Young’s no longer brew beer

Youngs Brewery LOgo

After 180 years of brewing and selling beer Young’s now have no connection with brewing and have become exclusively a pub owning company. They have sold the 40% stake that they had in Wells & Young’s Brewing Company to their partner the Bedford based Charles Wells.

Beer was brewed commercially at The Ram Brewery in Wandsworth, from the 16th century, until it closed in 2006. The Young family owned the brewery, in one form or another from 1831. Youngs 175th Anniversary BeerOne of the last brews they made was a special limited edition beer to celebrate their 175th anniversary. I managed to get two bottles. I drank one, but I still have the other. I’ll probably drink it at some time in the future, possibly to celebrate my retirement.

Young’s were one of my clients before they closed the The Ram Brewery down. I used to inspect their steam boilers and brewing vessels to make sure that they wouldn’t blow up. I enjoyed going in there, and not just because they gave me the occasional complimentary case of beer. I liked and got on well with the engineering staff from the chief engineer to the boiler-men.

What follows is my take on why Young’s stopped brewing at the Ram Brewery. I may not have all my facts correct, and if you think I am seriously wrong feel free to correct me.

Young’s were essentially a family company. They brewed good beer and provided pleasant places to consume it. I never visited a Young’s pub that had an unfriendly atmosphere. Almost all their pubs provided good food, and some of them provided very good food. They were all places where you could have a good lunch or spent an evening setting the world to rights with your friends over a few pints. To be fair the pub aspect of the business has not changed much.

This was a local business that connected directly with Wandsworth and South London. It employed local people. Although they did export to many parts of the world, most of he beer they brewed travelled no further than ten miles from the brewery. Horse-drawn drays delivered to the pubs close to the brewery

As I said they were essentially a family run company but they were also listed on the London Stock Market. This lead to Guinness Peat, who describe themselves as an “Investment Holding Company”, but are also described by some people in the finance industry as a “Corporate Raider”, acquiring significant shareholdings. Their interest was in extracting shareholder value. By 2006 the financial incentive to sell off the Ram site for development had become too great to resist. Worn down by battles with shareholders, a local authority that was at times less than helpful and terminal cancer, the chairman John Young announced that the brewery would close and that in future Young’s beer would be brewed in Bedford and not Wandsworth. Redundancy followed for almost everyone employed at the brewery but ‘shareholder value’ was upheld.

It is not cause and effect, but I think that the fact that Young’s (brewery as it still says on the pub signs) no longer brews beer has a link to the riots that have taken place in the UK recently. Let me explain why.

I think that most people would agree that a lot of the people involved in the rioting have poor educational achievement, are badly socialised, possibly come from broken families, feel disenfranchised from their community and are probably unemployed. Before the brewery closed it provided jobs for about 200 people in Wandsworth. It provided jobs for people throughout the educational achievement spectrum. There were jobs that required degree level education through to jobs that could probably be managed even if you couldn’t read. There were a lot of people who started work in the brewery when they left school and worked for no-one else until the day they retired.

Working for a company that employs people of all ages exposes a young man or woman to a range of views about life that are not those of his or her peer group. Work in an environment like this socialises teenagers in a way that working in McDonald’s probably does not. Work provides income, which when spent creates more jobs. Work also provides status and dignity. Work provides camaraderie, it often provides a life partner. When the shareholders decided to take the £69 million that Minerva offered for the brewery site all this disappeared.

Ultimately, apart from the fact that one of the acts is legal and the other is not, I’m not that sure there is much difference between Young’s shareholders and a looter stealing a dozen laptops from PC World. Both were essentially grabbing what they could. Neither of them cared about who was hurt or the destruction the process created.

John Young died of cancer whilst the last brew of Wandsworth beer was maturing. His funeral took place on the day that the brewery officially closed.

Development of the Ram Brewery site appears to have stalled.


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