Celebrity Big Brewer

What do the following people have in common: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, celebrity chef and TV presenter; Helena Bonham Carter, Oscar-nominated film actress; Lord Brocket, failed insurance fraudster and I’m a Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here contestant; and Kirstie Allsopp, presenter of the television programme Location, Location, Location?

The answer is that all four are descended from families that once owned substantial breweries (though only Lord Brocket’s ancestor’s brewery is running under its original name today, and that after many decades under a different name entirely).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, nicknamed “Hugh Fearlessly-eatsitall” after he cooked roadkill and a human placenta on his TV programmes, actually owes his name to his family’s entry into the brewing industry. His ancestor, Edmund Fearnley was a “beast salesman” at Smithfield meat market in London (which may explain Hugh’s notoriously carnivorous habits – perhaps he inherited them) when his several-removes cousin George Whittingstall willed him a stake in a brewery in Watford, Hertfordshire in 1822. Edmund moved into the brewer’s house, and changed his name by royal licence in 1825 to Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Edmund Fearnley-Whittingstall’s son, also called George, sold the brewery in 1862 to the Sedgwick family (it closed in 1924, taken over by its rival Benskin’s across the road, which was itself taken over by Ind Coope in 1957). But he continued to have an interest in the brewing industry, being one of the original directors of the Lion Brewery Co, former in 1865 to run Goding’s Lion Brewery on the South Bank in London, where the Royal Festival Hall now stands. The Lion brewery was acquired by Hoare & Co, whose brewery stood close by St Katharine’s Dock on the eastern side of the City of London and closed in 1923 (the Coade stone lion that once stood on top of the Lion Brewery facing the Thames now stands by Waterloo Bridge, while the smaller lion that guarded the back of the brewery is now at Twickenham Rugby Football Ground).

Helena Bonham Carter also owes her name to her ancestors’ involvement in the brewery business. William Pike founded the Penny Street brewery in Portsmouth in 1719. His two daughters married, respectively, men called Bonham and Carter, and his 10 grandchildren inherited the brewery. Eventually William Pike’s great-grandson John Carter inherited the Bonham side’s share in 1826 and changed his name to Bonham Carter, though the brewery continued to be called Pike’s until it merged with another Portsmouth concern. Spicer’s brewery, in 1849 to form Pike, Spicer & Co. Pike, Spicer was taken over by Portsmouth’s biggest brewers, Brickwood’s, in 1911. But by then the Bonham Carters were operating far from their brewing roots, with Maurice Bonham Carter, Helena’s grandfather, a leading power in the Liberal Party. Iin 1915 Maurice married Victoria Asquith, daughter of the former Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith.

While Helena’s grandmother and sister were both given titles, neither properly qualifies as a member of “the beerage”, the jokey name for the many British brewers whose wealth, based on millions of pints of beer sold at two (old) pence a time, brought them a seat in the House of Lords. One who does deserve a place in the “beerage” is Lord Brocket, Charles Nall-Cain, the great-great grandson of Robert Cain. Robert was an Irishman who entered the brewing business in Liverpool in 1848, building the Mersey Brewery in Stanhope Street, Toxteth two years later. Cain’s prospered, and merged in 1921 with Walker’s of Warrington to form Walker Cain, with the Stanhope Street brewery being sold to another Liverpool brewer, Daniel Higson, in 1923 (I had a girlfriend at Liverpool University in the 1970s, and visiting Merseyside was always a pleasure, not just to see her, but for Higson’s beers, and Higson’s excellent and character-filled pubs). Robert Cain’s son, Charles, chairman of Walker Cain, who had moved to Hertfordshire, became the first Baron Brocket of Brocket Hall in 1933. The first Lord Brocket, when he was Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, paid for the grant of arms to Hertfordshire County Council, and gave the council his own family motto, “Trust and Fear Not”, to bear under the county arms. The policemen who nicked the third Lord Brocket for insurance fraud thus carried warrent cards that, bearing the Hertfordshire arms and motto, connected directly to his ancestor …

Walker Cain merged with Tetley’s of Leeds in 1960 to form Tetley Walker, which joined up with Ind Coope of Romford and Burton and Ansells of Birmingham shortly afterwards to make Allied Breweries – later Carlsberg-Tetley. Meanwhile Higson’s was acquired by the Manchester brewer Boddington’s in 1985, and closed in 1990. Soon after, however, it reopened as an independent brewery under the name of its founder, Robert Cain, with Cain’s descendant, Lord Brocket, performing the opening ceremony. Today Cain’s is thriving under its current owners, the Dusanj brothers.

Kirstie Allsopp’s family is another member of the “beerage’, her father being the sixth Lord Hindlip. This was a title granted in 1886 to Henry Allsopp, third son of Samuel Allsopp, who had bought his uncle Benjamin Wilson’s brewery in Burton upon Trent in 1807. Samuel Allsopp famously pioneered the brewing of pale ale for the Indian market in Burton, and, with Bass, his was one of the two greatest breweries in the “capital” of British brewing. Allsopp’s merged with its Burton neighbour Ind Coope in 1934 to make Ind Coope & Allsopp, at the time Britain’s biggest brewer.

There were 2,500 “common” brewers (that is, not pub brewers) in Britain in 1870, so there must be a large number of people, besides the four celebrities here, descended from brewing families: around half a million, very roughly. Perhaps a quarter of those, say 125,000 people, will be like three of our four celebrities, Hugh F-W, Kirstie A, and Charlie Brocket, and their families’ former breweries are part of the “ancestry” of Carlsberg-Tetley. It’s a tribe linked by beer and history, but unknown to themselves, let alone each other, like the woman I once worked with on Campaign magazine. Her ancestor was Edward Major-Lucas of the Victoria brewery in Northampton, which perches on another twig of the Carlsberg-Tetley “family tree”. She knew about her two or three greats-grandfather’s brewery, but had no idea what happened to it – or that she was united through it to a TV chef, a baron’s daughter and a man who’d done time for pretending his vintage Ferraris had been stolen.

0 thoughts on “Celebrity Big Brewer

  1. I am glad to see that the allsops are still keeping up the family tradition. This comes from the allsopps here in the united states. Keep up the great work.

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