John Smith's and Samuel Smith's

The story of how the Smith family came to run two breweries in Tadcaster is quite complicated. The best source I found is on Tadcaster's own official site (archived on the Wayback Machine), which is cited by Wikipedia.

Brewing in Tadcaster dates from the 14th century. It was probably in 1748 that 19–year–old Stephen Hartley began working as a manager of a thriving brewery in the town, which had been owned by one Thomas Beaumont and was being kept going by his widow Ann. She retired in 1772, whereupon Stephen Hartley bought the business. He was later joined by his son William.

After some years of prosperous trading the business began to decline, and in 1816 it became necessary to raise money by mortgaging the brewery to Richard Turfitt, seedman and maltster. The decline continued however, and in 1819 Stephen and William Hartley (described as 'common brewers and chapmen') were declared bankrupt.

In 1845, after many uncertain years, William Hartley's widow, Jane, was forced to mortgage the brewery. Two years later the new owners negotiated with Samuel Smith, a tanner based in Leeds, for the entry into the business of his second son, John. No doubt the Smiths were able to invest some much–needed capital, as from this time the brewery began to make progress. After the death of Jane Hartley in 1852, John Smith bought the premises, bringing in his brother William to help him.

The timing was fortuitous for the Smiths. Not only were local markets thriving with the increase of industry in the West Riding, but pale ales were replacing porters in the taste of the British drinking classes, and the hard water of Tadcaster was well suited to their production. With the help of their two nephews, Frank and Henry Riley (the sons of their sister Sarah Riley), John and William Smith built the business up to a value of around £45,000 (the equivalent of £4.1 million in 2016).

In 1873, John Smith bought a large tract of land adjacent to the brewery. He employed architects to design a new brewery of considerable grandeur, using stone from his own quarries at Toulston, just outside Tadcaster. But he didn't live to see the completion of this building, which cost £130,000 to build, as he died in 1879.

Under the terms of John Smith's will, the old brewery passed to his brothers, Samuel and William, as tenants in common for their lifetime. On the death of either, it would go to the surviving brother; after that it was entailed on the heirs of Samuel, since William was unmarried and had no children.

William Smith soon bought his brother's share of the business, as Samuel had taken over the tanning business from Samuel Senior and had no experience of the brewing trade. But under the terms of John Smith's will, the old brewery would still pass to Samuel Smith III (the eldest son of Samuel Jr) on William's death. William seems to have resented this, which is understandable as neither his brother nor his nephew Samuel had played any part in building the business up to where it was. He wanted his business to pass to his nephews Frank and Henry (on the condition that they change their name to Riley–Smith). He therefore hurried to complete the building of the new brewery, which was not covered by John Smith's will. As soon as possible he transferred the stock, equipment and trade name into the new brewery, leaving the old one empty.

On William's death in 1886, the new John Smith's brewery duly passed to Frank and Henry Riley–Smith, and the old one to their cousin, Samuel Smith III. The former continued to go from strength to strength, while the buoyancy of the brewing trade was such that Samuel was able to re–equip the old brewery, open it in his own name, and run it in competition with the Riley–Smiths.

There was never any love lost between the two businesses. John Smith's continued to grow rapidly, and became a powerful national brand, but then it got caught up in the wave of twentieth century mergers and acquisitions, being swallowed up first by the Courage Group and then by Heineken. Samuel Smith's on the other hand remained relatively small, trading locally but achieving an international reputation for the quality of its beers.

In many ways the battle was one between tradition and technology. As a beer drinker, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

© Haydn Thompson 2019