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.) :-
Weston's name shine,Norwich Nog was described as
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.
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 
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.
 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 :
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 :-
The Big 5 (incl. 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
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 to
establish a technical, Norwich-wide monopoly
in the early 1960's. But it sure felt like it !.
 Watney, Combe, Reid of London -
latterly Watney Mann.
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 between them.
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
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.
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
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 :
(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
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
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)
At a subsequent point
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  (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
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.
 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:-
In Woodfordes case, 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 buy\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 now in full retreat.
Which, when you come to consider it,
is just History Repeating Itself.