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 milestones 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 for more information on William Blackall Simonds and other members of his extensive family.
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 […]
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.
1802 Coates Map of Reading
Coates produced the map of record of Reading in the early 19th Century. This map shows the limited spread of the town at that time Here, the then Brewery site on the East side of Seven Bridges Street is outlined in green It is unclear if at this date they owned or occupied the the […]
1814 Supply to Sandhurst letter
On the 15th June 1814, William Blackall Simonds secured his first agreement to supply the British Army. In this case the Officer’s canteen at Sandhurst Military Academy. It was to prove a turning point in his fortunes as H&G Simonds went on to supply the British Army with beer for the next 100 years and […]
1815 17 pubs!
Simonds had ten public houses in Reading, one in Pangbourne and six in the Aborfield, Hurst, Wokingham area.
1834 Holy Brook location
An original plan drawing of the brewery site. This is mounted on a wooden board and was in a framed display in Bridge Street for very many years. This is a map of the old Blandy & Hawkins’ Castle Street Brewer, which was Simonds’ biggest rival in Reading. It was bought by Hawkins & Parfitt’s Newbury-based […]
1837 Title Deeds on vellum
A plan drawing of the brewery site, on original vellum. From the original title and mortgage deeds. This 1837 map shows the property of George Simonds [Son of William Blackall Simonds] in Gas Lane, next to and later swallowed up by the Simonds Brewery. Giles Ayres’ coal merchant’s wharf is out the back of […]
1861 Coloured etching
Slide by Tony Corley of a drawing from David Simonds’ private collection. Marked on the back: “The old fashioned print of Seven Bridges Brewery: Date: 1861”.<br /> “ex Mr C. H. Smith 5/2/35”
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
Louis arrives from New York to live in the UK and spend the rest of his life working at the Reading Brewery. You can read his biography HERE As well as see the poignant letter he wrote from his home in New York – finally agreeing to move to the UK.
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.
1880 Valletta Malta
Initially a branch office was opened in Valletta 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 & local public. Certain beers that travelled better, like Milk Stout, were imported already bottled. The […]
Opened a branch in Gibraltar. The building remains, at the corner of Main Street with Market Lane. followed in the early 20th century by branches in Belgium & in 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 […]
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 1901. [see story below] These 11 stunning images were taken by Reading Photographers Dann & Lewis from the top of that tower between 1895 and 1900. Despite one frame being missing, […]
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. […]
These 2 images of the office building are from; about 1925 and shortly before demolition, in the 1970’s
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. Charles Stocker, Head Brewer. F.A Simonds, Chairman. Prince of Wales. George Blackall Simonds There is a Pathe News report on this visit – Click HERE. Beer prices were rather different in those […]
Simonds Farsons Ltd was launched in Malta The full story is HERE:
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. It was again granted by King George 6th in 1940 and by Queen Elizabeth 2nd in 1955. The warrant continued to be held until the […]
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 Squaddies enjoy a pint!
In 1944, beer was still in severely short supply owing to restrictions on raw materials and manpower. This cleverly colourised and clearly staged image dates from about 1944 and seems to be in an army barracks.
1944 Wartime Deception
Photos of American GI’s supposedly taken in Devon were published in 1944 to make the Germans think that troops were massing in the East of England. This image was shot at the Dove Inn, Burton Bradstock. It shows a large image of our brewery in Reading, as well as a calendar, open at April 1944.. […]
1947 May’s Brewery, Basingstoke
The Basingstoke Brewery in Brook Street, which became known as May’s Brewery, was founded by William May (1729-1797) the Miller of Burghfield, and his brother Thomas May (1737-1800) the Miller of Brimpton. Almost certainly with the help of their father, James May (1700-1774) a yeoman farmer from Sheep Sutton Farm at Long Sutton in Hampshire, […]
Acquired 50% interest in East African Breweries based in Nairobi, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.
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 […]
1952 F A Simonds Jubilee
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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:
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
H&G Simonds Ltd merged with Courage Barclay Ltd to become Courage Barclay & Simonds Ltd.
1970 Aerial View
1980 Plaque & last brew
The last brew at the old Seven Bridges Brewery buildings on Bridge Street was on June 25th 1980. Here is the sad report of the occasion in the Courage Central staff newsletter of the following month: A special commemorative ale was brewed and issued in a small case to every employee and many other followers. […]
2009 Information Board
A memorial Information Board is unveiled on the bank of the River Kennet, facing the site of the Bridge Street Brewery.