History of Ansell's Brewery Limited at Aston, Birmingham in the county of Warwickshire. Research is augmented with photographs, beer labels, pump clips, stories of local folklore, newspaper articles and a genealogy connections section for those studying their family history.



 

Ansell's Brewery Ltd
Ansell's Brewery Ltd

Some History on this Brewery
Founded by Joseph Ansell in 1857, Ansell and Son were originally maltsters and hop merchants but moved into the brewing business in 1881. The company was founded by Birmingham-born Joseph Ansell [pictured above] who married Elizabeth Dawson in 1835 and the couple took over a beer house called the Hope and Anchor, located in Fisher Street, Birmingham. Ironically, this pub would later form part of the Mitchell's and Butler's estate - the chief rival to Ansell's in later years!

Joseph and Elizabeth's children Thomas, Joseph, William, Alfred and Edward all spent their formative years at the Hope and Anchor. Presumably, Joseph Ansell made sufficient money at the Hope and Anchor in order to set himself up in business. The 1861 census records the family residing on Aston's Lichfield Road where Joseph is listed as a maltster and hop merchant employing three men. Eldest son Thomas was involved in the family business but Joseph worked as a solicitor's clerk whilst William found employment as a gun finisher.

The family business occupied part of the site on which the large brewery would later be developed. The company enjoyed early success and was able to construct new malt houses in addition to acquiring a second site at Moseley. Increased business was achieved by including hop merchants as part of the partnership activities.

In what business guru's today call a "forward extension strategy," Ansell's made the decision to move into brewing in 1881. The family were renowned for their parsimonious conduct, taking the minimal drawings, preferring to reinvest capital into the business. Public houses were acquired and these were supplied with the increasingly popular ales produced at Aston. Increased production required further maltings and, as can be seen from the letterhead below, the company had sites at Aston, Birchfields and Handsworth, along with operations in Moseley Road and Darwin Street.

Part of an Ansell's Brewery Letterhead dated 1888

Joseph Ansell died in 1885 and the role of senior partner passed to his son William. He and his brothers required more capital to keep pace with the company's growth which, by now, was accelerating. Moreover, they were keen to contest the race to win the majority of Birmingham's tied-house domain, a battle they were fighting with Mitchell's and Butler's and the Holt Brewery Company, plus a number of emerging brewing concerns such as Holder's.

In 1889 the firm was converted into a limited company and registered as Joseph Ansell & Sons Ltd. with a share capital of £200,000. The joint managing directors of the new company were William Ansell of Wylde Green House and Edward Ansell of Chesterfield in Erdington, along with the head brewer James Edward Bowly of Birchfield. Printed in The Times in April 1889, the prospectus stated that the "Company is formed for the purpose of taking over, carrying on, and extending the old-established, well-known, and rapidly increasing malting and brewing business of Messrs. Joseph Ansell and Sons, of the Aston Brewery, Aston, Birmingham. The Company will acquire the valuable and extensive freehold and modernly constructed brewery, plant, two freehold maltings, seven leasehold maltings, rolling stock, horses, stocks, book debts, loans, goodwill, and 96 freehold and leasehold public houses. The whole of the assets are free from mortgage and will be so taken over. In addition to the trade done with the tied houses, which is being largely and advantageously extended, 23 additional houses have been secured since the 30th September last, giving a total of 119 tied houses up to the present date, and the properties acquired by the Company are conveniently situated for delivery in Birmingham and the surrounding district. The brewery plant and malting premises are in the highest state of efficiency and repair, and are admirably adapted for extension. The brewery is within a mile and a half of the centre of Birmingham, and has for some time past been developing an increasing and valuable family trade, a branch of the business to which it is intended to give special attention. The Directors are of opinion there is ample scope for a large and profitable development in this department. There is an excellent supply of water obtained from an artesian well of great depth, and a second artesian well is nearly completed which will provide sufficient water to make the Brewery independent of any outside supply. Mr. William Ansell and Mr. Edward Ansell, who have been closely associated with the management of the business, the former for the past 25 years and the latter for the past 13 years, have undertaken to continue the management; Mr. William Ansell for three years, then continuing as a Director, and Mr. Edward Ansell for five years. Mr, J. E. Bowly, who for over six years has occupied the position of Head Brewer, will also act as joint Managing Director for five years. The Company will thus take over the whole of this profitable undertaking without any interruption of business and without any change in the present staff, this securing the same careful and energetic management which has hitherto made the business so prosperous."

