Thirst Come Thirst Served – A history of Border Breweries

BY Dave Edwards - 1st October 2017


(A history of Border Breweries a.k.a. Soames Brewery)

Wrexham’s reputation for good beer goes back to medieval times, as it was blessed with good underground water supplies.  By the 1860s, brewers and breweries dominated Wrexham, with nineteen breweries situated in the centre of the town, along the banks of the River Gwenfro.  One of those breweries was Border Brewery.

Border Breweries began life back in 1834, as a small operation at the Nag’s Head public house in Wrexham, run by William Rowlands and his son Thomas until 1874.  A 19th Century guide to the breweries of Britain observed that, “A visitor who had passed through Wrexham without sampling the home brewed of the Nag’s Head would have been regarded as having failed in his principle and most obvious duty, and as a very eccentric person indeed.”

The Nag’s Head Brewery was acquired by Henry Aspinall, who named it The Wrexham Brewery Company.  In July 1875, Mr. Henry K. Aspinall, managing director of the Wrexham Brewery Company, stated that his company were prepared to carry out their agreement with the council for the diversion of Tuttle Street and its continuation through their property to York Street.  He suggested that the work be commenced during the dry season.  The council granted Mr. Aspinall permission to proceed with the work.

As part of his project to extend Tuttle street, Aspinall purchased land by the church and made substantial expansions to his brewery.  The brewery straddled both sides of Tuttle Street. The brewery building being on your left and the old Nag’s Head on your right, next to which were more brewery buildings now demolished.  Unfortunately, the land he purchased off Tuttle Street was considered by the local people, including some council members, to be a public park and this involved Henry in a dispute with the town.  There were those who felt the new buildings would destroy the pleasant view of the church.

A newspaper account of 30th October 1875, informs us that there had been a meeting of the General Purposes Committee, during which Mr. J. M. Jones spoke of the agreement with Mr. Aspinall for the extension of Yorke Street.  It had been proposed to abandon the land at the bottom of the church steps and to give it to the Wrexham Brewery Company.  Mr. Jones drew attention to the fact that the brewery chimney belched out more smoke than almost any other chimney in the town.  He felt they should not give up so important a piece of land.  The Town Clerk said they were intending to give the brewery permission to enclose the land.  Mr. Jones pointed out that if the land was built upon it would obstruct the fine view of the church and that the alley would be made a convenience for all sorts of “filthy purposes”.  Mr. Murless mentioned that the alley would actually be wider than the existing church steps.  All objections were overruled and it was finally agreed to allow the extension of Yorke Street to take place.

Unfortunately for Mr. Aspinall, he was declared bankrupt in 1879.  At a sitting of Wrexham County Court on Wednesday, March 19th 1879, it was established that Mr. Aspinall owed a Mr. Overton the sum of £7,000 and it was ordered to be paid to him out of the estate.  Mr. Guirron, a brewer of Wrexham, claimed that Mr. Aspinall owed him £75 1s 3d, but as he had mislaid his books the judge was not satisfied in the proof of the debt.

On Friday, 18th April 1879, Charles Chatteris, Joint Official Liquidator, chaired a meeting of creditors and shareholders at London, when the nominal assets of the Wrexham Brewery Company were given as £13,166 and it was noted that the business was capable of being profitably worked.  Mr. Soames, of Gilstrap and Company moved to accept a scheme of settlement and Mr. Trier, of Trier, Mayer and Company seconded the motion; both men were large creditors.  The scheme was adopted without a dissentient vote.  Briefly, the scheme was that all unsecured creditors of the company would accept fully paid up shares in a new company, to be formed by the creditors.  Mr. Chatteris thought no one would dream of resuscitating the old company and that it was therefore necessary to form a fresh one.  Upon payment of the costs, charges, expenses and advances of the provisional official liquidator and the joint official liquidator, all the assets of the Wrexham Brewery Company Limited would be transferred to the new company.

