History and Information on Hitchman and Co. Ltd. of Chipping Norton in the county of Oxfordshire.


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Hitchman & Co. Ltd.

This company was founded in 1796 by the partnership of James Hitchman and his brother William. Born in 1773 at Deddington, James Hitchman learned some of the trade when working at the Bunch of Grapes at Chipping Norton for the wine merchant Thomas Henry Kingdom. 1796 was a big year for James Hitchman for he not only started his own firm but he also married Sarah Lock Simkins. She was the eldest daughter of William Simkins who had died shortly before the wedding, leaving an inheritance to the couple. The marriage was announced in the Oxford Journal in which James Hitchman was described as a Liquor Merchant. He established his new enterprise in West Street, on a site formerly occupied by the Old Swann Inn.

Following the death of James Hitchman in May 1830, he was succeeded by his son William. Like his father before him, his core business was that of wine merchant. He resided in West Street with his wife Isabella. She died in 1847 and this may have been the reason that William completely immersed himself in his business. He dissolved a partnership with Frederick Sotham and James Beman, established a maltings and then built a brewery in Albion Street, a building completed in 1850.

William Simkins Hitchman became something of a big cheese in Chipping Norton. In addition to the success of his brewery, he bought several farms and land. He also invested in a local quarry. He added coal merchant to his long list of roles within his portfolio. In addition, he was a shareholder at the local gas works. One cannot help but think if he had invested all of his energy in the brewery then it may have become one of the largest regional firms in later years. William Hitchman moved to Kitebrook House, a residence that he partially rebuilt and extended, and from where he masterminded his business empire. Involved in public affairs, he once served as the Mayor of the Borough.

William Simkins Hitchman died in 1881, aged 82, and was succeeded by his son Alfred William Spence Hitchman. He had been involved in the business with his father so it was a natural transition. Born in 1844, he was educated at Rugby and Cambridge. He studied for the legal profession, and became a Barrister-at-Law, though he did not pursue this as a career. On the death of his father he assumed control of the brewery.

The business was registered in March 1890 as Messrs. Hitchman and Co. Ltd. Alfred Hitchman was chairman and, although remaining as a director, he increasingly took a back seat role, preferring to spend his days pursuing sporting activities. In his early days he, along with William Bliss, founded the old Rugby Football Club in Chipping Norton. He also took a keen interest in golf and hunting. He had lived in the family home at Kitebrook but later moved to Monksdene in New Street. In later years Alfred Hitchman bought a yacht and moved to Weymouth where he named his residence Kitebrook. He suffered from a sailing accident when returning from New Zealand in 1910 and his health declined until his death two years later, his remains being buried at sea. He never married. At the time of his death his sister, Henrietta Westmacott, lived in Burmington.

At the formation of Hitchman & Co. Ltd. in the Spring of 1890, with Alfred Hitchman in the chair, the directors were Abraham Creswicke Rawlinson, of The Elm, who was a Director of the Metropolitan and Birmingham Bank Limited; Charles Akers, 11 Abchurch Lane, London, who became the accountant; and Walter H. Epps, The Manor House, Chipping Norton. Joseph Reader was appointed Secretary of the business.

The acquisition by the new company included the freehold brewery with a 20-quarter plant, four freehold malthouses which, with two smaller houses rented by the firm, gave a total malting capacity of 8,000 quarters per annum; freehold office, stables, aerated water manufactory, brewer's house and brewery cottages; twenty-four freehold and one copyhold hotels and public houses; twelve leasehold public houses. At the time of the sale, the company's average annual gross sales was £43,854.

The price to be paid by the new company for the whole of the property, including freeholds, copyhold, leaseholds, goodwill, fixed and loose plant, stock-in-trade and book debts was fixed by Alfred Hitchman at £77,000, payable in £30,000 cash and the balance in both ordinary and preference shares. The services of Messrs. Epps and Reader, who had taken an active part in the management of the business for many years, were to be maintained.

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In the years following the formation of the Limited Company, trade was good and the firm were able to declare dividends of 6 per cent, a good return for shareholders. There was a dip in quality of the barley from the crop of 1891 but the conditions were excellent for the following year's crop which resulted in superior grain and a lower purchase price due to higher yields.

In June 1898 Hitchman & Co. Ltd. acquired part of the nearby Little Compton Brewery, or Compton Steam Brewery as it was also known, a business run by Messrs. Henry Lardner and Sons. Although over the border in Warwickshire, the brewery was midway between Chipping Norton and Moreton-in-Marsh and the fact that there was a tied estate of local houses up for grabs, it was of great interest to Hitchman & Co. Ltd.

The sale, held in London, included two malt houses, a small residence and gardens, 30 public and beer houses, and other property attached. The sale notice stated that "the Excise Brewings had averaged about 4,500 barrels of beer, besides wines and spirits." It was also stated that "the premises were fitted with a 12-quarter plant, and, together with 25 of the trading properties of freehold or copyhold tenure, the business had been successfully conducted for nearly 50 years by Messrs. Henry Lardner and Sons." The public houses in the sale included three houses in Chipping Norton - the Unicorn Inn, the Parrot Inn, and the Fox and Hounds Inn. Henry Lardner and Sons had only acquired the Unicorn Inn earlier in the year, although they already held the lease. Following the sale, it was reported that there was "spirited competition for the property which was offered in one lot, the purchasers being Hitchman & Co. Ltd. and Flower and Sons Ltd. of Stratford-on-Avon, who jointly secured the whole for £35,250." I imagine that the two firms carved up the pub estate to suit their own tied estates.

