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"Norwich" Brewers

Watney's

Old Brewery : King Street1 - 6

2. New For Old : 3. Takeovers   5. The End Game : 6. Acknowledgements etc.

1. : The Arrival

Morgan's  brewery was taken over - in a  joint
venture - by Messrs.  Bullards  and   S. & P.  in
1961; the two firms then  sharing  some
400 to 450 pubs.

The brewery itself passed to  Watney Mann  of
London in August 1961. It was a close copy of
Greene King brewery in Bury St. Edmunds,
having the same architect : Mr. Jennings.

There was a Trading Agreement also written,
by which Watney's undertook to supply the
tied houses, of  both  Norwich breweries;
with certain proprietory products such as
(keg)  Red Barrel & bottled  Brown Ale.

These products were heavily advertised
nationally, with the result that they
diminished sales of the local brews.
As  Watney Mann (ex-Morgan's)  they brewed
from April 1962. As early as July 1962,
Bullard's reported that Watney's keg beers
accounted for 51% of all their sales of bitter.

This outcome had done rather more than
intended : in relieving the strain on their
Anchor  brewery, in supplying their
'new' ex-Morgan's houses !!
(Likewise for S. & P. Pockthorpe  brewery).

By 1963 (see Takeovers) the name
Watney Mann (East Anglia)  was adopted.

2. : New For Old

In 1961, far from being an  old  set of buildings,
the  Old Brewery  was the   newest   City facility.
However, Watney's invested some 2.7 million
pounds in converting the premises, to produce
(largely)  keg  products, betw. 1968 and 1973.

This included a new half-million pound building
(March 1968) for a 'continuous fermenting plant'
on the old brewhouse site.
The other 2.2 million was spent on a new
packaging-warehouse-distribution block
and offices, completed in 1973.

Closures of  Bullards  and  S. & P.  breweries,
by 1970, directly relate.

3. : Takeovers

November 1963 had seen the  aquisition  of
those 2 breweries; with worthless assurances
of the retention of their brewing functions.

The takeovers were greeted locally
with a sarcastic couplet :-

    There came Three Wise Men
    from the South -
    Watney, Combe and Reid.

The  tied-house  pubs of the City breweries
were (soon or later) legally  transferred.

    Watney swiftly took over Bullards
    in November 1963,  along  with 530
    (over 800 in Norfolk?) tied pubs;
    as they had secured over 15% of
    the Company's shares by that time.

    Later, in Feb. 1967, S. & P. had
    their tied pubs (632 in all E. Anglia
    in 1963) secured by Watney.

Hence - customers, as well as drinking
'tied' beer, did so in Watney's own pubs.
As usual, the building was controlled
(its usage, furnishing, decor etc.) by the
brewery;  along with staff numbers or attitude.

Another system, imported by Watney's, had
no customer-appeal when their landlord (male
or female) was tardily replaced upon leaving.

The eventual newcomer was often a member
of (yes, male) staff : directly under the brewery.
They were classed as Watney representatives,
but always known as "Reps". It did not seem
that more than 1 current Rep was salaried,
regardless of  how many  normal licensees
had left pubs quite recently (and why !)

How does an abandoned pub work well daily,
with only a rare visit by the Rep; despite
the fact that he holds the licensee status
for every pub on his rota??.

The Lamb Inn was a very good Bullard example,
from as early as 1964 to 1977, showing
2 Reps in sequence. See the  detailed list.

Please read  some details,  with a
couple of typical serious cases,
if you have a tough constitution.

In between times, the death had occurred in
April 1965 of the long-serving Chairman
of Watney's, Simon Combe.
It was Combe's assurances that were not
respected; either in the matter of brewing,
nor regarding the culling of tied houses
which had come into Watney's posession.

On the other hand, Bullard's themselves
had fickle drinkers to contend with.

Continued . . .

  3. Contd.

A report to their Board in the 1960s stated
that the public had preference for bottled
Watney Brown Ale (1035 s.g.), because of
its sweet palate, over Bullard's Brown Ale
(1039 s.g.) Even though - at a shilling a bottle -
the Bullard's product was 3 old pence cheaper
(for a  stronger  brew) viz. 80% of the
Watney price.

