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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History




Before the establishment of the new company the bottles supplied to Knottingley Brewery by the local glass manufacturer, Bagley & Co., were produced by manual operation and as each unit was individually made, every bottle mouth was unique with slight variations in size and shape. The introduction of the first semi-automatic bottle making machine, the Ashley-Arnall, invented at Ferrybridge in 1866 and perfected and introduced commercially in 1888, resulted in the production of standardised wares and thereby paved the way for machine-filled bottles and closures. By the early 1890s William Bagley had purchased the patent rights to the Ashley-Arnall machine and having perfected its technical performance, was able to supply the Knottingley Brewery with bottles of uniform appearance and dimension. (1) It was against this background of technological development that the directors of the newly formed public limited brewery company took the decision to upgrade on site bottling facilities. The decision was prompted by a perceived shift in working class consumerism marked by a demand for bottled beer aided by an increase in off licence sales. An approach to Strouts Brewery Co., Sheffield, seeking a price for the whole of its bottling plant with the exception of its stoppered (Codd) bottle section. (2) The negotiations were handled by Jeffcock who simultaneously arranged for the purchase of a small steam engine from Strouts and within a few weeks negotiations were successfully concluded, the plant being obtained for £15. (3) Other signs of activity at the Brewery site during the months following were the purchase of a new malt mill from Edge & Sons, Shifnal, and the purchase of a new pump from the Worthington Steam Pumping Co., London, at a cost of £35 with a discount of 10%. (4)

In common with most companies of that period the steam-powered brewery required a constant supply of coal. The principal supplier to the Brewery was the Fryston Colliery Co. with lesser supplies purchased from other companies situated within the area coalfield. The miners' strike of 1893 disrupted the regular supply causing the Brewery to seek alternative sources of 'steam coal' during the dispute. The close relationship with Bagley & Co., is emphasised by favourable response of the latter to an approach from the Brewery company to provide three truckloads of coal at £1 per ton as an emergency measure. (5) Simultaneous to the above activity consideration was given to the fabric of the Brewery building. In October 1893, Camm sought estimates from J.W. Johnstone of Sheffield and as a result the floor of the fermenting room and the joints for the copper stage were replaced, (6) and in January 1894, Jeffcock was asked to obtain costings for the replacement of the concrete floor of the square room. A reduced estimate of £130 with a 12 month guarantee of work done from was ultimately accepted from a Mr Fiddler. (7) In addition, the firm of Buxton & Thornley were engaged to provide girder work at the brewery site in connection with improvements to the square room costing £180. (8) In June 1894, a decision was taken to enlarge the gearing room connected to the stables, in order to accommodate the harness belonging to the company traveller and the same month further expense was saved by Mr Mawson, the brewery engineman, who successfully undertook necessary repairs to the cooling plant. (9) The extent to which the above changes were part of the policy of the directors to update and modernise production facilities or a necessary response to under investment by the previous proprietor is not known but the comprehensive nature of the work is shown by the fact that Mr W.H.A. Barnes of Sheffield was asked to survey the brewery and upon presentation of his report in September 1894, a decision was taken that his recommendations be adopted as far as was possible. (10) Consequently the year ended with the purchase of a hop press at a cost of £35 less discount, from Messrs Canavan & Haynes of Manchester. (11)

Despite the concessions to modernity implied by the constant improvements sanctioned by the directors of the new company, something of the still leisurely pace in which business was conducted in the closing years of the nineteenth century and the way acceptance of customary business practices engendered a mindset which prevented realisation that improvements designed to ensure greater efficiency in productive output required complimentary improvement in business communication and the despatch of goods, is seen in the decision of the board, in March 1894, to reject an offer by the National Telephone Co., to connect the brewery to its system. The telephone company offered free connection with Pontefract, Castleford, Normanton and Wakefield and all other towns within a 25 mile area at a cost of 3d per call and 6d for all locations beyond. The board, however, regarded the charges as too costly, notwithstanding the saving of time and the increase in business efficiency afforded and decided that the approach by the Telephone Company be "not entered into at the quoted figures".