The two breweries had little interest in the Compton Steam Brewery itself and this was put up for sale in the following year. The sale of the Little Compton Brewery was held at the White Hart Hotel in Chipping Norton. The property was described as "extensive substantially-built freehold premises, lately used as a brewery, but recently dismantled of machinery, etc., comprising the brewery building, with its vaults, cellars, stores, etc., erected in four floors, with a basement, yards, stabling, and outbuildings, together with a stone-erected building, recently used as two malthouses, also a neat residence with out-offices and garden, and a piece of land containing five perches." There was a large crowd at the sale, and contested by two individuals, there were a total of 117 bids before it was knocked down to Mr. W. S. Lardner for £1,280. And so the Little Compton property returned to the son of Henry Lardner.

The brewery, like many firms during the early 20th century, laid on an annual trip for employees and their families. For example, in July 1913 everybody had to up and at 'em to catch the train from Chipping Norton at 4.45am in order to enjoy a day out at Bournmouth. The brewery workers enjoyed excursions on steamers to Swanage, Weymouth and Totland. It was a full day of activities and the return train did not depart from the coast until 22.30hrs, with everyone arriving back in Chipping Norton at 3.35am. The annual day trip was considered one of the best days of the year for all associated with Hitchman & Co. Ltd.

Another company to be acquired by Hitchman & Co. Ltd. was the Lowesmoor Brewery in Worcester. They bought the brewery and a small estate of public houses from the executors of Benjamin Cole Harper in 1917. This was operated as a subsidiary under the title of Harper's Hitchman Ltd.

Hitchman & Co. Ltd. were themselves targeted by another brewery and in 1924 were taken over by Hunt Edmunds and Co. Ltd. of Banbury. Operated as a holding company with the name of Hunt Edmunds Hitchman Co. Ltd., the Chipping Norton brewery remained in operation for a few years. Inevitably however, the brewery was closed in 1932-3 and production moved to Banbury. This was a result of the supplementary budget of 1931 which increased beer duty from 103/- to 134/- per barrel. The brands created by Hitchman & Co. Ltd. continued to be brewed, though with different taste and character. The closure of the brewery was a blow to the local economy as Hitchman & Co. Ltd. were an important employer in the town. Some employees did move to the parent brewery, notably Mr. T. Langley-Jones, a long-serving brewer. He became the Head Brewer at Banbury. The brewery, which remained in use as a mineral water factory until 1968, was demolished in 1970. The offices of the company still stand.

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Hitchman's Brewery Double Stout Beer Label from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire [1930s]

Hitchman's Brewery India Pale Ale Beer Label from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire [1930s]

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Hitchman's Brewery Family Ale Beer Label from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire [1930s]

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Related Newspaper Articles

"Early on Monday morning a carter employed at Messrs. Hitchman and Co.'s Brewery, attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat. It appears that he got up and went downstairs at his usual time - just before six o'clock - for the purpose, as was thought by his wife, of going to his work. Not coming home to breakfast, as was his custom, his wife sent to the brewery yard to enquire when he was coming home. On her daughter making enquiries she was told that Bolton had not yet been to see to his horses, and had not been seen on the premises that morning. Mrs. Bolton also discovered that her husband had not put on the shoes he ordinarily wore, as they were still in the house. She then became anxious as to the whereabouts of her husband, and shortly after 10 o'clock called in two of his fellow workmen, Stephen Betteridge and James Harris, who at once went to a hovel belonging to the cottage in which Bolton resided. They found the door fastened, and on forcing it open, to their horror discovered Bolton standing with his arms resting on a cord suspended from a beam, and with his throat badly cut. He was covered with blood, and there was also a large pool of blood on the floor. They took the poor fellow to his cottage and carried him upstairs. Dr. O'Kelly being immediately sent for. On his arrival he found the wind-pipe partially severed, but the main artery of the neck was intact. He sewed up the wind-pipe, and did all that he could for the sufferer. The wound was inflicted with a razor, which was found lying on the floor of the hovel, near where he was found. It is said that Bolton, at times, was too fond of drink, and of late had been indulging somewhat freely. Last Thursday he was sent to Wootton with a horse and cart, and on his return journey stayed at the Bell Inn, Enstone. On leaving he drove off somewhat hurriedly, and in endeavouring to pass between two timber carriages near the Bell Inn, ran into one of them, one of the horses attached to which was injured. This and other trouble seemed to weigh upon his mind, and no doubt induced him to commit the rash act. Yesterday [Tuesday] evening he was alive, but in a critical condition."
"Attempted Suicide"
Oxfordshire Weekly News : December 19th 1894 Page 5

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