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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History




The names of the architect and builder of the Mill Close brewery established by Gaggs, Carter & Co., in 1808, are not known. Indeed, since the demolition of the brewery in the 1960s nothing remains to indicate the appearance of the site other than a sparse number of photographs and generalised site plans. The material reveals a compact site with the brewery buildings occupying three sides of a rectangular area about one acre in extent with the Carter residence, Lime Grove, situated at the southern edge of the complex.

Somewhat surprisingly, given Edward Gaggs' association with the local limestone trade and the fact that this material, being plentiful and cheap, was used exclusively for vernacular buildings until well beyond the mid nineteenth century, the brewery was built of brick with a stone clad roof. To the north side of the brewery, dominating the site by its height and density, was a four storey tower block topped by an iron tank, with other buildings connected thereto, situated along two opposite sides of the site.

In the opinion of one authority on brewery history, based upon examination of the photographic material,

"The tower is almost certainly the brewing house and seems to have a paucity of windows of rather early date, probably not iron or steel framed so that more windows would have weakened the structure. The tank on the roof would have been the cold liquor tank for holding the brewing water drawn from the well. The top storey of the tower [is] blind. It held the hot liquor tank in which the brewing water was held ready for mashing. The normal sequence of plant in descendingorder, would be a mill room for grinding the kilned malt into grist, feeding via a grist hopper into the mash-tun from whence the liquid extract was drawn off into the copper which in this case one would expect to be either at the foot or in an adjacent copper house." (1)

The buildings adjacent to the tower block included fermenting and cooling rooms and a racking room in which the barrels and bottles were filled. Near to the Carter residence were the original malt kilns, the wooden chimney and cowl of which identify them as being of typical early nineteenth century design. The building is a long single storey construction. The connecting building is the malt store. A tall wooden structure next to the malt house is the grain elevator used to hoist the green barley into the malt house. A further malt house, situated next to the tower on its western flank, shows a truncated pyramid roof which probably indicates the reconstruction work known to have been undertaken by the brewery architects, Davison, Inskip & Mackenzie, London, in 1883. (2) The lay-out suggests an archetypal version of the 'tower' design which characterised brewery construction throughout the nineteenth century. Such a design enabled all the stages of production to be undertaken within a compact area, using natural progression aided by gravitational principles, to assist the movement of bulk materials and liquids during the productive process.(3)

The gravity based system was in common usage prior to the introduction of steam power. At that period pumps were driven by millwork that also ground the malt and stirred the mash, connected to a horse engine which was probably worked by the dray horses. Initially, the adoption of steam power was constrained by the requirement to pay a 'premium' or royalty to Boulton & Watt who held the patent rights. With the expiration of Watt's master patent in 1800, the 'premium' no longer applied. The records of Boulton, Watt & Co., and other manufacturers who, freed from patent restrictions, came into existence about that time, show that breweries were amongst the earliest customers purchasing rotative steam engines with a nominal capacity of eight horsepower.(4)

Being purpose-built by a well capitalised company with the prospect of good financial return, it is most probable that the new Knottingley brewery utilised steam power from the outset. Latter day photographs reveal an obviously reconstructed chimney stack with a square base and a rounded upper section. The original square, brick-built chimney was probably heightened to accommodate the introduction of more powerful plant, probably in the late 1860s when sundry improvements are known to have taken place. (5) There is, unfortunately, no record of the type of storage vessels used at the brewery during the early period. The renowned engineer, John Smeaton, consulted by Whitbreads the large London brewery, recommended the construction of subterranean storage vats, lined and partitioned by non-calcareous limestone, obtainable from the Wakefield district and commonly used to pave the streets of the Capital. Smeaton advocated the plugging of the joints by a compound of sand, white lead and linseed oil, the work being undertaken by ships' caulkers. (6) Smeaton was a frequent visitor to Knottingley and district during the late eighteenth century when he was engaged by the Aire & Calder Navigation Co. to survey the local waterway. It may not be too fanciful, therefore, to suggest local knowledge of his system which, together with the proximity of suitable stone and the presence of caulkers in the locality, may have been utilised in the construction of the storage vats at the Knottingley brewery. (7)

Country breweries were often sited close to waterways which could be utilised to drive millwork or the steam engines of a later date or serve as a supply route for raw materials and finished goods. Initially, Knottingley brewery had direct access across the adjacent fields to the nearby river Aire. The cutting of the Aire and Calder Canal between 1821-26 brought the waterway even nearer to the brewery site and conferred an additional benefit by permitting the company regular use of the canal without regard to the vagaries of flood and tide and the minor hinderances previously associated with river traffic.

