Brewing Industry

The history of brewing in Warwickshire largely mirrors the national pattern of development for the industry. Brewing has generally attracted a good deal of interest amongst historians, not only to investigate the breweries themselves, but also the public houses owned, physically attached or tied to those breweries. The focus of this introduction is, however, upon the breweries.

Before 1800, the vast amount of brewing was carried out as a cottage industry with small-scale publican brewers.  It was only in the first half of the nineteenth century that larger commercial brewers emerged, and began to supply to a wider community. Rising population, increased urbanisation, the arrival of the railways, plus enhanced real incomes all contributed to this growth. Perhaps also the rigours of a working life persuaded more to turn to the temptation of ‘the demon drink’, particularly when ‘weak’ beer was often a less risky option that the local water supplies.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, many larger commercial breweries were established in Warwickshire’s towns, and this is reflected in some familiar names:

  • Flowers, Stratford upon Avon
  • Adams & Holdford, Nuneaton Brewery
  • Lewis, Haddon & Allenby; Lewis & Ridley; then Lucas, Blackwell & Arkwright : The Leamington Brewery
  • Jaggard & Hiorns: The Warwick Brewery
  • The Alcester Brewery
  • Phillips & Marriott, Midland Brewery, Coventry
  • Thornley, later Thornley Kelsey, Radford Hall Brewery, Radford Semele

Beer consumption per capita peaked in 1900, and the inter-war years saw the beginnings of consolidation in the industry, with some brewers unable to survive, others absorbed by larger groups. Warwickshire breweries were facing increased competition from the two large Birmingham brewers Mitchells & Butlers and Ansells who were seeking to spread their net wider.

In a sense, this was only a prelude to the much greater period of merger and takeovers in the post war period, together with an increasing standardisation of brews available. The loss of independent brewers was quick and extensive. Huge conglomerate brewing groups emerged – the Big Six – to face one another in a battle for market share.

Of the Warwickshire brewers, it was perhaps it only Flowers who produced a nationally known brew, although the brewery itself was closed in 1968 with only the brand utilised by subsequent owners. In common with many brewers, Flowers built up its business both by organic growth and by taking over smaller breweries and in 1950 its tied estate comprised over 350 properties. Flowers also provide an example of the way in which brewery profits can be turned to benevolent use. The Flowers family, particularly through Charles Edward Flower (son of founder Edward Flower), helped to raise the profile of William Shakespeare in the town of Stratford and to establish the Shakespeare Memorial (later Royal Shakespeare) Theatre.

The seemingly relentless trend away from traditional, local beers so evident in the 1960s and 1970s has been reversed in recent times firstly by the efforts of the Campaign For Real Ale and then with the advent of craft beers brewed at micro-breweries requiring only modest start-up and operating costs. None of the nineteenth century Warwickshire brewers remain but new names are rising all the time to take their place e.g. The Purity Brewing Company of Great Alne; Church End Brewery, previously Shustoke, now Atherstone; and Byatt’s Brewery, Coventry. The list is constantly changing.

Brewing Industry: further information

AuthorSubjectPublished/More
McKenna, JWarwickshire BreweriesTempus Publishing
Luckett F, Flint K, & Lee PA History of Brewing in WarwickshireCAMRA
Ellis, MArticles on The Leamington Brewery and The Warwick Brewery for the Leamington History GroupAvailable at this link
Reinarz, JThe Social History of a Midland Business: Flower &Sons Brewery, Stratford upon Avon 1870-1914, esp. Ch. 1 ‘The Rise, Fall and Rise of a Midland Brewery’ - PhD thesis University of WarwickAvailable at this link
Pearson, LBuilt to Brew: The History and Heritage of the Brewery. A useful book on UK breweries in general, but with few references to WarwickshireHistoric England
Shakespeare Birthplace TrustHolds company records and other details of the Flowers brewery, Stratford upon AvonVisit
Many of the micro-breweries organise toursFor example, Purity Brewing Co (est. 2005), Upper Spernal Farm, Spernal Lane, Great Alne, provides an interesting insight into modern brewery methods at their environmentally friendly location on a working farmVisit
Hook Norton Brewery, Brewery Lane,
Hook Norton
Just over the border in Oxfordshire but a great example of a Victorian brewery, and surviving steam engine, open for toursVisit
Charlecote Park, Charlecote,
Stratford upon Avon
A (static) display of the brewhouse attached to a large country houseVisit