Joules – Stone’s Iconic Beer

Joules – Stone’s Iconic Beer

A history by Philip Leason

Last month we took a general look at Joules Brewery and we start this month by talking about the beer itself. Joules products included on draught: bitter, mild and Stone Ale and at Christmas in small kegs known as pins – Royal Ale. Bottled beers included Special Bitter, Brown Ale, Stone Ale and Royal Ale (in small bottles known as nips). And in the 1960s they introduced canned beer – Fourfold Ale and Sevenfold Ale, some of which were presented to an Antarctic expedition in the 1960s.

It wasn’t only the beer drinkers in Stone who prized Joules beers highly – in 1919 the brewery received the Silver Medal at the National Exhibition of Brewing and Allied Trades.  This was followed by a bronze  in 1925, and no less than bronze, silver and gold medals in 1926.  The Gold Medal was awarded for the championship in the draught beer class with a beer with an original gravity of over 1039°. Further awards were received in the exhibitions of 1932, 1935 and 1937,  although perhaps the most notable honour which some readers may remember was in 1957 with the award of the Brewery Trade Review Challenge Cup for the best bottled beer in Great Britain, namely Joules Stone Ale.

The Joules delivery vehicles gained a reputation for their smart appearance
The Joules delivery vehicles gained a reputation for their smart appearance

The honour was the pinnacle of the career of Head Brewer Eric Wintle and to thank him for all his hard work, Joules presented him with a canteen of cutlery. The cup itself was displayed in the office window of The Stone Guardian for a week in October 1957.

When we think of the distribution of beer we tend to think of  wooden barrels or later aluminium kegs, but in the 1960s beer started to be transported to pubs with large beer sales by road tanker. The Tank Beer Department was located approximately where the unloading area of the Co-op in Newcastle Street is today. The beer was pumped into five barrel tanks in the cellar.  Prior to the delivery a brewery employee was sent to clean the tanks. Perhaps one of the largest pubs that took tank beer was the Kings Arms at Meir – it has now been demolished and, ironically, a new health centre built on the site.

Joules had its own cooperage located where the Crown & Anchor car park is today. A regular correspondent to the Gazette, Mr Clifford Gaskin, became an apprentice cooper in 1936 and later became head cooper. With the increase in the use of aluminium casks Cliff later became the Head of the Tank Beer Department at Joules.

Trussing the cooper: The newly qualified cooper was placed in a barrel, which he had made himself. The barrel was then filled with a mixture which contained soot, feathers, shavings, beer and treacle. The barrel was rolled around the workshop before the cooper was taken out and tossed in the air three times. He was then presented with his indentures.
Trussing the cooper: The newly qualified cooper was placed in a barrel, which he had made himself.                                   The barrel was then filled with a mixture which contained soot, feathers, shavings, beer and treacle.
The barrel was rolled around the workshop before the cooper was taken out and tossed in the air three times.                    He was then presented with his indentures.

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Trussing the cooper: The newly qualified cooper was placed in a barrel, which he had made himself. The barrel was then filled with a mixture which contained soot, feathers, shavings, beer and treacle.

• The barrel was rolled around the workshop before the cooper was taken out and tossed in the air three times. He was then presented with his indentures.

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These photographs were taken in the coopers’ yard, now the site of the Crown and Anchor car park. In the centre is Mr Gaskin, Head Cooper. In the barrel is Ernie Eldershaw, the last cooper to be apprenticed at Joules.

When a cooper finally finishes his apprenticeship a ceremony known at “trussing the cooper” is held.  The newly qualified cooper was placed in a barrel which he had made himself.  It was then filled with a mixture of feathers, wood shavings, soot, stale beer and treacle. It was then rolled around the cooperage yard before the cooper was taken out and tossed in the air three times.  He was then presented with his indentures.

The last cooper to receive such an initiation at Joules was Ernie Eldershaw in 1953 and as you would expect the event received wide coverage in the local press.  (Readers who would like to see photographs of this ceremony should look on the Staffordshire Past Track website.)

