What happened to the Simonds Brewery?

  1. Simonds ‘merged’ (note they were the smaller part & thus it was close to a takeover) with Courage in 1960. At this time they brewed nearly 2% of the nation’s beer & formed c30% of the combined vehicle.  Duncan Simonds gave up his Managing Directorship at Simonds in Reading but became a main board director of the new group (retiring in c1975), moved his office to Courage’s HQ in Southwark, London & took responsibility for ‘Sales and Marketing’. David (John) Simonds continued working in Reading.  David was the last Simonds to work for the Brewery and upon retirement in c1980 ended over 200 years of unbroken family service to Brewing and Reading.
  2. ‘Courage, Barclay & Simonds’ became just ‘Courage’ in 1970. ‘Simonds’ continued for a number of years as a brand of beer.
  3. In 1972 Imperial Group took over Courage. Imperial were a conglomerate at the time and using the cash flow from cigarettes to buy into other sectors that perhaps they deemed more exciting.  Today (2012) they exist (once again) but solely in retail tobacco & very much as a dull but high yielding stock. Brewing ceased at the Simonds Brewery site in Reading in 1974 (after nearly 200 years) and the area is now rebuilt as the Oracle shopping centre.  A plaque recording it’s prior use and Simonds connection was unveiled with great ceremony by the Mayor in 2009 & is to be found next to the Strada restaurant & the river Kennet.
  4. In April 1986 Hanson took over Imperial, in a high profile hostile takeover that dominated City news for months.  At this point Hanson were a ‘take over machine’, led by the rampaging Lord Hanson & they struck fear into the hearts of any UK & some overseas companies that underperformed.
  5. Hanson set about extracting maximum value for the constituent parts of Imperial. Within Courage, they sold off the asset. In September 1986 Hanson sold Courage to Elders IXL (an Australian company now known for and by the name of their main brand – Fosters), then led by a swashbuckling Aussie called John Elliot who later got into major trouble with authorities for irregularities including fraud in several countries and was subsequently declared bankrupt.  Elliot’s activities included using the Courage Pension Fund (of which EDS & likely DJS were members) to provide cheap loans to finance his personal controlling stake in Elders.
  6. In 1990 Courage (now owned by Elders) did a “pubs-for-breweries swap” with IEL, a 50/50 JV between Grand Metropolitan (another former ‘beerage’ company) and Elders. Courage took Grand Met’s breweries and IEL all the pubs. The regulatory regime changed with the governments ‘Beer Orders’ which in a catastrophically flawed attempt at improving competition, (see ‘Intervention in Modern Brewing Industry’ by John Spicer & others – for a lesson on the law of unintended consequences in legislation) set out to separate large breweries from the pub estates that were hitherto tied to them.  Thus in this era & for the first time, large Pub companies emerged quite separate to Breweries.

Thereafter, some of the better pubs went to Grand Met Retail, subsequently sold to Scottish & Newcastle in 1993.

  1. Courage’s breweries and brands were sold to Scottish & Newcastle in 1995 (who ironically had successfully resisted a hostile takeover bid from Elders in 1989. That bid was then blocked by the Monopolies Commission but by this later deal it was allowed and the combination that Elliot had sought, was achieved.)  Thus the Simonds Brand & it’s better pubs were reunited.
  2. By now the pub companies were sought after property by City financiers who mostly made money through ‘securitisations’. IEL was sold to Nomura (run by the eponymous Guy Hands who was already a legend) in 1998. Most of the pubs then transferred to the Unique Pub company and were subsequently sold to Enterprise Inns in 2002. This is presently a quoted company.  There are several pubs with Simonds signs still on their exterior in London.  One is in High Street Kensington, the other is in W1 opposite the Ritz in Arlington Street. Also the Lamb and Flag in St Christopher’s Place, just off Oxford Street. Every member of the family should of course feel free to claim they own them but be sure to do so only in front of those ignorant of UK commerce.  And avoid the question as to why you don’t get free drinks….
  3. The Pubs that went into Grand Met Retail, then on to S&N, were bought by Spirit in 2003. Spirit subsequently was bought by Punch in 2005. Now it is also separate quoted company gain.  Interestingly under a weight of debt financing that the old ‘Simonds’ Board would have abhorred, but that became fashionable in c2000, both Punch & Enterprise very nearly went bust.
  4. Scottish & Newcastle PLC were taken over by a joint bid from Heineken and Carlsberg. The UK operations were taken over by Heineken and now operate under the banner Heineken UK. Thus it is very likely that Heineken now own the brand ‘Simonds’.  Which is perhaps not such a bad outcome, since I am sure that Duncan Simonds respected them as brewers.

Sources, John Spicer, foremost City brewery analyst of ‘90’s.  and Gavin N Simonds.

April 2012