Monday, 26 March 2012


Breweries can be a real fire hazard. Especially when they have maltings attached. That's why the large London brewers had their own fire brigades. Better safe than sorry.

Many breweries - like Barclay Perkins in the 1830's - were seriously damaged by fire. But You have to wonder about Bernard's brewery in Slateford Road. That experienced two devastating fires in less than 10 years:

"Fire in an Edinburgh Brewery.
— Yesterday morning fire broke out in Messrs Bernard's brewery, Gorgie Road, Edinburgh. The flames spread so rapidly that the roof of the building in which the fire originated fell in before the brigade could arrive. The loss is estimated at £10,000, which is covered by insurance."
Dundee Courier - Monday 30 January 1888, page 3.

A shame they don't say in which building the fire started. The most likely? The maltings or the brewhouse. Both had furnaces and in both there was the risk of explosion from malt dust (the cause of the Barclay Perkins fire). At least only one building was destroyed. They weren't so lucky the next time:

A fire broke out on Saturday night in the Edinburgh brewery of Messrs. T. & J. Bernards (Limited). The brewery, which covers an extensive area of ground, is situated in the western suburb of the city, on the Slateford Road. The outbreak, which originated in the kiln house, had by the time the fire brigade arrived obtained so great a hold of the premises that all hopes of saving the building were abandoned, and in less than two hours the brewery was totally gutted. The damage is estimated at between £75,000 and £100,000.
Tamworth Herald - Saturday 20 June 1896, page 7."

This time the source of the fire definitely was the maltings. Bet the shareholders were miffed: the company had only gone public a year earlier. At that time the brewery buildings, land and plant had been valued at £57,678. I suppose you can add to that any stocks of beer, casks and malt in the brewery at the time of the fire. I assume they must have been insured. I can't see how they could have survived the loss otherwise. The whole capital of the company was only £250,000. (Source for the figures: prospectus published in the Glasgow Herald,  Saturday 09 March 1895, page 1.)

Funny that they had two fires, Barnard having said this: "the brewhouse, which has been made as nearly fire proof as possible, the building being entirely constructed of stone and iron." ("Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 3", Alfred Barnard, 1890, page 118.) Were they unlucky or just careless?

Remember I said that the impressive stone and slate construction wasn't a voluntary choice? This explains why:

In the Bill Chamber of the Court of Session today Lord Kincairney had before him a note for suspension and interdict at the instance of Daniel Bernard, brewer, Slateford Road, Edinburgh, against Thomas and James Bernard brewers, there to have the respondents prevented from proceeding further with the erection of certain portions of the buildings on their brewery, which adjoin that of the complainer. It was stated for the latter that under the feu charter under which the parties held the ground only stone and lime buildings with slated roofs could be erected. In violation of that part of the feu charter the respondents were erecting fire screens which were unsightly and prejudicial to their interests. Mr John Blair, for the respondents, said that the complainer had a week to examine the plans before the Dean of Guild sanctioned them, and made no objection. What were complained of were simply fire screens rising from the roof to prevent the spread of fire, and experts said that brick was the best material of which to build them. The screens were built outside the roof, and were not unsightly. His lordship refused interim interdict, but allowed answers to be lodged."
Edinburgh Evening News - Tuesday 24 August 1897, page 3.
How confusing is it that next to T & J Bernard’s brewery was Daniel Bernard’s brewery? This is the first mention I’ve found. It’s not on any of the lists I have of Scottish breweries

In case you're wondering, feu is "land held in feudal tenure". I know, didn't make me much wiser, either. It seems to be a sort of leasehold. How odd that the feu agreement should dictate the style of building erected on the land. I'm beginning to understand why Edinburgh is such an impressive stone-built town. It seems likely to emanate more from compunction than any aesthetic consideration on the part of the builder.

Given the two serious fires, T & J Bernard's desire to add extra fire prevention features seems nothing more than prudent. Personally, if I'd been Daniel Bernard I would have been only too happy to see them build more fire defences.His brewery was nearby, after all.

Then again, the case was probably more to do with family politics that aesthetic concern. Daniel Bernard was the brother of John Mackay Bernard, who was a director of T & J Bernard. They had a falling out and split, with Daniel continuing to brew at the old brewery on Canongate until kicked out by the North British Railway. In 1893 he built a brewery in Wheatfield Road, Gorgie, not far from Slateford road. Daniel's brewery only survived his death in 1902 by 2 years. (Source: "A Century of British Brewers"  by Norman Barber, 2005, page 90.)

Family disputes, eh? Many siblings of brewing families have quarreled in a similar way.


Barm said...

As you probably know, the Caledonian Brewery, also on Slateford Road, has caught fire several times too.

half_man_half_pint said...

North British Distillery (now Diageo, was Distillers Co) took over the Bernard's site in 1961.
It was turned into maltings. The original Bernard's maltings on Robertson Avenue was only demolished a few years ago.

I wonder if N.B. Distillery also took over the brewery in Westfield Road in the 1900's? They had a site there until recently. Now a Sainsburys.

Ron Pattinson said...

half man half pint, the Wheatfield Road brewery was bought by the Lothian Distillery Co. in 1904 according to Barvour's "A Century of British Brewers". I assume that's the same company as the North British Distillery. It was right next to their existing premises.