The availability of water for use in the process of production was, of course, an important consideration in siting the brewery. The necessary supply was abstracted from a bore hole drilled to a depth in excess of 400 feet in the underlying magnesian limestone. The water was obtained from the same strata as that utilised by the Tadcaster breweries, and having high levels of hardness and an abundance of carbonates and bicarbonates, was ideally suited to the production of beer. (8)

Throughout the three decades following the establishment of the brewery the partners sought to consolidate the reputation of the company for financial stability and quality wares for quality and reputation sold beer and were attributes jealously guarded by a good brewer. (9)

The retirement of Mark Carter in 1836 marked a complete break in the day to day management of the firm for he returned to Howden where he lived until his death in May, 1853. Thus, although Edward Gaggs remained a partner in the company until his death in 1840, the accession of Mark Carter's eldest son, John, as head of the firm signified a new era in the development of the business.

Under John Carter a new phase of business expansion occurred which was accompanied by a gradual but increasing degree of refinement in the administrative system of the company. It is no coincidence that from the date of John Carter's control business records of increasing number and sophistication appear. The expansion of the business and the refinement of the administrative structure of the company were to a considerable extent dictated by the rapidity of the socio-economic and technical changes taking place within the country during the third decade of the nineteenth century. Indeed, it may well be that the recognition of the pace of change and the need for a new generational approach to the problems posed informed Mark Carter's decision to hand over the running of the brewery to his son. The foremost technological element promoting business expansion was the introduction of the railways and the development of a national rail system produced by the boom of the 1840s the effect of which was to revolutionise trade and communication. The railways facilitated the speedy despatch of materials and goods whilst simultaneously reducing the cost of transportation. In addition, the introduction of passenger services increased social mobility and thereby produced the potential for widened areas of distribution through new retail outlets. Prior to 1840 postal communication had depended upon the extensive and efficient but comparatively slow mailcoach service. The advent of the railway system, allied to the spread of the electric telegraph (to which Knottingley brewery paid an annual subscription following its introduction locally) (10) and the introduction of the penny post, together with the abolition of newspaper duty in 1836, stimulated and accelerated communication, resulting in a huge upsurge in business transactions.

In terms of the brewing trade a further stimulus was the proliferation of small beerhouses which had opened following the enactment of the Beer Act of 1830. Known colloquially as the 'Wellington Act' after the head of the government which promoted it, the legislation had been formulated with the intention of curbing the growing dominance of the trade by common brewers and collusion with the local justices which underpinned it. Ironically, the Act had the opposite effect to that intended by its framers. Many who could afford the two guinea licence fee required by the Act lacked either the knowledge or the facilities or the money to obtain the necessary utensils and commodities to enable them to produce their own brew. Furthermore, they were unable to compete either economically or qualitatively and were therefore thrown into the arms of the common brewers from the outset. Yet despite the increase in brewery controlled public houses, Knottingley brewery probably followed the national trend, being sustained in the early decades by the growth in the number of individual customers attendant upon the decline in domestic brewing. (11)

To judge from the ongoing prosperity of the Knottingley brewery the general economic depression of the Napoleonic wars and the post war decade had little adverse effect upon the company. Thereafter, apart from a sight blip during the 'hungry forties', an increase in material comfort of the growing urban population took place, resulting in a substantial rise in per capita spending. Greater affluence resulted in a rise in the consumption of beer as people of humble means began increasingly to frequent public houses, thereby stimulating the need for more retail outlets and a widening opportunity for common brewers to service them. (12) Private agreements between brewers and publicans were easily facilitated for apart from the oft needed financial assistance afforded by the former were social considerations. Brewers were drawn from and therefore moved within the same social circles as local magistrates, a fact made evident by the social relationship between the Carters and William Moorhouse, a Knottingley based landowner, businessman and Justice of the Peace. Indeed, had not the law of the land prohibited common brewers from serving on the bench, John Carter would, himself, have been an appointed magistrate.(13) As a result of this social affinity, a publican who enjoyed the patronage of a brewer had a valuable ally when appearing at the brewster sessions. Such was the case in regard to the numerous small beerhouses which came into existence as the result of the 1830 Act. Initially, the magistrates were denied licensing control over such establishments. Together with the local clergy they regarded beerhouses in an unfavourable light, considering them to be potential centres of social disaffection and crime, a realistic fear given the degree of urban squalor, social and industrial unrest which characterised the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Within a decade, however, the majority of beerhouses had either ceased to exist or had become transformed into licensed premises under the aegis of brewer and magistrate. For such reasons breweries began to show greater interest in the development of public sales and the exercise of control over their retail outlets, finally becoming increasingly a acquisitive at a time when premises were numerous and easily obtained. It is against this background that the expansionist policy of John Carter was implemented.

