City Brewery Co (Lichfield) Fire 1916

Lichfield Maltings taken from Magnet car park
moments before my camera broke!



During the 19th century beer boom, brewing was the most important industry in Lichfield(1), which was home to five breweries during the period(2). Eventually, most of these merged and were taken over by some of the big companies but we do still have some interesting buildings around the City to remind us of the industry.

One of these is the former Lichfield Maltings (a grade II listed building), on the Birmingham Rd, once the malthouse for The City Brewery Co, formed in 1874. Along with the manager’s house/offices, it survived the huge fire that destroyed the rest of the brewery.

The fire started a few hours before dawn, on an October morning in 1916. The Lichfield Mercury reported that ‘Never has a conflagration of such magnitude ever been witnessed in the City’. The fire burned for around 10 hours, and it took five local Fire Brigades and 750,000 gallons of water to extinguish it.

The Mercury suggested that the people of Lichfield would ‘extend their sincerest sympathies to the directors and shareholders for the severe loss’, with estimates for the damage running to ‘not less than £30,000’, although this was covered by insurance. I’m sure the people of Lichfield’s sincerest sympathies would be also have been extended to the 70 workmen, left without a job following the blaze.(3)

In the days that followed, the City’s provision for dealing with fires was criticised. People wanted to know why it had taken thirty minutes for the Lichfield brigade to arrive at the scene of the fire, when other brigades in surrounding areas were said to turn out in less than ten. It added fuel to the ongoing campaign for a motor fire engine in Lichfield. Presumably, the brigade was still using the steam engine presented to Lichfield by Albert Worthington (the brewer!) in 1898, which was housed in the former police station at the Guildhall5. Opponents of a motor engine had argued that when attending rural fires (which most fires at the time were), the wheels wouldn’t be able to grip ploughed land and fields. It took another six years, but in 1922 the city got its first motor engine, with half the cost being met by the City’s rural district.(4)

Another view of the Maltings, taken at dusk, hence the gloom

Following the fire, the City Brewery was bought by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries and the Maltings remained in operation until 2005. A visit by the Brewery History Society to the site at this time suggests a range of economic and practical reasons led to its closure, including a reduction in demand for floor made malt and new hygiene regulations. The building is currently owned by a property development company, who submitted an successful application to Lichfield District Council in 2008 for the building to be converted into apartments. Perhaps I should get out more, but the planning application actually makes for interesting reading as it includes a historic building assessment.

I’ll try and have a look at some of the other old breweries in the coming weeks.

Sources:

1 & 4 Lichfield: Public services’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)
2 The Old Pubs of Lichfield – John Shaw
3 The Lichfield Mercury Archives, accessed at Lichfield Records Office