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If BrewDog own Allsopp

Samuel Allsopp & Sons of Burton was one of the failures of the late-Victorian and Edwardian brewing industry. City Life magazine published in 1890 cartoon entitled ‘Poor Old Allsopp,’ as despite a clamour to buy the company’s newly issued shares in 1887, its dividends were so unimpressive that shareholders were demanding their money back.[1] Crisis followed thereafter. In 1899 a £80,000 60,000 barrel lager brewery was built, only to be shut down in 1914 because of limited demand for lager.[2] Finally, after failing to merge with Thomas Salt and Co and the Burton Brewery Company in 1907, Allsopp went into receivership in 1911, and only a restructure saved it.[3]

This dreadful performance and rash acts of investment, led Gourvish and Wilson to argue that Allsopp was the “most recklessly run brewery in England.”[4] How delightful therefore that BrewDog have applied to acquire one of its trademarks. Whilst looking for Whitbread trademarks on the UK register, I decided to enter “Brewdog” to see what turned up. To my surprise, the company applied to register FOX & ANCHOR in July and on 21 August Allsopp’s, specifically its “Special Bottling Pale Ale”.[5]

Why BrewDog have done this is a mystery at this point, but a future attempt to use history and/or heritage in marketing a product is a possible explanation floating around on Twitter. Brewers have done so for centuries. Whitbread in the 1890s used a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest – “I’ll Swear on that Bottle” (Act 3, Scene III) – to associate their product with an earlier age, and invoke an idea of integrity based on a history.[6] Current breweries do similar; whilst looking forward, Fuller’s’ establishments and beers adhere to a pseudo-historical motif that suggests implicitly that it is an old brewery that can be trusted. And lets just mention the countless new breweries that proudly proclaim ‘Since 2008’ or ‘Since 2015,’ or the such-like. The founding year is deemed important to emphasise, to say to the consumer “we haven’t been doing this since yesterday – trust us”.

By contrast, however, BrewDog has no heritage to draw on. Whilst the company website tells the story (some might say a highly mythologised one) of their founding and development since 2007, in marketing they have always shunned the use of heritage, or the past, or anything that came before them. They were Punk, they were about the present, and hence it is curious that they have applied to acquire Allsopp’s mark. Could this however be symptomatic of problems with the Dog? It is well understood that in times of difficultly companies resort to using their history or heritage to sell products, as it is a stable message that conveys trustworthiness and integrity. Undoubtedly, over the last few years, BrewDog’s share of the overall craft market has been threatened by new entrants, and they have had a couple of bumps in the road, notably the failure to raise the target amount of capital from Equity for Punks USA.


Even Punch in 1887 thought the ‘Red Hand’ was a poor design.

Could it be that to compensate for these and other new challenges the company is looking to expand into the long-established market for traditional beers by using a historic and perhaps trusted brand as a vehicle? Considering we have seen the revival of historic names in recent years – most notably Truman’s and Lacon’s – acquiring and then applying the Allsopp’s mark to a new range of beers might be a way to follow down this road and reach a new group customers outside its established customer base. Indeed, it could do this without imperilling or altering the reputation and identity of the existing business, which it wants to keep growing.

Under normal circumstances, this might actually seem like a logical strategy for an expanding concern. But in terms of reputation Brewdog is not a normal company. If ‘Allsopps by BrewDog’ – if that is what is going to happen – materialises, will beer drinkers just see the red hand, or see what is behind it? Will they forget that heritage has not been a BrewDog attribute up until now, that the company has simply acquired history, or just forget that BrewDog is involved? Only time will tell. BrewDog could give Allsopps its greatest success in over 130 years, or perhaps deliver another Turkey like that £60,000 lager brewery.

20/09/2017 – Edited for clarity.

[1] T.R. Gourvish and R.G. Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, 1830-1980, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 230.
[2] Ibid., 177.
[3] Ian Webster, Ind Coope & Samuel Allsopp Breweries – The History of the Hand, (Stoud: Amberley, 2015), 26-28.
[4] Gourvish and Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, 177.
[5] https://trademarks.ipo.gov.uk/ipo-tmowner/page/search?id=503917&domain=1
[6] Advert, Southend Standard and Essex Weekly Advertiser, Aug 8, 1895,


Freight Transport History Workshop – Friday 24 Nov, at the University of Reading

The Railway & Canal Historical Society has organised, jointly with the Centre for Institutions & Economic History, University of Reading, a day-long Workshop on Freight Transport History. It will be at the University from 10.00 to 16.30.

The speakers are expected to be: 1997-7397_DY_832

Keith Harcourt & Peter Tatlow, ‘Movements in freight haulage – the impact of vertical and lateral movement on intermodality’.

