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Adnams Brewery in the 1940s

By Sarah Groves, also posted in News on

A huge thank you to Brian Lee for sharing his memories of Adnams Brewery in the late 1940s. Brian has recorded his recollections in a letter recently sent to Adnams' Chairman Jonathan Adnams. Brian is the son of H.W.F (John) Lee, and in the late 1940s was a trainee brewer. John Lee joined the company as head of Finance before moving on to become Managing Director in 1963 and then Chairman of Adnams. [caption id="attachment_15197" align="alignleft" width="300"]The Adnams bottle store in 1946 or 7 The Adnams bottle store in 1946 or 7[/caption] Now that I am eighty years old, it occurred to me that I am one of a few, if not the only one, who can remember the old days in the brewery at Southwold. So I thought it may be of interest and amusement to the 'present generation' to set down a few recollections of the bottle store in the late 1940s. Beer for bottling was racked into wooden butts (about 72 gallons) then rolled across Victoria Street into a ground floor storage room where they were set up two high in two rows using a hand-powered chain hoist and then allowed to fine down. There was no cold room, nor even any form of temperature control. In the summer, the beer could reach 80F at which temperature it was sometimes bottled with quite a few explosions with glass flying everywhere! As the beers had no cold storage treatment they suffered from substantial protein hazes, especially during the colder months. At the beginning of the working day at 7am, the first butt was tapped and a compressed air pipe was knocked in the spile hole. The chief bottler kept a sharp eye on a sight glass in the beer main and when froth appeared he uttered a distinctive high-pitched scream whereupon the Foreman, Ronnie Mortlock, downed his glass of light ale and hurried to the beer store, knocked out the tap and banged it in to the next cask with just one blow before the complete system became air locked. He then returned to his office for another glass of light ale and a roll-up. On a busy day he would get through a dozen and a half pints and still felt thirsty. He had the extraordinary and unfailing ability of being able to taste the difference between the top half and the bottom half of a pint bottle of light ale even when blindfolded! The beer then passed through the Karl Keifer asbestos pulp filter before passing through the Seitz filter using EK sheets. At the end of every day the asbestos pulp was washed, sterilised and hydraulically pressed in to cakes before recharging the filter the next day. The EK sheets were back-washed each day and replaced each week. [caption id="attachment_15198" align="alignright" width="300"]The Adnams bottle store in around 1948 The Adnams bottle store, around 1948[/caption] The beer was now ready for carbonation. The carbonation set-up was, to say the least, quite unusual. The CO2 was produced on site. A hundredweight of marble chips was tipped into a large cylindrical lead-lined vessel about three foot in diameter and four foot high, the chips were covered with cold water and the lid was made gas tight. Mounted above this vessel was a second smaller lead-lined open-topped vessel into which was poured a couple of gallons of concentrated sulphuric acid from a large jug by Mortlock standing on top of a rickety wooden stepladder. The acid slowly ran down to the lower vessel, reacted with the marble chips and generated CO2. On one occasion Morlock missed his footing on the steps and spilt acid all down his arm. He kept this accident a close secret for fear of getting the sack for carelessness! Not until after he had retired did he tell me about this, and show me the scars. When the gas issuing from the outlet of the sealed tanks smelled 'about right' the carbonator was started up. Carbonation was effected with a Riley Mineral Water Carbonator comprising a tall cylindrical copper cylinder with a piston pump each side, one for beer and the other CO2. The stroke of the CO2 pump could be adjusted to give the carbonation required and the beer passed into the tall cylinder to 'stabilise' before passing on to the fillers. In the meantime, dirty bottles returned from the trade were de-crated and hand-fed into a decrepit second-hand Miller Hydro washer (later replaced with a brand new Gimson Junior rotary washer which supposedly produced sterilised, cool, bottles ready for filling)*. [caption id="attachment_15199" align="alignleft" width="300"]Adnams Brewery outing to Britain Could Make It Exhibition 1946 Adnams Brewery outing to Britain Could Make It Exhibition 1946[/caption] There were two Ponifex 18-head fillers with shiny copper domes (later replaced by a brand new Worssam Super Thirty). Washed screw top bottles were conveyed on a single track to an accumulation table adjacent to the fillers where the chief bottler, Shinny Pack and his mate took off the filled bottles by hand and replaced them with empties on the slowly rotating fillers at the same time loosely fitted a stopper into the neck of each full bottle on the 'fulls' conveyor before it reached the stopper tightening machine. The bottles were then labelled and top-strapped 'automatically' before being filled into wooden cases by hand on a gravity powered roller conveyor to be stacked in the full store. During the quiet season, all the worn rubber sealing rings were removed from the stoppers and the naked stoppers were washed and sterlised before being re-ringed with new washers. In addition to our own beers, Guinness, Bass Red Triangle and Gaymers Cider were bottled at the brewery. The Guinness arrived by rail to Halesworth station and delivered in cast aluminium hogsheads to the brewery by the railway's lorry. On