The horses, the huntsman, the unmistakable smell of hops in the Hunslet air – for decades, Tetley’s brewery was part of the fabric of life in Leeds, writes Paul Robinson.
Spread across 22 acres of land in Hunslet, the brewery was in some ways a self-contained community but never lost sight of its wider importance to the city it called home.
Tetley’s employed so many men that it raised a complete company for The Leeds Rifles, an army unit which suffered devastating losses in the First World War. It provided a sports ground for its staff and took a keen interest in their welfare even after they retired. It expected its senior executives to carry out regular public service for the benefit of the city.
All of this ultimately came about thanks to the vision of one man – Joshua Tetley, the son of a malt, wine and spirits merchant from Armley.
He was 44 when he handed over the princely sum of £400 for the lease of a brewery on Hunslet’s Salem Place in the summer of 1822.
The early signs were far from promising – the brewing trade was enduring tough times after a run of bad harvests and, in his first month of business, he failed to sell even a single half pint of beer.
But, by the 1850s, Joshua had doubled his staff and, after he died in 1859, a period of intensive building work and expansion began at Salem Place under the guidance of his son, Francis William.
Fast forward to 1890 and the firm was sufficiently emboldened to open its first public house – the Duke William, in nearby Bowman Lane.
Hundreds more Tetley’s pubs sprang up throughout Yorkshire and beyond during the 20th century while, at its peak, the brewery was producing 185 million pints of beer every year.
Its logo – a red-coated huntsman proudly holding a glass of ale – was as much a symbol of Leeds as a Montague Burton suit or a massive Test match crowd at Headingley.
And, despite the march of mechanisation, shire horses remained a much-loved element of the brewery’s local distribution system until the final three were retired in 2006.
By then, the winds of change had been whistling around Hunslet for some time.
Danish brewing giant Carlsberg bought a stake in the business in 1991 before taking complete charge seven years later.
The middle of the following decade saw speculation that some of Carlsberg’s breweries could be sold off – and Tetley’s, sitting on land valued at £100m, was regarded as a prime candidate for the chop.
Sure enough, in 2008 came the announcement that the Hunslet site had been earmarked for closure.
The taps were turned off for the last time in 2011, with production of Tetley cask ale moving to Wolverhampton and nearly 180 workers being made redundant.
The brewery’s various buildings – nearly 40 of them – were demolished, save for an art deco office complex that became the Tetley arts space and bar.
Plans are currently in the pipeline to turn part of the site – now owned by real estate company Vastint UK – into a park in a South Bank development that will also include up to 850 homes.
But memories of the brewery live on, meaning people across the city will today be raising a glass to the start of a new chapter in the story of Leeds and Joshua Tetley.