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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Bullard and Sons

Bullard & Sons Ltd 

For over a hundred years Bullards was one of the major brewers in Norwich and from its Coslany brewery supplied public houses across Norfolk whilst the Bullard family played an important role in civic life. For many years the towering brewery chimney with its distinctive ‘BULLARDS‘ lettering was a major Norwich landmark.

Modest origins

The family‘s origins were modest - Richard Bullard was born in the parish of St. John Maddermarket on 8th February, 1808. In 1828 at the church of St. John de Sepulchre he married Jane Yallop, who had been born in St. Peter Hungate on 20th March, 1811. They went to live at the top end of Oak Street, in St. Martin‘s, where he was recorded by an entry in the Vestry Book on 13th September, 1831, as Overseer of the Parish. Later, with his wife and three children, Emma, Rachel and Ellen, he moved from there to the Excise Coffee House, Lower Goat Lane. In 1837, the first year of Queen Victoria‘s reign, he moved again, this time to premises near St. Miles‘ Bridge, which had been used as a dye office. There, in partnership with James Watts, he founded The Anchor Brewery.

Mr. Watts, a manufacturer, appears to have quickly lost interest in the brewing business, and the partnership was dissolved on 24th June 1847. Brewers were numerous in those days, and business correspondingly limited. There are, for instance, seventeen city brewers listed in White‘s Directory of 1854. But Richard Bullard was a shrewd man, and soon adopted a system of brewing that enabled him to supply beer that was extremely popular throughout the county. Business increased at such a rate that more extensive premises became necessary; surrounding properties were purchased, and new buildings erected. These were opened in 1850, taking in a four acre site.

By 1853 Richard Bullard had ten children, including one set of twins, and had moved house to Poringland. He moved twice more, ending his days at Earlham, where he died on 3rd February 1864, aged 56. His obituary in the local paper said ‘. . . The deceased, well known as a brewer and merchant, of extensive business, sprang from very humble life. By industry and constant application, he made the best use of the good intellect he was gifted with, and steadily raised himself to a foremost position amongst the traders of his city. Had he possessed the advantages of a good education, his name would have been more prominent in city affairs, but the sense of his deficiency in this respect kept him back. It was a distinguishing characteristic of the deceased that his great success, which has been rarely paralleled in our time, did not make him pretentious or purse proud, but was ever associated with singular modesty and unassuming manners. We allude to this especially, that young men may know that it is possible for energy, industry, and business talent to force their way even now-a-days through the greatest obstacles . . . ‘

Harry Bullard, his fifth child, was born at the brewery site on 3rd March, 1841. He attended school at the Greyfriars Priory, Norwich and later at a school in Church Street, East Dereham. Harry was not particularly studious, but was a keen and competent sportsman, and well liked by his contemporaries. On leaving school he worked in London for the firm of J. K. Hooper & Sons, Wine Merchants, Queenhithe. Subsequently, he visited vineyards in Spain and Portugal, travelling over the greater part of the terrain on horseback, and learned the art of making and blending fine wines.

On his return to Norwich Harry entered the family business working with his father until the latter‘s death in 1864. Ten years later Harry and his brothers Charley and Fred became partners in the business with John Boyce taking Charley‘s place after his death.

In 1867 Harry Bullard had married Miss Sarah Jane Ringer of Rougham

And their first child Mabel, was born at East Carleton on 5th March, 1868. Others quickly followed - Herbert Harry was born 1869, Eva Mary in 1871, and Percy Ringer in 1872, all at Carleton Lodge. They later moved to Hellesdon House, where a further three children were born. Edward John in 1875, Gerald Thomas in 1875, Hilda May in 1879 and Freddy Ringer in 1882.

Brewer and politician

At the same time Harry‘s political career was prospering. In 1877 standing as a Conservative he was elected Sheriff of Norwich and in 1878 he held the office of Mayor. However, 1878 was to be remembered as the year of the great flood. This began on the 16th November, just as darkness was setting in, the waters of the Wensum above New Mills, having over-flowed their banks, began to spread with startling rapidity upon the public road known as The Causeway at Heigham, and to penetrate up the connecting streets. Through Norwich itself the Wensum dashed madly along, to the amazement of the citizens, who saw its level gradually rising till warehouses and dwellings situated along its bank were inundated. A continuous rainfall added to the misery of the scene. Before ten o‘clock on that Saturday evening parts of North Heigham, St. Michael Coslany, St. Lawrence, St. Swithin, St. Margaret and St. Mary were under water. Among the inhabitants of North Heigham in whose houses the water was gradually rising the greatest fear prevailed; and while hundreds fled from houses which were threatened, great numbers remained as occupants of upper rooms in the hope that in a few hours the water would subside.

