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Eldridge Pope was a traditional brewery situated in Dorchester, Dorset in England. The brewery opened in 1881, and was run by a limited company - Eldridge Pope Limited - following the incorporation of that company on 2 March 1898. Following the sale of the brewery site to a property firm, the brewery closed in July 2003. In 2007, the pub estate was acquired by Marstons. The company's best-known brands are now brewed under licence by Dorset and Devon-based micro-breweries. The site of its former brewery is currently being redeveloped under the name of Brewery Square.
The origins of Eldridge Pope can be traced back to 1837, when hotel landlord Charles Eldridge and his wife Sarah bought the Green Dragon Brewery in Dorchester. Together they turned the Brewery into a thriving small business, and following Charles’s death in 1846, Sarah continued to run it in partnership with local brewer Samuel Mason, under the trading name 'Eldridge, Mason & Co'.
Upon his retirement in 1870, Mason sold his stake in the Brewery to Edwin Pope and his younger sibling Alfred Pope. Sarah Eldridge’s son-in-law John Tizard inherited her share of the business, and when he died in 1871 the Popes assumed full control.
By 1879 the company had outgrown its old premises, and the Pope brothers wanted to build a large new brewery to satisfy their expansion plans for the company. They bought up four acres of land next to the railway line, and commissioned distinguished local architect W.R Crickmay to design the new structure.
The new brewery was officially opened in 1881, and very quickly became the biggest employer in Dorchester. Sixteen years later the Pope brothers floated the business, forming a new limited company under the name ‘Eldridge Pope & Co. Limited’.
The following decades saw the next generation of the Pope family take over the running of the company. In 1921 Clement Pope, son of Alfred, created the Huntsman trademark, which became one of the most recognizable and popular brands associated with the company.
In 1922 a huge fire ripped through the brewery, damaging much of the brewhouse and several other buildings. It was not until 1925 that the rebuilding work was completed and the brewery was able to produce beer again.
Denis Edwin Holliday was head brewer at Eldridge Pope throughout the 1960s and 70s. This era was associated with the production of popular real ales such as Royal Oak and Thomas Hardy's Ale. Holliday also had an entry in the Guinness Book of Records, 1978 edition, for brewing the strongest commercially brewed beer.
In 1997, the management of the brewery bought the business but not the site. They called their company Thomas Hardy Brewery & Packaging. In 1998, Thomas Hardy acquired another brewery in Burtonwood to form Thomas Hardy Burtonwood.
In 2003, Thomas Hardy Burtonwood offered to buy the site from Eldridge Pope for £8m but the offer was declined. Instead, Eldridge Pope sold the site to property company Landworth Properties. Landworth then raised the rent to what the brewery felt to be an uneconomic level causing it to cease its business there with the loss of 57 jobs.
One year after the brewery's closure, the family lost control of the business to pubs entrepreneur Michael Cannon who acquired the pubs for £40m plus £42m debt. He identified the need for a three-year, £14m investment programme and a focus on increasing disappointing food sales. He injected his Que Pasa bar chain into the business. The company (latterly known as Eldridge Pope Inns Limited or EP Limited) continued to operate for a further three years under Michael Cannon's management. In January 2007, the assets of Eldridge Pope Inns Limited were sold to Marstons plc for £155m. Eldridge Pope Inns Limited was dissolved by voluntary strike-off on 16 February 2010. Michael Cannon and his fellow shareholders who included many members of the Eldridge Pope family made a return of 2.8 times his original investment after turning the business around.
The site of the Eldridge Pope Brewery is being developed into a thriving quarter with restaurants, shops and apartments. A hotel and arts centre will also be part of this five year (or more) development.