The History of Tetley’s Beer & Where it is Now

What is Tetley’s Beer?

Tetley’s Beer is an English regional brewery that was founded here in God’s Own County. Find out how a maltster from Armley gave us one of the biggest names in beer.

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The Beginning of Tetley’s Beer

William Tetley was born in Birkenshaw which is close to Bradford. During the 1740’s, he decided to become a maltster based in Armley near Leeds.

Over time, his son William succeeded him and expanded the family business. It was around this time that William (junior) married Elizabeth whose father was believed to be wealthy.

It’s said that Elizabeth’s father had two homes in London, and two homes in Leeds. Bad fortune came to their household on Christmas Eve in 1788 when Elizabeth died aged 36.

William was left to raise his sons and run his business alone. Luckily, Elizabeth’s sister Lucy Rimington helped William by taking over housekeeping duties.

Over the next few years, the business saw mixed fortunes. However, despite this, the business managed to pull through.

The business was successful enough for William to buy two acres of land. This made him one of the biggest landowners in Armley.

Soon after, the American War of Independence broke out. As a result the prices of barley and wheat increased which then led to chains of bankruptcies.

William continued the family business as agents to the Imperial Fire Insurance Office of London. In the following year, the company was formed.

The new business, William Tetley & Sons, were trading all over the country. The products they sold were malt, wines, and spirits.

At the time of Elizabeth’s death, her son Joshua Tetley was only ten years old. When he became a teenager, he soon joined the family business along with his brother William.

At the age of 29, Joshua married Hannah Carbutt who was the daughter of a Leeds cloth merchant. They decided to settle on Albion Street in Leeds.

While living in Leeds, the couple had five children. They had four daughters and their long awaited son Charles Francis William more commonly known as Francis.

By 1817, Joshua and his family decided to move to Park Square. It was here that they had two further children, both of which were daughters.

How Tetley’s Beer became what is is today

In 1822, Joshua bought a small brewery from one of his customers William Sykes. The brewery was located at Salem Place in Hunslet and cost a total of £400 which is roughly £13,500 now.

Around this time, water borne diseases were rife. Luckily the brewery had its own borehole which ensured there was a plentiful supply of clean, safe water.

The business grew slowly at first. Joshua kept his malting business and only sold his products to innkeepers and private individuals who brewed their own beer.

In 1830, the Beer House Act was created. This was a great help to many businesses including Joshua’s malting business.

Anyone who pays a fee of two guineas could sell between 4am and 10pm. It meant that businesses didn’t need permission from the Justices.

Joshua bought many of these houses and with it became the second largest brewer in Leeds. Another great boon was the English Temperance Society.

Joshua bought many of these public houses. This led to him becoming the second largest brewer in Leeds.

Another great boon was the English Temperance Society which was formed in nearby Bradford in the same year. It was declared that beer was a temperate alternative to spirits.

In 1831, Joshua’s older brother died and three years later in 1834 so did his father William. As a result, Joshua inherited the full estate which valued around £450 which is roughly £13,800 today.

Within the same year William died, railways were introduced to Leeds. Joshua took full advantage of the new transport link to get the best quality ingredients that he could find.

He also used the railways to help him transport Tetley’s beers. This meant that their products could be distributed to other parts of the country.

In 1839, his son Frances joined the business and became a partner. They then renamed the company ‘Joshua Tetley & Son’.

Portrait of Charles Francis Tetley.

11 years later in 1850, the duo had saved quite a bit of money. Together they were able to purchase a large plot of land.

This was located next door to the brewery that they were leasing. Then, in 1852, work began on the new brewery.

In 1859, Joshua had died and left the business to Francis. By this time, the company had become the largest brewery in the North of England.

The beer trade quickly surpassed the malting business in 1861. Despite this, Francis decided to keep all of the malt they produced to use in their own beer.

Due to growing demand, Francis replaced the malt deliveries with beer. At this time, they were using the iconic shire horses to cart their beer around.

Within the same year, Francis decided to take on a new partner. He chose his brother in law Charles Ryder.

Francis originally wanted to choose his own son Charles Francis Tetley. However, he was only ten years old at this time.

Business for Tetley’s beer was now booming. As a result, they were able to purchase the old Sykes Brewery in 1864.

They began to rebuild the building in order to suit their new demands. This included a large cellar, a hop store, and a stone room for the fermenting process.

In 1890, Tetley’s purchased the first of their two ‘tied houses’. These were The Fleece at Farsley and The Duke William in the brewery yard.

The business soon began to produce stouts and bottled beers in 1892. However, this expansion of the business needed financing.

In 1897, the business became a limited company called Joshua Tetley & Son Ltd. The company was valued at over £500,000 which is roughly £64,246,000 today.

Tetley brewery in Leeds, Photo Credit EG Focus, Flickr, Creative Commons
Tetley brewery in Leeds, Photo Credit EG Focus, Flickr, Creative Commons

During 1911, Tetley’s involved themselves in a bizarre advertising stunt. This featured the famous Hungarian escapologist Harry Houdini.

The stunt involved Houdinie putting himself inside a padlocked metal cast of Tetley’s ale. His challenge was, of course, to escape.

Several failed attempts were made. In the end a colleague had to rescue him following a long silence from within.

When Houdini emerged, he was barely conscious. This was due to the effects of carbon dioxide fumes and drunkenness.

The 20th Century saw mixed fortunes for both Tetley’s and brewing as a whole. Two world wars meant that multiple parliamentary acts restricted what could be sold in pubs and when they could open.

The 20th Century brought many mixed fortunes. These not only affected Tetley’s, but also brewing as a whole.

Two world wars resulted in multiple parliamentary acts. These acts restricted what could be sold in pubs and when they were able to open.

Despite these problems the company faced, Tetley’s still decided to expand. They bought breweries throughout the whole of the country and built its Art Deco headquarters in 1931.

At the businesses peak during the 1960’s, Tetley’s owned over 2,000 tied public houses. These spanned across the country where half of which were located in Yorkshire.

The second half of these public houses would see a decline in the sale of the brand. This resulted in Tetley’s merging with Carlsberg UK in 1998.

In 2006, the Carlsberg UK company decided to drop the Tetley name. Then, in 2011, production for Tetley’s was transferred from Leeds to Northampton.

The final barrel of Tetley’s brewing in Leeds was on the 24th of May 2011. The city decided to keep its distribution centre based nearby in Tingley.

Where is Tetley’s Beer Now?

Today, Tetley’s is still the second biggest brand of ale in the world. It’s only surpassed by another Yorkshire giant called John Smith’s.

Although it’s no longer brewed in Leeds, in 2013 a Tetley gallery was opened. Tetley’s also retained the sponsorship of many sports teams, venues, and events.

Tetley’s beer continues to be an all time favourite. It can still be found on the pumps of many pubs across Yorkshire and beyond.