It has been a family tradition to collect bits of broken china, metal and glass that have turned up in our various gardens over the years. Since buying the house in Churton, which included a large and very neglected garden, we have done a massive amount of digging, resulting in the excavation of staggering amounts of rubble and general rubbish. As well as all the stuff that was thrown in a large skip, fragments of pottery, glass and metal were retrieved and retained. This little collection consists mainly of little sherds of blue and white china in all sorts of designs, but there are other fun odds and ends too. I’ve written more about these fragments and why I collect them on the Garden page. Most of them are too uninformative to talk about, but one or two objects are worth comment, of which a broken green bottle is one example, shown to the right.
This green bottle (found by my gardener Joe, who manages to dig astoundingly large holes in my garden in a matter of minutes), is a remnant of the “Chester Lion Brewery Company” The bottle is made of thick-walled green glass, and the text is picked out in raised lettering, reading “This Bottle [missing text] . . . Chester Lion Brewery Company of Chester and Seacombe.” There are no markings on the base. The other half of the bottle was not found, but this piece contains all the information needed to pin down a date range for its production, and the story has a nice link to the former brewery on Churton Road in Farndon, now Brewery Motors.
The Lion Brewery Company was located at no.26 Pepper Street in Chester, with entrances opening on to Park Street, very near to the Newgate, just within the city walls. It was demolished in 1968 to make way for a particularly nasty multi-storey carpark, one of a number of unfortunate architectural monstrosities imposed on Chester at that time. Today, the building’s exterior would probably have been preserved and the interior converted into high-end apartments, which would have been a rather better use of it. The trademark of the brewery was a lion, and a stone lion stood at the top of the brewery’s tower, now on top of the multi-storey carpark’s stairwell tower. It makes my teeth itch to see it in such an inappropriate context, particularly as most people don’t even know that it is there, but at least it is relatively safe.
The Lion Brewery until 1893
John Lightfoot Walker, who owned the brewery in the 1880s, claimed that the brewery was founded in 1642, but what grounds he had for this belief is unclear. The BreweryPedia page for the Lion Brewery states that in 1768 a Mrs Wilbraham took over the business following the death of her husband. Paul Hurley in his book Cheshire Brewing adds that it was run by the partnership Whittle and Jones in 1846 and was sold to another partnership, Walton and Clare, in 1873. It is unclear where these details come from, as neither source provides references.
By the late 19th Century there was certainly a brewery of this name on the site. From contemporary advertising for the brewery it seems to have been in the hands of a G.F. Clough, who entered into partnership with Liverpool architect Thomas Henry William Walker, an architect from Liverpool, and his brother John Lightfoot Walker sometime around 1882 . In 1885 G. F. Clough withdrew from the partnership. In December 1888 the Liverpool Mercury reported that the remaining partnership in The Lion Brewery was dissolved when Thomas Walker retired and John Lightfoot Walker (1851-1925) was left in sole charge.
In 1891, volume 4 of Alfred Barnard’s Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland was produced, and he describes the brewery in great detail, an invaluable source of information. He himself describes his four volumes as “a tourist’s description” (his italics) but he was obviously highly knowledgeable and having produced three previous volumes was very familiar with all aspects of the brewing process. Barnard visited when the brewery was owned by John Lightfoot Walker, whose grandfather, according to Barnard, had been an eminent brewer. The date of 1642 for the establishment of a brewery on this spot clearly comes from Walker, because he included the date on his adverts, and this is repeated by Barnard.
Barnard describes the guided tour of the brewery on a floor by floor basis, and it is a real insight into late 19th Century brewing to follow his journey. The brewery had been substantially rebuilt in 1875, when it was provided with a state-of-the-art tower brewhouse. Tower breweries were innovated in Germany, combining the benefits of well ventilated higher floors, the use of gravity to move liquid between processes, and a cost-saving smaller geographical footprint. Accompanying the tower, which was “fully equipped with modern plant” and new offices, were various ancillary buildings arranged around a courtyard approached through an arch onto Pepper Street, at the centre of which was a well with a pumphouse over the top, which took water into the brewery. An even deeper well was being planned to ensure a “practically inexhaustible” supply. Barnard was greatly impressed by the modern features and fittings, the cleanliness, comfort and the fireproofing of the building and the personal interest that Walker took in his employees and their welfare.