On 15th May 1879, before the Master of the Rolls, it was established that The Wrexham Brewery had induced certain parties to take public houses under them that required them to deposit a large sum of money as security for the licence and stock that was entrusted to them.  The three parties concerned were, Horsnell, Market Hall Vaults; Pavit, Three Tuns and Price, Black Lion, Wrexham.  When Wrexham Brewery went into liquidation, the liquidators insisted that those three pubs must not only account for all their stock but must also pay over the money in their hands and rank as ordinary unsecured creditors.  In two cases, the deposit they had made was £300.  The Master of the Rolls, after hearing all the facts, said that despite wishing he could help the defendants he was bound to comply with the application of the liquidators.

It had been arranged that the principal creditors would cooperate with Messrs. Gilstrap and Sons and Messrs. Trier, Mayer and Co., the largest creditors, to purchase the Wrexham Brewery Company and carry it on as a new company.  However, on Saturday 26th July 1879, arrangements were made for the purchase of the Wrexham Brewery Company by Mr. Arthur Soames, of Messrs. Gilstrap and Sons.  It is interesting to note that Arthur had married Anna Amelia Gilstrap, so he had family connections with Gilstrap and Sons.  Arthur Soames purchased the brewery for his two sons, Harold and Frederic, who were to conduct the business, and who were by this time in possession of the premises.

Arthur Soames’ 21-year-old son Frederic (born at Blackheath, Lewisham in 1857) was entrusted with its management.  {Some sources spell his name as Frederick, but official documents spell it Frederic}.  By July 1881, F. W. Soames and Co. were advertising in Eddowes’s Shrewsbury Journal that they had the finest well of brewing water in Wrexham and could challenge any pale and mild ales from Burton or elsewhere for quality and strength.  During season, they also sold cheap harvest beer.  The Soames logo depicted a bridled horse.  In 1881, Frederic William Soames was shown to be living at Wingerworth, Chesterfield, with his older brother Harold, who was a farmer with 77 acres.

In the Spring of 1885, Frederic William Soames married Julia Mary West and the marriage was registered in the District of St. George, Hanover Square, London.  By 1891, Frederic and Julia were living at Llwynonn Hall, Abenbury Fawr (southeast of Wrexham town).  Julia had been born at Loughlinstown, Dublin, circa 1858.  In 1891, the census showed that Julia and Frederic had a daughter and three sons.

Staff problems exist with every industry and Soames Wrexham Brewery was no exception.  In July 1891, three employees were charged with stealing beer.  Father and son, William and John Henry Billington and also William Jones were prosecuted by Mr. Ashton Bradley.  Mr. R. W. Glascodine appeared for the Billingtons.  Apparently, beer had been going missing for some time and the stores had been put under watch.  A police officer and a man called Davies saw the three prisoners go to the stores at about five o’clock on a Sunday morning and one of the prisoners unlocked the door with a key which didn’t belong to Soames Brewery but was similar to theirs.  On entering the stores, the officer and Davies found the three prisoners with a stone jar, a tin can, and a bottle, all of which were filled with beer, ready for removal.  William Billington had actually been employed by the company for twenty-three years.  All the defendants were fined £2 and costs, or a month in prison in default.

Within a period of ten years, Frederic Soames had managed to build up the business into a major concern.  He built a 50 quarter brewhouse and popularised the bridled horse logo well beyond Wrexham.  In Alfred Barnard’s 1892 tour of British breweries he singled out Soames’ Brewery as making the best beer in Wrexham, which may imply that they had provided him with free liquid refreshments.  The brewery was described as straddling both sides of Tuttle Street.  The brewery buildings were on the west side and the old Nag’s Head on the East, next to which were more brewery buildings, now demolished.

On Monday, 25th September 1893, at a licensing session for the borough of Wrexham, Mr. Ashton Bradley applied for an additional excise licence for Mr. Frederic W. Soames, to sell beer by retail at the Wrexham Brewery to be consumed off the premises.  The application was granted.

