The Family & Brewery down the ages

This timeline shows key family events and some of our archive of documents, images and plans of the Brewery site, tracking its development down the ages.

We are fortunate to have a considerable archive of material that gives us a detailed picture of the Brewery as it looked and operated, particularly in the closing years of the 19th Century.

  • 1765-1782 William Simonds

    William Simonds (1733-1782) started life as a maltster and then opened a small brewery in the centre of Reading in about 1774, followed by 2 pubs in Reading and 2 elsewhere. When he died, the business passed to his son William Blackall Simonds.

  • 1785 William Blackall Simonds

    William Blackall Simonds opened a new brewery at 85 Broad Street in Reading. Click below for more information on William Blackall Simonds

  • 1789 Brewery Design

    William bought a large site beside the River Kennet on what was then ‘Seven Bridges’ and now Bridge Street. John Soane and William Blackall Simonds were probably school friends as John Soane was from nearby Goring-on-Thames. Soane’s designs for a new Brewery and private residence on Bridge Street were drawn up in December 1789 when […]

  • 1791 Simonds Bank

    Many brewers of the era turned to banking, in part to employ surplus wealth but also because brewing generated so much cash with many publicans depositing their funds with their landlord. In 1791 William Blackall Simonds (1762-1834) co-founded a bank with three other partners, Messrs Micklem, Stephens and Harris, in Reading Market Place. In the […]

  • 1799 Steam!

    A 6hp Boulton & Watt steam engine [similar to this stock image] installed in 1799, was the first steam engine used for brewing in Berkshire. It also provided steam for scalding the insides of casks to sterilise them, ensuring that Simonds had better quality beer than local competition.

  • 1815 17 pubs!

    Simonds had ten public houses in Reading, one in Pangbourne and six in the Aborfield, Hurst, Wokingham area.

  • 1834 Title Deeds

    The original plan drawing of the brewery, taken from the title deeds.

  • 1837 On vellum

    A plan drawing of the brewery site, on original vellum. From the original title deeds.

  • 1861 Coloured etching

  • 1868 Wines & Spirits

    The wine and spirit trade, which since the beginning of the century had been carried on by Mr. Henry Simonds, was acquired by the firm.

  • 1872 Army trade

    Messrs. Simonds first supplied the troops of the flying columns on manoeuvre on Salisbury Plain and took the contract to supply the Aldershot Army base. From this date, supply of British troops all over the world became a major business focus.

  • 1872 Louis de Luze Simonds

    Arrives from New York to live in the UK and spend his life at Reading Brewery.

  • 1873 Concrete warehouse

    Blackall Simonds designed and supervised the construction of a four storey beer and wine store of unreinforced concrete. The walls and floors of the store were of concrete and iron columns supported vaulted floors. Believed to be the first use of this style of construction.

  • 1875 Malta

    Opened a branch office in Malta to serve the armed forces. The Malta branch office imported bulk beer from the Reading brewery, bottled it on the island, and then sold it to the various military canteens. Certain beers that travelled better, like Milk Stout, were imported already bottled.

  • 1881 Gibraltar

    Opened a branch in Gibraltar, followed in the early 20th century by branches in Belgium, Libya & Egypt.

  • 1884 117 Pubs

    Simonds now have 117 pubs and the pace of growth then accelerated.

  • 1885 Becomes ‘Ltd’

    The business converts from a partnership to a Private Limited Company, H&G Simonds Ltd. However the family held all the shares up until 1928. The business raised funds extensively to fund the ambitious expansion program by issuing debentures. Debenture issue Times 12-5-1950

  • 1890 Barnard’s History

    Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, by Alfred Barnard. Barnard spent 2 years on a grand tour around the breweries of England, Ireland and Scotland. His apparent aim was to educate the reader in 4 volumes on the manufacture of beer and also to tell the historical story of the then leading brewers. The […]

  • 1895 211 Pubs

    By November, the firm had 211 pubs, a growth of 80% in 10 years.

  • 1895 Brewery Photos

    These 5 images of old Reading date from soon after 1890 and were possibly taken by Reading Photographers Dann & Lewis who took the famous water tower panorama images about the same time. The originals mounted on board are currently in my possession and are so faded that they are almost orange. So these are the repaired […]

  • 1895 Engraving

    This is an engraving of the Brewery as it appeared about the time of Barnard’s work.

  • 1895 Goad Map

    The Goad map of the area dated 1895 shows clearly the extent of the brewery site of the time, extending both sides of the river. But there is still open ground between the new Maltings and Bridge Street

  • 1899 Old Reading Panorama

    Across the river Kennet from the brewery site, close to the current location of the Brewery Information Board, stood a concrete water tower until soon after 1900. This is it: These 11 stunning images were taken by Reading Photographers Dann & Lewis from the top of that tower between 1895 and 1902. They form an […]

  • 1900 Offices

    This is the front of the company offices of the period

  • 1912 Paris Gold Medal

    In March, the firm was awarded the Grand Prix and Gold Medal for Ale and Stout at the Paris International Foods Exhibition.

