1. : Small Beginnings
The history of brewing is a fascinating and highly
relevant matter, which constitutes a whole field of
study in itself.
Such organisations as the Brewery History Society
publish scholarly volumes, often down to the most
local and detailed level. Here, we have to
skate over the subject in a few paragraphs !
It seems generally agreed that - if you go back far
enough - all inns and taverns brewed the beer(s)
on their own premises.
"Specialisation" followed and, certainly by the
mid-18th Century, common brewers - as such -
were in a healthy way of business :
supplying their products to retail outlets.
No doubt many other brewing operations were
continuing in the old pub-based tradition; but
these will have gone largely unrecorded.
Early, but established, brewers were celebrated
in the following ditty (Rawcliffe etc.) :-
May Weston's name shine, in Numbers divineNorwich Nog was described as
And his malt and hops never cog;
May Tompson's have store,
with Morse and some more,
And live long to brew Norwich Nog.
a "humming brown beer".
Nine breweries were listed in 1783 in Norwich,
for a population of under 40,000. Six individuals
or firms were listed, in the 1805 Trades Directory,
By 1827 the number had ballooned to 26.
(See population growth).
2. : Early Mergers
Eventually (but when?) nearly all "in-house" brewing
had died-out. Nevertheless, there is obviously a limit
to the number of breweries needed - even to supply
the many hundreds of pubs in a City like Norwich.
By 1845 the list of full-time brewers had only 18
entries, albeit three times those of 1805. In 1859 the
number was back down to 12, and in 1868 eleven.
This list included St. Margaret's - see para. 3. below.
Detailed scrunity reveals that no further significant
mergers took place within the City  The guess
must be that competition was too fierce - e.g. for
John Phillips at the
Eagle & Child Brewery, who
went bankrupt in 1869.
In 1875 the number of breweries was only seven.
During the 19th C., while more and more pubs
concentrated on retailing, and breweries expanded
their activities accordingly, the hugely important
parallel trend became a firmly established regime.
This was the all-conquering concept of the
Tied House, dealt with separately.
So it should be remembered, in all that follows,
that mergers between breweries were not just a
matter of brewing facilities or capacity.
The acquisition of the so-called Tied Estate
(i. e. obtaining more outlets) was often a
more decisive factor in a takeover.
 The subsequent domination of the "Big Four"
had everything to do with massive takeovers
in the Norfolk county area; and even
ventures into neighbouring counties !.
For details, see the notes for each brewery
(as listed below).
3. : The Big Four
During most of the era of the Big Four breweries
in Norwich, it was possible for supplies to reach
the City from other towns - via the improved
transport links of the late-19th/early-20th C.
In practice, bar small quantities from Tolly Cobbold
in Ipswich, nearly all the "imports" of draught beer
came from Lacon's brewery at Great Yarmouth.
Significantly, Lacon's had earlier obtained a
foothold in Norwich : St. Margaret's Brewery in
Westwick Street, not very much further out than
Messrs. Bullard's premises.
They took over (from Arnold's etc.) in April 1902.
Related tied pubs which they acquired totalled 32.
The brewery "tap" was closed by 1939, but
probably the brewing ceased a good deal earlier.
The Classic Tie is shown on many entries
in the pub-pages. Apart from Lacon's,
it has these four major possibilities :-
The Big 5 (including Lacon's) in fact provided
- For the mid-19th C. rankings of the
'big' brewers, see the
- For the 1914 situation, (the "Classic"
benchmark), see the 1914 List.
an excellent level of competition; and made
enormous efforts to out-do each other.
As late as October 1922 Y. C. & Y. were opening
a new self-styled pub, the
while, not far away, Lacon's retaliated with the
"Lacon Arms" (also in 1922).
Bullards had already managed to acquire at least
a couple of premises hard by the walls of the
Pockthorpe Brewery; and much the same situation,
in reverse, was found near St. Miles' Bridge.
The large breweries also operated as merchants,
sometimes from adjacent brewery "taps".
Further details of brewery histories (large and
small) can be found elsewhere on this site.
