Malting and Brewing
Malting and brewing began in Wellington long before the Nineteenth Century and was recorded in the town by 1601. When the Victorian era began, most publicans brewed their own beer, relying on local maltsters to provide them with the raw materials to carry out the process. In 1840, there were at least 10 malthouses in Wellington providing this service, although some public houses, such as The Raven in Walker Street (currently known as ‘Rasputin’s’) had their own facilities. By 1861, there were still 21 maltsters, malt men and malt makers working in the town, but by then the trade was beginning to turn from a cottage industry into a large-scale commercial operation.
Brewing Comes To Town
One of the catalysts for this change was the opening of the Shropshire Brewery by Richard Taylor in 1851. Located on the corner of Holyhead Road and New Church Road (which later became known as Brewery Street) the premises were supplied with water by a well that was over 200 feet deep and is still exists today. Taylor later sold the concern to JG Wackrill (who also built Sunnycroft, the National Trust property) and he extended the premises to incorporate a new malting in 1883.
The increasing importance of brewing as one of Wellington’s key Victorian industries was demonstrated by the establishment of several other businesses in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. In 1877, Edwin Pritchard and Company opened the Union Brewery in the old Parish Workhouse on Walker Street, where it remained until its closure in 1921. Another local firm, The Red Lion Brewery Company (previously known as the Millfields Brewery), which had been situated on the corner of King Street and Regent Street went out of business only three years later, in 1924.
The Wrekin Brewery
However, it was not all bad news. Wellington’s most successful brewing concern was established in 1870, when Thomas Taylor founded the Wrekin Brewery Company in Market Street. After many takeovers, the business became a limited liability company in 1922 and was eventually acquired by O.D Murphy, who later gained a controlling interest in the firm. Murphy already owned the former Shropshire Brewery buildings in Holyhead Road, which he had purchased in 1912 and reopened as the Wrekin Mineral Water Works. As part of the conditions of sale, it was agreed that no further brewing would take place on the site, which then became a bottling plant for a wide variety of soft drinks and beers made by national brewers, earning the premises the nickname of the ‘Pop Works’. The Shropshire Brewery name was later transferred to the Wrekin Works in Market Street and under his family’s stewardship, the Wrekin Brewery Company went on to become an important regional beer producer that owned over 200 public houses across the Midlands and Wales by the 1960s
The business continued to play a vital role in Wellington’s local economy for many years after the Victorian period and the distinctive smell of fermenting beer could be smelt hanging over the town on Mondays and Thursdays when brewing of the ‘Famous Wrekin Ales’ was carried out. However, the situation was to change dramatically in February 1969 when the Company closed, having been sold to the Greenall Whitley group only a few years earlier. The brewery and its many buildings were demolished during the 1970s and Wilkinson’s hardware store now occupies the site. The Wrekin Mineral Water Works on Holyhead Road, at one time a major supplier for the whole of Shropshire, closed during the 1960s and was later swept away by the Telford Development Corporation, leaving us with no trace of one of Wellington’s best known and successful businesses.
There are still some visible reminders of the town’s proud brewing tradition to be seen today, many of them on the course of the ‘Victorian Wellington’ walk. Heading back into town along Whitchurch Road from the direction of The Crescent, some excellent examples of Victorian era malthouses are situated at The Lawns, a small cul-de-sac located just behind Park Street. In the Nineteenth Century, this area was known as Back Alley and, in 1861, two ‘Maltmen’, Robert Richards and John Davies, both carried on their trade here. Across the other side of the town centre, the telephone exchange in Bridge Road occupies the site of the last working malthouse in Wellington, which closed during the 1960s. Although no trace of the building remains, its presence is commemorated in the name of ‘The Maltings’ housing development, off Alexandra Road.