My Blog

Whitbread’s beer by boat – a longer story than we knew about

I cannot say that researching how Whitbread distributed beer to their bottling plant and stores after 1870 is the easiest thing in the world. Researching Bass’ distribution activities is much easier; the company’s own files are okay and the railway companies that served Burton detailed the process repeatedly. Whitbread however were operating all over the country in a much more atomised way, meaning that finding their very occasional dealings, contracts and agreements with the railway companies is like looking for a needle in a haystack. A lot of trawling is involved.

Whi

Whitbread Advert, The Era, Saturday 9 April 1892

The trawling can however pay off and very occasionally you find something that changes what we know. This is what happened today. Review the Whitbread company histories, and indeed the surviving company files[1], and you’d be mistaken for thinking that after 1892 most plants and stores were supplied by rail. Redman’s history of the brewery, for example, states that “The bulk beer for bottling was sent out from London, usually by rail.” Generally rail charges stymied the development of the company’ network until 1892 when new rates were agreed, which allowed the network to grow. Only Norwich remained supplied by “steamer to Great Yarmouth and then by lighter or wherry to the depot”[2]

Yet, the Great Northern Railway’s (GNR) files give a different picture. In 1901 Whitbread asked the railway if it could expand its bottling stores at City Road, Bradford. The company agreed on the proviso that all beer be sent there by rail, because at that point Bradford was supplied from Leeds, which received its delivery by boat. This demonstrates that not only was Whitbread supplying more than just Norwich by boat around 1900, but that water transport retained a cost advantage after the agreement of 1892 (these have not been found however).[3] This supports my findings from brewing press at the time that rail carriage costs were prohibitively high for most brewers between 1870 and 1914.[4] But this broader subject is for another post, another day.

logoThis 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 online 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). The railway rates issue is covered in module 2 (The declining profitability of the British railway industry, 1870-1914). More information on the course can be found here.

—–

[1] At the London Metropolitan Archive
[2] Nicholas Barritt Redman, The Story of Whitbread, 1742-1990, (London: Unknown Publisher, 1990) 24-25.
[3] The National Archives, RAIL 226/161, Great Northern Railway Traffic Committee Minute Book, 01 November 1901, p.237.
[4] Commercial Motor Magazine, February 29, 1910, 29. “Why Motor Transport Thrives”, Commercial Motor Magazine, September 19, 1912, 12.

To break a barrel, to spoil the beer: the railways’ care for barrels after 1860.

Britain’s traders and industrialists complained vigorously about the railways between 1870 and 1914. In a period when anxieties about British industrial dominance falling into decline were abound, a feeling emerged that excessively high rates for goods transit were damaging home firms’ international competitiveness by increasing operating costs (you can read about this in earlier blogs). Yet underneath this primary concern, businesses had a range of other issues with rail transport. For the brewers these included pilferage of beer, poor storage, delays in delivery and the subject of this post, damage to barrels. Indeed, barrels were perhaps the brewers’ biggest items of working capital –  in 1873 Bass’s stock was valued at £200,000 – and therefore maintaining their integrity through damage avoidance was a priority.[1]

Of course, barrels were on occasion damaged (or destroyed) in crashes. On 14 January 1876 a beer train from Burton hit two stray horses at Wingfield (between Derby and Sheffield). Two wagons overturned and the driver was thrown from the train. Worse was to come, and an oncoming mineral train collided with the wreck, despite warnings from the now shaken driver of the first train. Three people were injured, although not everyone thought this was a terrible event. Several barrels were broken and The York Herald recorded that this was “a circumstance which a number of colliers going to their work did not fail to notice, and had their early beer, good and plenty of it, on exceedingly good terms.”[2]

1997-7397_dy_387

Burton Station 1896. ©National Railway Museum and SSPL (http://www.nrm.org.uk/ourcollection/photo?group=Derby&objid=1997-7397_DY_387)