In 1894 the brick chimney behind the Nag’s Head was built by Frederic W. Soames and stands 37 metres (120ft) high.  It is built of brick with wrought iron reinforcing bands, with a high base with recessed panels surmounted by a corbelled chamber incorporating dated terracotta panels with the initial ‘S’ (Soames’ Brewery) below the octagonal shaft which terminates in a moulded projecting stone cornice and cap.  Around the same time, Soames built a new plant with increased cellarage.  He also built a red-brick brew-house and an office block.

On Friday, 17th August 1894, a celebration dinner was given in the Assembly Room of the Talbot Inn, by Messrs. F. W. Soames and Co.  It was for about 140 of his employees who had been involved in the extension of the brewery.  It was in fact a series of dinners, as there was insufficient room for everyone.  Mr. Soames proposed a toast to Mr. Llewelyn Davies and his company, Messrs Davies Brothers.  Llewelyn Davies mentioned that his firm had been paid more than £15,000 by Soames for their work on the brewery extension.  This had been their third contract and Mr. Soames made it know that he was satisfied with the thoroughness with which the work had been completed.  During this celebration, a similar dinner was being held in the smoke room of the Talbot for about forty of Mr Soames’ employees and on Saturday, 18th August the remaining fifty employees celebrated with a dinner at the Assembly Room.

On Monday, 17th September, 1894, F. W. Soames purchased the old Three Tuns Inn, a fully-licensed house in Brook Street, for £1,525.  This had belonged to the late Mr. Benjamin Piercy of Marchwiel Hall.

The 1901 Trade Directory mentioned F. W. Soames & Co. as being “The Welsh Ale Brewery, Mount Street.”  It also gives his private address as “F. W. Soames, Llwynonn Hall, Abenbury Fawr, Wrexham.”  The 1901 census shows that by April 1901 his address was Plas Power Hall, Bersham.

In October 1901, two Unionist and two Radical members of the Wrexham Town Council formed a deputation to interview Mr. Frederic W. Soames to ask him to become mayor of the borough.  He accepted the invitation and it was felt he would make a popular mayor as he had already held the office previously with much success.  His address was given as Plas Power Hall.

Frederic Soames and his family were becoming more prosperous as the years rolled on and sometime between 1901 and 1904 they purchased an old Regency building called Bryn Estyn Hall, which had originally been a small farm house near Clay’s Farm on the outskirts of Wrexham.  In 1904, Soames demolished the old hall and in 1905 he constructed the present Hall some distance east of the original one.  It was built from the plans of Messrs. Grayson & Ould of Liverpool and was a large Elizabethan style mansion, deliberately aged by clever use of stone roofing slabs.

On 22nd August 1906, the head engineer of Soames’ Brewery, 44-year-old George Paddock, of Princess Street, Wrexham, was busy repairing a water pipe at the brewery when the pipe slipped and injured his finger.  His finger was dressed and he continued working until Monday, 3rd September, when, owing to the injury becoming worse, he was admitted to the Wrexham Infirmary and operated upon.  On Friday, 7th September 1906, he died at the Infirmary from blood-poisoning.  Mr. Downes Powell, deputy coroner for East Denbighshire, held an inquest at Wrexham.  The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death.”

On the 1911 census, Frederic and Julia Soames’ address was Bryn Estyn Hall.  The size of their home was indicated by the number of staff they employed.  They had a butler, a servant footman, a servant hall porter, a cook, three housemaids, a ladies maid, a kitchen maid and a secretary maid.  Frederic Soames was a brewer and his 22-year-old son, William Noel Soames was a Brewer’s Manager.

The 1912 Trade Directory described F. W. Soames as a Mineral Water Manufacturer at Mount Street.