Walker started Barnard’s tour at the top of the five storey brewhouse, where there were malt stores and two cast iron tanks for storing 2000 gallons of brewing water that was supplied by the well in the yard. The first part of the brewing process, taking place in the well ventilated top of the tower, was to soak barley grains to start germination. They were then dried a kiln to prevent further growth and to add flavour and colour, a process known as malting. On the same floor there was a steam hoist for loading grain from the yard, and in the floor was a hopper for feeding the mill below. The mill itself and the steam engine that drove the mill machinery were on the fourth floor. The mill was fitted with a patent malt screen “for thoroughly cleaning the malt before it reaches a pair of steel rollers, which crush it at the rate of fifteen quarters per hour.” The result was grist, which went on to be mixed with water. On the third storey was the head brewer’s shiny new office, next to the mashing room, which contained a 12ft diameter oak mash tun fitted with draining plates. Grains were taken away by means of a chute into the yard, where it was taken away by farm wagon. The liquid extracted from the mashing process, called the wort, was run through copper pipes heated by steam coils into the “copper” or brew kettle for heating. The wort was then cooled, having been delivered via other filters and presses, in a horizontal refrigerator and run into “capacious fermenting squares, the newest among them being made of white cedar wood and fitted with tinned copper attenuators and patent rousing apparatus.” The rousing apparatus helped to suspend the yeast and improve the rate of fermentation and was driven by “a wheel of great diameter” housed in the cellar, itself driven by waste water from other parts of the brewing process. From there the beer was carried by copper pipes to the racking house, a paved room some 50ft long, where it was stored in kegs. There’s an excellent animated graphic of a similar operation on the Hook Norton Brewery website: https://www.hooky.co.uk/our-beers/brewing-process/
Barnard describes how various cellars and ground level storage rooms contained different beers (stout, porter and public house ales) at different stages of readiness. The yard contained stables, harness rooms, hay and corn lofts, dray sheds, a cask-washing shed and a repairing cooperage. The obligatory sampling produced positive remarks about the bitter ales, the brewery’s speciality (“a bright and nourishing drink”) and the tenpenny ale (“a delicious beverage, clean to the palette and well hopped.” As well as the brewery itself, the company owned more than 20 public houses, and they made an additional, important income from supplying hotels and private families in the city and suburbs. Barnard concluded that “it is quite evident that Mr Walker means to wipe out the opprobrium attached some time ago to ‘local ales’,” and predicted that the Lion Brewery would become “one of the largest and best patronized breweries in this part of the country.”
There are a number of adverts for the Lion Brewery under John Lightfoot Walker, describing the company as a “Brewers and Maltsters.” The adverts say that the company sold ales, stouts and porters. As well as brewing their own beers, they were agents for other breweries as well. The adverts above, both of which state “families supplied” corroborates Barnard’s comment that the Lion Brewery supplied private homes as well as public houses and hotels.
Thomas Montgomery, the Chester Lion Brewery and the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon, 1893 – 1902
The brewery changed hands in 1893, with the appearance on the scene of entrepreneur Thomas Montgomery of Liverpool, who purchased the Lion Brewery in July of that year and incorporated it as The Chester Lion Brewery Co. Ltd in 1896. It seems surprising that John Lightfoot Walker sold the business, as he was still investing in new equipment in the late 1880s, and Barnard gives the impression that he had ambitions to continue growing the business. Perhaps he over-extended himself with his programme of modernization, as well as his architectural projects in Hoole in Chester. He was only 42 at the time, so was not yet due for retirement, and did not die until 1925.
Thomas Montgomery seems to have made his fortune as a house painter and licensed victualler before diversifying and purchasing several public houses, as well as the New Brewery in Stone in the Midlands. Thomas Montgomery was clearly no angel and was taken to court for trademark infringement, attempting to pass his own beers off as those produced by well-regarded Stone brewers John Joules and Sons.
According to Paul Hurley, the Chester Lion Brewery purchased the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon in 1898, which is during the period when the Chester Lion Brewery was still owned by Montgomery. The Joseph Salmon Brewery, on Churton Road, a converted red sandstone tithe barn shown on the 1735 tithe map, is today the garage Brewery Motors.
In 1902 the New Brewery in Stone the Chester Lion Brewery and the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon were bought from Montgomery by Bent’s Brewery, a Liverpool-based company established in the 1790s. The Stone brewery continued to operate but the Chester brewery closed shortly afterwards, perhaps because it was purchased as part of a job lot of Montgomery’s holdings but was unwanted. After being offloaded by Bent’s, the building was used for other purposes.
The Seacombe connection
The reference to Seacombe on the bottle’s raised script was something of a puzzle at first, but provides an interesting narrowing of the date to within a year-long period. Seacombe is a district of Wallasey on the Wirral, overlooking the river Mersey. The former Grosvenor Brewery on Victoria Road (now Borough Road) at Seacombe was purchased by Montgomery in 1889, although the previous ownership is a bit of a tangle and it is unclear if he bought the business as a going concern, or whether it had ceased operating for a period. Here’s what CAMRA’s What Pub website has to say on the subject:
“The brewery was owned/ operated by John Hall Wright & co in 1860 with various owners over the years (P Evans & Co, then with Octavius Leatham as a partner, Hamer & Co, John Cattle, Leatham & co, Montgomery & Co). Enlarged and rebuilt in 1876 by its then owner, Paul Evans. In 1883 it had 11 pubs. Aldous & Bedford were registered owners from May 1895 but the company wound up in December 1897 at which time the brewer appeared to be John W. D. King.”