But the number of barrels damaged here was likely small compared huge numbers compromised in regular transit each week. Brewers’ disquiet with this situation is best demonstrated by the Edwardian discourse surrounding the utility of commercial motor vehicles. In 1910 a representative of Greenall, Whitley and Co., brewers of Warrington, wrote to Commercial Motor Magazine proclaiming that by using two sentinel road vehicles “in competition with the railway company” there was “much less damage to the barrels, and the beer arrives in better condition.” [2] Two years later the same publication argued that road transport led to “a decided decrease in the number of empties damaged, broken or lost.”[3]

This was not however simply a problem only for brewers; claims against the railways for damaged property cost them dearly. For instance, the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) in 1896 noted a significant increase in claims from breweries.[4]

The railways therefore tried to confront the problem. When in 1861 the Midland Railway received “serious complaints from Burton Brewers of the frequent damage done to their return ale casks in loading and unloading,” staff were implored to exercise greater care. This may seem a somewhat lacklustre response, but in an era when railway operation was developing, and rules and regulations were being codified, arguably not much more could be done.[5]

Forty years later there had been some advance. Standard instructions on how to arrange and manage barrels in wagons was being issued to all companies via the Railway Clearing House in 1899:

“35. Casks…must be loaded in spring-buffer trucks.

43. Casks…must be tightly scotched, and, when practicable, the casks should be loaded lengthwise with bung uppermost. Bricks or stones must not be used for this class of traffic, but a supply of straw or wood scotches must be kept on hand for the purpose, to meet the requirements of the station.”[6]

These instructions were not seemingly enough to prevent damage to casks though and it continued to be a frequent problem. Yet despite the significant gap of time between 1861 and the turn of the century, when railways received complaints from brewers the solution was the same as it had always been. In 1896, for instance, the LNWR re-issued a circular instructing that greater care be taken in loading and unloading barrels.[7] The Midland in 1902 received numerous complaints from Burton brewers on account of damage to casks due to “careless shunting, either owing to the improper application of the steam breaks, or the trucks being allowed to run into the sidings too sharply without being steadied down.” Again, the instruction given was for employees to be more careful.[8]

There is clearly much more that I need to learn about the part in the railways played in the brewers’ supply chain before 1914. Yet, their unchanging response to complaints of damage to barrels suggest that once  operational systems had been put in place up to 1870, the development of practice slowed or even stopped. This implies that there was a culture of complacency amongst railway decision-makers, perhaps because of their dominance on long-distance inland transport, and that this may have militated against more secure ways to load, unload and move barrels being developed.

But there were broader concerns. Whatever the reason new methods appear not have been developed, the breakage of barrels in transit generated a small part of the negativity directed towards the railways by Britain’s business community, which added to the broader perception that they were damaging the nation’s economic health.

logoThis 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 online 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). he railway rates issue is covered in module 2 (The declining profitability of the British railway industry, 1870-1914). More information on the course can be found here.

—-

[1] T.R. Gourvish and R.G. Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, 1830-1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 202.
[2]  The Derby Mercury, Wednesday, December 9, 1896, 3.
[3] Commercial Motor Magazine, February 29, 1910, 29.
[4] “Why Motor Transport Thrives”, Commercial Motor Magazine, September 19, 1912, 12.
[5] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 410/616, Goods Officers’ Conference, 20 October 1896, Minute No. 6330.
[6] Railway Clearing House, General Instructions as to Merchandise Traffic, (London: Jas. Truscott & Son, 1899), 15.
[7] Midland Railway Study Centre [MRSC], File 30024 – circulars, Midland Railway to Staff, 16 July 1861.
[8] TNA, RAIL 410/616, Goods Officers’ Conference, 20 October 1896, Minute No. 6330.
[9] MRSC, File – 503-05-05 – Midland Railway District Goods Manager’s Unnumbered Circulars, Circular to Staff, 14 November 1902.

Meeting the Sun – the LNER’s inter-war integrated marketing campaigns

It may be an odd place to start a post about railway history, but Tesco are currently running one of their biggest campaigns in over a decade called “Food Love Stories”. This apparently seeks to focus you, the consumer, on the quality of their food offering.[1] The campaign is hard to miss, Tesco are pushing it across multiple platforms including posters, youtube, Facebook, television and, of course, in-store. “Food Love Stories” are truly all around.

