Raise a glass to city’s brewing past and it’s fine ales of today
- Credit: Archant
It was called Kett's Finale. A beer brewed and bottled in Norwich 30 years ago to mark the end of an era. Another great city industry – which once employed generations of men and women – had gone.
The label on the bottle, one of 12,000 to appear in 1985, said: 'This fine ale has been produced to commemorate the last brew packaged on the Old Morgan's Brewery, King Street site. Traditional brewing is part of Norfolk's heritage and Kett's Finale is a fine tribute to this skill.'
A 700-year-old tradition of brewing on ancient King Street, one which has suffered more than most in recent times, was finally over.
Despite investment in new machinery it was announced at the start of 1985 that Norwich Brewery was to close with the loss of around 160 jobs. Workers were told the reason was more people were drinking lager rather than traditional ales.
By April, brewing had stopped. Other departments carried on for a while but now the big site has been demolished. Another industrial chimney bit the dust.
It was the last of Norwich's 'big four' breweries which once employed thousands of people, and owned and supplied pubs across East Anglia with fine local ales. Those days were over.
When the news was first announced in January of 1985, the workers were shocked and angry. Union officials pledged to fight the closure announced by the mighty Grand Metropolitan owners... but they said the brewery was too small and decided it had no future. The fight was over almost before it began.
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The owners said they planned to make the distinctive flavours of Norwich beers in Manchester.
'It was the end of the road,' said Richard Little, who spent many years working in the brewing industry. 'There really was a special bond of friendship between the workers.'
It was a relationship with such a long and proud history.
Until the 1960s, brewing was one of Norwich's foremost industries but, like the shoe industry, it fell in a dramatically short time.
In 1783, there were nine fairly small breweries in the city serving a population of about 35,000. A century or so later, there were 27 breweries but most of the 558 public houses were in the hands of seven companies. By the 1920s, there were just the 'big four' – they saw off the rest. They were Steward & Patteson, Bullards, Morgans and Youngs, Crawshay & Youngs.
They were controlled by the formidable Norwich beer barons, powerful families who also took a leading role in the civic life of the city, becoming mayors and sheriffs.
By the 1960s, the old family businesses were going. Watney Mann emerged as victor and operated from the old Morgans brewery in King Street – the thoroughfare, steeped in history, was described as the brewery of East Anglia.
Watney Mann Ltd was formed in 1958, the amalgamation of other companies. It bought the old Morgans site in 1961 and employed around 20,000 people across the country.
At the time, the company said Norwich was the hub of its East Anglia empire, saying almost 90 million pints of beer would be brewed at King Street, one of the finest and most productive breweries in the UK or Europe.
And it added: 'This is the brewery of East Anglia, administered by local people, its beer brewed by local people; its presence here means employment and benefits to local traders who supply its manifold needs.'
WM produced the likes of Red Barrell, Starlight, Manns, Export Gold, Stingo, and those cans of Party Four and Party Seven which were always a job to open!
The big old breweries are gone but smaller ones we can all be proud of have taken their place and are producing fine ales... including the likes of Woodforde's, Chalk Hill and the Fat Cat.
Norwich has one of the best beer festivals in the land where some great local beers from the small brewers can be sampled.
We wish them all well for the future.