The brewery’s 1876 make-over in had transformed it into a state of the art operation, something that seems to echo the investment made at Lion Brewery in Chester. Montgomery appears to have had a particular interest in businesses that had invested in modern infrastructure. Even 15 years on, this brewery was probably still a desirable purchase, even if just to obtain the equipment. Surprisingly, Montgomery sold the Grosvenor Brewery at auction in 1899, just a year after purchasing it, for reasons unknown.
The decline of brewing in Chester
According to Lewis and Thacker, brewing almost disappeared from Chester in the late 19th century. In 1871 there were thirteen breweries in Chester, of which seven appear to have been public-house breweries but most had closed by 1892 and only one, the Northgate Brewery, survived beyond 1914. They put this decline down to “the elimination of public-house breweries and the concentration of ownership among the commercial brewery companies.” The three largest commercial breweries were Edward Russell Seller & Co. (sold to the Albion brewery in 1889 and closed shortly afterwards), the Lion Brewery (sold to bent’s in 1892, closing in c.1902-1903), and the Northgate Brewery. The authors conclude that the history of brewing in Chester “illustrates a wider transition in the economy from small-scale production to business concentration and industrialized methods. The trend weakened the city’s manufacturing base and was only partly offset by developments in the limited number of modern industrial concerns.”
Back to the bottle
The bottle clearly belongs to that short period when Montgomery held the Lion Brewery in Chester, 1893-1902, because the bottle is clearly marked The Chester Lion Brewery Co, rather than simply The Lion Brewery. However, the Seacombe connection narrows the date even further to between 1889 and 1899, the brief period during which The Chester Lion Brewery owned the Grosvenor Brewery at Seacombe. It is rare to be able to obtain a date so precise for a piece of garden refuse, and that’s really rather fun. At this time, Montgomery’s Chester Lion Brewery apparently owned the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon, so this bottle may have been purchased from there.
It would be fascinating to know which company made these thick-walled bottles and where that factory was located. Perhaps those details will eventually come to light. Only two 19th century bottles have come to light in the garden to date, both broken. I wonder whether the bottle deposit scheme applied to many local bottles at this time, a system whereby the price of a bottle containing a drink included a deposit, which was returned to the customer when the bottle was returned to the point of purchase. There are many examples of this during the 19th Century. This would account both for the low number of bottles in my garden and the fact that the only two so far found were broken; Broken bottles could not be returned.
This broken bottle has taken me on a splendid journey. The people who lived in my house at the turn of the 19th/20th Centuries will have bought the bottle for its contents, probably with no knowledge of the complex network of activities and commercial deals that produced it, much as I have no idea what sort of commercial history and technical innovation has gone into a bottle of Aspall dry cider. Once simply a vessel for a drink, my broken green bottle has become a piece of data, a footprint of history found discarded as rubbish in my back garden. If the bottle was capable of having a viewpoint on the subject, I am sure it would be very surprised to find itself featuring as the star attraction on a blog post. A very happy find.
A second late 19th Century bottle was also found in the garden, and is described here, this time from a Wrexham pharmaceutical company called J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd.
Books and papers:
Barnard, A. 1891. The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, volume IV, p.264-267. Sir Joseph Caston and Sons
Hurley, P. 2016. Brewing in Cheshire. Amberley Publishing.
Latham, F.A. 1981. Farndon. The History of a Cheshire Village. Local History Group
Lewis, C.P. and Thacker, A.T. (eds.) 2003. Late Georgian and Victorian Chester 1762-1914: The economy, 1871-1914, the limits of reorientation. In A History of the County of Chester: vol.5 part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography, p. 185-199. Available at British History Online:
Pearson, L. 2019. The Brewing Industry. A report by the Brewery History Society for English Heritage, February 2010. Historic England
A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls
Vanished Pubs of Chester, by Steve Howe
History of Bent’s and Montgomery’s Breweries, Stone
Montgomery and Co.
Montgomery’s Brewery Company and Bent’s Brewery Co. Ltd. of Stone, Staffordshire, by Philip A Talbot
Chester Lion Brewery Co. Ltd.
Liverpool Mercury, Friday, 17th December, 1875:
New Grosvenor Brewery, Seacombe
Grosvenor Brewery, Seacombe
Hoole Road – South Side
Hoole History and Heritage Society