In February 1915, Frederic and Julia’s eldest son, Arthur Henry Leslie Soames, was appointed First Commanding Officer of the Armament Experimental Flight (AEF) at the Central Flying School in Upavon, Wiltshire. The AEF assessed new technologies and techniques for military aviation, which was then still in its infancy.

In May 1915, 28-year-old Arthur H. L. Soames was presented with the Military Cross by King George V.  He received this honour in recognition of his valour during aerial reconnaissance missions over enemy territory. Arthur was also awarded the Légion d’Honneur from the French government.

On 7th July 1915, Arthur Soames was testing an experimental high-explosive bomb and its fuse at Upavon.  He had retreated at least 80 metres away and was sheltering behind a tree for protection when he was struck by a fragment of the bomb and died shortly afterwards.  An inquest returned a verdict of accidental death.  Arthur’s death was registered in the District of Pewsey, Wiltshire, but he was buried in All Saints churchyard, Gresford.  In February 1916 a bronze tablet to Arthur’s memory was erected in St Giles’ Church in Wrexham. The Royal Flying Corp’s badge and the Military Cross was depicted on the tablet, by special permission from the King.

In May 1916, tragedy once again struck the household of Frederic and Julia Soames, when news arrived by cablegram at their home, Bryn Estyn Hall, near Wrexham, informing them that their second and eldest surviving son, Lieut. William Noel Soames, had died from heart failure after returning from a camel patrol while on active service in Egypt.  Noel (he went by his middle name) had held a commission in the Cheshire Yeomanry, with which he’d been connected for four years.  Before the war he had managed Messrs. F. W. Soames & Co. Brewery where he’d made many friends and was held in the highest esteem.  He had been a vice-president of the Turf Bowling Club and was a Freemason and a member of the Square and Compass Lodge, Wrexham.  He had left for Egypt in February of 1915.  The sympathy of the whole countryside was extended to Mr and Mrs. Soames., as indeed it had been with the recent death of their eldest son Arthur.  Mr. and Mrs. Soames also had three other sons who were serving – Frederic Evelyn Soames (born 1891 and known as Evelyn), of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers; Julian Alfred Soames (born 1893) of the 5th Dragoon Guards & RFC and Cecil Tudor Soames (born 1895).

The war affected many lives and a former office worker at Soames Brewery was David Roberts, whose father had been employed by the Brewery for twenty years.  At the age of seventeen David joined the Royal Navy.  In 1917, at the age of twenty-five, Able-Seaman David Roberts, R. N., lost his life on duty aboard one of H. M. ships on war service.

The Brewery site was enlarged again in the early 20th century to include a single storey building that borders Tuttle Street.  During the First World War, the brewery received some free publicity when one of their requisitioned motorised drays was hit by a shell while on duty on the Western Front. A photo of the event was used to produce some great patriotic advertising for the rest of the war.  Frederic Soames even had a new five storey brewhouse built in 1920.

According to the 1925 telephone directory, Mr. F. W. Soames could be reached at his home in Bryn Estyn on Wrexham 288, or at his brewery (F. W. Soames & Co.) on Wrexham 162.

During the 1st Quarter of 1926, in the District of Wrexham, the death was registered of Frederic William Soames, aged 68, of Bryn Estyn.  On 18th September 1926, probate was given to his widow, Julia Mary Soames and to Frederic Evelyn Soames; manager.  The deceased’s effects were £113,268 8s 9d.

In 1928, Bryn Estyn Hall was offered for sale at half its original price.  It had been well-maintained over the years and was described thus:

The Hall had twenty bedrooms and dressing rooms, two bathrooms, five reception rooms, a billiard room, garage for five cars, stabling for eleven horses, stud grooms and other cottages, a fitted laundry, central heating, telephone, electric lights, two tennis and croquet lawns, am ornamental lake, a walled kitchen garden, a home farm and timbered parkland extending to 95 acres.

Frederic Soames’ death and the Great Depression resulted in a merger between Soames’ Wrexham Brewery (then in liquidation), the nearby Island Green Brewery (dating from 1856), and the Oswestry firm of Dorsett Owen.  The merged company was named Border Breweries and operations were then concentrated at the Soames Brewery site.