However, no coverage of Joules’ history would be possible without reference to the Harding family. Thomas Harding was one of the three Liverpool brewers who took over Joules in 1870, and in 1898 it was decided to convert the business into a joint stock company with Thomas as the first Chairman. Mr Ronald Ambrose Harding joined the company in 1949 and was subsequently appointed MD in 1950, going on to be Chairman in 1952. Mr Harding lived in Greycote on Airdale Road and was often seen in  a  chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce with the registration number of 648 MUY.

His eldest son, Michael, joined in 1956 and was appointed MD in 1964 following the death of the well known gentleman Stanley Blood.

Michael remained the MD until the brewery was taken over by Bass Charrington. Michael was a great lover of music and played the grand piano. After he died he kindly left a large amount of money (the Harding Trust) to support music and the arts in North Staffordshire.

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Once the beer had been brewed, fermented and racked (put into barrels) it was transported by road (in an operation called “the brew”) from the main brewery to the   conditioning cellars in Newcastle Street. Here it remained until it was taken by road to the pubs and clubs  throughout the area. Also located in this building were the bottling plant and the bottled beer and mineral water warehouse.

In the yard, alongside the bottling stores, were the loading bays and the transport department. Joules had a reputation for the appearance of their delivery vehicles, the drivers of which were still called draymen after the ostler of the old horse-drawn drays.

The vehicles were actually painted in the company’s own paint shop and maintained in their workshops. The special fire-proof building used to store the cellulose paint still stands by the canal, alongside the tunnel which carried the steam pipes under the road from the boiler house in Crown Street to the buildings in Newcastle Street.

The vehicles even appeared in a series of advertisements for Morris’s Lubricants of Shrewsbury in a series of ads which went under the heading of  “Fine Fleets on Morris’s Oils.”

In addition to delivering  to the licence trade, Joules also also operated a ‘Family Trade’ arm delivering to private individuals.

And each year the draymen were encouraged to take part in the National Lorry Drive of the Year heats held at the former Holditch Colliery, and then later at the Councils Depot in Knutton Lane in Newcastle. On many occasions Joules drivers won the local heat and then went on to compete in the National Final. And at the annual brewery dinner most of the drivers were presented with awards by R.O.S.P.A. for safe driving.

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Joules had a number of subsidiary businesses – one being The Premier Mineral Water Company in Longton. Among the many lines they produced was a medicated orange squash containing salt, which the brewery supplied to Michelin to ensure that the workers employed in the hot areas of the factory did not become dehydrated.

Another subsidiary was W. H. and J. Joule (later to become Joules of Stone) who were responsible for the wines and spirits side of the business.

This was located in the brewery yard itself in Crown Street. The wines were stored in the cellars underneath – some of these cellars probably dated back to when the old monastic brew house stood on the site.

You could certainly see the sooty marks on the wall where flaming torches had been. To provide ventilation to the cellars, grids were built into the wall of the brewery offices in Stone High Street. They are still there today, though sadly the cellars have probably been destroyed when the site was redeveloped.

!n addition to storing wines Joules also bottled their own brands of sherry, port, rum etc. which arrived in large wooden casks from the Bonded Warehouse in Stoke.  One memory many older readers will have about “the Bond” was the teapot which contained anything but tea!

Joules had a reputation for their wine list and customers included the aristocracy and many of the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge.  By 1965 Joules owned 222 fully licensed public houses and 43 off-licences mainly in the Potteries, Stafford and in Stone itself. There was also a a number of country houses in rural Staffordshire, and in the neighbouring counties of Shropshire, Cheshire, Worcester and Warwickshire.

To help maintain this huge portfolio of premises, Joules had its own dedicated estate department which employed architects, builders, electricians, plumbers and painters and decorators and of course sign writers for the iconic pub signs and transport livery. The latter had their stores and workshop in the old fire station building in the Crown Yard (which is today the motor accessories shop).  This had been the base for the ARP/Homeguard during the Second World War and posters depicting various types of German soldiers were pasted on the walls.