By the end of November 1897, the new medium of communication had sufficiently proved itself to permit acceptance for a line had been installed, as shown by the brewery letterhead which bore the legend "National Telephone, No. 3, Knottingley" following the decision to subscribe to the system providing the basic cost did not exceed more than £10 per year. (12)

The end of 1894 also witnessed the first crisis in the quality of the beer produced and as a result of the examination of the brewing copper by a brewers engineer an estimate was sought regarding the cost of a replacement. It was not until March the following year, however, that the estimate obtained from Messrs Braithwaite & Co., of Leeds, was approved and accepted by the board, (13) a further example of the casual approach to business which belied the urgent nature of the situation. Two months later, the company secretary informed the Board that the brewing copper had failed to function during the processing of a new brew. Whether the old or new one is not stated. (14)

The purchase by Jeffcock of a second-hand set of pumps for use in transferring bulk liquor within the brewery is also recorded at that time and the sale of a Worthington pump and air compressor, purchased only two years earlier, and subsequently being sold as surplus to requirements early in 1896. (15)

In March 1897, Lawson was instructed to select a second hand boiler for installation within the brewery in order to heat up the water for each new brew. (16) Later that year Lawson reported that in order to enable the company to promote the generally expanding trade in sales of bottled beer and stout it was necessary to provide machinery for carbonating and bottling at an estimated cost of £200 and was told by the board to obtain the apparatus required. (17)

The emphasis on the purchase of second-hand apparatus or at discount price during the first decade of production by the new company suggests, perhaps, a policy of temporary solutions to ongoing problems concerning production, though whether such a policy arose from financial expediency or an awareness of rapid technological transition is uncertain, although Gourvish and Wilson have noted the modest attitude of brewers in general towards technical innovation during the period 1885-1914. (18)

A brief hiatus appears to have occurred between 1897 and 1902 in respect of replacements and alterations at the brewery until, in the latter year, it was found necessary to purchase a new copper boiler for the hot liquor pan, a 12 gauge copper being supplied by H. Braithwaite & Co., in March 1902. (19) In 1908 a new settling tank was constructed in the racking room and a wort receiver attached to a mash tun. (20)

If the expenditure of the early years had principally been undertaken on internal repairs and alterations, the second decade dictated the need to carry out maintenance work on the external fabric for in August 1910 it was decided to reconstruct the brewery roof. No details are available regarding this work but whatever the reason the work does not appear to have been undertaken until November 1913 when the Pontefract architects, Garside & Pennington were engaged to plan the raising of the brewery roof. The work was undertaken by T.G. Wright whose tender of £174 by was accepted by the board. (21) It was also in September 1910, that Lawson reported that the installation of machinery for malting, consisting of elevators, malt dresser, and gas engine, supplied by George Porteus of Leeds, was almost completed. (22)

The expansion in the market for bottled beers from the early twentieth century was accompanied by the advent of mechanised transport. A sign of the latter development is evident from the board's instruction to Naismith, the Brewery manager, in 1914, to obtain particulars regarding the purchase of a motor lorry and costs involved in the construction of a shed (garage) and petrol store, and report back to them. Naismith appears to have dealt with the matter expediently for only one month later it was decided to arrange the purchase a 4 ton lorry. (23)

An increasing problem for the new company was the disposal of waste from the process of manufacture at the brewery. It would appear that initially untreated waste was discharged into the nearby canal from an accommodation drain within the Brewery grounds. Presumably, prior to the construction of the Aire & Calder Canal (between 1820-26) the waste had been directly discharged into the river Aire, both waterways following a parallel course, being separated by a strip of land only a mere hundred yards or so in width on the north side of the brewery site. As the two waterways became conjoint at Ferrybridge Lock, only half a mile west of the brewery, the effluent from the Brewery easily found its way into the river. In March 1897 the West Riding Rivers Board raised a complaint with the company concerning the pollution of the river (24) and receiving no satisfactory reply, in May of that year served notice on the Company, requiring a representative of the firm to appear before the Rivers Board to answer the charge of contamination of the watercourse. In an effort to forestall further action it was decided in June that W.H. Camm should write to the Rivers Board and state that subject to the approval of the Board the Company would install tanks within the Brewery grounds for the purpose of purifying the effluent prior to its discharge. (25) The proposal was accepted by the Rivers Board and in November in accordance with plans drawn up by Mr George White a group of labourers duly installed the filtration tanks. (26) By June 1898 an agreement had been reached with the Aire & Calder Navigation Co. allowing the emission of purified effluent into the canal, the brewery paying an acknowledgement fee of 2s 6d per year to the Navigation Company. (27)