Ansell's New Brewery illustrated in 1900

Headed by William and Edward Ansell, the company enjoyed great success and went through considerable expansion. The brewery was continually enlarged and by 1901 their tied estate had grown to 388 licensed properties. A bottling plant and stores were constructed. The above illustration is taken from The Brewer's Journal published in September 1900. The picture was subtitled "New Brewery for Messrs. Ansell & Sons, Limited, Aston, Birmingham." The architects and consulting engineers were Inskipp & MacKenzie who were based in London's Bedford Row.

In 1901 the business was re-financed by creating a new company simply called Ansell's Brewery Ltd. and formed with an issued share and loan capital of £860,000. Three years later William Ansell died and Edward assumed the office of Chairman. He remained in charge until 1919 when he elected to resign in favour of his son Harry Clements Ansell [pictured above in military uniform]. However, Harry died at a tragically early age and his father had to resume his role as Chairman.

Colonel James Ashton Fairhurst, son-in-law to William Ansell took over as Chairman in 1923, the year in which Ansell's acquired Rushton's Brewery Ltd., a local competitor based at the Lion Brewery in Aston Road North. This takeover brought another 100 tied-houses under the control of Ansell's who by now operated a considerable estate of public houses and off licences.

The first real foray into new trading territories occurred in 1929 when Ansell's acquired the historic Leamington brewery of Lucas & Co. Ltd. which added more than 120 tied houses to the Aston brewery's estate.

In 1934 the rival Holt Brewery Company was acquired, along with a tied estate of 250 public houses. This established Ansell's as one of the largest regional breweries in the UK.

Maintaining the standard and reputation of the company's beers became a key issue as the brewery was now supplying a vast estate of pubs. Walter Scott was the head brewer during this period and he is credited with an evolution of the taste that made the beers even more popular with drinkers. This was the period when "Ansell's - The Better Beer" became a key slogan and something of a trademark. The slogan was adopted in the painted livery of their tied estate. The company also adopted the squirrel trademark of the Holt Brewery Company.

Aston's Aston Brewery

It was Walter Scott who came up with the plan to rebuild the brewery and bottling stores. Backed by the Chairman and managing directors, it was decided that the company should proceed with a more modern approach to production and distribution. Work on the new brewery started in the mid-1930's but, due to the Second World War, the grand scheme was not finalised for some 20 years. By this time, the plans were superseded by an even more ambitious project and the buildings that form the basis of most Brummies' memory of Ansell's were completed in the company's centenary year.

Meanwhile, in 1946, the company acquired the business of William Jones & Son [Maltsters] Ltd. and five years later the Ordinary Share Capital of Lloyd's [Newport] Ltd. was acquired to enlarge the company's activities in South Wales. Ansell's had already become a major player in other parts of the Midlands but were now extending their reach to other parts of the UK.

The Chairman of the company was now Arthur E. Wiley. He was appointed following the death of Colonel J. A. Fairhurst in 1944. In what was called a "strengthening of the East and South-East perimeters of the Company's sales area," Ansell's acquired the Leicester Brewing & Malting Co. Ltd. in 1952, along with buying E. Brittain & Co. Ltd.

Ansell's Dray and Tanker at the Boar's Head in Perry Barr

The company merged with Ind Coope & Allsopp and Tetley Walker to form Allied Breweries in 1961. Following a long line of industrial disputes, Ansell's Brewery, Aston Cross, Birmingham, closed in 1981.

