Some history of Frederic Robinson Limited at Stockport in the county of Cheshire.


This Stockport brewery is heading towards its 200th anniversary and is unique in remaining an independent family-run enterprise. The company's history can be traced back to 1826 when Northenden-born cotton worker, William Robinson, became the landlord of the Unicorn Inn, a century-old tavern thought to have been constructed by John Warner in the early years of the 18th century.

Map extract showing the location the Unicorn Inn and Brewery at Stockport [1873]

A short distance to the south of the Market Place and the parish church, the Unicorn Inn fronted Lower Hillgate on one of the key arterial routes down to the Lancashire Bridge spanning the River Mersey. Surveyed in 1849 and revised and published in 1873, the above map extract shows the Unicorn Inn and outbuildings. Of course, this pre-dates the construction of a larger brewery facility.

Following the death of his wife, William Robinson left the Unicorn Inn, leaving it in the hands of his eldest son, George. He was the first to dabble with homebrewing. Younger brother Frederic became the publican in 1859 and, possibly to meet the demand through an increase in population and the large number of beer houses that had sprung up in Stockport, increased production of beer in order to wholesale to other houses. He faced competition from the established brewers on Lower Hillgate, notably at the Spread Eagle, Plough and Bishop Blaize.

The recipes used by Frederic Robinson were seemingly good enough to create demand and the size of his operation increased accordingly. A former warehouse marked on the map extract provided increased space for production and the other fundamental roles required for storage and transportation.

Like many successful brewing enterprises of the Victorian age, Frederic Robinson aimed for vertical integration and invested in further retail outlets that he could directly control. The first public-house that he acquired was the Railway Inn at Marple Bridge. Further houses were acquired in and around the Stockport area, all helping to ensure outlets for the beers produced behind the Unicorn Inn.

Frederic Robinson had acquired twelve public-houses by the time of his death in February 1890. Prior to his passing, he had supervised the enlargement of the brewery, an undertaking that had taken years in land acquisitions around the site of the old warehouse. Alfred Munton joined the firm as head brewer around this time. He was later to marry one of Frederic Robinson's daughters. Following the death of Frederic, the business passed to his wife, Emma, supported by her two sons, William and Herbert. It was William who would later take charge of the business.

Label for Old Tom Ale by Frederic Robinson Limited at Stockport [1930s]

Alfred Munton brought a good deal of brewing science to the brewery. He was responsible for the legendary Old Tom, a barley wine first produced in November 1899. From his brewing notes that included a sketch of the cat who prowled the yard acting as rodent control, this has proved to a staple of the company and a multi-award-winning brew. Old Tom was was named the World's Best Ale in 2007 and 2009.

Robinson's did not not follow the trend of going public to expand their tied-estate. The company grew steadily through prudent management. However, in order to grow their estate of public-houses the company followed the modus operandi of many a brewery in buying other firms. The business gained four houses through the acquisition of Sydney Pearson's Stockport Brewery in September 1905. Ten years later the firm bought the Borough Brewery at Stalybridge, a firm that had gone into liquidation during November 1914.

The brewery became a private limited company in the autumn of 1920, William Robinson heading the firm as chairman and managing director. Other key positions were filled by members of the Robinson family, along with the solicitor, William Johnston. William's three sons, Frederic, John and Cecil, joined the board in 1926, around the time that the brewery acquired Scholfield's Portland Brewery based at Ashton-under-Lyne. This purchase included 42 public-houses. Towards the end of the decade the company bought Kay's Atlas Brewery Ltd. of Ardwick, bringing another 86 public-houses, along with 40 off-licences, into the tied-estate of Frederic Robinson Limited.

William Robinson died in January 1933, following which the post of chairman went to his son, John. His work for the company had concentrated on the refurbishment of the existing tied-estate. As chairman, he was responsible for many acquisitions of pubs in rural locations, particularly in the Peak District. Robinson's would later branch out beyond Cheshire into North Wales.

Beer bottle labels for Light Dinner Ale and Light Bitter Ale by Frederic Robinson Limited at Stockport [c.1940s]

In 1949 the company took control of more than 150 public-houses with the takeover of their local competitor, Bell & Co. Limited. The need to increase capacity to service the large estate resulted in retaining the brewery of Bell & Co. Limited. It remained in production until 1968, and as a bottling plant until 1975.

For "political and public services in Cheshire," John Robinson was knighted in 1958. He remained in post until his death in February 1978. Peter Robinson became the chairman with Cecil Robinson becoming company president.

In 1982 the company bought Hartley's of Ulverston, an acquisition that saw another 54 tied-houses being added to the estate of Frederic Robinson Limited. A condition of the purchase was that the brewery would not be closed for five years. Brewing actually continued at Ulverston until November 1991.

1. Pearson, Lynn F. [1997] "The History Of Robinson's Brewery" Hale : Morris Nicholson Cartwright Limited
2. Barber, Norman [1994] "A Century Of British Brewers 1890-1990" New Ash Green : Brewery History Society p.66
3. Protz, Roger [2020] "The Family Brewers Of Britain : A Celebration Of British Brewing Heritage" St. Albans : CAMRA Ltd. pp.122-3
4. Tombs, Peter [1990] "A Guide To British Brewers : Their Beers And Pubs" London : Sidgwick and Jackson pp.259-260

Unicorn of Robinson's Brewery at Stockport

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Related Newspaper Articles

"Iron Maiden have turned their attention from heavy metal to hops - to create their own beer. The iconic British rock band who have sold more than 85 million records worldwide have teamed up with Stockport brewery Robinson's to compose the new cask and bottle ale Trooper. They follow in the footsteps of chart toppers Elbow who in 2011 released an ale called "Build A Rocket Boys" with the six generation family brewers on Lower Hillgate. Iron Maiden's brew is named after one of their most popular songs "Trooper," written by bassist Steve Harris and inspired by Tennyson's Charge of the Brigade. Real ale fan and lead singer Bruce Dickinson helped develop the unique flavour of the beer. He said: "I'm a lifelong fan of traditional English ale; I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when we were asked to create our own beer. I have to say that I was very nervous. Robinson's are the only people I have had to audition for in 30 years. Their magic has been to create the alchemical wedding of flavour and texture that is Trooper. I love it." Iron Maiden's mascot Eddie, a zombie-like figure which has adorned all the band's artwork, will feature on the bottle label and cask pump clip. Oliver Robinson, managing director of Robinson's, who celebrate their 175th anniversary this year, said: "This collaboration - between two huge British success stories - makes for an ideal and natural match. Bruce Dickinson loves his real ale, and Robinson's Brewery is one of Britain's most established and respected independent family-owned brewers. Trooper is a premium British ale with true depth of character and flavour. Not only do Iron Maiden genuinely enjoy a good pint of cask ale, but so do many of their fans - and they have an important part to play in our customer base."
by Matthew Davis in Manchester Evening News : March 13th 2013

Pump Clip for Trooper by Robinson' Brewery at Stockport [2013s]


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