Benskins office building, now Watford Museum
194 High Street,|
While Benskins has not existed as an independent company for over half a century, the brand continues to be well known in north London and Hertfordshire, through being used as a brand name on many tied houses into the 1990s, and in some cases later.
Benskins had its roots in the brewery founded in Watford by John Pope, a local miller and baker around 1693. The brewery was inherited by his second son, Daniel Pope in 1722, and passed to Daniel's sister Sarah Pope and her husband William Dyson in 1741 at his death.
For the next three generations part of the brewery was inherited by a John Dyson (son, grandson, and great-grandson of Sarah Pope and William Dyson) each of whom bought out his co-heirs. When the third John Dyson died in 1867 the brewery was sold at auction to retired London hotelier Joseph Benskin and Watford draper William Bradley for £34,000. Bradley soon left the partnership, and in 1870 Benskin continued alone.
Upon Joseph's death in 1877, the management of the brewery passed to his widow Maria, and their second son John Pusey Benskin. His third son Thomas Benskin became a partner in 1884, bringing to the company James Panton of the Wareham Brewery in Dorset, reputed to be the first person to study scientific brewing at University College, London. Thomas' son Eric Seagrave Benskin later became a director, and Colonel William Briggs, husband of Doris Benskins was appointed to the board in 1908, latterly becoming chairman.
The brewery as taken over by Benskin and Bradley in 1867 was one of the smaller Hertfordshire brewers of the time, with 42 tied houses in its estate. However over the following ninety years Benskins became predominant in the area, ultimately acquiring all other Watford breweries; Healey's in 1898, Sedgwick's in 1923, and Wells' Watford Brewery in 1951. Healey's had previously, in the months prior to its acquisition, purchased the Victoria Brewery on St Albans Road from the Chesham Brewery. Benskins rose to become the only regional brewer Hertfordshire ever produced, and during its life its estate included pubs, beer houses and off-licences not only in its home county, but as far afield as Sussex, Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent and Greater London.
The brewery remained a family business until a take-over bid was accepted from Ind Coope on 13 March 1957. In 1959 Ind Coope merged with Ansells, and Taylor Walker & Co to form Allied Breweries. At the time of the sale to Ind Coope, the Benskins estate numbered 636 pubs and hotels, and 16 off-licences.
The Benskins name was retained for a number of years after the sale, and brewing continued at Watford until 1972. Despite the closure of the Cannon Brewery site, and its subsequent demolition in 1979, the brand was again revived and applied to a number of pubs in the Allied estate during the early 1980s. A new beer, Benskins Best Bitter, went into production in mid-1980 as part of the relaunch, however this was brewed in Romford and bore no resemblance to any of the original Watford ales. Benskins continued to trade as a separate business unit, Ind Coope Benskins Limited, although now existing only to manage the tied estate, and maintained its head office in Watford during this time. Occupying the former Clarendon Hotel on Station Road, the hotel's original accommodation repurposed as offices whilst the former stables were converted into a new pub named after Benskins' famous logo - The Pennant (latterly The Flag and Firkin, currently The Flag). Benskins Best Bitter continued to be produced in Burton-upon-Trent until it ceased production in 2002.
Beers brewed under the Benskins name, either by Benskins at the Watford Cannon Brewery or by Ind Coope at Burton-upon-Trent or Romford.
Pale Ales: India Pale Ale, Guinea Ale, Pale Ale, Nut Brown Ale, Light Ale, Light Sparkling Ale
Mild Ales: Pale Mild, XX Ale, XXX Ale, XXXX Ale, KK Cask Mild
Bitters: Best Bitter, Jubilee Beer, Watford FC FA Cup Commemorative Ale 1984
Stouts: Brown Stout, Single Stout, Double Stout, Digestive Stout, Imperial Stout, Porter
Barley Wines: Strong Ale, Colne Spring Ale
Uncategorised: Coronation Ale (ER II), Primrose Ale, Bitter Ale
As of late 2012, Carlsberg UK are again producing a beer under the Benskins name, a limited availability product known as Benskins Smooth Bitter.
Benskins had close ties to the local football team, Watford FC. In 1921 Benskins purchased the current Vicarage Road ground and leased it to the club at a peppercorn rent. In 2001 the club purchased the ground from Punch Taverns, who had inherited the freehold as part of their acquisition of the Allied Domecq estate.
In 2006 the club also purchased the freehold of the Red Lion pub opposite the ground, which had previously been part of the Benskins tied estate. The pub, notable for its external tiling advertising "Benskins Celebrated Watford Ale & Stout" still extant, re-opened briefly between 2012 and 2014 under new ownership, however it was sold on again during 2015. In September 2015 the pub was designated an Asset of Community Value by Watford Council.
A number of other pubs in and around the Watford area still carry Benskins branding, such as the Estcourt Tavern and Nascot Arms in Watford. However, such examples are now increasingly rare. Of particular note is The Holly Bush pub in Hampstead, London, which displayed a number of original brewery artefacts, but was bought by Fuller's in 2010.
The Benskins name lived on for a number of years in the Benskins Morris of Watford, although they themselves have now disbanded.
Before demolition, the wider brewery site was used as a filming location for the "Heroes" episode of the British TV drama series The Professionals.
The former Brewery House of the Cannon Brewery is now home to Watford Museum.
During 2010 the main part of the original brewery site was once again redeveloped after the demise of the Watford Springs swimming pool. During the construction of the Wellspring Centre for Watford Community Church, a 15-metre deep industrial well was discovered, likely to have been the brewery's primary source of water drawn from the River Colne.
- Whitaker, Allan (March 2006). Brewers in Hertfordshire. University of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN 978-0-9542189-7-3.
- www.quaffale.org.uk. "Allied Breweries". www.quaffale.org.uk.
- Harrison, David. "When Saturday Comes - When Saturday Comes". www.wsc.co.uk.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 2009-04-26.
- "Fuller's buys Grade II-listed pub in London". Caterer and Hotelkeeper. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
- "Church moves into new £1.8million home". Watford Observer.