A limited range of the Ansell's brand of beer were later brewed at Burton-on-Trent as a subsidiary of the Carlsberg Tetley Group. Of course, the tangy taste of the Aston water, a key component of the ales, was missing and any self-respecting Ansell's Bittermen finally elected to drink something else. Now and then I still see some horrific keg line dispensing liquid that purports to be an Ansell's beer. Thankfully, the old Aston brewers like James Bowly, Walter Scott and John Burton are not able to taste a beer that undermines everything they achieved. 

Be an Ansell's Bitterman

Much of the information above was gleaned from a booklet produced for the company's centenary and this article would have ended with the last paragraph. However, I came across a copy of The Argosy magazine which provides some valuable information on the organisation of Ansell's following the formation of Allied Breweries. I have only ever come across one copy of this in-house publication. Dating from 1968, it was apparently the third issue of Volume 22. Where have all the other issues gone? It was rather like the Deerstalker magazine produced by Mitchell's and Butler's, though not quite as comprehensive. Anyway, here is the information I found within this valuable tome...

"Having held the positions since the formation of Allied Breweries in 1961, Sir Edward Thompson relinquished the appointments of Chairman and Chief Executive of Allied Breweries in 1968. He remained on the board in a consultative capacity. His successor was Sir Derek Pritchard who had held the post of Deputy Chairman of the Company. He moved into the chair on September 28th, the close of the group's financial year. The promotion compelled him to relinquish his Chairmanship of the British National Export Council in November of the same year. Around the same time, several top-level promotions within the Production Division were approved by the Ansell's Board of Directors following the tragically early death of the Head Brewer, John Burton. Former Technical Manager Arthur Derek Rudin was appointed Head Brewer. After war-time service with the RAF, during which he qualified as a pilot, Derek Rudin graduated from Birmingham University with first-class honours in industrial fermentation in 1949, and subsequently took a post-graduate brewing course. He started his practical brewing career at a brewery in Chesterfield in 1950, and subsequently joined the Brewing Industry Research Foundation at Nutfield, Redhill, Surrey, where he worked on various projects including continuous fermentation and hops. In 1959 he joined Ind Coope Ltd; at Burton-on-Trent as a research chemist, where he continued his work on hops and fermentation, and was, for a time, in charge of the pilot brewery. He was later appointed Quality Control Manager [Ale Breweries] before joining Ansell's in 1967 as Technical Manager.

During the same round of promotions, former Administrative Manager John Walker was appointed Industrial Manager. He had also joined Ansell's from Ind Coope. In 1961 he went to Aston as Work Study Manager and was appointed Production Co-ordinator in 1965. In 1967 he was appointed Administrative Manager [Production]. He was also a director of Grants of St. James [Midlands] Ltd., a member of the Brewery Joint Consultative Committee and of the Marketing and Retail Sales Committee. He had originally joined Ind Coope's Engineering Department in 1948. Later he worked with consultants on work study for Ind Coope and at the time he joined Ansell's he was Senior Work Study Officer at the Burton Brewery. John Ensor was promoted to Production Controller. He was a member of a family associated with Ansell's since the First World War. He joined the Company in July 1949 after war service and a three year Diploma course at the British School of Malting and Brewing, Birmingham University. Earlier he had gone straight from Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall, into the Army and was wounded in 1945 after serving in the Normandy invasion, and later in Holland and Belgium with the Royal Armoured Corps. For ten years after joining Ansell's, John Ensor was a shift brewer and after going on to day work he looked after the loading decks, cellars and racking before taking over malts and materials from his father, Mr. H. D. Ensor, when the latter retired in 1964 after 49 years service as a shift and day brewer. Subsequently, John Ensor had charge of brewing and fermentation before being appointed second brewer to John Burton in 1967.