In marketing speak, what Tesco is subjecting us to is commonly known as ‘Integrated Marketing Communications’ (IMC). This is not simply where companies publicise their wares through multiple channels, this is where across channels you will see a single message or idea projected. This multi-layered approach, it is hoped, will much more influential on consumer choice and build stronger relationships with the consumer than if the message came from a single source, or you were receiving different messages about Tesco’s products and services at different times.

Whilst obviously interested in marketing practice today, as a business historian I am curious to understand when and how these modern practices developed. When did IMC first emerge, even if it was not called this at that point? Recently, Mike Heller has pushed the story of IMC in Britain back to the inter-war years. The General Post Office (GPO) in the 1930s sought to increase uptake of the telephone, something it had been criticised for not acting on in the 1920s, as well as grow usage of airmail. Innovative campaigns with single messages were launched  across newspaper advertising, public relations, promotions, cinema, events and pictorial posters.  The GPO’s slogan in 1933-34 was ‘Come On the Phone’, whilst in 1934 there was a national ‘telephone week.’ These efforts were successful, and, for instance, 200,000 new telephone subscribers were added  annually in the later 1930s.[2]

drier2

“The Drier Side of Britain”, Display Advert, The Illustrated London News, May 24, 1924, 4.

There is however more to say about the  inter-war origins of IMC . At the end of his article, Heller posed a challenge to scholars; “More research here is needed in order to ask whether the GPO was an isolated case or whether it was indicative of an emerging form of marketing communication.”[3] My research has shown that the latter was true, and that arguably the London & North Eastern Railway’s (LNER) publicity methods were equally advanced by the 1930s.

There is no shortage of printed matter telling us how great inter-war railway marketing was. Most famous are the pictorial posters that have done so much to shape the collective memory of the 1930s and the railway industry within it. Yet as I was at pains to point out last year, before 1939 posters were just one element in the railways’ wider system of marketing communications which encompassed handbooks, displays, model trains, handbills, newspaper advertisements, bookmarks, postcards, cinema and, from the 1920s, public relations.

Alongside diversifying the media channels they used to advertise, the railways’ technical skills in advertising also advanced and developed. Under William Teasdale, Advertising Manager between 1923 and 1927, the LNER started developing advertising practices recognisable as early forms of IMC. From 1924 its publicity began proclaiming that it served “The Drier Side of Britain”, its territory and resorts having less average rainfall than the rest of the nation.[5] This phrase was projected across print media adverts, editorial copy, handbooks, leaflet and posters, impressing on the consumer that were they to travel to via the LNER for their holiday, they were guaranteed to have a sunny, less wet time. The company’s 1929 Holiday Handbook proclaimed that when choosing a holiday destination “the fact that the East Coast is the Drier Side of Britain is a factor to be carefully weighed.”[6] Despite “The Drier Side” remaining in the LNER’s publicity lexicon until the company’s end in 1947, the slogan was frequently subsumed within, and incorporated into different campaigns, and was only occasionally the headline itself.

It was under Teasdale’s successor, Cecil Dandridge (1928-48) that the LNER’s approach arguably matured into IMC as it is recognisable today. Dandridge was one of the foremost commercial marketers of the age. He was deeply embedded in communities and networks of marketing professionals (which undoubtedly included GPO officials), and he proclaimed the need for a more ‘scientific’ approach to advertising.[7]

picture1

“Meet the Sun on the East Coast”, advertisements, The Sphere, May 6, 1939, 241.

Building on Teasdale’s work and undoubtedly drawing on what he learnt from the wider community of publicity professionals, Dandridge began projecting through media channels consistent advertising slogans, motifs and messages to maximise their impact. The most significant development was the company’s campaign “Meet the Sun on East Coast.” Launched in April 1939, this used almost every communication channel at the company’s disposal. In what was considered an innovative step, the slogan along with a cartoon sun adorned banners hung at stations and on embankments, and was affixed to the company’s motor vehicles, booking offices and ticket gates. Traditional advertising materials were also used; newspaper adverts, posters, handbills and handbooks all sold the message that you could “Meet the sun” via the LNER. To generate press coverage, journalists were taken around the company’s territories behind a train adorned with the “Meet the Sun” cartoon and slogan (see below for image). Finally, local authorities in the resorts the LNER served incorporated the slogan into their own press advertising. The sum result was that everywhere inside the company’s network, and far beyond it, a single consistent message was proclaimed. Such was the campaign’s intensity that Dandridge stated in May 1939 that:

At this moment hundreds and thousands of people are aware of a certain exhortation. The Londoner has seen it. The villager knows it. The Tynesider, the Mancunian, the Yorkshireman have heard it. When taking their holidays, they will very likely heed it—this exhortation to “Meet the Sun on the East Coast.” All around them, like Balaclava guns, are advertising media bombarding incessantly, urging them continuously to meet the sun where it shines on golden sands.[8]

Unfortunately, the impact of the campaign is unclear, the war intervened before a full analysis could be undertaken. “Meet the sun” was however indicative of how far British railways’ marketing communications had come by 1939. The integration of different and sometimes innovative communication channels  to project a single message in complex ways demonstrates that the LNER was one of the most creative marketers of the inter-war period. It is quite possible, then, that were Tesco’s marketing executives to look on this example today, they might identify a practice that is familiar to them – IMC.

mts2

Cecil Dandridge, “Advertising Notes”, London & North Eastern Railway            Magazine 29, no. 8 (August 1939): 432

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. The development of railway marketing is covered in module 2 (The declining profitability of the British railway industry, 1870-1914) and module 4 (Railways and government, 1880-1939). More information on the course can be found here.

[1] John Glenday, “Tesco serves up ‘Food Love Stories’ to whet appetite of shoppers”, News, The Drum, January 9, 2017, accessed February 16, 2017, http://www.thedrum.com/news/2017/01/09/tesco-serves-up-food-love-stories-whet-appetite-shoppers; “Tesco brings the love this January with SmartCONTENT” JCDecaux, January 20, 2017, accessed February 16, 2017, http://www.jcdecaux.co.uk/tesco-brings-love-january-smartcontent.
[2] Michael Heller, “The development of integrated marketing communications at the British General Post Office,1931-39,” Business History 58, no.7, (2016): 1034-1054. The success these campaigns is clear, to quote from Heller:
“Telephone profits increased from breakeven in 1929–1930 to £2.1 million in 1934–35.103 By the latter half of the 1930s the GPO was adding 200,000 new telephone subscribers every year. Airmail traffic increased from 10.8 million tons in 1935–36 to 91.2 million tons in 1938–39. Similar growth occurred in telegraphs and the Post Office Savings Bank.” – p.1048.
[3] Ibid., 1049
[4] “Newspaper Advertising – LNER official on its importance and value”, editorial, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer,  March 3, 1930, 4.
[5] “The Drier Side”, Display Advert, The Illustrated London News, May 24, 1924, 4; The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 399/134, RAIL 399/134 – The Drier Side in 1926; “Holidays in East Anglia”, Display Advertisement, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, May 15, 1928, 9.
[6] TNA, RAIL 399/47, LNER Holiday Handbook, 1929, v.
[7] “Travel Facilities”, editorial, The Scotsman, 28 March 1931, 21; “Railways and Advertising – Progress in the Art of Publicity”, editorial, Cambridge Independent Press, Feb 10, 1939, 8. Although, it is also worth noting that Teasdale advocated the establishment of of a chair of “Commercial Psychology” at a university – “Advertising Psychology, Railway Official at Leeds Publicity Club”, editorial, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Feb 12, 1927, 15.
[8] Cecil Dandridge, “Advertising Notes”, London & North Eastern Railway Magazine 28, no.4 (May 1939): 249.

“the result of the year’s working” – finding Whitbread’s carriage costs.