The flood of 1878

The stout walls of the Anchor Brewery, situated near the river, received the full shock of the mighty torrent as it was whirled from the New Mills, and into its windows and doors which were constructed above what might fairly be supposed to be high water level, the waters poured for hours, until offices, stores and yards were inundated. At first, hopes were entertained that during the night the waters would abate; on the contrary with the increasing rainfall there had been a continuous rise, so that when morning dawned the area under water had been vastly extended and the position of many occupants of houses in the lowest lying districts, where the flood was deepest, was a matter of great concern. The next morning the Mayor, Sheriff and other civic dignitaries rode from district to district seeing what was required for the many hundreds of people who were rendered homeless and had no means of procuring food; they requisitioned boats of all kinds to rescue people, wagons and carts were sent down streets as far as they could go to rescue people from the upper windows, or to take provisions to those who preferred to stay prisoners in their own dwellings. Coffee, tea and bread were provided at distribution centres, and those whose houses had become untenable were given shelter in school-rooms. That Sunday evening there was a meeting in the Council Chamber. The city was in partial darkness as the floods had affected the Gas Works, and continuous rainfall all day meant that the waters were still rising. The Mayor exerted a calming influence on the Council and the citizens of Norwich. His organising ability meant that people and services were utilised to the best advantage, and for many years after that terrible flood people spoke of the way that Harry Bullard had served his City and its people during those desperate days.

Elected and disqualified

The same year Harry Bullard was elected to represent his city in Parliament but was disqualified on petition on account of his agent‘s bribery. He served as Mayor again in 1886 and was knighted by Queen Victoria. He was returned to Parliament with Samuel Hoare in 1890 and 1895, and the same year the firm was registered as Bullard & Sons Ltd, the three directors being Sir Harry Bullard (Chairman), Mr. John Boyce and Mr. George Arthur Coller. (A member of the firm of Coller & Son, coal merchants).

Brewing in 1900

By the end of the 19th century the Anchor Brewery in Coslany Street occupied substantial red brick buildings covering an area of about seven acres. There were well appointed offices and sample rooms. In the brewery upstairs the mashing house contained two huge tuns capable together of mashing one hundred and fifty-five quarters. The malt was hoisted in sacks to the mash-house from a platform below. It was then shot through hoppers into roller mills, where it was crushed, having been previously screened and separated. It was next conveyed by what was known as a ‘Jacob‘s ladder‘ to a hopper, and then to one of Steel‘s patent machines, in which it became macerated with water, before being passed to the mash-tub. In the mash-tub it was further amalgamated with water by means of a series of revolving rakes.

When this process was sufficiently advanced the infusion or ‘wort‘ was passed through a strainer to the ‘underback‘, and a second and sometimes a third mash took place. From the underback the wort was transferred to the three boiling coppers, capable of boiling five hundred barrels. The boiling was effected by steam brought from boilers below, and as soon as the boiling of the wort had commenced the hops were added, the duration of the boiling process varying according to the kind of beer being produced. The wort was next run off into a series of vessels known as ‘hop-backs‘, (where the wort was strained and the hops kept back). On the top floor of the brewery were the coolers, which had a capacity of upwards of six hundred barrels a day. Three Morton refrigerators were employed in effecting the cooling, which was further assisted by the free admission of air. In an adjacent portion of the building were the eighteen fermenting tuns, capable of holding about one hundred and fifty barrels each. Here the yeast was added and fermentation took place. After the lapse of from four to seven days fermentation was complete, the yeast was removed, and the beer ran in pipes to the racking rooms, where it was put into barrels for storage or despatch.

Norwich beer, famed for its flavour, owed much to the quality of the water. In the Anchor Brewery this was drawn from an artesian well dug deeply in the chalk under the brewery. This was pumped to water cisterns at the top of the brewery which had an aggregate capacity of fifteen thousand gallons.

Huge cellars were also dug out of the chalk for use as stores, capable of accommodating six thousand barrels. In the two racking rooms, which could deal with one thousand five hundred barrels, the beer was run into casks. One of these rooms communicated by means of a hydraulic lift, with the scalding yard, where by the combined action of steam and hot water the possibility of tainted casks was removed. The steam was supplied from four boilers, one of 60 horse power and three of 40 h.p.

Bullards had their own fitting, turning, smiths‘, shoeing and wheelwrights‘ shops, so that they not only made their own casks and carts, but shoed their own horses and effected their own repairs of machinery. The stables contained stall and loosebox accommodation for one hundred horses. There were coach-houses and harness room, painters‘ and joiners‘ shops and a well stocked timber yard. In common with so many other businesses in Norwich at this time, they were indeed very self-sufficient. The malthouses were separate from the brewery, some being located in other parts of the city and county. There were three malting floors in the brewery, and the malt produced was mainly made from Norfolk barley. Germination generally took about twelve to fourteen days to complete.

