Home » The Blog » Whitbread spent how much on rail transportation?

Whitbread spent how much on rail transportation?


A Whitbread newspaper advert, 1909

So, yesterday was an interesting, if little confusing day. Having looked at the Whitbread files at the London Metropolitan Archive, it is clear they were definitely using the railways to transport beer to their bottling and distribution plants. By 1909 the company’s London brewery (and I am presuming it was the London brewery) was supplying 29 of their 32 British depots by rail (two others were in Europe). Indeed, cash books state that they could only estimate the total cost of this ‘carriage of beer’ for each financial year (which weirdly ran to the first week of July) because some railway companies had not submitted their costs yet.

What is slightly confusing is the amount paid by the company for ‘carriage of beer’. In 1909 the company only paid £3843, or 0.305% of its total operational expenditure. This seems a very tiny amount, on the one hand because the company in 1905 bottled 245,599 barrels of beer nationwide, whilst at the same time Bass, Ratcliffe and Gretton had special contracts with the Midland Railway for beer transit, because the cost was so large. It seems I have a mystery on my hands. More investigation required, clearly.

This project is funded by the Business Archives Council’s bursary for business history research. For more information, see here.

If you are interested in learning more about British railway history, perhaps you want to study the University of York, Centre for Lifelong Learning’s Postgraduate Diploma in Railway Studies, which I teach. How the railways changed goods transportation in Britain is covered in module 1 (The coming of the railways to Britain, 1830-1900). More information on the course can be found here.



  1. Nothing weird about the year starting and ending in July. That’s what all the London brewers did. It dates back to the 18th century when there was a break in brewing during the summer. Which made it the obvious time to have year end. Whitbread changed to a claendar year in 1927.


    • David Turner says:

      Thanks Ron. I am coming new to the intricacies of brewery history, so that is very useful to know.

      On another note, I’m looking forward to cracking open that bottle of Brewery Yard I have in the cupboard, but I am keeping it for a special occasion.


  2. Ros Hext says:

    Is this one of the joys of research? I am beginning to find inconsistencies in what I’m finding for the female clerks and was thinking of mentioning it in my presentation? Would this be OK?




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