The monopoly of the local brewing trade enjoyed by Gaggs Carter & Co. during the early years was challenged in the second quarter of the nineteenth century by the establishment of other breweries within the town. Two rival concerns were operational at Knottingley from around 1830, those of William Bywater and Edward Long. Bywater was a general practitioner who lived at Cow Lane on the site subsequently named as the Ash Grove surgery. The site remains in use as the town's surgery to this day although the original buildings including the brewhouse were largely demolished and rebuilt some years ago.

Long, in common with Edward Gaggs, was a limestone merchant within the town. Both the rival brewers, being men of substance, were prominent in the town's public affairs. Long was a member of the Select Vestry from the 1830s to 1857, serving as Surveyor of Highways, 1842-44, and Bywater was a Vestryman between 1849-53 and was frequently appointed as the town's Medical Officer during his career. (14) The Cow Lane brewery seems to have had a relatively short existence. The business is first mentioned in various trade directories between 1838-48 but had ceased trading sometime before Bywater's death in 1857. (15) The brewery associated with Edward Long has been identified as that situated at the Old Hall, being the same premises that were occupied by Gaggs, Carter & Co., between 1801-08.(16) Again, there is no reference to Long's brewery before 1838 and by 1848 his name had disappeared from the trade directories, being replaced by that of Silvester Atkinson who is stated to be resident at Racca Green.(17) Atkinson is shown as trading from the Old Hall site, which at first glance suggests that he had merely taken over the site previously operated by Long. As the Old Hall had earlier been sold to Long by Atkinson and was in fact demolished in 1843 (18) it is obvious that the Old Hall from which Silvester Atkinson operated after 1843 could only be the former manor house of the Ingrams, built to replace the Wildbore residence and subsequently purchased and partitioned by Joseph Atkinson (19)

The name of William Hirst is recorded as a brewer at Hill Top in the early decades of the nineteenth century. (20) Hirst occupied a site adjacent to the Swan Inn, part of the former mansion of the Ingram family. (21) The premises may have been occupied by Silvester Atkinson following Hirst's retirement which appears to have occurred about 1840. In that year John Carter obtained the leasehold on a property consisting of five cottages situated at Hill Top, one of which had recently been used as a beerhouse. (22) It may well be that Hirst's brewing activity was undertaken solely for the purpose of supplying the said beerhouse. At the time of the 1841 Census Hirst was recorded as being a person of independent means, aged sixty years. The connection with John Carter was a well established one, Carter being the Trustee of Hirst's estate. The Census Return of 1861 records Maria Hirst as a "retired brewer's widow" and following her death in 1871 her residual estate was administered by John Carter. (23)

There seems little doubt that the establishment of the rival breweries occurred in consequence of the Sale of Beer Act (Wellington's Act) of 1830, being prompted by the proliferation of small beerhouses in the district. In Knottingley alone the nineteen public houses were supplemented by twenty five beerhouses within a few few years of the passing of the Act. (24) Bywater and Atkinson had each more stable retail outlets in the form of fully licensed public houses. Bywater owned the Greyhound Inn, Banks Lane, and Atkinson the Wagon & Horses, Aire Sreet and the beerhouse in Sunny Bank, named the Boat and in the following decade, the Roper's Arms, Sunny Bank, while his brother, Joseph, owned the (White) Swan, Hill Top. (25) The newly sprung breweries and beerhouses were speculative ventures, however, and were unable to compete with the larger, longer established and better organised system operated by the Gaggs, Carter partnership. By 1859 the beerhouse 'boom' had passed, only four being recorded in the valuation list of that year. (26)

The brief period of trade rivalry seems not to have damaged the Gaggs/Carter business interest. Indeed, the Bywater and Gaggs families were socially close with the former naming a son who died in infancy in 1835, Christopher Gaggs Bywater. (27) The Carters also shared common social links with the Bywaters and following the demise of William Bywater's sole surviving son, Thomas, in 1871, the widow of his deceased elder brother, John, married John Carter, thereby incorporating the Bywater estate into that of the Carters.(28)



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