History of this brewery
By Brian Lawrence
THE STORY OF HATFIELD BREWERY
My earliest recollections of Hatfield do not go back to the days when the brewery flourished though the older residents still referred to a stretch of the Great North Road in Old Hatfield as Brewery Hill and the name Pryor Reid, the last owners of the brewery, was still quite fresh in their memories.
In common with so many other small towns, the business of brewing and malting had been carried on in Hatfield for hundreds of years.
Records show the Searancke family to be the earliest to be associated with brewing in the locality. Of Flemish origin, the family can be traced back to Essendon in 1545 and they are also credited with introducing hops into Hertfordshire. Members of the family are known to have been farming and brewing in the nearby villages of Woodside and Wildhill during the 16th and 17th Centuries and John Searancke is known to have come to Hatfield by 1582 and to have been the owner of a small brewery behind the Chequers Inn at the bottom of Fore Street by 1610. After the death of John Searancke in 1617 several generations of the family continued the brewery business in the town and throughout the remainder of the 17th Century and for much of the 18th Century the family and their Hatfield Brewery prospered. The last of the direct male descendants to run the brewing business, also John Searancke, was undoubtedly a man of considerable stature and influence in the locality being not only a successful businessman but also a Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant and High Sherriff of the County.
Sold to Joseph Bigg for £11,154
At the time of his death in 1779 he owned a considerable amount of property including 1000 acres in Philadelphia. Having died childless, John Searancke’s will decreed that the property be left to his three sisters but within 10 years (in 1789) ownership had passed to his nephew, Francis Carter Searancke, son of one of the sisters who inherited the business in 1779. This raises the question as to why the owner should still be called Searancke. It is believed that he had, in fact, changed his name from Niccoll in 1781 to comply with the terms of his uncle’s will. Francis Searancke also had other brewing interests in St Albans at Kingsbury Brewery which he had acquired in 1782 on the death of his father, Francis Carter Niccoll, a former Mayor of St Albans. In 1815 Searancke decided to devote his full attention to the St Albans business and thus he sold his interest in the Hatfield Brewery to Joseph Bigg, who had been his business partner for several years, for £11,154.
Producing upward of 7,600 barrels annually
The next few years must have seen the Hatfield Brewery pass through difficult times since by 1819 Bigg had become bankrupt and the brewery with his other property was acquired by Joseph Field for £19,500. He carried out various improvements to the business and saw it on the road to recovery by the time of his death in 1836. The record of the sale following his death gives a good indication of the size of the business at that time. It referred to “that old established and respectable concern, the Hatfield Brewery said to own forty licensed houses in Hatfield, Herts, Beds, Middlesex and Essex, and producing upward of 7,600 barrels annually”. The business was purchased at auction, held at the Red Lion, by James Spurrell, brother-in-law of James Watney, for £24,350. However, within a few months, he had sold the brewery to the Pryor family, which leads us on to the final chapter of this story.
The Pryors were originally an East Anglian family whose association with Hertfordshire dates back to the 14th Century when Thomas Priour was granted land at Baldock by King Edward III. Thereafter nothing can be traced of the family for some 300 years but we are able to pick up their story again during the 17th Century. It was at that time that as Quakers they came into conflict with the authorities and there are several references to members of the Pryor family spending time in Hertford gaol. Towards the end of the Century with the passing of the Toleration Act persecution came to an end and the Pryors, in common with many other Quaker families, began to enjoy a period of greater prosperity.
Brewing and malting divided
It was Robert Pryor who built up a substantial malting business in Baldock and this was passed on to his eldest son John on his death in 1744. During the second half of the 18th Century John Pryor became a well known and respected brewer and maltster in the town and in addition farmed his own land, including that which he inherited from his mother’s brother, John Izzard. By the time of his death in 1819 his estate was substantial and under the terms of his will it was divided among his six children (four sons and two daughters). The eldest son, John Izzard Pryor, took over the brewery whilst the youngest son, Vickris, acquired the maltster’s business. It is interesting to record that the other two sons, Thomas and Robert, became partners in the London Brewery of Truman, Hanbury and Buxton. Of the two daughters, Elizabeth did not marry but Martha maintained the brewing connection by marrying Joseph Morris, a brewer from Ampthill. This link was further re-inforced by the fact that John Izzard Pryor married Joseph Morris’ sister Hannah.
