Was George Adnams really eaten by a crocodile?

Ernest Adams (lower right). Tally Ho was first brewed in 1880. Picture: Courtesy of Adnams

Ernest Adams (lower right). Tally Ho was first brewed in 1880. Picture: Courtesy of Adnams - Credit: Courtesy of Adnams

Anyone who’s done a tour of the East Anglian brewery will have heard the legend...but what’s the truth?

Drays outside the brewery in the 1950s. Picture: Courtesy of Adnams

Drays outside the brewery in the 1950s. Picture: Courtesy of Adnams - Credit: Courtesy of Adnams

Think of Southwold, think of beer, think of Adnams, one of the best brews in the land.

There are lots of tales and yarns around concerning the landmark brewery…but the one surrounding George takes some beating.

If there is one man who knows more than most about our best home-grown ales it is Roger Protz, the legendary, campaigning ward winning writer, and his new book, The Family Brewers of Britain, published by the Campaign for Real Ale, is worth a toast. Several.

Roger charts 300 years of British brewing through the fascinating and sometimes fractious histories of the families still running them.

Adnams Brewery in the late 1800s. Picture: Courtesy of Adnams

Adnams Brewery in the late 1800s. Picture: Courtesy of Adnams - Credit: Courtesy of Adnams


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The book, supported by the Independent Family Brewers of Britain, is a must with in-depth features, great photographs and interviews with30 family brewers. He examines the past, present and future of these great brewing companies.

He has uncovered some intriguing family rows, discovered pioneering female brewers and examined some of the biggest threats faced by these British institutions over the centuries.

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“Elgood’s, McMullen, Adnams and Charles Wells are four stalwarts of British brewing history and a credit to East Anglia,” says Roger.

“It is a testament to the continuing quality of their beer that they remain relevant and popular in the modern day and continue to meet the demands of today’s consumers,” he adds.

Roger Protz. Picture: Courtesy of CAMRA

Roger Protz. Picture: Courtesy of CAMRA - Credit: Courtesy of CAMRA

Back to Southwold.

Just about every journalist and travel writer who has visited in the town has regaled readers with the story that George Adnams, who bought the brewery with his brother Ernest in 1872, went off to Africa where he was promptly eaten by a crocodile.

“It’s a grisly tale but it’s manna from heaven for a journo look for a good “intro” to a colour piece. Sadly, it seems it’s not true,” says Roger.

He explains that as the book was nearing completion, he heard that Robert Porter, who had spent several years researching the Adnams’ family, declared he could find no evidence to back up the crocodile story.

“It now seems that George did indeed go to Africa where he fought in the Boer War and then settled in the Transvaal. He died there in 1922 aged 73, drowning in a lake close to his home.

“He was recorded as working as a chimney sweep and he left the princely sum of thirty pounds, nine shillings and one penny,” reveals Roger.

George may have fared better if he had stayed in Southwold.

With his brother Ernest, he had arrived from Essex in 1872 and bought the Sole Bay Brewery behind the Swan Hotel.

While George was a restless character who soon dissolved the partnership and departed for Africa, Ernest went on to develop the brewery and build sales of beer.

At Adnams they will tell you that half their potential sales are made up of the North Sea, but the geography hasn’t hindered their progress.

In the late 19th century Southwold had a narrow-gauge railway that not only brought tourists to the town but also enabled the brewery to send casks to Halesworth where the main line transported the beer far and wide.

Southwold may have lost its train service but it has developed into one of the best-loved and fashionable seaside towns in the land with Adnams standing proud.

“It enjoys national sales and such recent beers as Ghost Ship and Mosaic have chalked up impressive volumes,” writes Roger.

“This success is set against a background of a company that has developed a quite different approach to the modern beer world than other family brewers.

“Far from relying on its tied trade, Adnams is reducing the number of pubs it owns and has become a major player in the free trade with cask keg and bottled beers, supported by a vigorous export policy,” says Roger.

And he points out that with the future of the planet in mind, the current chairman Jonathan Adnams has turned the brewery green with initiatives that save on energy, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and recycle raw material such as spent grain and hops.

Both beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers will love this book telling the fascinating story of the overlooked flag bearers for real ale. There are 30 wonderful stories to enjoy. A great read.

The Family Brewers of Britain by Roger Protz is on sale from CAMRA Books, retailing at £21.99 (£19.99 for CAMRA members).

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