Leeds: Tetley’s - the brewery that served its community

editorial image
Have your say

In the latest in the series of articles on Tetley’s brewery, Peter Lazenby looks at its remarkable role in the life of the city – far beyond that of today’s modern corporate giants.

THE demise of Tetley’s brewery brings to an end almost two centuries of involvement in Leeds which goes far beyond the role of local employer.

Tetley’s has been synonymous with Leeds. It was involved in the fabric of the city, so much so that until it was taken over by the conglomerate which was to destroy it, all Tetley senior executives were given one day a week on which they were expected to carry out public service for the benefit of the city.

Some chose charity work, others were magistrates or gave their skills to local organisations.

The commitment is an example of an old-fashioned attitude to running a company, and it lasted right to the end of the 20th century.

Kevin Grady came across it in 1987 when he first came to Leeds. Mr Grady is director of Leeds Civic Trust, guardian of Leeds’ architectural and industrial heritage. As a newcomer to the city, he had to make contacts with organisations which could help the Trust’s mission of preserving that heritage.

“I contacted Tetley’s because we wanted to put up blue plaques marking out buildings of significance,” he said. “In 1989 we put one up on the Victoria Hotel behind Leeds Town Hall.

“I was invited to one of managing director Philip Butler’s lunches. One of the things which struck me was the caring hospitality. You were met at the door and greeted as an honoured guest.

“We sat round this impressive table. I was opposite the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire. There were about eight of us, and next to each of us was a senior executive of Tetley’s.

“At the time there were something like 1,000 Tetley pubs and 3,000 more that took their beer. They employed something like 2,000 people.

“They had been on the same site since 1822 and were part of the fabric of the city. The Tetley’s brand was part of the identity of Leeds.

“Each of the senior executives was allocated one day a week for public service. It was seen as part of Tetley’s commitment to the city.

“The finance director Trevor Kitson became treasurer of the Civic Trust.

“We started the Eye on the Aire to campaign to have the river cleaned up. The head brewer Dudley Mitchell was Tetley’s representative with Eye on the Aire. They put in money.

“In 1987 I was trying to build up the Civic Trust organisation. They offered us two offices at the brewery, rent free for two years.

“They supported all sorts of good causes in the city – the Parish Church choir got a lot of support.

“Tetley’s arranged a carol concert in the new brewhouse to raise money for the Civic Trust.

“Colin Waite (public relations manager from 1966 to 1999) was at the heart of all this. He said Tetley’s stood for tradition, strength, quality and pride. That was the ethos in promoting the Tetley image.

“There was a tradition of big, paternalistic employers in Leeds. Companies like Burtons and Yorkshire Post Newspapers provided sports grounds for their employees. There was care for employees and the notion that they wanted to look after their employees in retirement. Tetley’s was really the last of those companies. They had been taken over but there was this strong tradition that if you worked for Tetley’s you worked there for life and son followed father. There was this feel of a large family. It might sound like a romantic way of looking at it but that was what they tried to cultivate.”

From 1961 Tetley’s went through a succession of takeovers, but still maintained its traditional outlook.

Then came the Carlsberg takeover in 1998 – a Danish multi-national with a very different attitude.

The ethos of Tetley’s being part of city life disappeared. All the contacts we had with Tetley’s vanished,” said Kevin Grady. Colin Waite, the PR man at the heart of the Tetley’s tradition, said: “As with any company, once other organisations merge into it the traditions get diluted. But people still thought of themselves as Tetley’s. Even the landlords did.

“We still retained that strong, local identity. People like me worked hard at keeping that. We did what the Tetley family had done. We kept our links with the city, Leeds United, rugby, cricket, the University – Tetley’s gave hundreds of thousands of pounds to Leeds University, the family had been among the founders.”

That was maintained under different owners – until Carlsberg.

Even then there was resistance to the abandonment of the traditional Tetley ways, to the extent that two “camps” emerged amongst management.

“You were a Carlsberg man or a Tetley’s man,” said Mr Waite.

Colin Waite retired in 1999, but followed the brewery’s fortunes.

Over the next decade there was a series of hammer blows against the old Tetley traditions and ways.

* In 2000 Tetley’s Brewery Wharfe visitor centre was sold.

* In 2002 overnight, Carlsberg demolished the very first pub which Joshua Tetley had bought, the Duke William, which sat abandoned and used for storage in the brewery yard.

* In 2004 Tetley was dropped from the Carlsberg-Tetley name.

* In 2006 the Tetley shire horses were retired.

* Over a period the Tetley’s Huntsman symbol had been phased out – the stout, monocled, red-coated, ruddy-faced character, cheerily holding aloft a glass of beer, who had been the symbol of Tetley’s since the 1920s.

Colin Waite said: “As soon as people saw the Huntsman sign they thought of Tetley’s. They knew they were back in Yorkshire. It was disappearing.

“The horses had been one of the constants. They were like the apes on the Rock of Gibraltar. It was as if the horses ever went, the brewery would go.”

In 2009 Carlsberg announced the impending closure of the brewery.