4. : After The Takeovers

Both subsidiary Norwich breweries had closed
by January 1970. Therefore, from July,
King Street hands were producing  keg
Norwich Bitter  &  Norwich Mild
alongside the notorious  Red Barrel,  and
the pathetic  Starlight  and  Special Mild.

In 1976 Watney's re-named their brewery
"Norwich Brewery", under the mantle of
the  Norwich Brewery Co. Ltd.
At this stage, the firm was already subordinate
to  Grand Metropolitan Hotels - who had
taken them over in June 1972
(along with Truman's Brewery).

The programme of the Great Britain Beer
Festival of 1977 revealed  Fined Bitter  was
already on sale in 150 London pubs -
heralding a change of heart.

The programme stated that :

    The East Anglian beer desert is still
    a blot on the Watney escutcheon and it
    seems absurd that Fined Bitter - brewed
    in Norwich
      [ See 1 belowshould be
    available in London, but not in E. Anglia,
    where real ale is needed
    .

After the total failure of their  Starlight  product,
in 1978 they launched the "new" (non-keg)
Norwich Castle Bitter.
Although it was not popular, by 1980 it was
by far the most common beer sold in the
25%-plus of Norfolk pubs who were actually
selling cask beer (i.e. Real Ale).

In 1981 arrived an imitation of  Bullard's Mild.

Watney's main  local  competitor (Courage)
had succeeded in promoting John Smith's
Yorkshire Bitter,  so they retaliated with
a version of  Webster's Yorkshire Bitter.
This soon killed-off both  Castle Bitter
and  Bullard's Mild.

A final attempt in 1984 to curry favour with
Real Ale drinkers was an imitation of
Steward and Patteson's  bitter.

5. : The End Game

After a review of its operations in Norwich and
elsewhere, and in the "light" of the nationwide
rise of  lager  drinkers, Grand Met. closed the
facility in King Street in April 1985, with the
loss of 155 jobs.

Watneys, as a company, was dissolved in 1979.

The 78 inherited pubs, still in Norwich in 1990,
included 3 listed as "Grand Met. Estates";
while the remainder used the odd title 
Manns & Norwich,  which had been
set-up in 1987.

In the same year (1987), despite assurances,
the 'new' firm abandoned the bogus S. & P.
bitter in favour of  Ruddles Best.

6. : Acknowledgements etc.

Much of the material in this summary is
taken from  a publication  of the
Centre of East Anglian Studies.

For the record :-
Watney Mann Ltd. was formed out of the 1958
merger between (a) Watney, Combe, Reid and
(b) Mann, Crossman & Paulin. Now 6 into one.

A retired Norfolk brewer recalls that Watney`s
had been a great brewery,  but blames two
factors for its decline :-

  • The marketing control freaks took over
    and tried to impose their vision of beer
    on the public.
  • It all changed when they brought in a
    Group Chief Chemist from Lyon`s Cakes!!
He goes on to say that
  •   a lot of ex-Watney brewers went on
    to distinguished careers elsewhere in the
    industry; also many micro-brewers have
    benefited from their technical nous.
    In turn, those brewers were released
    from their corporate shackles.

    Earlier, Red Barrel was produced at
    Tamplin`s in Brighton, before its takeover.
    This beer & Red Barrel Continental,
    & Watney`s London Lager had all
    been of good quality.

Footnote [1] :
    The said retired brewer
    corrects the above notion :-
That particular beer was tankered down to
Norwich from another Watney satellite brewery
(probably Wilson's in Manchester) prior to
being packaged and sent to the Philistines
in the Smoke.
Often, the tanker was driven around the block
a few laps, to make sure the yeast was evenly
mixed in.
  He also points out that the beer's name was
absurd : as generally, in this country, all beer
IS fined at some stage. So the name was
a marketeer`s bizarre take on
the real-ale brewing process.

Indeed the 'Fined Bitter' was a half-hearted
attempt to reinvent cask beer.


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