David Turner, ‘Barrels rolling free: modal shift in the brewing industry, 1900-1914’.

Nigel Sheppard, ‘War surplus lorries – is it a case of a bus at the South Pole?’.

Richard Simmons, ‘Little Frictions – the operation and efficiency of the steel industry’s intra-urban freight transport in nineteenth century Sheffield’.

Mike Clarke, ‘Early canal investment in Europe and England’.

Grahame Boyes, ‘From BOTTOMS to TOPS: the impact of the computer on the development of British Railways’ freight business’.

Peter Brown, ‘Some thoughts on competition between canals and other transport modes in the 19th century, based on the experiences of the Shropshire Union Canal and its predecessors’.

Jorgen Burchardt, ‘The transition from rail to road in the Danish cooperative retail chain FDB, 1945-1980’.

There is no charge for the workshop, but attendance will be limited to 60, and it will be widely advertised. Booking is essential, and a reserve list will be in place.

Bookings to Fabian Hiscock, by e-mail to fabianhiscock@virginmedia.com or by post to him at 101 Byewaters, Watford WD18 8WH, by 4 Nov 2017.

The mobility of ‘Family Ale’: Whitbread’s bottling and sending of beer before 1892

Whitbread proudly proclaimed by the early twentieth century that it was the world’s largest bottler of beer. The figures certainly demonstrate that this was so, it putting 353,936 barrels Pale Ale, Stout, Extra Ale, and the interestingly named ‘Family Ale’ (amongst others) into bottles in 1910. It had also opened up network of bottling stores and depots to supply demand, the number reaching 38 in that year.[1]

Forty years earlier the situation had been very different. In 1870 it had put only 1,293 barrels of beer into bottles (372,384 pints, for those keeping count). The first bottling occurred in 1868 at 26 Worship Street, Finsbury Square and then a more permanent residence was taken up in 1870 at 277 Grays in Road. In both instances the company’s agent, Robert Baker, was in charge.[3] However, no more bottling stores or depots were opened until 1891.

The question that has vexed me is why was this so, and what role did the cost and accessibility of transport play in this? This line of enquiry also speaks to broader questions about how transport networks, access to them, and the cost of using them, can render freight mobile or immobile, and business activity stymied (similar issues can be considered when thinking about human mobility). Redman, the company’s archivist, argued that whilst Whitehead executives may have envisioned further mobility for their beer beyond London and market expansion, it was limited by the blocking force of excessively high railway rates before 1892, when the brewer made a ‘deal’ with the railway industry.[3]

1877-02-24 - Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 24 February 1877 - 4

Hastings and St Leonards Observer, Feb 24, 1877, 4.

I have always been sceptical about this claim on a number of counts. It is rare that companies would make a deal with the whole railway industry, and indeed, later Whitbread dealt with railways on a case by case basis.[4] Also, whilst consumption of bottled beer grew steadily after 1870, because of high prices demand was never too high until the 1890s, suggesting that there was no need to transport huge volumes of beer before then.[5] This is despite Whitbread’s bottled beer becoming cheaper over the period, the cost then stabilising before 1889. In 1870 a dozen bottles (pints) were retailing in Bury St. Edmunds at 5 shillings, but by 1889 in Hastings London Cooper and Family Ale cost 2 shillings 6 pence, Stout and Pale Ale were selling at 3 shillings.[6] This suggests that price was not the only determinant of demand and drinking habits needed to change before bottled beer became popular. But most significantly, before 1892 the brewery could absorb transport costs into the price of bottled beer with ease, even if the margins on each bottle shrank.

Indicative of this, before 1892 the company was utilising the railway network to send beer nationwide and grow its share of the market. Redman himself acknowledged that customers in Leeds ‘received their beer in heavy closed three dozen cases sent up on the railways.'[7] After trawling through nineteenth century adverts it also appears outlets were selling Whitbread’s product in Newcastle, Bury St Edmund’s, Leamington, Bedford, Dundee, Sheffield, Chesterfield, Bath and Herne Bay, amongst other places.[8] The final nail in the coffin was a note on an advert from 1877 (shown) which stated that beer was ‘Delivered free to any Railway Station or Carrier in London, in quantities of not less that Three Dozen, at from 2/6 to 4/- per Dozen.'[9] Whitbread was therefore offering to send its beer anywhere in Britain, an offer which resulted in the bottling operation growing 38,782 barrels being put into bottles in 1890.[9]

