Tetley’s Beer – Made In Yorkshire | Volume 12

What is Tetley’s Beer?

Tetley’s Brewery is an English regional brewery founded here in God’s own county. Find out how a maltster from Armley gave us one of the biggest names in beer.

The Beginning

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

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

It was said that Elizabeth’s father had two homes in London and two homes in Leeds. In 1788 on Christmas Eve, Elizabeth unfortunately died aged 36.

William was left to raise his sons and run his business alone. Elizabeth’s sister Lucy Rimington helped William. She took over housekeeping duties.

Over the next few years, the business was up and down. It was, however, successful enough for William to buy two acres of land.

Buying these two acres of land made him one of the biggest landowners in Armley. Due to the American War of Independence, 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.

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

Becoming what it is today

Joshua Tetley was only ten years old when his mother, Elizabeth, died. When he became a teenager, he 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 in Albion Street, Leeds.

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

Portrait of Charles Francis Tetley.

By 1817, Joshua and his family moved to Park Square. They then had a further two children, both daughters.

Joshua bought a small brewery from one of his customers called William Sykes in 1822. The brewery was at Salem Place in Hunslet and cost £400.

Water borne disease was rife but luckily the brewery had its own borehole. This ensured there was a plentiful supply of clean, safe water.

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

The 1830 Beer House Act was a great help to the business. Anyone who pays a fee of two guineas could sell between 4am and 10pm without 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.

This was formed in nearby Bradford the same year. Who declared that beer was a temperate alternative to spirits.

In 1834, Joshua’s father William had died. His older brother also passed away three years earlier. This meant Joshua inherited the full estate which valued around £450.

In 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 to other parts of the country. In 1839, his son Frances joined the business and became a partner. They renamed it Joshua Tetley & Son.

In 1850, the duo purchased a large plot of land. This was located next to the old brewery they were leasing. Then, in 1852, work began on the new brewery.

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

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

He replaced the malt deliveries with beer deliveries. They did this using the iconic shire horses.

The same year Francis decided to take on his brother in law Charles Ryder as a partner. He would have chosen his own son, Charles Francis Tetley, however he was only 10 years old at the time.

Business for Tetley’s beer was now booming. They purchased the old Sykes Brewery in 1864.

They began to rebuild the building to suit their new demands. This included large cellars, 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 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 which was now called Joshua Tetley & Son Ltd. The company was valued at over £500,000.

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

Tetley involved themselves in a bizarre advertising stunt in 1911. It featured the famous Hungarian escapologist Harry Houdini.

This stunt involve Houdini putting himself inside a padlocked metal cask of Tetley’s ale with the challenge to escape. After several failed attempts, a colleague rescued 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 Twentieth century not only saw mixed fortunes for Tetley’s, but brewing as a whole. Due to the two world wars, multiple parliamentary acts restricted could be sold in pubs and when they could open.

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

At its peak in the 1960’s, Tetley’s owned over 2,000 tied public houses. These spanned across the country, half of which were 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, Carlsberg UK company dropped 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 May 2011. The city kept a distribution centre based nearby in Tingley.

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

Although it is no longer brewed in Leeds, in 2013 a Tetley gallery was opened.

It also retained the sponsorship of many sport teams, venues and events. More importantly, Tetley’s bitter can still be found on the pumps of many pubs across Yorkshire and beyond.