1868 – 1898

The Groves & Whitnall Partnership...

W.G. Groves was not in fact a party to the contract of sale, but shortly afterwards the new partnership was formed and in deed of 1875 he is shown as being in equal partnership with his father and his friend. Two other members of the family worked for the firm. The second son, Charles Grimble Groves, born 19th September 1849, has also acted as a clerk for Bathe & Newbold, and the third son, James Grimble Groves, born on 24th October, 1854, entered the firm as office boy, when it was first formed in 1868.


 Above: The Original Partnership, Left To Right, W.P.G Groves, A.W. Whitnall, W.G Groves

The brewing trade is in some was conservative, and firms deal for generations with the same customers. This has certainly been the case with Groves & Whitnall, an old cash book covering the period between October 1875, and July 1876, contains the names of firms with which they were still dealing with in 1949, for example hops were bought from A&C Horsley, and sugar from the Manbre Saccharine Company.

At that time there was no beer duty as we know it today, but the following entries appear in the books under the date of 30th July, 1875, figures are in £.s.d

  • Sugar Duty - 92  0  0

  • License - 1  0  0

  • Brewing Moiety - 143  2  6

  • Surcharge - 57  12  0

What periods the last three of these payments cover is not clear, but the sugar duty appears to have been a quarterly levy. The small amount seems unbelievable when compared to the duties of about one million pound paid annually by the company in 1949.

William Peer Grimble Groves died on the 7th November, 1885, and one year after his death his son, James Grimble Groves, was admitted to the partnership as from 7th November, 1886. The partnership agreement stated that Mr. James Grimble Groves had “for many years past been in the employ of the said concern in a confidential capacity and had rendered a great service thereto” In addition to his work with the firm the agreement also permitted him to engage in the mineral water business of Leigh & Co. The circumstances in which the latter business was founded will be mentioned later.

The properties owned by the firm in addition to the brewery, were five fully licensed houses, forty-three beer houses with sundry pots of land, shops and cottages. The brewery itself had been largely rebuilt in 1882. After James Grimble Groves became a partner, the business expanded rapidly and a large number of licenses were acquired, although most of the trade was free, in 1886, John Edward Grimble Groves, the youngest son of the founder, born in 1863 joined the firm as an employee, he had been previously been training as an architect.

On the 5th January, 1889, tragedy struck at Regent Road, there was a build of pressure in one of the company's steam yeast presses at the brewery, this then caused an explosion causing horrific injuries to the employee who was looking after it, Mr. John Wilkes, aged 47, he died 2 days later on the Saturday in Salford infirmary from his injuries.


Arthur William Whitnall died on 20th February 1890, at the early age of forty two. The next deed of partnership was dated 26th May 1891, the parties being the surviving partners, William Grimble Groves and James Grimble Groves. The properties were then seventy four freeholds and thirty two leaseholds. Free trade still formed a large proportion of the firm’s business. One effect of this free trade carried on by the firm and, indeed, by the majority of the breweries in those days, was that a remarkable variety of beers and ales were brewed.

It was during the 1890’s that Groves & Whitnall became locally famous for a particular brew known as mild as Mild C Ale. This remained a firm favorite thereafter, through the limitation of materials; Groves & Whitnall were forced to cease the brewing of it from 1939 to 1949. In the celebration of the company’s Golden Jubilee it was once again introduced into their houses and received with great favor, the final deed of partnership was dated 20th February, 1895, in the form of a supplementary deed endorsed at the end of the deed of 1891. This partnership lasted until the sale of the business to Groves & Whitnall Limited, on the 31st December 1898.

In this brief sketch of the business, before it was established as a Limited company, you will note its remarkable progress between the foundation of the partnership in 1868 and the end of the century.

·         1868 – Brewery and no licensed houses owned by the firm, valued at £9.000

·         1888 – Rebuilt Brewery and forty eight licensed houses, valued at £99.000

·         1898 – Brewery and 591 licensed houses valued at £1,019,488

This expansion was certainly due to the fact that the partners were men of energy, alive to the opportunities of the times; they fulfilled what the times required by giving the best service to their customers, most of them originally free houses, and by brewing the best possible beer. The excellence of the beers was largely due to the discrimination of A.W. Whitnall, who secured the services of a fine brewer, Mr. Charles Henry Hill, by personal and practical tests, the test of the consumer.

Regent Road 1Above: The Regent Road Brewery In Salford

A few years after Mr. Whitnall entered into the partnership with Mr. William Peer Grimble Groves and his son, Mr. William Grimble Groves, he decided that the first essential to success was to produce the best beer in the district. To make sure of this he set to work systematically to taste all the brews of Manchester and Salford, a formidable task, and after prolonged sampling , decided (and he was a good judge of beers) that those produced by a small firm in Ardwick, named Beaumont & Heathcote, were quite outstanding. Accordingly he approached their brewer, Mr. Hill and offered him the position of head brewer. Mr. Hill discussed the matter with his employers, who, he said, had treated him with the upmost fairness and consideration. Somewhat to his surprise, he was told to accept the offer as there were “plenty of other brewers available”.

That decided the matter for Mr. Hill and he joined Groves & Whitnall in 1875. Soon after he commenced his new duties it was quite evident that Mr. Whitnall’s judgement had been sound and the sales of the company’s beers made rapid progress, so popular did they become that there soon was a long waiting list of would-be customers. Mr. Hill was a born brewer with a natural instinct for his job, relying only “empirical methods” he achieved results which others n his profession only succeeded in doing later after long scientific training.

On one occasion, whilst W. Peer Groves, grandson of the founder and then a young assistant brewer at the Alexandra Brewery, was in the laboratory, Mr. Hill accidently touched, and bent, the indicator needle of the scales. “I am a bit clumsy with these scientific gadgets” he exclaimed. “My nephew is the scientific chap. They call me a rule of thumb brewer and (spreading out his hands) if you’ve got thumbs like these you can do without science”. The results certainly justified his assertion.

The nephew was a Mr. Francis Haigh, whom three generations were appreciated for his devoted service to the company, and who retired as head brewer in 1948, on the formation of the company on 27th February, 1899, Mr. Hill became a director. In the afternoon of 12th August 1900, he went for a drive in the country in a wagonette, and whilst he was enjoying a glass of beer at “The White Hart,” Cheadle, Mr. Whitaker, his assistant brewer, came by on horseback. The latter dismounted and chatted with Mr. Hill, who insisted on standing his horse a gallon of beer, which it drank with great relish. When they parted, Mr. Hill was apparently in the best of health and spirits, but shortly after arriving home at his home in Whalley Range he had a seizure and died in an hour or two.

Charles Henry Hill

In addition to the personalities already mentioned, the name of Mr. William Gilbert Worthington must also be mentioned, the latter joined Groves & Whitnall in 1882 as a traveler and proved himself extremely successful in opening up free trade, By the close of the century he had become one of the most valued members of the staff and was “brought inside” by the partners to assist in looking after the properties they were then so rapidly acquiring. He was the father of the 1949 managing director, Mr. G. Worthington.