one occasion one of the hogsheads slipped off the lorry whilst unloading and split in half. The road was awash with stout which was lapped up by host of inebriated cats and dogs! [caption id="attachment_15202" align="alignright" width="300"]Jack Pack at the filling machine (date unknown) Jack Pack at the filling machine (date unknown)[/caption] The Bass also arrived by rail from Burton, usually two hogsheads at a time. A small hole was drilled into the head of each cask and hard pegged. The casks were then stillaged and left untapped for a week or two to fine down. After loading the lorries at about 7am, Mortlock and I would pull out the peg and sample the Bass which was a happy experience not to be forgotten! When judged ready, the Bass was hand-bottled on a six-tube syphon filler, hand crowned and stored unlabelled, upright on special shelves to condition. If conditioning was slow the bottles were all laid flat to encourage them to condition more quickly, which it did! Gaymers Cider was always bottled on a Friday. There were two good reasons for this. Firstly, the cider flavour persisted in the Seitz filter sheets, and secondly, the cider cleaned up the whole plant beautifully, leaving all the copper work looking like new at the end of the week. [caption id="attachment_15200" align="alignleft" width="300"]Brewery Dinner around 1950. Greg Wright, Arthur Sagin, Harry Mortlock, Ron Mortlock, Mr Teddy Parkes and unknown Brewery Dinner around 1950. Greg Wright, Arthur Sagin, Harry Mortlock, Ron Mortlock, Mr Teddy Parkes and unknown[/caption] Adnams bottled Stout was a sweet stout which had an unfortunate propensity to blow up if left too long at warm temperatures. This problem was overcome by use of the Briggs Cabinet Pasteurisers. This was a lengthy, tedious and very costly process. The unlabelled bottles were loaded onto oblong perforated trays, about five or six trays high, on a trolley which was wheeled into a large metal cabinet equipped with a hot water shower. One of the bottles in the middle of the batch was fitted with an internal thermometer probe which could be read outside the cabinet. When the temperature reached 120F the shower pump was run for a further 20 minutes. By the next day the bottles had cooled down enough to be handled and the ones which hadn't blown up during treatment were labelled and crated, this batch process was repeated over a few days until the whole bottling had been treated. Ronald Mortlock was the most remarkable man for whom I personally had an enormous respect, he was a long serving and truly loyal servant of the Company. He managed the staff fairly but with a rod of iron. His practiced ear would detect when something sounded 'not quite right' on the bottling floor, whereupon he would charge up the steps from his semi-subterranean office saying, "Wait you a minute, I'll just go out and put a few *** into those ***!' Mortlock took considerably longer than most people to say anything as all his sentences and quite often his individual words were punctuated with a comprehensive range of expletives. He also frequently called upon The Almighty, who for some reason always ignored his requests. Despite his ingrained profanity, he was well worth his quite considerable weight in gold. He looked after and maintained all the machinery single-handed, stripping it down, repairing it and reassembling it without help of an engineer or fitter, and luckily he had a nephew who was an electrician who he called upon to do all the 'sparky repairs'. [caption id="attachment_15201" align="alignright" width="300"]Clump Sagin, John Lee and Arthur Sagin, 1974 Clump Sagin, John Lee and Arthur Sagin, 1974[/caption] *In 1956, when Giles Saunders was the brewer and I was a student, he somewhat reluctantly allowed me to carry out a complete and detailed microbiological survey of both the brewery and the bottle store. As there was no in-place chemical cleaning it was no surprise to discover that the whole place was a veritable microbiological zoo. I believe Saunders kept the content of my report very much to himself! There is little doubt that the resident micro population made a significant contribution to the distinctive and much-admired flavour of the Adnams beers (as was definitely the case with a large number of UK brews in those days). One of the most important findings I made was that the final rinse water in the bottle washer was heavily infected with wild yeast resulting in every clean bottle becoming infected just before filling! It was subsequently discovered that this wild yeast was contaminating the mains water supply for some distance down Victoria Street, and obviously had been doing so for many years. That's all for now. Best wishes, Brian   If you have memories of Adnams Brewery from previous decades, or have relatives that may have kept records or photos of their time here at Adnams, we'd love to hear from you and add your story to our archives. Please let me know by email or pop in to the brewery in Southwold. Thanks to Mr Peter Parke, who contacted us to add to the story: A few points of possible interest. The "Teddy Parkes" referred to is my paternal grandfather, Edward Gaymer Parke  Snr. (hence the Gaymer connection). Born in 1872, he was indentured to Adnams in the 1880s, was the Brewery Manager at the start of the 20th century, then the Company Secretary and a Director of the Company. He worked at Adnams for about 73 years in all, and died shortly after he retired in the late 1950s. His obituary records that "the brewery flag flew at half-mast".   Ronnie Mortlock and I kept in close touch until his death, and we enjoyed many a yarn about the old days in the brewery. I too have several anecdotes of those times, especially concerning my grandfather.  


Sarah Groves