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ASPECTS OF BEDFORDSHIRE LIFE


A Bedfordshire Brewery continued from page 14


and estate were subsequently all inherited by Samuel junior, who was now settled in Bedfordshire, having completed his education at Eton and Cambridge. Images which survive of the Chiswell Street


brewery depict different images of brewery life and the different stages of production, from the actual brewing to bottling and distribution. The stables alone played a vital role. For many years, Whitbread, like other breweries, depended on strong dray horses to transport the beer across London. Initially, horsepower was also required for the brewing itself - some 24 horses drove the barley mill here. But, in 1784, Samuel junior introduced an alternative: a steam engine; James Watt’s pioneering and recent invention. This soon became a sensation in the capital.


By 1790, Samuel junior was not only owner of


the brewery but also newly elected as MP for Bedford at the age of 32. For the next 25 years he was to juggle his political and business life, which was never an easy task.


During his years as a leading Whig politician, Samuel junior lobbied for particular causes and defended his sometimes controversial views. His opposition to the wars with France led to accusations that he was unpatriotic, being an early pacifist. He was also active in political movements for reforms in education, in poor relief and against the slave trade. A fiery temper and clashes within his own party as well as with the opposition sometimes clouded his time in Parliament. But his London life was full and varied. He became a keen patron of Drury Lane Theatre, active in its management, and helped young actors like Edmund Kean to break into the world of the theatre. He also remained actively involved in


Bedfordshire life, and threw himself into renovating and altering his Southill Park estate, commissioning the architect Henry Holland to rebuild the house at this time.


And for a time, the business still prospered, as the steam engine proved its worth and production


expanded. Samuel’s impressive 7-foot long curricle, designed in yellow wicker, which could transport 14 people at a time, became a familiar sight as he travelled across London. But troubled times loomed. Politics took up


more and more of his time. By the time he died in 1815, as his troubles mounted, he was facing bankruptcy. Yet the Whitbread business survived. Under the


care of Samuel’s heirs, the brewery recovered. Within 60 years, it became a national brand. This only came when bottling beer was introduced, enabling it to be transported far and wide. Beer’s journey from the early home brewing of ale to the global commodity we now know was long and slow, but the name Whitbread was at the heart of British brewing for 250 years. The family’s Bedfordshire presence also remained strong. William Whitbread rebuilt Cardington’s watermill and provided a plot of land on which to build a Methodist chapel. And to this day, the Whitbread family still owns Southill Park House. In 1969, Whitbread renewed its Bedfordshire links when a new brewery was built here. The closure of London’s Chiswell Street brewery followed seven years later.


But, as the 20th century drew to a close, the


nature of Whitbread’s main business was undergoing a seismic shift. In the wake of major acquisitions during the 1990s, the decision was taken to move away from brewing and focus on the company’s leisure businesses. The brewery business was sold in 2000; the end of an era. To this day, with its very different business portfolio, which continues to evolve, Whitbread remains a Bedfordshire success story. Its founder’s name is still significant locally, commemorated in institutions like the Samuel Whitbread Community College in Shefford. And Whitbread’s present Houghton Regis headquarters ensures that the company plays an important role in Bedfordshire life.


18 County Life


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