4. : The Monopoly
With Lacon's still in business, and with a handful
of "free houses", it was - strictly speaking -
not possible for the dreaded Watney's of London
(Watney, Combe, Reid - latterly Watney Mann)
to establish a technical, Norwich-wide monopoly
in the early 1960's. But it sure felt like it !.
Preliminary mergers, within Norwich,
paved the way for the "ultimate solution" :
So, it was relatively easy for
- Firstly (1958) - takeover and closure
by Bullard's of Young's & Crawshay.
- Secondly (1961) - a combined venture by
Bullard's and S. & P. to carve-up the
tied-estate of Morgan's pubs between them.
Watney's to move in for the kill.
They snapped up the two remaining Norwich
breweries in November 1963. The two seemed,
anyway, to have formed a de facto cartel; and
Watney's already had their foot in the door,
as explained next.
Paradoxically, it was the brewery of the defunct
Morgan's which attracted Watney's; who became
its owners, as part of the infamous 4-way deal,
It was by far the newest City brewing-complex
(built in 1947 following extensive WWII damage)
with a gravity-fed design, based on an unusually
tall main building.
Before long, both Bullard's (1968) and Steward's
(Jan. 1970) premises had been closed down.
The old "Morgan's" brewery was later re-named
"Norwich Brewery"; although this did not preclude
Watney's from transporting some of their products
(esp. bottled) all the way from London.
Meanwhile, Lacon's succumbed to Whitbread's
in late-1965, and the Yarmouth brewery was
subsequently closed in 1968.
Whitbread's had acquired 20% of the shares
as early as 1957.
Although Watney Mann (E. Anglia) re-branded
themselves as Norwich Brewery Co. Ltd. in 1976,
the final chapter (April 1985) of the story is too
obvious to need mentioning - Watney's
having taken over brewing plant
in other parts of East Anglia etc.
5. : The Desert
In the earlier stages of the above consolidation
process, the drinker might worry a little about
dwindling competition; but only marginally, in
relation to price and quality, provided that the
brewing plants were (nearly) all kept functioning.
However, it was never the ethos of rationalisation
to keep many working for long. So part of the
inevitable(?) "price", for de-commissioning plant,
was to cut the overall number of different product
"lines" for customers.
First to go was Young's brewery and, as far as
I can recall, Bullards made no attempt to brew
the former types of beer at their St. Miles' base;
if, indeed, this was ever a feasible idea -
in view of unique brewing traditions.
The worst results of all were found at the minority
and specialist ends of the market : the scrapping
of bottled strong-ales, such as S. & P. "Nips" and
Bullards Strong Ale.
Not to mention various draught "old" ales,
formerly supplied in the Winter.
By 1970 (closure of S&P) all the familiar brews
of the past had been eradicated. New, but inferior,
products - such as "StarLight" (a.b.v. only 2.5%) -
were foisted on an unwilling public; supplemented,
as thought fit, by London-brewed offerings of
even less appeal and dire reputation.
6. : The Interim
Lacon's beer had never been very popular in
Norwich, but the arrival of Whitbread's in 1966
- generally considered a superior London brewer
(takeover date 19.11.65) - was some relief to
drinkers in the darkest days of the Watney Era.
More useful was Government action, taken to
mitigate the monopoly effects becoming evident
in many areas. Nationally, for sure, there was still a
(small) number of different (large) brewery groups.
They were ordered to swap numbers of tied houses,
so that any one area of the country could benefit
from the competition between 'nationals'.
Well, between a couple of 'nationals', anyway.
This pub-swapping exercise saw the arrival (1971)
of yet another London brewer : Courage (although
pubs did not transfer until February 1972).
Sadly, their offerings (Directors' Bitter apart) were
viewed as being almost on the same abysmal level
From 1976 Watney's (under their new name) had
tried to appease the drinking public (somewhat)
by re-introducing handpumps in several pubs,
along with imitation brews called "Bullard's Mild"
and "S. & P. Bitter"; plus Webster's Yorkshire Bitter.