A passage to Hamburg
It was this generation of the Pryors that severed the long-standing family association with the Quakers as the brothers and sisters at different times in their lives left the sect and became Anglicans. John Izzard Pryor lived in Baldock close to the brewery until 1829 when he bought Clay Hall, a Georgian house and estate of some 500 acres at Walkern. His three sons by his first marriage, John, Morris and Alfred (in whose names the Hatfield was purchased) all attended private school at Bury St Edmunds. By 1833 John and Morris were already established in the family business and with Alfred having now just left school John Izzard Pryor decided that he too should be trained ‘as a man of business’. Following negotiations in the City of London arrangements were made for Alfred to spend up to two years with a Mr Smith in Hamburg at a cost of £1,000, to be paid by four instalments. Alfred duly departed for Hamburg in June 1833 on the William Jolliffe, his passage costing 7 gns. Alfred’s father’s diary records that he received a report from Mr Smith early in 1834 to the effect that his son’s conduct was satisfactory although on occasions he was too reserved and silent. Alfred visited his family home in September 1834, returning to Hamburg in October. At the end of two years in Hamburg, Alfred accepted his host’s offer to stay on for a further six months at no extra cost to his father although this led to a dispute some time later and a further payment ultimately had to be made to Mr Smith. It would appear that Alfred remained in Germany for several months more than the suggested extension of six months since John Izzard Pryor notes on 30 April 1836 that he had received a letter from Alfred in Hamburg urging him to purchase the Hatfield Brewery at the forthcoming sale if it could be bought at a reasonable price.
An opportunity missed
John Izzard Pryor was very keen to see young Alfred settled so he met with his brother Robert and his three sons, John, Morris and Alfred on the morning of the sale, 31 May 1836 for a family discussion on this possible new venture. He proposed that they should purchase the property jointly if the price was right with sons John and Morris having a half share and Alfred the remainder. He felt that Alfred was too inexperienced to run the operation alone but with the benefit of occasional visits and advice from his two older brothers for the first two or three years, he would be able to handle the day to day running of the business. His brother Robert agreed to the proposal but the two older sons, particularly Morris, felt that it would put too much onus on them. The lack of real agreement within the family did not give John Pryor (Senior) great confidence to proceed. Nevertheless, at the ensuing sale, with the bidding slow, Pryor was tempted to bid up to £24,300 but dropped out at that figure leaving Mr Spurrell to acquire the property for £24,350, still below the Pryor’s stated valuation of £25,000.
Employment for Alfred
The failure of the family to secure the Hatfield Brewery was a source of considerable disappointment, particularly to John Izzard Pryor who remained anxious to see young Alfred in useful employment. He therefore arranged with John and Morris for Alfred to take an active role in the business at Baldock to gain experience for the future. It is questionable as to how dedicated young Alfred was to his new position for a few months later an entry in his father’s diary relates how having travelled with his sisters to Oxford he was unable to return home as he ‘got into a detestable scrape in London with a diseased female. He is now deservedly suffering in consequence. But hopes to get home by the middle of next week’. Early in 1837 Morris Pryor heard that the Hatfield Brewery was to be sold again. Having discussed the matter with his brother John, he informed his father and suggested that if he still thought it would provide a suitable opportunity for Alfred he and his brother would be agreeable, on the terms previously proposed. It is interesting to note that on this occasion the initiative came from those who had previously been less than enthusiastic. Were they motivated by a desire not to have brother Alfred involved in the Baldock business any longer than absolutely necessary?
Purchase of the Hatfield Brewery
After visiting the Hatfield Brewery to inspect the premises and the books arrangements were made for a meeting in London between the two parties on 3 February 1837. John Izzard Pryor was accompanied again by his brother Robert and son John whilst it is interesting to note that the owner of the brewery, Mr James Spurrell, was represented by his brother-in-law, Mr Watney. Eventually a purchase price of £31,000 was agreed with a completion date of 25 March. During the remaining seven weeks before the deal was finalised no effort was spared in giving Alfred the chance to complete his education by allowing him to get experience of going through the whole brewing process several times at the Baldock Brewery and also by arranging for him to visit the public houses owned by the Hatfield Brewery to meet the publicans.
