Wethered & Sons - a brief history

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Thomas Wethered & Sons Ltd by Douglas Pluck

The Victorian history of Buckinghamshire states that Wethereds were established in Marlow in 1758, it also cites that this was "the chief brewery" in the town. From this latter statement it can be construed that there were other, albeit smaller, brewery concerns operating at that time.

Although no authority appears to exist to say for certain that Wethereds commenced their business in the year 1758, the firm accepted this date many years ago.

A certain Edward Wethered of Penn, Bucks, had a son George, born in 1714, who eventually became a brewer. In 1744 George married Elizabeth Gibbons who was the daughter of a brewer in St.Peter Street, Marlow. Opposite the Two Brewers public house in St.Peter Street is the Malt House which is stated to be the original small brewery once owned by the Gibbons family but now a private residence. It is thought that George possibly acquired an interest in brewing through his father-in-law. Elizabeth and George Wethered had a son, George, born in 1745, who later was described as a maltster of Marlow. After the death of Elizabeth, George married his second wife, Ann Reynolds, in 1757. They had a son named Thomas born in 1761.

George Wethered, senior, by his will of 1783, confirmed the gift to his son George of the unexpired portion of the lease of a dwelling house, malthouse and appurtenances, held from the late Henry Smith. These were situated on the East side off the High Street, Marlow, and at the time were occupied by George Wethered, junior. He also gave him the stock, utensils and implements belonging to the said maltkiln and premises.

By the same Will, George Wethered, bequeathed to his son Thomas, "the lease of the malthouse, maltkiln, yard, earthhouse and appurtenances, situated and being in the High Street of Great Marlow on the West side and which I hold of William Clayton Esq. and also all my stock of malt, barley, utensils and implements belonging to said malthouse and the business carried on and also all my stock and utensils in the brewing business".

It will be noticed there is no mention of an actual Brewery in the Will. The brewing business referred to could be that which was situated in St Peter Street. Of the two malthouses, one was occupied by George Wethered together with a house and stood in the lower part and on the East side of the High Street. These premises were demolished during the 1960s as at the time they were deemed to be unsafe. The site was then redeveloped with three shops and flats. The other malthouse, occupied by Thomas Wethered, was also in the High Street but its actual position has never been traced although it certainly was not where the present brewery stands.

Thomas Wethered built up a prosperous business and by 1788 was seeking larger premises in order to increase further his output of beer. In that year he leased certain premises, "formerly Miss Freeman's Boarding School and the Three Tuns Tavern" from William Clayton for 99 years at the annual rent of £18. Although there are no plans attached to the title deeds of the land on which the present brewery stands, it is obvious that the premises leased from 1788 were the same.

In 1796 Thomas Wethered purchased the freehold of the premises he held on lease for the sum of $400. The title deeds recite "with new brewhouse, stable, storehouses and premises lately erected and built ... in the High Street Marlow". This is the earliest mention of a brewery belonging to the firm in the High Street of Marlow and it infers that the building took place shortly before the acquisition of the freehold. There is a datestone, "T.W.1788", outside the back door of the offices. Furthermore a memorandum of 1819 stated:- "A brewhouse and other buildings have, since the purchase of the estate, been built on the premises by Thomas Wethered", thus indicating further expansion. It is possible that a datestone on the Fermenting Room wall, "T.W.1791" commemorates the then new brewhouse.

No information is available as to what progress or otherwise was made by George Wethered, junior, in the brewery business. This in spite of the fact that included in George Wethered senior's Will was, "It is my earnest desire and request that my said sons do deal with each other in their several businesses as I am fully persuaded it will be to their mutual advantage".

The White House situated on the north side of the brewery and fronting the High Street, was leased by Thomas Wethered in 1791 and twenty nine years later he purchased the freehold. Thomas was then able to build a Racking Cellar which jutted out into the garden of the White House. On the Racking Cellar wall is a datestone, "T.W.1826". About this time it is likely that the elegant bow-windowed front was added to the White House and a bridge built linking it to the brewery.

