Whitbread PLC, Magor, Gwent
Brewery, originally built and owned by Whitbread & Co. Ltd, came on stream September 1979.
Initially to brew only lager. Now part of ABInbev.
MAGOR BREWERY 1979-99 by Nick Redman, Archivist, Whitbread PLC
Whitbread’s involvement in South Wales began in 1894 with the opening of a bottling store in Cardiff. Here beer delivered by rail in butts from the company’s London brewery was bottled for local distribution.
In 1951, Whitbread began an association with Andrew Buchan’s Breweries Ltd, renamed Rhymney Breweries Ltd in 1959. Buchan’s brewed at Rhymney, and in Cardiff, at the Crosswell’s brewery, acquired in 1945. Soon Whitbread’s bottled beers and Mackeson stout were being sold through Buchan’s houses. Mackeson was bottled at Rhymney.
In 1959 Rhymney Breweries bought the Ely Brewery in Cardiff, but this was closed in 1962.
In 1966, Whitbread fully took over Rhymney Breweries and thus became brewers in South Wales in their own right for the first time. The following year they bought Evan Evans Bevan’s brewery at Cadoxton, Neath. Brewing ceased at Neath in 1970, at Rhymney in 1978 and at Cardiff in 1982. By then a brand new brewery had come on line at Magor, in the flat lands between Newport and the River Severn.
Whitbread had already built two large new breweries, at Oakley Road, Luton, and Samlesbury, Preston, to meet the then rapidly expanding lager market. Forecasts indicated that a third brewery would be required. The Western Brewery project team selected Magor.
It was in a development area with associated grants, there was good availability of skilled labour, and easy access to the motorway network. There was also a plentiful water supply. This was drawn from the Great Spring that flooded the Severn Railway Tunnel during construction in 1879. The Spring has a minimum flow of 9 million gallons a day, pumped to the surface at Sudbrook, of which Whitbread is licensed to use 2.4 million gallons, although consumption is usually around half that figure.
Fears in 1992 that construction work on the second Severn Bridge might affect the Great Spring fortunately proved unfounded.
The brewery cost £51 million to build, and covers 58 acres. A notable design feature was the separation of specialist operations into different buildings linked by covered walkways. Great care was taken to screen the brewery with banks of earth and trees. During construction work a number of skeletons were found, believed to be medieval burials.
Magor opened in 1979. The first brew took place on 14th September. Chairman Sam Whitbread unveiled a large fibreglass hind’s head soon after, to mark a special open day for contractors and to celebrate the first commercial brew. Heineken production began in November and an elaborate counter mounting in the Hospitality Bar commemorates that occasion. Packaging into containers began in October 1979, and into cans in September 1980.
Slate and timber used in the reception area came from fermentation tanks once at Chiswell Street. Elsewhere photographs and artefacts recall Magor’s links with the brewing history of South Wales.
Magor’s first general manager was John Foster. He was succeeded by Dr John Gore. In 1990, Chris Hughes took over. By 1991, annual production had reached 1.6 million barrels; the main brands brewed being Heineken, Stella, Murphy’s, Whitbread Best Bitter, Poacher, Trophy and Welsh Bitter.
In 1994, a 40,000 square feet primary warehouse came into operation. This was part of a major change in distribution procedures that led to significant reductions in stockholding levels. It was followed in the next few years by three further warehousing projects, adding overall a massive 18,000 square metres of storage capacity.
More investment came in 1996 when nine 1,000 barrel FVs were installed at a cost of £3 million. The facility was launched by Newport East MP Roy Hughes, now Lord Islwyn. In 1999 an additional eight FVs were erected. The vessels were made in the Netherlands, shipped to Newport Dock and then brought by road to the brewery. Also in 1999 a new mash filter was installed.
Magor has won several awards in recent years, including an Investor in People Award as an individual site, and the 1995 Investor of the Year Title in Gwent’s Business Awards. It had previously gained BS5750 accreditation and a commendation in the Best Factory Awards.
In autumn 1997, Brian Birchall took over as general manager of Magor following Chris Hughes’ retirement.
After twenty years of growth and development, Magor is now brewing 201 million barrels a year, operating, since June 1999, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The one 14 lane kegging line handles 1.1 million barrels; the two canning lines process 0.8 million barrels. The canning of Boddington’s beers, which requires a major tanker operation to keep going, takes place here.
Magor now brews Heineken, Stella, Murphy’s, Poacher, Welsh Bitter, Flowers Best Bitter, Tungsten and Heldenbrau Extra Special. A small quantity of bulk beer is sent for packaging elsewhere, and Heineken and Stella is delivered in tankers to regional brewery customers. Otherwise kegs from Magor are distributed mainly to Wales, the Midlands and the South of England. Canned products are delivered across the country.
Magor celebrated the official opening of the National Assembly of Wales in May 1999 with a special limited edition bottled “Cwrw Dathlu Cynulliad Cymru”. The brewery marked its 20th anniversary with a bottled Celebration Ale. By chance, the anniversary has coincided with a time of great change and upheaval in the industry but improvement and investment at the site continues.
A new mash filter has been ordered, to be on stream by April 2000; and four 2,400 barrel maturation vessels have also been ordered. Eight 1,000 barrel FVs are about to be ordered, with foundations in place for a further sixteen. Magor Brewery has been a remarkable success story over its first 20 years. It now looks forward confidently to the challenges and opportunities of the new millennium.
An assortment of images of the brewery