Meanwhile, John Izzard Pryor sorted out the financial arrangements for the purchase with meticulous care, calling upon the assistance of several members of the family. Brother Robert who had clearly been very closely involved in all the negotiations made a loan of £10,000 whilst brother-in-law, Joseph Morris, loaned a further £8,000. These sums were passed on to son Alfred, £15,000 by way of a loan and £3,000 as a gift from his father, and thus with £2,000 of his own Alfred had capital of £20,000 to contribute to the business. With brothers John and Morris contributing a further £20,000 between them the purchase was duly completed on time. The records show that a price of £34,000 was paid for the business, including stock. Therefore, Alfred had £6,000 working capital with which to embark upon his new venture.
So it was that this influential North Herts family expanded its brewing interests to Hatfield and the southern part of the County. It was less than a year later that plans were being made within the family for Alfred’s marriage to his cousin Jane, the daughter of his father’s youngest brother, Vickris. There were three children from this marriage two sons and a daughter. The elder son, Alfred became a Jesuit and therefore it was the younger son, Edward, who took over and continued the flourishing Hatfield business on Alfred’s death in 1876.
Pryor, Reid & Co
Edward soon brought his brother-in-law into the business and this led to the formation of the Company, Pryor, Reid & Co. Ltd. The business expanded substantially during the final quarter of the century, firstly by the acquisition of the nearby Park Street Brewery, which was leased to Arthur Sherriff and situated on land which ran uphill from Park Street, alongside the old Arm and Sword Yard and the viaduct toward the present Hatfield Arms, on the Great North Road.
The Company later took over Bradshaws Newtown Brewery, which had been set up by the Bradshaw brothers, landlords of the White Lion, at the rear of the premises close to the modern White Lion Square. During this period of expansion Pryor Reid & Co. spread its wings to other parts of the county, acquiring the brewing interests of Benjamin Young of Hertford and then amalgamating with Glover & Co. of Harpenden. By this time the Company must have become one of the most important employers in the locality, providing work directly or indirectly for a large number of the residents. Further expansion took place when the Company bought Lattimore’s Hope Brewery in Wheathampstead in November 1904, just one month before the death of Edward Pryor.
Two noteworthy events took place in 1908 which in different ways must have caused quite a stir, not only within the brewery but also throughout the whole town. Firstly, in May of that year a fire broke out on the brewery premises, causing extensive damage and destroying the mineral water factory.
King Edward’s barrel
Then some months later King Edward VII paid an unscheduled visit to the brewery when his car broke down whilst passing through the town. The King strolled into the brewery yard, sat on one of the barrels and watched the workmen until the repairs to his vehicle had been carried out. That evening the enterprising landlord of the Dray Horse placed a barrel on the bar on which was written “King Edward sat here”. Such a scoop could not go unchallenged and by the following night every public house in the town had a barrel on its bar with the identical claim.
Called to arms
All too soon with the outbreak of the First World War, the established way of life which had developed in this country during the Victorian age was totally disrupted and the inhabitants of Hatfield and the employees of the Brewery were all affected by these changes. Many of the staff were called to arms and among those who were destined never to return was the only son of the Chairman of the Company, Mr Percy C Reid.
There is no doubt that the closure of the brewery in 1920 came about as a direct result of this tragic event since it is recorded that at the closing dinner for all the employees, held at the One Bell, the Chairman publicly stated that he would never have thought of closing but for the death of his son. One can but speculate how differently this part of old Hatfield might have developed had the young Lieutenant Geoffrey Reid survived to fulfil his father’s dream of continuing the family business. At the time of its closure the Brewery Company owned approximately a hundred public houses, in and around Hatfield and in other parts of the county, all of which were sold to Benskins of Watford. The site of the brewery was acquired by W Waters & Co. who built their garage in a prominent position on the bend at the bottom of Brewery Hill. For those who know that part of Hatfield only in its present layout I should perhaps explain that the foundations of the brewery now lie buried somewhere beneath the modern precinct known as Salisbury Square.
© Brian G Lawrence May 1990 (Based on articles first published in Hertfordshire Countryside Magazine – Jan. & July 1986)