The story of the Bullards Brewery goes way back to the days when a pint was pulled in the shadow of its brewery. It was a time when the brewery was at the heart of the community – providing work for hundreds of men and women. It was part of the social history of Norwich, and was to provide a collection of warm reminiscences that illuminated that most distant of times and helped to define the city.
It all started on the 8th February 1808 when a Richard Bullard was born in the Parish of St John Maddermarket; and at that time there were about twenty-seven breweries in Norwich. When Richard was twenty-years of age he married and went to live at the top of Oak Street, in Norwich, where he was ‘Overseer of the Parish’ for a time. After several more moves, which included to the parishes of Coslany, St Lawrence and St Giles, he took on the old dye office near St Miles Bridge where, in partnership with James Watts, he founded the Anchor Brewery on Westwick Street; that was in 1837, when his family had grown to three children – all girls. The site of the brewery was well-placed for, from it, the brewery was able to draw high quality water from a deep artesian well and receive its grain and hops by wherry along the River Wensum which flowed close to the brewery walls.
Copyright ©Barry Roberts Norfolk Bottles
The partnership between Richard Bullard and James Watts was, however, relatively short-lived, being dissolved on 24th June 1847 following Jame’s loss of interest in playing any part in the business. Richard Bullard, now a father of six children, was left to go it alone as sole proprietor; but being a good Brewer and with ‘a head on his shoulders’ his business seemed to have little difficulty in prospering very quickly thereafter. So much so that more buildings were to be needed; surrounding properties purchased; and new premises erected. The brewery was also to build up an extensive tied estate, largely through taking over smaller breweries; not for their brewing capacity, but for their tied houses.
Bullards Chimney. Photo:Courtesy of Picture Norfolk and Reggie Unthank
Richard Bullard died in 1864. His Obituary said:
“The deceased, well known as a brewer and merchant, of extensive business, sprang from very humble beginnings. By industry and constant application, he made the best use of the the good intellect he was gifted with, and steadily raised himself to a foremost position amongst the traders of this city…….. young men [should know] that it is possible by energy, industry, and business talent to force their way even now-a-day through the great obstacles.”
As a consequence of Richard Bullard’s passing, it was announced that the firm would continue as BULLARD & SONS. The sons in question were Harry, Charley and Fred Bullard – young partners headed by Harry Bullard. It would be Harry who would make his mark, becoming Sheriff of Norwich in 1877 and Mayor in 1878, 1879 and 1886 when he was also knighted by Queen Victoria. Probably not contented with that, he was then elected as MP for Norwich in 1890 and 1895.
Just as an aside; in May 1888, Bullard & Sons advertised a Light Bitter Ale, specially adapted for Family use at 9s per Firkin – put another way, the price of this beer was 1½d per pint! The timing for this tipple was well timed for the Annual Outing of staff employed at the Anchor Brewery again took place on the Friday of 21st September that year:
“As on former occasions, the wives of workmen were included in the party and every man was given 3s to pay for tea and extra refreshments. The train fares and dinner were included in the treat.
The assembled party departed in twenty carriages from Platform 6 of Thorpe Station, punctually at nine o’clock. It was estimated that upwards of 700 persons were most liberally and hospitably entertained at Yarmouth by Messrs. Bullard & Son. Lady Bullard honoured the party by travelling with a large gathering of special friends, in a special carriage. Free admission was given to Britannia Pier. Switchback rides, De Cone’s Magical Entertainment and Miss Webb’s Swimming Exhibition were available at half price – but only on production of his or her rail ticket. Dinner was at 1:30 at the Aquarium where Sir Harry Bullard was loudly cheered – and who would not cheer a man who had orchestrated a free day out for them! Fred Bullard added that the Company looked forward to many such outings in future years, to which more cheers came forth from the assembled employees. In the late afternoon the party departed from Yarmouth, arriving at Thorpe Station, Norwich at 10:40pm. It was never recorded when the last returnee went to bed.”
Over the years the business prospered and by the end of the century it occupied a seven-acre site, and by 1914 the company’s estate included 133 premises in Norwich. The business went on to own over 1,000 public houses. All this shows that the story of Bullards was one which ran alongside those of other main breweries in Norwich, such as Steward & Patteson, Young’s Crawshay and Youngs, Morgans which, together, played such a leading role in the life of the city.
The following is a quote from the book ‘Men Who Have Made Norwich’, By Edward & Wilfred E Burgess and first published 1904:
“A visit to the Anchor Brewery, and an inspection of the various processes incidental to brewing, is not a light task. One has no time to visit the various maltings, for they are scattered throughout various parts of the city and county. Arriving at the brewery proper, Mr. W. J. Moore, the head foreman, conducts us up the steps to the landing stage, where the malt, just arrived from the maltings, is hoisted to the platform. The malt is next shot through hoppers into the rolling mill, where it is cleansed, crushed and otherwise treated in patent machines, previous to its appearance in the mash tun.”
In 1958 Bullards acquired their Norwich rivals Youngs, Crawshay & Youngs. Three years later they joined with Steward & Patteson to take over Morgans. At this time their position must have seemed unassailable but the two victorious chairmen made a huge mistake. Their target wasn’t Morgans’ brewery but its tied estate, and so they sold the brewery on to the national firm, Watney Mann. As part of that deal it was agreed that Watneys could sell its beers in Steward & Patteson and Bullards pubs, and soon Watneys were outselling the local brews. In the background of all this activity, Watney was purchasing Bullards’ shares, and by 1963 they had taken it over; to be followed three years later with the parent company closing the Anchor brewery. In 1972 the site was sold to a property developer and it is now the site of the appropriately named ‘Anchor Quay’ residential development.
FOOTNOTE: Someone once said that the Fat Man poster (below) that used to advertise Bullard’s beers depicted an overweight person who just might have watered the workers’ beer! There he stands in the doorway of a pub, one hand on a substantial hip, the other grasping what may have been a Bullard’s Old Winter Warmer or, let’s face it, any other of the once thriving Norwich company’s nourishing beers.
The Bullards Fat Man was a little piece of magical artwork from the brush of a young Alfred Munnings – before he went on to become one of the best loved artists. The story goes that he was on holiday at the time and The Fat Man was simply a doodle sent as a postcard to a close friend in the Bullard family in 1909. That person liked it so much that it became the company’s advertising logo until the brewery was closed by Watney Mann some sixty years later. Over the years the much-loved Fat Man became a symbol of good Norfolk ale – welcoming both regulars and visitors to Bullards pubs across the city and county.
Gurney-Read, J., Trades & Industries of Norwich, Gliddon Books, 1988.
Twinch, C., Norwich Book of Days, The History Press, 2012.
George Plunkett photographs by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett
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