The Brewery no doubt regarded the process as a temporary measure for simultaneously Knottingley Urban District Council was engaged upon a drainage scheme for the township. The projected sewage scheme while welcomed by the company as a long term solution to the problem of waste disposal had other implications for the Company for the planned line of the proposed system lay across the site of the brewery. As early as January 1897 the company had instructed its solicitors to write to the Clerk of the K.U.D.C. and object to the council's plans and receiving no reassurance, held a special directors meeting in Sheffield in April to consider the situation and further instruct their solicitors to keep a watching brief and act as necessary in the company's interests. (28)

The objection of the company to the line drawn by Richardson, the local authority engineer, was that it effectively severed one part of the Brewery estate from the other and utilised land that would probably be required in due course for building upon. Furthermore, for structural reasons some 180 yards of the pipeline would be close to the surface thereby requiring the protection of a concrete mound over its surface and being both unsightly and inconvenient. More importantly, however, it was feared that the proximity of the sewer would by "percolation through the soil" contaminate the company well with serious implications for production at the brewery. In addition, it was claimed that construction of the drain would necessitate a grant by the company to the Council of a perpetual right of entry to the brewery site to ensure the maintenance and repair of the manholes and drain pipes and whilst the council would be legally required to pay for any damage caused to the property of the company or its tenants, such access was regarded as an undesirable intrusion.

The objections raised by the company resulted in a proposal by the council to realign the pipeline to a point closer to the line of the Weeland Road along Hill Top. The proposed realignment was peripheral to the brewery site and it was pointed out that not only was the new line at least 50 yards away from the company well at its nearest point but that the use of cast iron pipes with sealed joints utilising patent cement obviated all danger of pollution of the natural water supply utilised by the company. Nevertheless, the proposal was not entirely satisfactory to the company which was of the opinion that the planned sewer was in toto, detrimental to the future economic well-being of the Brewery and therefore objected to the drain being located on the site at all. For some undefined reason, however, the company had failed to register a formal objection in December 1896 when a Local Government Board Inspector had visited Knottingley to gather evidence concerning the subject. Consequently, the Local Government Board had approved the proposed scheme leaving the brewery company to raise a somewhat ineffectual retrospective objection. The company therefore decided to tacitly accept the fait accompli and await completion of the work before making a claim for compensation. Thus, when a letter was received from the K.U.D.C. Engineer in November 1898, requesting entry to the Brewery grounds without formal notice under the terms of section 16 of the Public Health Act, the Company acceded to the request. (29) Compliance did not imply surrender, however, and the company, anticipating the objection of the council to any subsequent substantial claim for compensation, engaged the services of a local valuer to lay the foundation for a test claim in a court of arbitration at a future date. (30)

The K.U.D.C. drainage scheme was beset by myriad legal and financial problems which caused considerable delay and was not completed until 1902. (31) In mid 1903 the brewery company wrote to the council seeking permission to discharge effluent into the newly constructed town sewers but the request was rejected at that time. (32) The matter rested until October 1907 when the company again wrote to the K.U.D.C. concerning the matter. Once again the request was denied on the grounds that the Council's treatment plant was overburdened by domestic waste. (33) Meanwhile the brewery effluent continued to be collected and disposed of as before for in March 1910 Naismith, the head brewer, was instructed to give special attention to the filtration tanks and ensure a continual state of cleanliness, the effluent presumably being discharged into the canal following treatment.

