Bottom   :  Previous Section (B)   :  Norwich Area Pubs

The Norwich Breweries

(Paras. 1 to 9)
 Renewal of the Pubs : Section C 

Indices  of  Norwich Breweries  prior to 1963 :
Major breweries   :  Small breweries

2. Early Mergers :  3. Big Four :  4. Monopoly   6. The Interim :  7. Renaissance
8. Freedom of Choice :  9. Contemporary Scene

1. : Small Beginnings

The history of brewing is a fascinating and
highly relevant matter, which constitutes a
whole field of study in itself.

Such bodies 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 divine
    And his malt and hops never cog;
    May  Tompson's  have store,
    with  Morse  and some more,
    And live long to brew Norwich Nog.
Norwich Nog was described as
a "humming brown beer".

Nine breweries were listed in 1783 in
Norwich, for a population under 40,000.
Six individuals  or  firms were listed,
in the 1805 Trades Directory, as brewers.
By 1827 the number had ballooned to 26.
(See  population growth).

2. : Early Mergers

Eventually 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 Brewery
See para. 3. below.

Detailed  scrunity  reveals that no further [1]
significant mergers took place  within  the City.
The guess is 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 7.

During the 19th C., while more and more
pubs concentrated on retailing, and
breweries expanded their activities likewise,
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.

[1] The subsequent domination of the "Big 4"
      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 4 breweries
in Norwich, it was  possible for supplies to
reach the City from other towns - via 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   Arnold's etc.  in April 1902.
Related tied pubs 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 :-

  • For the mid-19th C. rankings of the
          'big' brewers, see the   1845 List.
  • For the 1914 situation, (the "Classic"
          benchmark),  see the   1914 List.
The  Big 5  (incl. Lacon's) in fact provided
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  "Crawshay Arms";  while, not far away,
Lacon's retaliated with the
  "Lacon Arms"  (also in 1922).

Bullards had already acquired at least
a couple of premises hard by the walls of
Pockthorpe Brewery; and much the same,
in reverse, was found near St. Miles' Bridge.

Large breweries also traded as  merchants,
sometimes from adjacent  brewery "taps".
Further details of brewery histories (large &
small) can be found  elsewhere  on this site.

4. : The Monopoly

With Lacon's still in business, plus a handful
of "free houses", it was - strictly speaking -
not possible  for the dreaded  Watney's[1] to
establish a technical, Norwich-wide monopoly
in the early 1960's. But it sure felt like it !.
[1] Watney, Combe, Reid of London -
latterly  Watney Mann.

Preliminary mergers, within Norwich,
paved the way for the  "ultimate solution" :

  • 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  between them.
So, it was relatively easy for
Watney's to move in for the kill.
They snapped up the two remaining Norwich
breweries in Novr. 1963. The two seemed,
anyway, to have formed a  de facto  cartel.
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, in 1961.
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) & Steward's
(Jan. 1970) premises had been closed down.
The old "Morgan's" brewery was later
called  "Norwich Brewery"; although this
did not stop Watney's from transporting some
of their products (esp. bottled) all the way
from London.

Meanwhile, Lacon's gave way 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 mention -
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.

But 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 & 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 Grim 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 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, which were
becoming evident in many UK 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 the

Well, between a couple of  'nationals',  anyway.

This pub-swapping edict 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 as Watney's.

From 1976 Watney's (under their  near end?)
had tried to appease the drinking public 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 did 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 neighbouring Suffolk.

Happily, it was  Adnam's   of   Southwold  who
first 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 ex-Lacon's/Whitbread's pubs).

Later (c. 1984) and to less acclaim,
Greene King  of Bury St. Edmunds
also saw a niche market for themselves.

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 attempt
was short-lived, after two attempts. This was
next to the  Golden Star,  Colegate, and was
begun by  Pete Turner  in March 1981 -
as the  Star Brewery.
After an hiatus [1] (from Oct. 1982) it re-opened
as the  Tap Brewery  in January 1983
under Hashmat Jalil. Sadly, it finally closed
in March 1984, even earlier than Watney's.

A much more successful venture was by
Wolfe Witham,   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 ceased operation.

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.

[1] In the interim : the 'S' fell off the sign,
      along with the foot of the 'R' !!!

8. : Freedom of Choice

In Norfolk County, the brewing revolution
of the late-20th C. was not unmarked.
In 1981, at Drayton (near Norwich) the   new Woodforde's Brewery was founded.
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 in 1995 : 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.

Sadly, Wolfe died suddenly on Sunday
March 1st 2015, aged 65;
having retired in 2007. See  full details.

Other breweries have been set-up at
Lowestoft, Ditchingham, Reepham etc. etc.
(See 9. below).
The obvious requirement for all the
above-mentioned breweries,is whether
  * in the City or as far away as Suffolk,
  * new or long-established,
is available retail outlets in this particular City.

While the national brewers (e.g.  Watney's)
had all the tied-houses in their portfolios,
finding any breakthrough into the City market
was nigh-on impossible.

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, notably, 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 in  1984   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:-

  • Too large to be termed "micro" breweries;
  • Not physically attached to existing pubs
        (though there is a Woodbastwick "tap" !);
  • Financially sound enough to buy\lease
        at least one City premises,
        as their own tied-house.
In  Woodfordes  case, the tied pub  was  the
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 now in full retreat.

Which, when you come to consider it,
is just  History Repeating Itself.

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