  • 1912 Reading Standard

    In their 14th December issue, the ‘Reading Standard’ published a special supplement on one of Reading’s biggest employers of the time, H&G Simonds Ltd then employed some 500 people. In our archives there survives only a badly damaged copy, so I would very much like to hear from anybody who can improve on this please. […]

  • 1925 Offices

    These 2 images of the office building as a whole are from about 1925 and again probably taken after 1970, just before demolition.

  • 1926 General Strike

    The brewery business was severely disrupted by the General Strike in May. Despite the lack of transport to shift raw materials or finished product and the consequential lack of sales, the Directors took the decision not to lay off any staff, recognising the hardship that this would cause in an age before the welfare state. […]

  • 1926 Prince of Wales

    This was the only recorded Royal visit and an historical image of that visit was used to illustrate the Brewery Information Board. Beer prices were rather different in those days as this price list shows!

  • 1929 Malta

    Simonds Farsons Ltd was launched in Malta

  • 1929 Royal Warrant

    Was proudly displayed over the front door of the Bridge Street offices. In 1929 H&G Simonds was granted the Royal Warrant as Brewers to His Majesty, King George the Fifth, from King George 6th in 1940 and from Queen Elizabeth 2nd in 1955 and continued to hold the warrant until its demise in 1960. Board […]

  • 1930 Hop Leaf

    The Hop Leaf trade mark is adopted as a pub sign, to be displayed outside all pubs. This was a very early example of branding in the pub trade.

  • 1930’s Ordnance Survey

    A 1931 clip from an Ordnance Survey map shows the brewery now expanded along both sides of Fobney Street and further down Gas Lane.

  • 1936 Cone Top Cans

    The iconic ’Cone Topped Can’ was invented in 1935 and Simonds were early adopters in 1936. You can download the recollections of Duncan Simonds HERE. The Hop Leaf Gazette of November 1936 reported that a display at the Arthur Cooper off licence in Reading of SB in cone top cans, attracted a great deal of […]

  • 1944 Wartime Deception

    Photos of American GI’s taken in Devon – were used to make the Germans think that troops were massing in the East of England. The names of Directors and staff of the Brewery and its branches who were at that time serving in WW2 are listed in the Hop Leaf Gazette, issued in December 1942.

  • 1947 May Brewery

    The May Brewery in Basingstoke was taken over. The May family had been friends since the 18th century when William Blackall had married Elizabeth May in Pangbourne Church. There were several other Simonds/May family marriages. The acquisition was recorded in the Hop Leaf Gazette issued in June 1947, page 125, which you can read on […]

  • 1950 Kenya

    Acquired 50% interest in East African Breweries based in Nairobi, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.

  • 1950’s Advertising

    The advertising of the time looks a little dated now:

  • 1950’s Cellar Management

    Bottling & Cellar Management. Beer in bulk was still being shipped out from Reading Brewery for bottling in regional centres, but even then quality control was seen as key. This is the company ‘Bottling Manual’ from the mid-50’s. Today’s publicans who serve ‘Real Ale’ may still recognise parts of this period cellar manual:

  • 1951 Bottling Instructions

    Simonds operated a series of depots, where beer was supplied in ‘Hogsheads’, which is a large barrel containing 54 gallons of beer, whilst the ‘standard’ barrel contained a more manageable 36 gallons. Beer was then bottled locally, to reduce the heavy costs of transporting bottles. As transport infrastructure improved, these depots were wound down into […]

  • 1953 Nine reigns!

    This image shows Viscount Gavin Simonds (in wig) standing behind the Queen’s right shoulder at her Coronation. The House of Simonds through nine reigns: This delightful history was published in-house and again in the House Magazine, The Hop Leaf Gazette, as part of the Brewery celebrations for the accession of Queen Elizabeth II: By this […]

  • 1957 Brewers Exhibition

    The attention to detail and quality paid off – Simonds beers won a range of awards:

  • 1958 Nairobi

    The new brewery opened in Nairobi, Kenya, a joint venture with East African Breweries.

  • 1959 Staff Handbook

    Here is a fascinating insight to the life and times of brewery employees, during the last years that this was an independent company. The Staff Handbook The Pensions Handbook.

  • 1960 Aerial View

    Look carefully at these aerial views of the site from the 1960’s, taken about 8 years apart and spot the changes! Early 1960’s view

  • 1960 Merger

    H&G Simonds Ltd merged with Courage Barclay Ltd to become Courage Barclay & Simonds Ltd.

  • 1970 Aerial View

  • 1980 Plaque

    The old Brewery buildings on Seven Bridges Street were finally demolished to make way for what is now the Oracle shopping centre. This plaque, originally from the offices, was salvaged from the debris.

  • 2009 Information Board

    A memorial Information Board is unveiled on the bank of the River Kennet, facing the site of the Bridge Street Brewery.