The company next adopted a more formal approach by engaging Mr Arthur Hartley, a Castleford architect, to make representations to the K.U.D.C. on behalf of the brewery and by July 1914 Hartley had reached a provisional agreement with the council. Following approval by the directors, Hartley was instructed to obtain tenders for the construction of a drain connecting the brewery to the main sewer of the township. A tender for £138, submitted by W.E.A. Spence was accepted and an agreement with the council was signed and sealed in August 1914. (34) Simultaneously, discussions between representatives of the brewery and the Navigation Co. concerning the existing accommodation drain were taking place and on the 20th August Camm was able to present to the Board a draft agreement for the erection of a footbridge across the drain, thus concluding a problem which had vexed all concerned for almost two decades. (35)

Details concerning the size of the workforce involved in the manufacturing process, together with data concerning the quantities of materials used at the time of the establishment of the public limited company are sparse and incidental.

While labour costs in general remained low at this time and wages relatively stable with their real value being enhanced, competitive costs, particularly with regard to property prices, increased whilst the stability of retail prices prevented any compensatory gain to offset the loss. The indications are that costs were minimised to some extent by a reduction in the labour force.

An indication of this policy is seen with regard to the cooperage work. The restructured company whilst retaining the services of a cooper appear to have employed him solely for maintenance work, dispensing with the traditional on site manufacture of beer barrels. Shortly after its formation the company placed an order for new casks with the Sheffield based firm, E.B. Wood & Co. The order was for 120 x 6 gallon casks, 50 x 9 gallon, 30 x 12 gallon, 15 x 36 gallon and 35 x 54 gallon barrels. (36) In February 1894, 50 new hogsheads (50 Imperial gallons capacity) were ordered, followed in December the following year by a further order for 55 x 9 gallon barrels. Betweentimes, the company also restocked the supply of crates for bottled wares with 100 new 2 dozen x 1/2 pint ale cases being ordered from Dan Rylands & Co., Barnsley, in April 1893. (37) It is somewhat curious to note that although Rylands & Co. were glass bottle manufacturers the brewery do not appear to have obtained their bottles from them but relied upon the local firm of Bagley & Co. and slightly later, the fledgling Jackson Bros. for their containers. (38)

The brewery was also considering the introduction of a new method of testing and gauging casks at this time but for undeclared reasons, perhaps associated with cost, decided to retain the existing system. (39)

Some indication of the cost of the various types of cask is provided by reference to an order place with the firm of George Parson & Co., Alloa, Scotland, late in 1896. viz:-

20 hogsheads @ 29s (each)
10 barrels @ 23s 6d
20 kils. @ 15s
10 x 12 gallons @ 10s 6d
30 x 9 gallons @ 9s (40)

Supplies of barley, malt and hops were largely obtained from farmers and dealers who had served the brewery in the era of private ownership. Initially, constraints on transport had of necessity engendered the link with local farmers and maltsters but the rise and development of temperance criticism post 1830, had encouraged brewers to emphasise their links with local agriculture and allied occupations and with the onset of agricultural depression from the mid 1870s the brewers sustained farming with two thirds of the national barley crop being used by the brewing industry during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. (41) The Revenue Act of 1880 promoted the use of sugar and its adjuncts as a substitute for malt while the developing taste for lighter bodied bottled beers during the closing decades of the century, together with factors concerning the cost of production, largely prompted by increased Excise duty, prompted an increase in imports of foreign barley and a subsequent contraction in domestic malting by the early twentieth century. (42) Yet despite the estimate that imported barley was used for anything from a quarter to a third of all liquor produced at that period an overwhelming quantity of the grain came from national sources for brewery profits depended upon the quality of the malt used in production and the purchase by brewers of local barley or malt provided an element of quality control. The fact is illustrated with regard to the Knottingley brewery by the fact that during the first decade of the new regime the Poskitts, farmers at Beal and Kellington, were the predominant suppliers of grain for the production of malt at the brewery while the Pontefract based firms, Moxon and Robson, were the principal suppliers of malt. (43) A further degree of quality control is evident from late 1894 when the company, against the background of low barley prices, sought competitive tenders from local suppliers with all purchases being subjected to scrutiny and approval by a director of the company. (44) Thereafter, the company account books reveal a regular discount of 1¼% granted by most suppliers of malt to the brewery though the extent to which such a concession was specifically negotiated or commonly trade practice is not revealed. (45) The effect on the local malting trade of such an imposition, allied to conditions in general, may be observed by the fact that late in 1894 Mr Moxon offered to sell his malt kiln at Shepherds Bridge, Knottingley, to the brewery. (46) The company declined to purchase the property but J.C. Harvey was delegated to view the kiln and consider the possibility of a leasehold but no such arrangements were made and as late as 1902 Moxon was still the owner of the property. (47)