Clearly, Courage had had to supply their 47 new
outlets from a distance; so it was no surprise when
Watney's closed the "Norwich Brewery" in 1985,
and began to do likewise.
They still, however, had the nerve to call their
principal product "Norwich Bitter".
7. : The Renaissance
Onlookers, in this bizarre and unfolding situation,
included smaller, "regional"brewers in
Happily, it was Adnam's of Southwold
broke out of their strongholds in 1977 (thanks to
Courage concessions) and began to supply City
drinkers; who had hitherto often made longish
journeys to sample those (then) excellent brews.
At a subsequent point (post-1990 ?) they invented
a marketing brand which they called "Lacon Inns"
(for their ex-Lacon's/Whitbread's pubs).
Later (c. 1984) and to less acclaim, Greene King
of Bury St. Edmunds also saw a niche market
These two were the "big guns" of the (smaller)
forces ranged against the 'nationals'. Smaller still
were the new pub-based "micro-brewers", trying to
resurrect the old traditions, like David v. Goliath.
The earliest Norwich micro-brewery experiment
was short-lived, after two attempts. This was next
Golden Star, Colegate, and was begun by
Pete Turner in March 1981 - as the Star Brewery.
After an hiatus  (from Oct. 1982) it re-opened as
the Tap Brewery in Jany. 1983 under Hashmat Jalil.
Sadly, it finally closed in March 1984 - even earlier
A much more successful venture was by
at the Reindeer, starting in
May 1987. It was taken over by the Firkin
brewery-chain, in working order, several years
later; but - like the Firkin chain itself - has now
Another highly-successful Norwich brewery,
founded in late-1993, is still operating at the
Coach & Horses, Thorpe Road; and goes by
the name of Chalk Hill Brewery.
The guiding spirit in this case was the other
(possibly main) brewer previously at the
Reindeer, namely Bill Thomas.
 In the interim : the 'S' fell off the sign,
along with the foot of the 'R' !!!
8. : Freedom of Choice
In the County of Norfolk, the brewing revolution
of the late-20th C. was not unmarked. In 1981, at
Drayton (near Norwich) the Woodforde's Brewery
They subsequently moved (twice), latterly into
old farm buildings at Woodbastwick, now the
prize-winning Broadland Brewery.
The said Wolfe also found that the countryside
gave him much more room to expand his
post-Reindeer brewery business : at Gaymer's
old cyder works, near Attleborough.
Inevitably ? it was called the Wolf Brewery.
It is now the WBC brewery; moved in 2006 to
Rookery Farm, Besthorpe.
Other breweries have been set-up at Lowestoft,
Ditchingham, Reepham etc. etc. (See 9. below).
The obvious requirement for all the
* whether in the City or as far away as Suffolk,
* whether new or long-established,
is available retail outlets in this particular City.
While the national brewers (principally Watney's)
had all the tied-houses in their portfolios, finding
any breakthrough into the City market was
Fortunately, the "tied" system has - since the
1980's - been breaking-down very rapidly;
for reasons which have everything to do with
customer-demand and, in particular, the provision
of "Real Ale" - as opposed to the bland, sterile,
mass-produced keg-beers of the 'nationals'.
Free Houses are flourishing once more,
in great numbers. !!
N. B. Useful snapshots of the situation existing
and in 1991 are also available on this site.
9. : Contemporary Scene
It is therefore sensible to continue investigation
of all the smaller breweries, which are relatively
new (i.e. from 1981) in the Norwich context,
under the Real Ale heading.
We should note, however, in passing,
that firms like Woodforde's are:-
In the case of Woodfordes, the tied pub was the
- Too large to be termed "micro" breweries;
- Not physically attached to existing pubs
(though there is a Woodbastwick "tap" !);
- Financially sound enough to purchase\lease
at least one City premises,
as their own tied-house.
Billy Bluelight, but only until early-2005.
In the case of Adnam's or Greene King, they each
have a small collection of tied outlets. However,
the latter's portfolio seems to be growing; while
Adnam's is currently in full retreat.
Which, when you come to consider it,
is just History Repeating Itself.