Hatfield Brewery shut its doors 100 years ago this year
PUBLISHED: 07:25 22 July 2020
After a death in the family, Hatfield’s only brewery closed its doors in 1920 and The Welwyn Hatfield Times is taking a closer look 100 years later.
The last chairman of the Pryor Reid and Co. brewery was Percy Reid and when his son, Lieutenant Geoffrey, did not return after World War I, he shut up shop and sold the business to Benskins of Watford, which became defunct in 1972 when it was taken over by Carlsberg.
But this last remnants of beer production in Hatfield is not the end of the story.
According to Brian Lawrence: “There is no doubt that the closure of the brewery in 1920 came about as a direct result of this tragic event since it is recorded that at the closing dinner for all the employees, held at the One Bell, the chairman publicly stated that he would never have thought of closing but for the death of his son.
“One can but speculate how differently this part of old Hatfield might have developed had the young Lieutenant Geoffrey Reid survived to fulfil his father’s dream of continuing the family business.”
As Brian explains, White Lion Square takes its name from one of the pubs, The White Lion, which was acquired during another take-over by Hatfield brewers of the Bradshaws Newtown Brewery, which had been set up by the Bradshaw brothers.
Also if you go to old Hatfield, near Hatfield House, the foundations of the brewery now lies buried somewhere around Salisbury Square – which also contains many of the pubs that used to run off Hatfield brewed beer.
A tunnel, which has now been boarded up, still runs between the Eight Bells and the sight of the old brewery. It used to be where barrels were thrown down to supply the pubs basements according to another local historian John Hawthorne.
In 1908, King Edward VII paid an unscheduled visit to the brewery according to Brian, when his car broke down whilst passing through the town.
As he explained: “The King strolled into the brewery yard, sat on one of the barrels and watched the workmen until the repairs to his vehicle had been carried out.
“That evening the enterprising landlord of the Dray Horse placed a barrel on the bar on which was written ‘King Edward sat here’. Such a scoop could not go unchallenged and by the following night every public house in the town had a barrel on its bar with the identical claim.”
Many of Pryor Reid pub’s have been extinguished over the years with The New Fiddle knocked down in 2015 and The Robin Hood in the town centre, demolished in 1966. However The Chequers, now the Crooked Chimney near Lemsford, is still open and ran as a pub according to local history buff Jon Brindle.
Before Pryor Reid took over brewing in hop-growing Hatfield – where the Hopfields pubs takes its name – a Flemish family, Searancke, from Essendon is credited with introducing hops into Hertfordshire and running the first brewers behind Chequers Inn at the bottom of Fore Street, old Hatfield by 1610.
It then was run by the family until Francis Searancke took over from his uncle and wanted to focus on their St Albans brewing operations at Kingsbury Brewery, who sold it to Joseph Bigg.
Mr Bigg then became bankrupt in 1819, when it passed to Joseph Field who paid £19,500 for the business and turned it into a successful 7,600 barrels-a-year company.
Another auction, held at the Red Lion, allowed James Spurrell, brother-in-law of Surrey brewer James Watney, to purchase it for £24,350 in 1836, who then just a few months later passed it to Pryor Reid family.
The recipes of the ale brewed 100-odd years ago have also not been lost and in 2018 Jon Brindle set about finding the old recipes.
Affinity Water provided the exact water profile of the area of what is now Salisbury Square and the yeast was imported from the US to be similar to those times and he used the hops from the Fuggles and Goldings variety.
The beer was of relatively modest strength, full flavoured, with toffee, roasted grain and peppery hops on the aroma and the palate.
Hatfield’s brewery is part of a series of articles delving into the history of food and drink in the borough.
Next time we plan to look into the decline of a social drinking culture, Grade II-listed cafes and bakeries and more.
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