Details concerning the purchase of malt and the names of suppliers during the early years of the newly established company, although sporadic and scant, are worth citation as they enable casual comparison with earlier data. (48) viz:-

13-12-1894 30 qrs New Danish from J Lister @ 35s per qr less 1¼% discount
16-12-1894 20 qrs New Danish from J.W. Robson @ 36s per qr less 1¼% discount
16-12-1894 20 qrs New Danish from J. Thompson @ 33s per qr less 1¼% discount
16-12-1894 30 qrs Old Danish from J. Middlesbrough & Son @ 35s 6d per qr less 1¼% discount
10-01-1895 30 qrs New Danish from J. Lister @ 36s per qr less 1¼% discount
23-05-1895 50 qrs New Danish from W.J. Robson @ 34s per qr less 1¼% discount
26-06-1895 50 qrs New Danish from J. Lister @ 35s per qr less 1¼% discount
24-07-1895 50 qrs New Danish from J. Lister @ 35s per qr less 1¼% discount
24-07-1895 50 qrs New Danish from J.W. Robson @ 34s per qr less 1¼% discount
28-07-1896 50 qrs New Danish from Thompson & Webster @ 31s 6d per qr less 1¼% discount
20-08-1896 50 qrs New Danish from J.W. Robson @ 31s per qr less 1¼% discount
29-10-1896 50 qrs New Danish from Rbt. Lister @ 34s per qr less 1¼% discount
12-11-1896 50 qrs New Danish from Rbt. Lister @ 34s per qr less 1¼% discount (49)

From 1897, with rare exceptions the malt trade with Knottingley brewery was monopolised by the Pontefract maltsters, S.A. Smith & Co. The firm's first supply was 15 quarters of Chilian Malt in February 1897 at a cost of 31s 6d nett, less the usual discount. The combination of exotic brand, small amount and low cost may be indicative of experimentation on the part of the Brewery for the order was never repeated. (50) Thereafter, between October 1897 and November 1900 at which date itemised orders cease to be recorded, Smith & Co. made regular deliveries of 'English' and 'Smyrna' malt costing in the range of 32s to 40s per quarter, a range comparable to that which appertained more than 20 years before and on average lower than the prices 30 years earlier. (51)

Compared to the previous era hops were also obtained from a more restricted source. (52) As with malt, so the hop trade had suffered from foreign imports. Hop growers customarily afforded generous credit terms to brewers; a six month minimum being the norm. Although hops were less vital than malt in influencing the quality of the brew they were a major element and a costly one, being responsible for as much as a fifth to a third of the total cost. Generous prices and credit terms were therefore important to small breweries such as the Knottingley Brewery Co. and consequently such firms usually dealt with only one or two hop growers by the end of the nineteenth century. (53) From a peak of 71,789 acres under cultivation in 1878 the hop trade had shrunk to 32,000 acres by 1909, during which period many producers had either combined their resources or ceased trading. (54) The trend is clearly reflected with regard to the names of the two principal traders which supplied Knottingley brewery after 1892; Wilans & Cosier and the delightfully rural sounding Wood, Field & Hanbury, both of whom had experienced mergers and restructuring during the previous quarter century.