At 27, David Cox was the youngest in this bout of senior promotions when he was appointed Brewer in Charge, No.1 Brewery. He was an old boy of Handsworth Grammar School, and gained a B.Sc., in applied bio-chemistry at Birmingham University and subsequently the Diploma in malting and brewing from the School of Malting and Brewing. He joined Ansell's in October 1963 as a technical brewer and earlier in 1968 became a member of the three-man Brewery Development Section following a spell as Brewer in Charge, No.2 Brewery. John Gilkes took over the post Bernard Easthope, Chief Cellar Inspector. He joined Ansell's after the Second World War after service in the Royal Navy. He began in the cask office, subsequently transferred to Accounts and joined the Cellar Inspection Department in 1953. His predecessor, Bernard Easthope, will not be popular with cask ale devotees - he saw the first keg beer installation put into an Ansell's pub. He originally joined Ansell's in 1933 as assistant to his father, then Head Maltster. Following the Second World War, he was manager of the Birmingham and Leamington maltings under Mr. Tamplin. Subsequently, he took charge of the Cellar Inspection Department and was closely involved with bulk beer installation work."
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How The Better Beer is Brewed at the Home of Ansell's

Information on Beers
In 1957 the range of beers produced at the Aston Brewery was simple - bitter and mild! Well, on draught at least. However, there were more beers available in bottles. Special was the company's flagship bitter in a bottle. Newcrest was a sweet stout. Nut Brown Ale was a popular light mild ale. Spotlight was described as a bitter of distinction. And, finally, Tomic was a rich, full-flavoured stout.

Ansell's initiated a three month Summer Campaign in 1968 to launch their new Light Ale. The campaign was staged on both television and posters. Production of Ansell's Light Ale, a product formerly brewed at Burton-on-Trent and marketed in the Midlands by Ind Coope, was transferred to Aston and marketed by Ansell's within their own trading area. A poster represented the theme adopted for both the small screen and hoardings. Another report during the early autumn of 1968 concerned Ansells' maltsters, William Jones and Son [Maltsters] Ltd. The firm had doubled the drying capacity of barley drying at their Shrewsbury plant. This was achieved by the installation of a continuous tower drier of Swedish manufacture. Apparently, there was no British equivalent. The drier, replacing drum driers, three of which were originally retorifying drums from the brewery, became necessary to meet increased production and the consequential need to increase the intake speed of barley at harvest time. The drier, was fed via a pre-cleaner. The grain was dried by indirectly heated air drawn by a 50 h.p. fan through heat exchangers at varying levels and finally cooled in the bottom section before storage and maturation. The new method had the advantage of preventing damage to the vitality of the grain. Work on the drier began immediately after the 1967 crop had been dried and was completed in time for the 1968 season.
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Genealogy Connections
If you have a genealogy story or query regarding this brewery you can contact me and I will post it here in addition to including your message within the website pages for Birmingham Genealogy.

Ansell's Bitter - That's Better

Ansell's Newcrest Stout

Ansell's Pioneer Bitter

Ansell's Mild

Ansell's - Ah The Better Beer

Quotation
“Wow, it’s like I’ve died and went to heaven. But then they realised it wasn’t my time yet. So they sent me to a brewery.”
Peter Griffin

Ansell's Aston Ales

Ansell's Pioneer Pale Ale [c.1940's]

Ansell's Triple Gold Light Ale

Ansell's - The Better Beer

Ansell's Bitter

Ansell's Mirror [c.1900]

Ansell's Nut Brown Ale

Ansell's Bittermen - You Can't Beat Em

Ansell's Good Old Mild

Ansell's Helps You to Face Life's Little Snags

Be an Ansell's Bitterman

Quotation
Jack Handey
“Sometimes when I reflect back on all the beer I drink I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered.  Then I say to myself, "It is better that I drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.”
Jack Handey

Work in Progress

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Barley Storage Silo
A large barley storage silo that was probably seen as quite vanguard at the time. It almost looks like a tower block designed by Le Corbusier.

