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, because the May family had a long history of fathers preserving the main estate for their eldest sons and setting up the younger ones in business.
May’s Brewery c1860
The brewery is often quoted as having been founded in 1750, but 1755 seems much more likely, since William was by then aged 26 and Thomas 18.
Here was an example of a youngest son, Thomas, who had no prospect of much inheritance, setting out to make his fortune by sheer hard work, and he appears to have done just that, ending up better off than any of his older siblings. He got off to a good start by marrying his first cousin once removed, Mary May, (1743 – 1819). She was the only child of Charles May (1715 – 1745) – a wealthy man.
William eventually dropped out of the brewery and concentrated on milling, so the brewery passed down Thomas’ family to his sons Thomas & Charles and then on to Charles’ son, Charles Junior (who died within his father’s lifetime). When Charles Senior died in 1844, his grandsons, Thomas and John were only 15 and 6 respectively. Thomas was therefore thrown into the business at an early age. He died in 1870 when his brother, the well-known Col. John May, carried on alone.
In its early years, their business traded as a partnership of Thomas and John May. It was incorporated as a limited company, John May & Co Ltd in 1894 and was finally liquidated after 195 years in 1950.
By a bizarre twist of fate, our Simonds family brewery also existed for 195 years, from 1785-1980. So both family firms narrowly missed their bi-centenary.
The Brewery House, Brook Street, home of Thomas May, backed onto the brewery. Demolished c1965
Colonel John May (1837-1920) was a larger than life character and one who made a considerable success of it.
He joined his elder brother Thomas (1829-1870) in the brewery business in 1860, at which time it was brewing some 10,600 barrels a year, of which upwards of 4,200 barrels was strong ale. The brewery had a 28-quarter plant, meaning it could brew around 2,000 gallons at a time. It owned or leased 63 pubs, 23 of which were in Basingstoke. He was also a huge benefactor to the town.
From the air c1924
Basingstoke of 1836 seemed overly supplied with pubs, because John Hall of Church Street counted 75 pubs, which given that the population was about 3,600 meant that there was one for every 48 inhabitants! There is more on Basingstoke Pub history on the Victoria County website HERE:
The Wheatsheaf, Alton, a May’s Brewery Pub
The Simonds and May families had been entwined since the 18th century with several marriages, including:
Thomas Simonds (1731-1808) of Brimpton married Jane May from Long Sutton (1733-1802) in 1758. Their son John Simonds (1) is mentioned next.
Colonel John May’s mother Mary Simonds (1804-1873) married Charles May (1800-1841) in 1828. She was the eldest child of John Simonds (1) (1766-1845) of Reading, who co-founded the bank John & Charles Simonds & Partners, on King St, Reading in 1814.
William Blackall Simonds (1761-1834) married Elizabeth May (1764-1842) in 1783 in Pangbourne Church . Their marriage led immediately to the founding of Simonds Brewery.
Following the death of Colonel John May in 1920, May’s Brewery had struggled, in part as there were no male members of the family to carry it forwards.
Eventual negotiations for a sale were the led by Colonel “Tab” Lethbridge and F.A. (Eric) Simonds. Eric Duncan Simonds, Eric’s second son, once said: “Father grew rather fond of old Lethbridge, and they got on very well together”. In January 1947 H&G Simonds of Reading acquired the whole of the ordinary share capital (147,000 £1 Ordinary Shares) of John May & Co. By that time May’s Brewery owned or leased 94 licensed premises. Besides 6 pubs in Berkshire, the rest were in Hampshire, so were a good ‘fit’ to the Simonds estate. .
Click HERE for a list of these pubs. The addition of those properties brought the total of licensed properties controlled by H&G Simonds Ltd to 1,295. May’s Brewery closed on 31 March 1950.
The acquisition was recorded in the Hop Leaf Gazette issued in June 1947, page 125, which you can read HERE: By coincidence, the same issue records the marriage of my parents!
There is a very comprehensive history of the May family written by David Nash Ford HERE;
May Brewery drays from 1901 / 1902
Here is a photo gallery of pubs in the Basingstoke area that were mostly in the John May Brewery estate, many of which have been kindly supplied by the Basingstoke Heritage Society.
Basingstoke History Society helped me to find and pair off these 3 images of pubs ‘before & after’. The 1st 2 show May’s brewery pubs converted to Simonds. The last a Simonds pub and later facade.
With page acknowledgements to: May Family History / Kempshott History Group / Brewery History / Victoria County History.