But one thing that set Joules apart from other brewers was the imaginative, if not bizarre and occasionally surreal nature of their advertisements, particularly during the 1930s. These included cavemen drinking ale from horn beakers and playing cards… another depicts a caveman running for his life after shooting an arrow into a mammoth and making for a cave (which just happens to be a Joules pub). My favourite features a car with the registration ‘ALE42’ which has broken down in the pouring rain, the driver stands scratching his head and his wife is leaning out of the car.  Fortunately this incident happens outside a Joules pub and the caption reads, “Never Mind have a Joules Stone Ale”.  I often wonder what his wife may have said about the coincidence of where the breakdown occurred.

Other advertisements depict historical events such as Dick Turpin’s ride to York, Stephenson’s Rocket etc and recording how many years before this that “the house of Joules had been brewing”.

(ED. Let’s not forget a small rowing boat loaded with Joules chasing after the doomed Titanic. These were the glory days of the poster – the rail companies had blazed the trail in the immediate post WWI period and the brewers were quick to come alive to the value of branding – the Guiness Toucan springs to mind. However, Joules took the business of branding to a whole new level, allowing graphic artists a virtual free rein and, as a result, they have created yet one more legacy for Stone.)

Of course one of the newspapers which Joules advertised in was the Evening Sentinel and special ads were produced each week for their late Saturday edition. In the days when the newspaper was printed at the rear of Sentinel offices in Hanley, they used a letterpress system to print, which allowed for greater flexibility – even faster running times (there were only two colours, usually black and red) – and so they were able to produce several editions daily.

And the sports edition on a Saturday was a miracle even by today’s standards. The football matches invariably finished at 4.45pm – yet by 5.50pm the sports edition was already rolling off the presses replete with not only Stoke’s result and full match coverage – but all the sides in the then First Division, plus coverage of all local clubs and full-time scores and league tables… we are talking 1950s here. No computers, fax machines, calculators… yet with the benefit of 60 years of technology that has seen the newspaper industry revolutionised, I doubt if this could be achieved today.

And Joules produced two advertisements to go in this late edition.  If Stoke City got the result the adline would read “Celebrate with Joules Ales” – whereas if they lost, you guessed it – “Drown your sorrows with Joules Ales”.

Joules was taken over by Bass in 1970 and the brewery closed on 31st October 1974 and with it went an important part of the life of Stone. The history of Joules is so much more than just that of another industry, it weaved in and out of everyone’s lives. Whole familiies were employed and to this day, 40 years on, the name Joules only needs to be mentioned in a local to spark an evening’s worth of memories and opinions.

Joules has touched so many lives in so many ways that it is crying out for a definitive history book – heaven knows, there’s no shortage of memories to tap into… though perhaps not from the last week they were open – everyone I’ve met seems to have a different recollection. There is, however, a recurring theme – a great deal of alcohol was consumed, and the favourite tipple of the day for the fortunate few was the fine vintage premier cru champagne.

Joules memorabilia is everywhere – from charity shops to high profile auctions – virtually every house in Stone will have an ashtray tucked away somewhere – perhaps some beermats, or a bottle or two of Christmas Ale (perhaps best left unopened) – but for many, the passing of Joules was a line in the sand, the end of an era. I’m sure this article will elicit a great many letters and I trust Paul will do his best to accomodate them.

A couple of years ago there was an exhibition of Joules memorabilia and ephemera at the Crown – the idea was to find a permanent home, a museum if you like. This is now in the hands of CAMRA – so if you have any donations, please hang on to them for now and hopefully a decision will be made soon. Let’s face it – the sooner the better. Beer will never go out of fashion – but cigarettes? The relationship between the pint and fag is fast becoming a memory – fag and standing out in the cold is still with us, but who would have thought just ten years ago, smokers would have become so marginalised.

So here ends the longest Within Living Memory to appear in the Gazette – but it was not just about a shop, it was about an institution, one of the town’s major employers and arguably one of the reasons that Stone grew so rapidly in the 19th century.

It’s all too easy to forget that Joules was by no means Stone’s only brewery… there was of course Bents – but that’s a whole article for another time.

I hope that the above will bring back memories to some readers and will be of interest to others. Please help us to keep the heritage of Stone alive for generations to come. If you have any photographs relating to anything mentioned here, please contact Staffordshire Past Track. All photographs will be treated with the utmost care and returned safely to their owner after digital copies have been made.  ­­