Barley Growing on the Malting Floor
Barley growing on the malting floor. Long since superseded, this was the traditional method for preparing barley for the production of beer. This was how Joseph Ansell first started in the brewing industry.

Rotating Drum for Drying Barley
One of a battery of rotating drums for drying barley by hot air. Ansell's were one of the first regional brewers in the UK to adopt modern machinery that facilitated increased production.

Battery of Malt Screens
A battery of screens that were installed at the Aston Brewery in order to remove dust and damaged corns, but also acting as a cleaner for the malt.

Malt Mill at Ansell's Brewery
Clean malt was transferred to the malt mill at Ansell's. This was sited in a dedicated malt room. Once crushed the grist was then mixed with water from the brewery's artesian wells that was stored in glazed brick vessel of approximately 54,000 gallons - rather like a modern swimming pool.

Ansell's Copper Room
The massive gleaming coppers at the Aston Brewery had a capacity of 10,800 gallons. This meant that more than 86,000 pints of wort could be boiled in one vessel - and the company had more than just the one!

The Coolers at Ansell's Brewery
The modern stainless steel coolers at Ansell's were each capable of cooling over 4,000 gallons of hopped wort per hour.

The Fermenting Wing at Ansell's
An Ansell's employee checks the temperature of a fermentation in the company's once-famous yeast propagation and fermenting rooms. Many of the vessels at the Aston brewery were capable of holding over 22,000 gallons of beer.

Skimming the Yeast
Two men can be seen here skimming the yeast towards the vacuum pipe which removed the yeast from the fermenting vessel. Vacuum yeast skimming was originated at Ansell's and the process was adopted at most major breweries in the UK.

Filling Casks at Ansell's Brewery
In the background of this photograph, casks are being filled from the settling tanks. In the foreground hops are being added to each cask in a task known as final dry hopping. This imparted extra hop aroma to the beers made at Ansell's.

Cask Washing at Ansell's Brewery
Ansell's were one of the first regional brewers to install an automated cask washing system. In this photograph an operator can be seen feeding a cask onto the first jet of the machine. The casks were later sterilised by steam cleaning before reuse.

Ansell's Conditioning Cellar
There were four large cellars at Ansell's where casks could be rested during secondary fermentation. Each of the cellars had a floor space capable of holding 1,000 barrels so that a double stack in each cellar provided storage for 8,000 barrels - more than a quarter of a million gallons.

Chemists at work in one of the laboratories
The approach to brewing at Ansell's was quite scientific. Here you can see a team of chemists at work in one of the laboratories.

Ansell's Compressor Room
A view of the compressor room at the Aston Brewery. This provided the refrigeration requirements of the bottling stores where the cold storage tanks held 110,000 gallons of chilled beers.

Bottle Unpacking Machine and Washer
The unpacker at Ansell's could lift six dozen dirty bottles at a time from their cases to feed the intake of the bottle washing machine [illustrated above in the main gallery]. After a 20-minute washing process, the filling and crowning machine had an output of 19,200 bottles per hour.

The Stockroom at Ansell's
Full crates arriving in the stockroom via a conveyor belt from the labelling and packing department.

Ansell's Brewery Generators
Ansell's claimed to have installed one of the most Industrial Power Houses in the country. Above is two 350kw steam driven generators. There is an image of the boilerhouse firing floor in the main gallery above.

Ansell's Witton Garage
By the mid-1950's Ansell's had a big fleet of vehicles to maintain the large delivery schedule. The company had a range of 250 vehicles, ranging from 8cwt vans to eight wheelers. 90 cars were also used for administration and supervision. The heavier vehicles were maintained at Witton Garage, light vans and cars were serviced on the third floor at the Park Road main building, access to which was by means of ramped runways inside the building.

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