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. [1] The Bass accounts confirmed this; in the same year distributing by rail most of the 998,506 barrels it produced  cost it £179,898. [2] 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?

the-era-saturday-30-december-1905

Whitbread advert from The Era, Saturday 30 December 1905

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.’[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

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.

logoThis 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] T.R. Gourvish and R.G. Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, 1830-1980, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 300 and 611.
[2] National Brewery Centre Archive [NBCA], A/139, Bass company accounts
[3] London Metropolitan Archives [LMA], LMA/4453/B/02/023, Whitbread AGM Minutes, meeting, 17 August 1893.
[4] LMA, LMA/4453/B/02/005, Balance Sheets and Accounts director’s copy, 1894
[5] LMA, LMA/4453/B/02/023, Balance Sheets and Accounts director’s copy, 1912

The railway – shaping Whitbread’s distribution network?

bass-images

The pint of Bass I had last night, in the Express Tavern at Kew Bridge – the only place in London I know that serves it.

This week I have been looking at the files of the brewer Bass, Ratcliffe and Gretton (held at the National Brewery Centre Archive, Burton-upon-Trent) to continue my research into the relationship between Britain’s brewers and railways between 1870 and 1914. I’ve found some really interesting stuff, and amongst other things have determined how much Bass was spending on transport over the period. But that’s for another day.

Here I will continue exploring the strange case of Whitbread’s apparently small spending on rail transport (which the figures from Bass seem to confirm are way too low). The company’s accounts show that in 1909 it spent only £3843 or 0.305% of its total operating expenditure on ‘carriage’. I immediately suspected this was wrong; by this point the company was sending 100s of thousands of barrels of beer all over the country to be bottled. This suspicion has been subsequently confirmed by two pieces of evidence.

The first is Nicholas Barritt Redman’s history of Whitbread, a significant book considering he was the company’s corporate archivist (the files were gifted to the London Metropolitan Archives in about 2000). He states that when it started bottling beer in the late 1860s at its plant on the Grays Inn Road, produce was sent onwards by rail all over the country in heavy three-dozen cases of bottles. As the company’s bottling operation got going – the company expanding its bottling operation to encompass 32 regional plants by 1914, with five in Northern Europe[1] – the barrelage sent by rail would have naturally increased. The development of this trade was not all smooth sailing though. High railway rates restricted the expansion of the bottling operation until 1892, when new charges were agreed, allowing it to develop.[2]

Capture.JPG

An Advert from 1913

Given the scale of Whitbread’s bottling operation, this evidence therefore suggests that contracts where significant money was to change hands were signed between the railways and Whitbread, and that the amount of £3,843 for carriage in 1909 is far too smaell. But out of Redman’s work another useful conclusion can be drawn. It suggests that the complaints of traders, industrialists and farmers that railway rates were too high in the late nineteenth century – a major concern of my project –  have some credence, in the case of Whitbread at least. Indeed, in its case charges were possibly restricting the business’ development. Although I’m am cautious. Redman’s assessment is based on the brewery’s own files, and thus is susceptible to bias. Going forward what I really need to do find is a contract between a railway and Whitbread to see what they actually specified.

Through other sources, I have however turned up the details of one contract from the immediate pre-war period. A small handwritten notebook in the London Metropolitan Archive revealed that in 1907 Whitbread leased from London & South Western Railway (LSWR) a building at Exeter Queen Street Station to act as a depot. This building, vacated shortly before by another brewer (Ind Coope), was to be modified and enlarged at the railway’s expense (£1,543), with the rent set at £120 per annum for ten years.[3] The contract also tied Whitbread’s distribution operation in the South West to the LSWR, and where possible the brewery would send any beer and supplies by it.[4] The company’s trains would have carried beer to Poole and for Newport on the Isle of Wight, and from 1911 a new depot at Plymouth – an old engine shed.[5]

This long-term exclusivity deal again suggests that a lot of money was potentially changing hands yearly. The agreement may also however have had broader impacts. I am speculating, but could it have possibly influenced Whitbread’s expansion plans? Between 1909 and 1914 it opened new bottling depots and stores at fourteen UK locations. Three of these were within the LSWR’s territory, and one, Bristol, could have potentially supplied by the railway via the Somerset and Dorset Railway which it jointly owned with the Midland Railway. The LSWR therefore possibly supplied 28.57% of Whitbread’s new depots and stores, not an inconsiderable proportion.[6] I therefore don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest that because of the agreement Whitbread executives were more inclined to expand along the LSWR, rather than the lines of another company with whom they had no contract for transport, for instance the Great Western Railway.