There is every probability that George Wethered, senior, had a small brewery in 1758 and on the West side of the High Street, Marlow, but it was not until after his death in 1783 that his son Thomas actually founded the firm of Thomas Wethered & Sons in 1783 on the site where the brewery now stands.

Thomas married Sarah Badger and they had nine children, the first two dying in infancy. Two of his sons, Owen and Lawrence William, became partners in the business. In 1813 he purchased a Georgian property in West Street which had ceased being part of the Royal Military College in 1812. He was living there when he retired in 1845, aged 84, and he died in 1849.

Owen Wethered died in 1862 and his sons Thomas Owen of Seymour Court, Marlow, and Owen Peel became partners although the date when they did so is unknown.

Their brother Robert Peel, joined them in 1870 but unfortunately he died in 1873. Thomas Owen retired in 1890 when Owen Peel's sons, Francis and Walter became partners as did Thomas Owen's son-in-law, John Danvers Power. This partnership continued with Owen Peel as Senior Partner until 1899 when the business became a Limited Liability Company, the Chairman being Owen Peel. Colonel F E Stevens was appointed Manager and Mr C H Yates as secretary, a position he held for 59 years until his death in 1935.

In 1901 a Bottling Store was opened and two years later a new Fermenting Room was made available. At the same time a chimney shaft was built in connection with an electric lighting plant which was installed by Mr V B Butt. He became the engineer to the company and remained as such for many years.

As with all breweries, distribution originally was by horse-drawn drays (it still is locally by Adnams & Co. Ltd of Southwold), but by 1905 it was carried out by steam operated traction engines towing trailers. Some six years later the company introduced petrol lorries.

The Chairman, Colonel Owen Peel Wethered, died in 1908 and the vacancy was filled by his son, Lt Colonel Francis Owen Wethered. In 1909 Colonel Stevens joined the Board and was appointed Managing Director.

The company purchased Henry Bird (Berkshire), Weldale Brewery, Reading, in 1913 and a further nine licensed houses were added. The following year the company won the Championship Gold Medal at the Brewer's Exhibition.

During the next ten years or so a number of changes and additions were made to the Board. Mr J D Power resigned in 1916. In 1917 Mr Walter Wethered died and the Head Brewer, Mr J L Holland, was made a Director. Mr Piers Danvers Power then joined the Board in 1921. The next year Mr John D Power returned as Chairman following the death of Lt Colonel F O Wethered. The latter's widow joined the Board in 1924 but died two years later.

A considerable number of Ordinary Shares were purchased in 1926 by Sir Richard Garton and Mr Charles Garton and the latter joined the Board. In 1927, the Chairman, Mr J D Power, died and Lt Colonel Joseph R Wethered was elected Chairman. He was a great-grandson of the founder who succeeded Colonel Stevens, first as General Manager and later as Managing Director. During the course of the same year, William's Royal Stag Brewery at Wooburn, Buckinghamshire, was acquired by the company which added a further 35 licensed houses. In 1931 œ60,000 was capitalised by making a fully paid issue of 5% Second Preference Shares to the Ordinary Shareholders.

On the death of Lt Colonel J R Wethered in 1942, Mr Stanley Garton of Danesfield, Medmenham, became Managing Director with his cousin, Mr K G Durrant as part time assistant and Mr Piers D Power was elected Chairman. Mr Stanley Garton had joined the Board in 1934 on the death of his father Mr Charles Garton. In 1942, Mr Francis John Wethered joined the Board. He was the son of Lt Colonel F O Wethered by his second wife and served less that a year on the Board as he lost his life at sea when the ship in which he was travelling was torpedoed.

Commander Owen Francis Mactier Wethered, RN, was elected a Director in 1945 but resigned in 1949. Mr Stanley Garton died in 1948 and the vacancy of Managing Director was then filled by the appointment of Mr Piers D Power who was also Chairman.

