Research projects are populated by moments of revelation, when something falls into place or two seemingly contradictory facts are reconciled. Recently I had one of those moments. Regular readers will know that I have been trying harmonise Whitbread’s establishment of a nationwide, railway supplied bottling operation before 1914 with its accounts stating that it spent only £4,000 on ‘carriage’ in the period. Supplying its 40 or so bottling depots and stores in 1910, which that year consumed 44% of its output, or 353,936 barrels of beer, would have cost far more than this piffling amount.  The Bass accounts confirmed this; in the same year distributing by rail most of the 998,506 barrels it produced cost it £179,898.  If Whitbread had paid the same per barrel for carriage as Bass, its bill would have been £63,768 – a far cry from £4,000. So where was the rest of Whitbread’s ‘carriage’ costs?
To solve this dilemma, I began slogging through Whitbread’s minute books, and on Monday success came. At the August 1893 annual general meeting it was suggested by a director, Mr Worsley,…
‘…that the Auditors should look into the system of charging the Beer to the stores and suggested a mode of keeping the accounts which would shew clearly the result of the year’s working and the actual profit made in each year.’
I’m not exactly clear what happened after this, but the suggestion was taken forward and the stores and depots were made independent cost centres, accountable for their own profit and losses. And so my ‘eureka’ moment came. Being no accounting expert, I had believed the individual elements of expenditure attributable to stores and depots would be integrated into the company’s overall accounts. I was in error, they were not. The whole bottling operation was simply listed as a source of profit or loss.
Failing to realise this though, I had overlooked a separate part of the company’s accounts where the financial activity of each store and depot was shown. On returning to these, there, staring me in the face, was the cost of carriage for each depot and store, as well the whole bottled beer operation. So here, at last, I present some sensible figures. In 1894 the company’s five depots expended £24,723 on ‘carriage’, a far more plausible figure than the £435.45 listed in the main accounts. By 1912, when the bottling operation had expanded to encompass more than 40 stores and bottling depots in the UK and northern Europe, the expenditure had grown to £139,707.
Despite my findings being a good result, things are never simple when researching. The £139,707 does not only include rail transport costs, and also encompasses the distribution of beer from depots and stores by horse and dray, something definitely undertaken by the London bottling stores, and shipping charges where the northern European stores were concerned. How much Whitbread paid Britain’s railways for ‘carriage’ before 1914 therefore remains unknown, but at least I can now say the fog has started to clear.
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.
 T.R. Gourvish and R.G. Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, 1830-1980, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 300 and 611.
 National Brewery Centre Archive [NBCA], A/139, Bass company accounts
 London Metropolitan Archives [LMA], LMA/4453/B/02/023, Whitbread AGM Minutes, meeting, 17 August 1893.
 LMA, LMA/4453/B/02/005, Balance Sheets and Accounts director’s copy, 1894
 LMA, LMA/4453/B/02/023, Balance Sheets and Accounts director’s copy, 1912