1939 – 1945

Groves & Whitnall, The Second World War...

At the outbreak of the 1939 war the Directors of Groves & Whitnall took various steps to safe guard the company's interests. Air raid shelters were constructed, wardens posts were established and fire fighting squads trained to deal with incendiary bombs. The deeds, securities and many important books and papers were removed to a safe deposit, and spare stores, etc., were dispersed amongst the company's outlying properties. The stocks of malt, hops and other brewing materials were kept at low margins. The Manchester and District Brewers entered into an agreement to brew for one another in an emergency, so that even if a brewery was destroyed its houses could still be supplied.

These precautions helped to lessen the blow which was soon to come. On Sunday evening 22nd December, 1940, during a heavy air attack on the Manchester District, a large bomb exploded in Wilburn Street, adjoining the brewery, and seriously damaged the cooperage, the cask washing plant and buildings and garage. The blast also destroyed all the cottages in Wilburn Street owned by the company, a crowded area of two acres, and blew off the roof of part of the main buildings. There was no loss of life in the brewery itself, At 7.30pm on the following evening, 23rd December, a landmine, dropped by parachute, hit the factory offices. Nothing was left of that fine range of buildings, or the older part of the Globe Works, except a great crater and a pile of debris strewn across Regent Road.


Above: All That Remained Of The Offices & Globe Works

Mrs. Bentley, the caretaker, who lived above the offices and had refused to move out of Manchester, lost her life at her post, and also did Bunting, a member of the Globe Works fire brigade. Fire followed the main explosion and the debris smouldered for more than a week. Regent Road was impassable for three days. Fortunately the concrete and steel wing of the Globe Works, built in 1939, withstood the shock, thus saving most of the bottling plant and machinery. Incendiary bombs, however struck this building and the adjoining Wine and Spirit Stores, starting many fires, all of which were put out by the Globe Works Fire Brigade, who stuck to their task until well into the following day preventing still greater loss.

Globe Fire Brigade

Above: The Fire Fighters & Their Horse Drawn Tender

The Valuable stock in the Wine and Spirit Department and the beer in the Globe Works cold rooms was luckily undamaged, whilst across Regent Road in the brewery, the two brew houses with their vital plant were intact, whilst all the beer in the fermenting room was unharmed. Brewing itself was not recommenced until 17th January, but meanwhile the prompt and energetic measures taken by the Directors, the staff and the work people enabled deliveries to Groves & Whitnall's customers to be continued without interruption. Inquires were at once made for new offices and fortunately the company were able to find a home at 274 Deansgate. On both night of the Blitz the large "C" cellar beneath the garages had been thrown open to the public and formed a shelter for several hundred people from Wilburn Street, Lyth Street and surrounding districts. The majority of these families had their homes totally destroyed, but suffered few casualties owing to the shelter Groves and Whitnall were able to offer them. A difficult problem caused by the destruction of the offices, was the loss of most of the then current books and records. Many of these were eventually recovered from the debris over a period of several weeks. Some, however, were totally destroyed and others badly damaged. It took many months of painstaking work to decipher the remains and build up any missing details.


Above: Bomb Damage To The Brewery Looking Across Regent Road

One other Blitz loss remains to mentioned. Groves and Whitnall lost a great quantity of spirits and wines, destroyed in the Manchester Bonding Company's warehouse, a serious misfortune that had a knock on effect on supply. The morale of all the staff and employees, throughout the difficult period, was beyond praise from the company. During the following days many of them, in intervals of searching the still smouldering ruins, took turns in reliving the fire service on the hoses. For several months in bitter weather, the men and girls of the bottling works carried on their task of producing the firm's bottled goods under the most severe conditions with about one third of them worked totally in the open air, with their only comfort the doubtful warmth of coke braziers, the rest in roofless and windowless buildings. A few days after the Blitz a meeting was held of all Manchester, Salford and neighboring brewers who arranged that help should be given to firms that had suffered. Nine other breweries supplied Groves & Whitnall including Jewsbury & Brown until they were able to go back into full production, In later bombings other local breweries were damaged and Groves & Whitnall, in our turn, supplied them with part of their requirements.

In addition to the great air raids of 22nd and 23rd December, 1940, Manchester, Salford and district received many other attacks. Groves & Whitnall's properties suffered heavily as shown in the following figures, Licensed properties destroyed, 12. Licensed properties damaged, 215. Unlicensed properties destroyed, 110. Unlicensed properties damaged, 528.


About half the Company's houses in the built up area suffered destruction or severe damage. This caused an immense amount of work in effecting repairs and making out the details for war damage claims. As the war proceeded and on one hand the demand for beer, in particular for bottled beers, increased and on the other hand the Government was forced to limit supplies of raw materials to the brewers, a position similar to that of 1914-1918 gradually arose, despite the passing of regulations to keep up the quantity of beer brewed by the reduction of the average gravity. The supplies to houses, especially those in the neighborhood of forces camps and depots, being insufficient, the hard pressed licensees were in many cases inclined to sell out within two or three days of receiving their deliveries and to remain closed for up to five days each week.

GW Truck

Above: A Groves & Whitnall War Time Delivery Truck

A period of almost "panic drinking" began. On evenings when the majority of houses in a certain area were closed, the remaining houses became packed to the doors and thousands of people streamed into surrounding districts, searching for an open house. Both wholesalers and retailers, fully realizing that this scramble was not in the best interests of the public, determined to end it. During a series of meetings between brewers, licensees and local Licensing Justices, various rationing plans were formed. These plans, of which there were several variations worked roughly as follows. The landlord of each house divided his weekly supplies into nine rations. He then limited, so far as possible, his sales for each day of the week as, One-ninth - each day, Sunday To Thursday. Two-ninths - each day, Friday and Saturday. Thus the public could be reasonably sure that their favorite local would be open on time each night. This rationing certainly ended the "panic" and thus the trade, without prompting, served the public to the best of its capacity throughout a period of shortage.

Ordsall Lane

Above: Ordsall Lane Salford, Leveled to the ground by a German landmine dropped by parachute on 22nd December 1940, Groves & Whitnall brewery can be seen to the left of the photo with the chimney sustained damage in the attack.

The Company's profits, like those of nearly all industrial Companies, rose substantially, although most of the of the increase was taken by the state in Excess Profits Tax. It was possible, however, after strengthening the reserves, to make the following moderate increases in the rate of dividend above the rate of 12.5% which had been maintained for the previous eight years. 1942-1944, 13.5%. 1945, 13.5% and Victory Bonus 1.5%. 1946-1947, 13.5% and 1.5% Bonus. Opportunity was taken to provide for future taxation so as to cover the estimated liability for income tax on profits to the date of the balance sheet, thus bringing this item into conformity with the recommendation of the Institute Of Chartered Accountants. In 1946 and 1947 a total of £76,000 was set aside for this purpose, also in 1946, a further £60,000 was written off properties, especially in writing down the book value of De-licensed houses.