In early 1940 the death was announced of 81-years-old Julia Mary Soames, the widow of Frederic William Soames.

In 1947, the manager of Border Breweries Mineral Works, Mount Street, Wrexham was William B. N. Kington, a keen photographer.  William took a series of photos of his staff, which remain as a historical record.  At that time, clogs and headscarves were the uniform of the day and there was a great community spirit, with regular outings, including the inevitable crates of beer.

Wrexham’s excellent supply of suitable spring water enabled the new firm to dominate the brewing industry in the town.  By the 1950s and 60s, Border were producing a variety of products, which included a dark mild ale called Border, Exhibition Ale and the popular Border Bitter, (advertised with slogans such as Order A Border; Wine of Wales, Thirst Come Thirst Served, and Prince of Ales.

The writer and humourist Miles Kington, whose father was the brewery’s director, commented that Border had, “managed to produce damned good beer but had never come up with a good slogan.”  Journalist Richard Boston, writing in 1976, described the bitter as “reddish in colour, pleasant in flavour, but rather thin.”  Border Bitter had an Original Gravity of 1034, and used Fuggles, Goldings and Whitbread Goldings Variety (WGV) hops, while Border Mild had an OG of 1030.  Border also bottled its own minerals, which were sold in the firm’s tied houses located throughout North and Mid Wales, Shropshire, and parts of The Potteries.

In its later years, Border’s branding featured a pale blue and white colour scheme, a pseudo-Celtic font, and a stylised red Welsh dragon (originally used by the Island Green Brewery).  Wrexham F.C.’s Racecourse Ground, whose land was owned by the brewery, had a “Border Stand” for many years.

Border Breweries finally fell victim to the increasing consolidation of the UK brewing industry during the 1980s. In 1984, two larger firms, Burtonwood Brewery and Marston, Thompson and Evershed, sought to acquire Border and its 170 tied houses. Border’s share price rose 43p to 155p in a day on 15th February, following rumours of a bid, and subsequently rose further to 208p.  Whitbread owned 19% of Burtonwood and 35% of Marstons (Burton), the latter of which they helped to succeed.  Despite public assurances to the contrary, Marstons closed the Border site in October 1984, only six months after purchasing it.  Marstons continued to produce Border products for some years under their own name, although this has since ceased.  Border Breweries (Wrexham) Ltd. still exists (UK registered company 00257409), as part of Marstons.

In 1985, some of Border’s former staff set up the small-scale Plassey Brewery at Eyton outside Wrexham, which still produces beer using Border recipes in some cases.

The partly listed Border Brewery premises in Tuttle Street are now flats, and the adjacent Nag’s Head, where the company originated, remains open as a pub. To prevent it from being demolished, the brewery’s chimney was purchased by John Marek, who was then the local Member of Parliament.


WRITTEN BY: Dave Edwards. 1st October 2017

SOURCES: Wikipedia; Wrexham Guardian (5th July 1875; 2nd August 1879); Wrexham Advertiser (25th August 1894; 30th October 1875); Cambrian News (28th March 1879; 23rd May 1879); North Wales Guardian (19th April 1879; 26th April 1879); Eddowes’s Shrewsbury Journal (27th July 1881); G. M. Edwards; Stewart Kington (Bristol); Wrexham Museum; 1901 Trade Directory; Ancestry UK; Sandy Lewis; Jimmy Jones; 1912 Trade Directory; Wrexham & Denbighshire Advertiser (30th October 1875); Denbighshire Free Press (18th July 1891); Cheshire Observer (30th September 1893; 22nd September 1894); Chester Courant (30th October 1901; 12th September 1906; ); Llangollen Advertiser (26th May 1916; 5th October 1917; ); Liverpool Mercury (21st July 1894);; Free B,M,D.;




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