided that a man had had enough to drink, said so, and the man knew that he would not get another drink that day.

As for the brewing of the beer, the modern methods and temperature controls of today were unheard of. In those days the use of the thermometer was unknown and before the mashing process the Brewer would dip his thumb into the copper and if it seemed about the right temperature he would mash. This practice was, incidentally, said to be the origin of the term “rule of thumb”.

Thomas Usher, wearing the breeches and stockings of those days, together with the top hat, started his work at around 3 a.m. each morning when he began the day's brew. He would then think nothing of walking to Bath for business after leaving the brewery at around mid-day. When the Weyhill Fayre came in October he would mount his cob and ride 35-40 miles to Weyhill to buy his Farnham hops for the year.

Joined in the business by three of their sons, the hard working couple retired in 1869, Thomas being 77 and his wife Hannah 69. Both were to live on until their 80th year.

So it was in April 1889, at a time when it was quite fashionable for brewing concerns to seek registration as limited companies, that Ushers Wiltshire Brewery Limited was born. One of the three sons in the business, Jacob Usher, was the Company’s first Chairman. The Usher family was to retain its connection with the Company until 1941 when T.C.Usher, grandson of the founder, retired. He is still remembered by Trowbridgians for the prominent part he played for so many years in the administrative and social life of the town.

In 1890, the Company acquired the Sovereign Brewery in Bayswater, London, but at a later date the London business was transferred to Church Place, Paddington.

These premises were badly damaged by enemy action during the Second World War and were disposed of in 1948. However, immediately before and between the two World Wars, the Company had grown by acquisition and merger as much as by its natural growth. Companies that came into the Usher organisation were:-

  • • G T Spencer of Bradford-on-Avon 1914
  • • Wadley & Co. of Highworth 1918
  • • Adams of Marlborough 1918
  • • Folliots of Salisbury 1919
  • • Wilkins Brothers & Hudson, Bradford-on-Avon 1920
  • • Barletts of Warminster 1920

In 1922, the “near and dear friends” of Ushers, J H & H Blake Ltd of Trowbridge joined forces with the Company, as did the Wallingford Brewery of Berkshire in 1928. Small concerns such as Smallcombes of Westbury, the Lion Brewery of Chippenham and Palmers of Donnington had also come within the Usher organisation. In 1955, Arnold and Hancock Limited of Wiveliscombe and Taunton became part of the Usher Group and in 1957 the Frome and Lamb brewery was acquired jointly by Ushers and Stroud Brewery Limited.

In May, 1960, events took a turn, for Ushers themselves merged with Watney Mann Limited and, by 1964, their activity in the West Country had spread considerably, which prompted the dropping of “Wiltshire” from the Company name. Six years on to 1970 saw the Company take on responsibility for operations previously carried out for Watney Mann by Watney Mann (Plymouth & Cornwall) Limited, Watney Mann (South Wales) Limited and W. F. Vinnicombe & Son Limited of Torquay and Teignmouth, the latter having been acquired by Watneys in 1967. As a result it was decided to lay dormant these three Companies and re-name Ushers Brewery Limited, Watney Mann (West) Limited, which name was officially registered on 28th September, 1970, some 146 years after Thomas Usher set up business in Back Street.

Two years later, in May 1972, Watney Mann Limited was taken over by Grand Metropolitan Limited, who had previously obtained control of Trumans Limited. In October, 1973, Grand Metropolitan set about reorganising its brewing interests and, in April 1974, Watney Mann and Truman Holdings Limited was created as the Grand Metropolitan Brewing Division. Two operating companies, Watney Mann and Truman Brewers and Chef and Brewer, were responsible for the day to day running of the business, the first for the production, distribution and wholesale including sales to Free Trade customers) and the latter for the retail operation through Managed and Tenanted houses and for the licensed property administration. A further change took place in July, 1976, when it was decided that the Brewing Division should revert to regional companies, each with its own Board of Directors, and a greater degree of autonomy and responsibility.

In the West Country and Wales the title of Watney Mann (West) Limited was retained and the name “Ushers Brewery” included in the official address at Trowbridge. The formation of the new Company included Watney Innkeepers (West), Property Division, and Watney Truman Wales which was responsible for Free & Tied Sales and Distribution in South Wales.

After a decade of trading as Watney Mann (West) Ltd., the Company name reverted to Ushers Brewery Ltd., on 1st October, 1980. The Tied Estate became known as Ushers Innkeepers, but trading in Wales continued as Watney Truman Wales.

The decision to change the Company name was taken following research in the South West, and the results were such that it was evident public opinion was extremely well disposed towards the name of Ushers and its beers. A poll of employees throughout the Region was also conducted and over 75% responded in favour of the Company’s name being Ushers Brewery Ltd.

Thomas Usher could never have foreseen the organisation as it exists today, any more than we can see what will exist in the year 2126, one hundred and fifty years hence. The name Usher lives on, for in spite of all that has occurred Ushers Brewery remains the headquarters of the regional company. The brewery lies behind the 18th century group of six houses which form the Company’s main offices in Trowbridge, which for a town of its size contains a surprisingly large number of such houses. The group of six are all faced with Bath stone and it is almost certain that the stone would have come from the quarries at Westwood, now no longer worked. Constant weathering over a period of two hundred years had, in fact, taken its toll on the facade of the buildings and much of the shaped stonework was wearing and becoming shapeless and so, in 1965, the Company had the frontage cleaned and restored. New stones were cut by craftsmen, and badly damaged parts replaced. Weeks of patient scrubbing slowly brought the stonework back to a colour resembling the original.

Arlington House, built about the year 1700 at the western end of the Parade is probably one of the oldest houses of the group. Deeds show it to have been sold by Samuel Singer to Isaac Green in December 1748. Jacob Usher bought it in 1893, only to sell it to the Wiltshire County Council in 1896. The property was not to come back into the Company ownership until after the Second World War. Next door, to the East, No. 71 Fores Street was built in 1794 on the site of an earlier dwelling and it was used as the first bank in Trowbridge. It is not known how long the bank lasted but the house was sold in 1812, and many times again, before it was bought by the Brewery along with Arlington House. Moving on, the next property is Parade House, the most elaborate of the group. The earliest records show Parade House as being owned by Thomas Timbrell, Lord of the Manor, in 1821. It is known that the house was used as a shop in the early 1800s by a Mrs. Heathcote, who employed a large staff of young ladies in a flourishing dressmaker's business. Ushers moved into Parade House immediately after the First World War, but it is not established whether they owned it or not at that time.