Samuel Whitbread (1720–1796)

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Samuel Whitbread (1720–1796) by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Samuel Whitbread (30 August 1720 – 11 June 1796) was an English brewer and Member of Parliament. In 1742, he established a brewery that in 1799 became Whitbread & Co Ltd.[1]


Southill Park, Bedfordshire

Samuel Whitbread was born at Cardington in Bedfordshire, the seventh of eight children. He left for London aged 14 and became an apprentice to a London brewer, John Witman.

Whitbread became very rich and bought Lord Torrington's Southill Park, Elstow Manor, and other substantial property.[2] When he died on 11 June 1796, The Gentleman's Magazine speculated that he was "worth over a million pounds" (equivalent to £96,580,000 in 2018).


Whitbread went into partnership with Thomas Shewell in 1742, investing £2,600 in two of Shewell's small breweries, the Goat Brewhouse (where porter was produced) and a brewery in Brick Lane (used to produce pale and amber beers).

Demand for the strong, black porter meant the business had to move to larger premises in Chiswell Street in 1750. Starting over, Whitbread invested in all the latest technology to industrialize production,[3] storing the beer in large vats. The brewery was also one of the first to employ a steam engine (purchasing a sun and planet gear engine, the Whitbread Engine, from James Watt's company in 1785).

By 1760, it had become the second largest brewery in London (producing almost 64,000 barrels annually). Five years later Whitbread bought out Shewell for £30,000. By the end of the century, Whitbread's business was London's biggest producer of beer, producing 202,000 barrels in 1796.

In May 1787 the brewery was visited by King George III and Queen Charlotte.

Member of Parliament[edit]

Whitbread was appointed High Sheriff of Hertfordshire for 1767–68 and elected Member of Parliament for Bedford in 1768, and held the seat until 1790,[4] and then represented Steyning from 1792 to 1796. He was an early supporter for the abolition of slavery, took part in some of the anti-slavery debates of 1788 in the House of Commons.[5]


Whitbread married firstly Harriet Hayton, by whom he had two daughters, one of whom, Emma Maria Elizabeth Whitbread, married Henry St John, 13th Baron St John of Bletso, and one son, the politician, Samuel Whitbread. The other daughter, Harriet, married James Gordon MP.[6]

He married secondly Lady Mary Cornwallis (1736–70), by whom he had one daughter, Mary Whitbread (1770–1858), who married Sir George Grey, 1st Baronet, 3rd son of Charles Grey, Lord Howick.


  1. ^ "About Us > Our History > Whitbread Key Dates". Retrieved 21 July 2009.
  2. ^ "Bedfordshire County Council: The Whitbread Family". Archived from the original on 6 October 2008. Retrieved 21 July 2009.
  3. ^ Evans, Dean. The Ultimate Drinking Games Book; Carlton Books Ltd. (Bristol, England) (1998) pg.302
  4. ^ "Bedfordshire County Council: The Whitbread Family". Archived from the original on 6 October 2008. Retrieved 21 July 2009.
  5. ^ "Bedfordshire County Council: Bedfordshire and the Slave Trade". Archived from the original on 14 November 2008. Retrieved 21 July 2009.
  6. ^ "Gordon, James (?1758–1822), of Moor Place, Much Hadham, Herts., History of Parliament Online". Retrieved 22 August 2016.
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Francis Herne
Richard Vernon
Member for Bedford
With: Richard Vernon
Succeeded by
Sir William Wake, Bt
Robert Sparrow
Preceded by
Sir William Wake, Bt
Robert Sparrow
Member for Bedford
With: Sir William Wake, Bt 1775–1784
William MacDowall Colhoun 1784–1790
Succeeded by
William MacDowall Colhoun
Samuel Whitbread
Preceded by
John Curtis
James Lloyd
Member of Parliament for Steyning
With: John Curtis 1792–1794
John Henniker-Major 1794–1796
Succeeded by
John Henniker-Major
James Lloyd