In general the brewery relied upon hops grown in the Wealden areas of Kent & Sussex, commonly designated as 'East Kents', 'Mid Kents' and 'Sussex'. However, the Company purchased numerous varieties within the generic categories. The earliest reference is in response to an offer by Wilans & Cosier of East Kents 'Skinner '93' at 96 shillings per hundredweight and East Kents 'Buss '93' at 97 shillings per hundredweight. (55) The Brewery responded to the offer by placing an order for 8 pockets of each type but negotiated a common price, paying 95s per cwt for each variety. (56)

A degree of 'blending' is apparent in the brews produced under the supervision of Harvey in the early period and samples of hops were obtained from both suppliers "for consideration" in November 1896. (57) Subsequent orders were placed with both merchants the following month with 20 bales of 'Washingtons' being purchased from Wood, Field & Hanbury at 60s per cwt. while Wilans & Cosier were favoured with the following more substantial order viz:-

34 pockets Sussex 'Fielders' @ 59s per cwt
30 pockets Mid Kents 'Dawson' @ 72s per cwt.
15 pockets Mid Kents 'Summers' @ 75s per cwt.
15 pockets East Kents 'Lade' @ 75s per cwt. (58)

The reason for the apparent experimentation is not difficult to ascertain for the hop order coincided with Heptonstall's report that the condition of the beer had been bad for several months and the increase in the control of malt supplies by the Board of Directors. (59) A year on and attempts to improve the brew were still being made with Wilans & Cosier asked to supply 12 bales of 'Oregons' at 56 shillings and 10 bales of 'Americans' at 60 shillings. (60) The placement of a substantial order of hops of the three basic varieties some months later suggests that a decision had been taken to continue with the standard recipe. However, the quest to produce more palatable blends continued with one pocket of 1896 being ordered for "hopping down purposes" and five pockets of 1892 at 15s per cwt. for the same purpose. (61)

Betweentimes, the purchase of 5 bales of Burgundy hops at 63s per cwt. in January 1897, is recorded, together with the regular consignments of East Kents in January and March that year at a noticeably increased price of 100s and 80s per cwt. respectively. (62) The year 1897 was a watershed in terms of prices paid for hops with 27 pockets of Sussex 'Courthorp 1897' costing 80s; Mid Kents 'Betts', 92s and East Kents 'Neams' fetching 132s whilst 21 pockets of Worcester 1897 cost 88s per cwt. (63)

By the end of 1898, by which time Wilans & Cosier had been transformed as Wilans, Richardson & Co., the brewery company paid 130s per cwt for Mid Kents 1898, its bill in November that year being £709-9-11 in respect of 54 pockets and 12 bales. A further bill from Wood, Field & Hanbury for 24 pockets and 3 bales of 1897 hops amounting to £306-13-0 was paid the same month. In all, well over £1,000 was paid for hops by the Company in the two months October/November 1898. (64)

It was at that time that the company extended its patronage to a new supplier: Kitchen & Simpson of Leeds. Whether prompted to do so by a search for cheaper supplies or savings on transportation is unclear but the switch was beneficial to the brewery on both counts. Initially, the Leeds factor provided 17 pockets at 75s, including cost of delivery. Again, in June 1900, 12 pockets of Worcester were delivered at a cost of 40s per cwt. including delivery. However, a further order of Worcester 'Denny' later that year cost 105s per cwt., delivered (65) The brewery continued obtain its mainstream supply from its traditional suppliers and although prices paid in the closing years of the century were generally well in excess of £5 per hundredweight they were offset to some extent by the fact that the cost included delivery and in addition the discount given had increased to 2½% for cash payment. (66) Prices rose particularly sharply in the closing year of the century, particularly in the last quarter of the year. (67)

The extent to which the rise was maintained or was a seasonal blip is not known for with a single exception the extant records of the Knottingley brewery cease to itemise the purchase of materials from the start of the new century. An entry dated November 1906 notes the purchase of 14 bales of 'Wurttemleys' from Elangers & Sons, Nuremberg, Germany, at £6-7-6 per cwt. nett, delivered, a price which is matched by an order of the same date placed with a London hop merchant. (68)

In passing it is of interest to note that early in 1914 when the brewery company disposed of a tranche of 660 Ordinary Shares, 60 were purchased by Wilan, Richardson & Co. (69)

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