What is therefore likley is that railway rates were not a huge limit on Whitbread’s bottled beer operation expanding before 1892. Rather, changes thereafter were possibly the result of an intersection between individuals’ spending power rising, shifting habits towards home drinking and, in response, a change in Whitbread’s corporate strategy, the result of it converting to a limited company in 1892 and needing to service its capital. Although, naturally, further research may reveal more, and other ideas might come to mind.

logoThis research is part of my ‘brewing and railways’ project 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) and 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] T.R. Gourvish and R.G. Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, (Cambridge: CUP, 1994), 300.
[2] Redman, Nicholas Barritt, The Story of Whitbread, 1742-1990, (unknown publisher: unknown location, c.1990-2000), 18 and 24.
[3] Ibid., 24.
[4] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 410/200, London & North Western Goods Traffic Committee, Min 3346, 18 May 1898. TNA, RAIL 236/161, Great Northern Railway Traffic Committee Minute Book, 01 November 1901. TNA, RAIL 411/267, London & South Western Railway Traffic Committee Minute Book, 20 March 1907.
[5] Gourvish and Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, 45.
[6] Bury and Norwich Post, Aug 16, 1870, 1. Hastings and St Leonards Observer, April 27 1889, 4.
[7] Redman, The Story of Whitbread, 24.
[8] Newcastle Journal, Dec 6, 1870, 1. Bury and Norwich Post, Aug 16, 1870, 1. Leamington Spa Courier, Apr 22 1871, 2. Bedfordshire Mercury, Oct 7 1871, 1. Dundee Courier, Jan 2, 1872, 4. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Aug 24, 1872, 8. Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, Dec 17, 1873, 2. Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, July 24, 1873, 1. Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, July 24, 1875, 1.
[9] Hastings and St Leonards Observer, Feb 24, 1877, 4.
[10] Gourvish and Wilson, The British Brewing Industry, 300.

CfP – Freight Transport Workshop, University of Reading, 24 November 2017


Birmingham goods station, 1901. ©National Railway Museum and SSPL (http://www.nrm.org.uk/ourcollection/photo?group=Derby&objid=1997-7397_DY_832)

Offers of 30-minute papers are invited for a freight transport workshop organised jointly by the University of Reading’s Centre for Institutions & Economic History and the Railway & Canal Historical Society, to be held at the University on 24th November 2017. Programme organisers: Grahame Boyes, Colin Divall and Mark Casson.

The aim is for a mix of papers by academic and amateur historians, which will illustrate the potential benefits of greater dialogue between the two. Preference may be given to papers which treat themes or topics not already covered by the symposium held in Reading during April 2015, From Carrying to Logistics: Distributing Goods in Britain, 1680-2015. (details found here: blogs.reading.ac.uk/economic-history/2015/04/17/from-carrying-to-logistics-distributing-goods-in-britain-1680-2045/)

The closing date for submission of a written proposal is 16th June (up to 200 words). Please send your abstract to Grahame Boyes (g.boyes1@btinternet.com).

Railway rates and roads: mass goods mobility by road as an envisaged reality in 1893

As part of my ‘brewing and railways’ project, I have been musing on when Britain’s businesses started thinking seriously about the possibilities of long-distance goods haulage by road, and what this could offer them them in terms of improving the flexibility and reducing the cost of distribution. I keep coming back to the 1 January 1893, probably one of the most important, but largely forgotten dates in railway history.

Most railways had their maximum rates for different categories of goods set by their authorising Acts of Parliament. But in a quest to beat competition, they ordinarily charged businesses ‘special’ or ‘exceptional’ rates below these, arranged on a case by case basis. Despite this, traders were not happy with the regime, and in response in 1888 the government ordered all rates be revised by the Board of Trade, with the new schedule to come into effect on 1 January 1893. No one expected what happened next. On that day the railways put all rates up to the maxima nationwide, eliminating all the special rates. There is an argument that this was a result of their inability to revise the millions of special rates by the deadline, but Cain characterised the action as an act of ‘shortsighted greed and clumsy diplomacy.’ The new scheme would have reduced some rates, and profits, and the companies were looking to reimburse themselves for these losses.[1]

Businesses everywhere hit hard. At a meeting of the trading community of Tamworth on 28 January 1893, those in attendance recorded that on average transport costs had risen by 35 to 40 per cent. There were also extreme cases, a Mr Chappel stating that moving a ton of tin plates had risen from 6s 8d to 19s 10d (although he did not say to and from where).[2] The brewers of Burton were also affected. Previously, distributing beer by rail nationwide had cost them £562,000 annually, yet the new rates added £82,000, an increase of 14.59 per cent.[3]