Messrs Strong & Co Ltd of Romsey acquired all the Ordinary and Preference Shares of the Company in 1949 and the Board was then reconstituted. Mr R C Chambers became Chairman and he and Mr T Hall then became Joint Managing Directors. Mr Hubert Meredith and Mr Piers D Power became Resident Directors.

Soon after Strong & Co. purchased Thomas Wethered & Sons Ltd, two further acquisitions were made. In 1950 Strange & Sons Ltd, Aldermaston Brewery and some 50 licensed houses were purchased and in 1953, S H Higgs Ltd Lion Brewery of Reading with 8 licensed houses was acquired.

In 1953, Mr Piers D Power retired from his Resident Directorship although he retained a seat on the Board. He was succeeded by Mr H H Palmer as Director and Secretary. He had been Secretary to the Company since 1935.

Mr R C Chambers died in 1956 and Mr T Hall was appointed Chairman. In the same year, Mr John Danvers Power, a great great great grandson of the founder, joined the Board and in 1958 he succeeded Mr H H Palmer on the latter's retirement from the management.

In 1958, Mr John Hodgkinson was appointed Secretary, only the third in 59 years! The following year Mr T Hall retired as Chairman and Managing Director although he retained a seat on the Board. Mr A E L Hill then became Chairman and Mr K C Boyd joined the Board. Mr Hill took over the management of the Company from Mr John D Power when the latter left Marlow in 1960.

Thomas Wethered first brewed his fine ales in Marlow in 1758. Things haven't changed much in over 200 years. The Wethered's brewery still adopts traditional brewing methods to produce distinctive and original cask conditioned ales. MARLOW BITTER A satisfying bitter, carefully brewed to bring out the flavour of the hop. S.P.A. A premium bitter with a unique, full bodied taste and individual strength. WINTER ROYAL A dark powerful and warming ale. One of the strongest beers brewed in the South of England. MILD A fine local mild - giving a full creamy head and smooth taste.

Strong & Co Ltd, together with its licensed houses, numbering more than 500, were taken over by Whitbread & Co. Ltd in 1968 and so Wethereds became a direct subsidiary of this company. Brewing actually ceased in Marlow in January 1988 and in the following May the brewery closed. Since then the brewery has been used as a distribution centre and in 1992 Whitbread ceased its distribution operations from the site, although Whitbread still retained a Managed House Department controlling Chiltern Inns and nothing else.

So what does the future hold for the brewery site? Whitbread decided not to sell off the 5 1/2 acre site but to seek planning consent to develop the area through their subsidiary, Whitbread Developments Ltd. In May 1988 an application was lodged for a £6 million shopping centre project which included a large supermarket, 25 shops and a multi-storey car park. This was to be called Old Brewery Walk. The application precipitated three years of planning wrangles during which a great deal of local opposition was engendered. Three further applications were submitted by Whitbreads amidst much deliberation and opposition by local organisations including BRINK (the campaign for the Brewery Redevelopment In Keeping with Marlow), the Chairman of which is Anthony Wethered, the son of Commander O F M Wethered and a descendant of the founder.

The last application was for a mixture of business and residential use but inspite of misgivings from certain quarters, permission was granted by the Planning Authority in 1991. However, the consent was never implemented. In the same year Whitbread and the owners of adjoining land, amounting to a further 5 acres, submitted a joint application, which is locally described as trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot. So far no decision has been made by the Planning Authority on this latest application. On 14th February 1994 the District Council decided to set up a working party to consider what is best for Marlow, insofar as the 10 1/2 acres are concerned. They are therefore back to 1988!


References

  • Some notes on the origin and management of Thomas Wethered & Sons Ltd 1788 - 1959. Piers D Power, 1959
  • Historic Thames Valley Taverns, Diana Bowerman, 1976, Chapter 9 - Local Breweries
  • John Hodgkinson, Secretary of the Brewery from 1958
  • Bucks Free Press, 20th May 1988
  • Bucks News, 20th May 1988
  • Maidenhead Advertiser 28th April 1989
  • Brewery News No 1 November 1989
  • Maidenhead Advertiser 5th April 1991
  • Chris Halton, member of BRINK Committee