The range of Bullards‘ products was extensive. They produced Light Pale Ale, East India Pale Ale, Imperial Ale, and other strong ales, London Stout, and a double stout ‘of a nourishing character‘. The firm also produced wines and spirits, being importers as well as merchants, and held large stocks in bond at Yarmouth and Norwich.

Yet the time was one of cut-throat competition for brewers, and it is easy to see why so many of the small brewers went out of business. The sheer size of brewing operations in terms of labour, machinery, buildings and materials meant it was too costly for all but the large, well established companies to survive. Fortunately, Bullards had their business well in order when John Boyce died in 1900, aged 69. Donald Gaul, who had been Company Secretary since its inception, was appointed to the vacant seat on the Board. Subsequently, Sir Harry Bullard died in December, 1903 and his son Edward John was also appointed to the Directorate. Mr. Ernest Bullard, Charley‘s son, also joined the business, and Sir Harry‘s son, Gerald Thomas, had control of the Mineral Water Manufactory, which had been opened in Lower Westwick Street in 1897, and unusually, included cloakrooms and breakfast rooms for the workers.

One of the ‘big four‘

Bullards continued to expand and prosper, becoming one of the four great brewery companies of Norwich. By 1937 Gerald Bullard, a fourth generation descendant of the founder had joined the firm. He had attended the Birmingham School of Brewing after leaving Cambridge, and started as a shift brewer, working long hours at times between 4 a.m. and 6 p.m. In 1942, during the Second World War, the maltings on St. Swithin‘s Terrace were bombed, but despite the damage they were patched up and carried on working.

By 1950 Gerald Bullard, having served in the Royal Navy, returned to the family firm, and joined the Board, becoming Chairman the following year. Mr. Bullard said he thought the reason so many local brewers had gone out of business was due to the enormous increase in the value of their properties. The great difficulty for any brewing company was to ensure an adequate return on the capital assets, and this applied particularly to the smaller breweries. In 1957 Bullards enlarged their brewing capacity, and erected an extension to their bottling store. Then, a year later they bought Youngs, Crawshay & Youngs‘ brewery in King Street.

Consolidation and closure

Finally, in 1961, John Morse, Chairman of Steward & Patteson, and Gerald Bullard joined their resources and bought Morgans. As Gerald Bullard said: ‘We were, of course, largely interested in the properties. There were about 400 of them, mainly in Norfolk and Norwich, and they were shared out one morning between us - we cut cards to see who should have first pick‘. Mr. Bullard also commented that both brewery companies were interested in the properties as licensed houses, and fully intended to keep most of them open. They foresaw that some rationalisation would be necessary, but this was not the main purpose of the acquisition. Bullards at that time owned over 1,000 public houses. In the same year they sold off Morgan‘ s brewery in King Street to Watneys, who wanted a brewery to supply their free trade outlets in the area.

Despite their growth, the firm could not compete against the big national brewers, several of whom were interested in buying Bullards and the other Norwich breweries. In 1963 Mr. Bullard was told by Simon Combe, Chairman of Watneys, that they were buying shares of Bullards and Steward & Patteson in the open market. When they had purchased about 18 % of each company, Gerald Bullard told Simon Combe that Watneys must make a proper bid, or the fact that they were making purchases of shares would have to be disclosed to the shareholders. The bid was then negotiated and accepted on behalf of the shareholders, so that the two public companies passed to Watneys, and John Morse and Gerald Bullard joined the board of Watney Mann Limited, in London.

The Eastern Evening News of 18th October, 1966, announced that brewing was to stop at the Anchor Brewery. Instead, Bullards‘ beers would be produced at the Watney Mann brewery at King Street, and taken by road tanker to the Anchor site for racking, bottling and despatch. Five years later the 3 acre site of the old Anchor Brewery was offered for sale by Watney Mann. The buildings on the site had already been stripped of all their brewing equipment and fittings. The property was purchased by Mr. R. G. Lawrence of Colney Hall in July 1972, and from then on the buildings on the site were left derelict; they were vandalised, stripped of materials by a group of demolition men, and although the old fermenting plant was a listed building, the whole complex was neglected and, by 1975, in a steadily worsening state of repair.

Eventually the Norwich City Council agreed a scheme of redevelopment for the area, and today we have a pleasant and attractive complex of houses and flats, which has brought people back to live in the City centre. I think it is sad, however, that they demolished the brewery chimney, a familiar and well-loved landmark to so many Norwich people.

At the end of October, 1974, Gerald Bullard retired as Chairman of Watney Mann (East Anglia) Limited and so ended a family association with brewing in Norwich, which began 137 years earlier when Richard Bullard took over the premises later known as The Anchor Brewery.

Joyce Gurney-Read


Revised by Nick Williams March 2008