Soon after, the railways realised their misstep and as was reported at Tamworth, and in the case of the brewing industry, they restored many of the old rates. But there were broader implications beyond the short-term dent in the railways’ public image. With the railways being perceived as monopolistic, greedy and arrogant, the business community seriously began exploring new systems of goods mobility that would release them from their dependence on rail. At a meeting of commercial interests in Portsmouth on 7 January, it was suggested that they come together “with a view to the formation of companies to…render us independent of the railways.”[4] Where coastal shipping was available, traders availed themselves of this. Other solutions were proposed. Sir James Whithead, a merchant and Liberal MP, introduced a private members’ bill to nationalise the canals so that the common need for cheap bulk goods transit would be met.[5]

Significantly, the discourse also extended beyond simply thinking about appropriating long-established forms of transport. After 1 January 1893 there was, possibly, a perceptible shift in the business community away from simply hoping the railways could do better, towards envisioning a new reality where they delivered long-distance goods transport by road.

1893-01-20 - Western Chronicle - Friday 20 January 1893 - 1

Display Advert, Western Chronicle, Jan 20, 1893, 1.

Most businesses used horse and cart over short distances, but this was not practicable over longer runs. Some therefore began thinking about the potential of steam traction engines, that up until that point had principally powered farm equipment, but had occasionally been used for road haulage. These vehicles’ percieved future potential as a means of long-distance haulage is suggested through the lack of reference in discussions to any spacial restrictions on their range of movement. At the Portsmouth meeting it was argued that “The employment of traction engines passing through the villages along which their lines run would undoubtedly prove a very serious matter for…Railway Companies.”[6] The traders in Chelmsford considered organising a system of road transport to take goods the 30 miles to London using steam traction.[7] Finally, as a direct response to railway rates increases, Eddison & De Mattos Steam-Plough Works of Dorchester advertised haulage services, most importantly carrying goods ‘to any extent and any distance on lowest terms’.[8]

At this point there were many problems that the traction engine had to overcome to become viable as a means of mass goods haulage (as we know it never did, the internal combustion engine rising to dominance). Whether Eddison and De Mattos could actually deliver anywhere is doubtful, given the poor quality and reliability of many traction engines.[9] They were also beasts, and perhaps rightfully elicited negative reaction. A letter writer to South Buckinghamshire Standard stated that they had been a “source of terror and alarm to all those within 100 feet of the road.”[10] Road surfaces were poor, and where they were not there were frequent complaints about the excessive damage traction engines did.[11] Their speed was also restricted to 4 miles per hour (2 in urban areas) by the Locomotive Act of 1865, also limiting their rage. [12]

Nonetheless, these limiting factors were seemingly absent from the discussions surrounding the future possibility of unrestricted long-haul goods mobility by road, with the quotes above suggesting a more positive outlook. Combined with numerous cases of businesses starting to use steam traction engines for haulage after 1 January 1893 ,[13] it can therefore be suggested that at this time many began seriously entertaining the idea that a more flexible long-distance system of road-based goods mobility could be instituted. It is perhaps ironic that this thinking, which snowballed from then-on and may have driven the technical and conceptual development of motor haulage by road, was kick-started by the railways’ actions.

N.B. These are some formative ideas and I need to do much more research and gather more evidence on this subject. 

logoThis research comes out of my ‘brewing and railways’ project 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) and 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] P.J. Cain, “Traders verses Railways: The Genesis of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act,” The Journal of Transport History, New Series, 2, No. 2 (September, 1973): 68
[2] “Railway Rates”, West Somerset Free Press, Feb 4, 1893, 4.
[3] “Brewers and the Railway Rates”, Brewing Trade Review, Mar 1, 1893, 85.
[4] “The New Railway Rates, Action of Portsmouth Traders”, Portsmouth Evening News, Jan 7, 1893, 2.
[5] “Untitled” South Wales Daily News, Mar 7, 1893, 4.
[6]”The New Railway Rates, Action of Portsmouth Traders”, Portsmouth Evening News, Jan 7, 1893, 2.
[7] “The New Railway Rates”, Tamworth Herald, Jan 21, 1893, 4.
[8] Display Advert, Western Chronicle, Jan 20, 1893, 1.
[9] Thomas Gibson, Road Haulage by Motor: The First Forty Years (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), 1-42.
[10] “Letter to the Editor”, South Bucks Standard, April, 28, 1893, 8.
[11] “The County Council and the Traction Engine”, Wrexham Advertiser, Nov 11, 1893, 5.
[12] Gibson, Road Haulage, 12.
[13]”Letter to the Editor”, South Bucks Standard, April, 28, 1893, 8.

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]


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]


“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]


“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.


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.