Fire and Water

This battered wooden case, once used by the Lichfield Aerated Water Co, was recently rescued from a garden bonfire in the village of Selston, Nottinghamshire by Michael Leivers.

The crate must date from the early 1930s as the Lichfield Aerated Water Co was set up in 1931, as a subsidary of Samuel Allsopp & Sons Brewery which had taken over the Lichfield Brewery and its 182 public houses in 1930, before merging with Burton neighbours Ind Coope Ltd in 1934 to become Ind Coope and Allsopp Ltd. (1) On 1st December 1935, the Aerated Water Co was taken over by Burrows and Sturgess, a Derby firm who also produced SPA Grape Fruit, SPA Ginger Ale and SPA Iron Brew alongside soda and tonic water. Burrows and Sturgess moved the business from the old Lichfield Brewery on St John Street to a new factory based at the former maltings on the Birmingham Rd, but kept on the existing manager, a Mr Bourne(2). As part of the take over deal, Burrows and Sturgess were able to supply their products to a large number of premises owned by the newly formed Ind Coope and Allsopp Ltd.

The Derby Telegraph Bygones page features the memories of several people who once worked for Burrows and Sturgess, including a Mr Tipper who was a driver’s mate in the 1950s. Mr Tipper recalls driving to the Lichfield Depot in an AEC Mammoth Major which they would load up with metal, two dozen bottle crates, stacked six high and six wide. At the depot, these would be unloaded and replaced with the empties which were then taken back to Derby to be refilled. There’s a photo here on the Staffordshire Past Track website showing a steam wagon making deliveries for Henson’s Aerated Waters in the 1920s in Burton-on-Trent – would Michael’s wooden crate and its contents have been transported in a similar way?

Thanks so much to Michael for sending me the photo. It’s a great reminder of a long disappeared part of Lichfield’s industrial past and I’m so glad it has been saved from being reduced to a pile of ashes and given a new lease of life as a coffee table. I wonder what other uses it may have had during its eighty or so years? Michael thinks it was being disposed of as part of a house clearance. It’s a bit sad that some people don’t look a bit deeper to see the value in things like this. There’s a lot to be said for ordinary, everyday objects.   Of course, it would be great to hear from anyone who knows more about the short-lived Lichfield Aerated Water Co, or its successor Burrows and Sturgess.

Notes

(1) The VCH has it as a subsidary of Ind Coope and Allsopp, but as this merger between the two didn’t happen until 1935, The Lichfield Aerated Water co would, at least initially, have been a subsidary of Allsopp only. I think.

(2) Does this mean the fomer maltings originally belonging to the City Brewery, but most recently Wolverhampton & Dudley breweries and now being converted into residential accomodation?

Sources:

The Brewing Industry: A Guide to Historical Records edited by Lesley Richmond, Alison Turton

Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131

http://www.midlandspubs.co.uk

Advertisements

A Storm Brewing

A comment from Mrs P on an earlier post about the City Brewery on the Birmingham Rd revealed another unhappy chapter in the story of Lichfield’s brewing industry.

In 1900, in many towns and cities across the north and west of the country, there was a huge rise in cases of what was originally thought to be alcohol related neuritis. Eventually doctors in Manchester, one of the worst hit places, began to suspect that alcohol may not be the cause.  After discovering arsenic in samples of local beer these suspicions were confirmed – people were in fact being poisoned.

There were thought be around six thousand cases of poisoning across the country, of which at least seventy were fatal.  On February 15th 1901 The Mercury reported that ninety one cases were discovered in the Lichfield urban district but there were no fatalities.

Samples from the City Brewery on the Birmingham Rd and the Lichfield Brewery on Upper St John St were taken. These tests showed that whilst beer from the City Brewery was arsenic free, the poison was present in beer brewed by the Lichfield Brewery.  Along with the other affected breweries across the country, they had been using contaminated brewing sugar from Bostock & Co of Liverpool. The sugar had been produced using sulphuric acid designed for industrial use, rather than of a food grade quality.  Bostock & Co blamed their supplier – a Leeds company called Nicholson & Son, whose defence was that Bostock & Co had not specified the need for ‘pure’ acid.

Offices of the former Lichfield Brewery, Upper St John St

Unsurprisingly, the City Brewery and another local rival, the Old Brewery on Sandford St were keen to inform consumers that their beers were arsenic free and took out large adverts in the Mercury announcing this. The Lichfield Brewery used the local press for a damage limitation exercise. On 12th December 1900, they printed the certificate that the public analyst and consulting chemist Dr Bostock Hill had issued to them from his laboratory in the Unity Buildings on Temple St, Birmingham, which included the following statement:

Gentlemen – I beg to report that I have analysed the three samples of Ales, and one of Stout, received from you on the 11th instant and find them to be PURE AND FREE FROM ARSENIC OR OTHER DELETERIOUS MATTER

Dr Bostock Hill’s opinion was also reported in the Mercury – he believed the brewery was not to blame and was instead a victim of circumstance. The report also praises the brewery for their honesty and openness in dealing with the matter noting that,

‘the strain on the executive has naturally been considerable, but it is in process (sic) of being completely relieved, The ordinary shareholders may possibly experience a slight temporary depression in the value of their holdings – nothing more; for the position of the company is now so secure, owing to its large reserve fund that the incident can only have a temporary effect, especially in view of the fact that it is one over which they had, under the circumstances, not the slightest control …despite the loss, the commercial value, importance and position of the Lichfield Brewery Company is quite unshaken’.

It seems the ‘considerable strain’ on the executive was relieved and the Lichfield Brewery continued for another thirty or so years, until Ind Coope & Allsopp Ltd took over the brewery and its 198 licensed houses in 1935.  So far, I have not been able to find a report into the strain on the health or livelihoods of those actually poisoned by the arsenical beer.

For a much fuller account of how events unfolded across the country, please read the article ‘Death in the beer-glass: the Manchester arsenic-in-beer epidemic of 1900-1 and the long-term poisoning of beer‘ by Matthew Copping. It also makes some very interesting points regarding how in addition to the complacency of the brewing industry, prejudice and stereotyping of those affected (mainly the working class) may also have contributed to these terrible events.

In the article, Matthew Copping describes the arsenic poisoning episode as a wake up call for those at fault, a phrase that’s has been heard again in recent days, due to the ongoing enquiry into contaminated meat. The timing of this post is actually coincidental (isn’t it, Mrs P?) and I don’t want to try too hard to draw parallels between these two events, separated by over a century. However, I think it is fair to say that, as in 1900, the public has been let down by complacency and broken systems once again.

Sources

https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/poison.pdf

The Arsenic Century:How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play by James C. Whorton

http://www.weasteheritagetrail.co.uk/salford-people/biographies/entry/the-salford-poisoned-beer-scandal.htm