As I say, this is a speculation, and I may be wide of the mark. Yet, if confirmed, the railways may not only have restricted the expansion of Whitbread’s bottling operation in the 1890s, but shaped where it expanded in the 1900s.

logoThis 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] London Metropolitan Archive [LMA], LMA/4453/C/08/073, various statistics book: C H Adam, private.
[2] Redman, Nicholas Barritt, The Story of Whitbread, 1742-1990, (unknown publisher: unknown location, c.1990-2000), 24.
[3] The National Archives, [TNA], RAIL 411/267, Traffic Committee Minute Book, 20 March 1907, minute 597.
[4] LMA, LMA/4453/D/02/016, Notebook containing various brewing information and statistics, 152
[5] Ibid., 152; TNA, RAIL 411/267, Traffic Committee Minute Book, 4 May 1911, minute 715.
[6] LMA, LMA/4453/C/08/073, various statistics book: C H Adam, private; Redman, The Story of Whitbread, 27-28.

Whitbread spent how much on rail transportation?

capture

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.

Why research the relationship between brewing and the railways?

Today I start a new research project exploring the relationship between the railways and Britain’s brewing industry between 1870 and 1914. Through examining the files of two of the nation’s major breweries – Bass, Ratcliffe & Gretton and Whitbread – I will examine how the services the railways provided and the rates they charged for transit affected the brewers operationally and financially.

1995-7233_livst_rf_451_b

British Rail road-tail tanks of Whitbread beer on wagons for export to Brussels, 6 April 1954. ©National Railway Museum and SSPL http://www.nrm.org.uk/ourcollection/photo?group=Liverpool%20Street&objid=1995-7233_LIVST_RF_451_B

I am doing this research to provide new insight into an old debate. Britain’s traders in the nineteenth century were unhappy. The long depression after 1873 cut sharply into profits and increasingly they blamed the railways for their ills. On the one hand, the railways carried imported bulk goods from port to depot at lower rates than the British trader or farmer could access. On the other, and this was the main complaint, rates were simply too high. As one Berwick trader put it in around 1890, “What we want is to have our fish carried at half present rates. We don’t care a —– whether it pays the railways or not. Railways ought to be made to carry for the good of the country, or they should be taken over by the Government.”[1] The result was progressively louder calls for government to regulate rates, to which the politicians eventually responded. The Railway & Canal Traffic Act 1888 ordered the railways to revise their maximum rates, which had been originally set by their authorising Acts of Parliament (although most goods were carried at lower ‘special’ rates). Following this the Railway & Canal Traffic Act of 1894 limited rates increases to their maximum level on 31 December 1892. For the railways this was highly problematic. When operating costs rose significantly after 1897 rates could not be increased to compensate, squeezing their profits. [2]

In large part historians have written about these events from the railways’ perspective, although this is problematic for a number of reasons. On the basis the proclamations of the vocal few like the Berwick trader, most have simply argued that traders were ‘unhappy’ with their rates. Little consideration has been given to the fact that the relationships between firms and their transport providers evolved over time, the happiness or disquiet of one or both fluctuating. It is these fluctuations that I want to explore through my research, to understand how happy brewers were with the service the railways provided. Were the vocal complainers speaking for all industry? Most significantly, exploring this relationship will provide an insight into whether the level of railway rates (and service levels) were genuinely impacting negatively on British industry’s financial performance after 1870. Was British business blaming the railways for their ills, rather than engaging in the more difficult process self-criticism? Indeed, answering this question will speak to broader issues, for instance how railway activity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth affected British economic performance.

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. The railway rates issue is covered in module 2 (The declining profitability of the British railway industry, 1870-1914) and module 4 (Railways and government, 1880-1939). More information on the course can be found here.

[1] T.R. Gourvish, Railways and the British Economy, 1830-1914, (London: Macmillan, 1980), 47-48.
[2] P.J. Cain, “Traders Versus Railways: The Genesis of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act”, The Journal of Transport History, New Series, 2 no. 2 (1973): 65-80.