The Brewers and Breweries of North-Eastern England, A Historical Guide, by Brian Bennison

The Brewers and Breweries of North-Eastern England, A Historical Guide, by Brian Bennison

The Brewers and Breweries of North-Eastern England, A Historical Guide, by Brian Bennison

Published by the Brewery History Society in 2004, 146 pages. Large A4 size paperback (N7680)

From the introduction: The aim of this volume is to give the fullest possible account of the brewers and breweries operating in the old counties of Northumberland and Durham (including the city of Newcastle) from the 18th century until the new millennium. There are good reasons, however, why a truly comprehensive survey of all participants in the region's brewing trade throughout the period is not entirely feasible. Whatever the level of ambition and effort on the part of the researcher, the degree of completeness of such a study is ultimately determined by the sources of information available.

Frustratingly for a trade subject to so much public regulation, official statistics are not available for all the period, are published only in an aggregated form and are not analysed on a consistent basis. Nevertheless, whilst not identifying individual brewers, official returns provide a reliable snapshot of the numerical structure of the north-eastern trade at certain dates.

Of the main sources, directories and descriptive accounts of local business became more frequent as the 19th century progressed, although doubts must remain about the extent of their coverage and the confidence with which entries appearing and disappearing can be taken as the dates of birth and death of particular undertakings. Nonetheless, trade directories offer the best guide to the existence of common or wholesaling brewers.

Directories fall short with regard to the second category of operator, the licensed victualler brewer. These were rarer in the north-east than elsewhere (46 per cent of publicans nationwide brewed in 1830, as against 17 per cent in Durham and Newcastle, and only 6 per cent in Northumberland), but there were many more than we have been able to identify. The main reason for our failure in this respect is that publican brewers manufactured beer to satisfy their own customers on their own premises and had no need to announce their presence as brewers in directories.

The distinction between the common and publican brewers is obscured by the fact that some facilities at larger public houses were comparable to small common breweries, and some publican brewers gradually developed a wholesaling role by supplying additional licensed premises they acquired or by competing in the family trade. The picture is clouded further by the practice of some public house owners of sub-letting attached brewhouses to small-time common brewers. This overlap between licensed victualling and common brewing is obvious from the titles of many breweries.

Earlier newspapers contain valuable and accurate information but usually only when change takes place, be it a death, dissolution of partnership or when a brewery or public house is offered for sale or let. From such sources and for some undertakings, a reliable picture of ownership change or size and location is available. And yet it remains the case that for others, making up the sum of brewers given in government papers, nothing is known.

The visibility becomes clearer as we move into the fourth quarter of the 19th century. In particular, the complicating factor of the licensed victualler brewer all but disappears. (By 1890 only 14 north-east publicans took out brewing licences and by 1908 none did.) The number of common brewers in the region stood at 80 in 1890 and 39 in 1914. This halving of brewer numbers over a quarter of a century is explained by the decisions of perhaps 18 smaller concerns to leave the industry and a series of amalgamations and takeovers which followed the emergence of the limited liability company. The process of incorporation and absorption was the harbinger of rationalization, which concentrated production and ended brewing at many rural and smaller town locations. Our task is made easier, therefore, with fewer brewers and breweries to monitor. Furthermore, by-products of incorporation - legal requirements for record-keeping and accountabilty, and public scrutiny by the media - meant that information on the industry in the 20th century is much more accessible. Thus, the results of our research for the last century can be regarded as comprehensive.

The book is illustrated throughout with lots of black and white photographs and drawings

Condition of the book is generally excellent. The cover is clean and tidy, the spine is intact and all pages are clean, intact, unblemished and tightly bound. There is an old price printed and a small price sticker, both on the rear side cover.