Tetley’s Beer – Made In Yorkshire – Volume 12

We take a look at Tetley’s Brewery, finding out how a maltster from Armley gave us one of the biggest names in beer.

Originally from Birkenshaw near Bradford, William Tetley became a maltster in Armley near Leeds during the 1740s and was succeeded by his son William who expanded the family business. William (Junior) was married to Elizabeth, whose father was believed to be wealthy as they had two homes in both London and Leeds. On Christmas Eve 1788, Elizabeth died aged 36 leaving William to raise his sons and run his business alone; although Elizabeth’s sister Lucy Rimington did take over housekeeping duties.

Over the next few years business was up and down. Although successful enough for William to buy two acres of land, making him one of the biggest landowners in Armley; increases in the price of barley and wheat following the American War of Independence, led to chains of bankruptcies. William was only saved from bankruptcy himself in October 1800, thanks to a loan from his sister-in-law Lucy, and by selling all his assets except the maltings and family home. He continued the family business as agents to the Imperial Fire Insurance Office of London; and in the following year formed the company, William Tetley & Sons, trading in malt, wines and spirits all over the country.

Joshua Tetley had been ten years old when his mother died, and as a teenager joined the family business along with his brother William. Aged 29, Joshua married Hannah Carbutt, the daughter of a Leeds cloth merchant setting up home in Albion Street, Leeds. Whilst living here they had five children – four daughters, and then the long awaited son Francis William. By 1817, they had moved to Park Square where  two more daughters were born.

In 1822, Joshua purchased from a customer, William Sykes, a small brewery at Salem Place in Hunslet for £400. At a time when water borne disease was rife, the brewery was fortunate in having its own borehole, ensuring a plentiful supply of clean, safe water. Business grew slowly at first, so Joshua kept his malting business, selling to innkeepers and private individuals who brewed their own beer.

The 1830 Beer House Act was a great help to the business, as now anyone paying a fee of two guineas, could sell beer between 4am and 10pm without permission from the Justices. Joshua took on many of these houses to become the second largest brewer in Leeds. Another great boon was the English Temperance Society, formed in nearby Bradford the same year, who decreed that beer was a temperate alternative to spirits.

In 1834, Joshua’s father William died, and as his older brother, of the same name had perished three years earlier, Joshua inherited the full estate valued at around £450. In the same year that railways arrived in Leeds he took full advantage of the new transport links to obtain the best quality ingredients that he could find. The railways also helped with transporting Tetley’s beers to other parts of the country. In 1839, his son Francis became a partner in the business which became Joshua Tetley & Son.

In 1850, they purchased a large plot of land next to the old brewery which they were still leasing; and in 1852, work began on the new brewery. By the time Joshua died in 1859, leaving the business to Francis, it had become the largest brewer in the North of England. In 1861, the beer trade had surpassed the malting business and so Francis decided to keep all the malt they produced to use in their own beer, replacing their malt deliveries with beer deliveries, using the iconic shire horses. The same year, Francis took on his brother-in-law Charles Ryder as a partner, as his own son Charles Francis Tetley was only 10 years old. With business booming, they were able to purchase the old Sykes Brewery in 1864, and began rebuilding it to create large cellars, hop store, and a ‘stone room’ for the fermenting process.

In 1890, Tetley’s purchased the first of their two ‘tied houses’ – The Fleece at Farsley, and the Duke William in the brewery yard. In 1892, they began producing stouts and bottled beers. This expansion of the business needed financing, so in 1897 Joshua Tetley & Son Ltd became a limited company valued at over £500,000.

In 1911 Tetley’s was involved in a bizarre advertising stunt, featuring the Hungarian escapolgist, Harry Houdini. He was put inside a padlocked metal cask of Tetley’s ale with the challenge to escape. After several failed attempts he had to be rescued by a colleague following a long silence from within. Houdini emerged barely conscious due to the effects of Carbon Dioxide fumes and drunkenness.

The Twentieth century saw mixed fortunes for Tetley’s, and brewing in general, with various parliamentary acts restricting what could be sold in pubs, and when they could open, largely due to the two world wars.

Despite the problems though, Tetley’s expanded further, purchasing other breweries throughout the country and building its Art Deco headquarters in 1931. At its peak in the 1960s, Tetley’s owned over 2,000 tied public houses across the country, half of which were in their native Yorkshire. The second half of the century would see a decline in the sale of the brand, which resulted in a merger with Carlsberg UK in 1998.

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


In 2006 the Tetley name was dropped from the Carlsberg UK company, and then in 2011, production was transferred away from Leeds to Northampton. The final barrel to be brewed in Leeds was on the 24th May 2011. The city has managed to keep a distribution centre based at nearby Tingley, the company’s last remaining working connection to its native Yorkshire.

Today, Tetley’s is still the second biggest selling brand of ale in the world, surpassed only by another Yorkshire giant John Smith’s; and despite no longer being brewed in Leeds, the name lives on with the opening of the Tetley gallery in 2013. It has also retained the sponsorship of many sports teams, venues and events. Most importantly, Tetley’s bitter can still be found on the pumps of many pubs across Yorkshire and beyond.

In the next post in this series, we will look at the Yorkshire Post.