North Watford History Group

Wells Brewery

Wells Brewery building

Hille Business Centre (124 –132a St Albans Road) map

The site upon which Hille Business Centre now stands had been originally built upon to house the Wells Brewery. Hidden behind the modernist building of Hille House on St Albans road can be seen an older red brick building. This is what now remains of Wells' Watford Brewery Ltd. Throughout its history, the brewery was known variously as Wells Brewery, Wells Watford Brewery Ltd, Wells & Co, Red Lion and Lion Brewery. [1] [2] Within this article, we will refer to it as Wells Brewery.

Wells Brewery was founded in 1890 by a new arrival to the town — Lincolnshire farmer, Ralph Thorpe. [3] In the 1891 Census we can find Ralph Thorpe living in Lindum House on St Albans Road, listing his occupation as Brewer. When he later moved to Park Road, he named his house there by the same name, the name Lindum being the name used by the Romans for the City of Lincoln.

In 1901, Ralph Thorpe is living in Brewery House, on the site of Wells Brewery. Also in his household are his sister Charlotte and her son John Richard Godson (brewers pupil). [4] Soon after this, circa 1902, John Godson became Manager of the London branch of Wells Brewery. [5] Around this time the site was undergoing further development under the direction of the leading brewery architect of the time, William Bradford. [6] An edition of The Brewers Journal, published 15 April 1902, contains a plan of the brewery site. It shows the buildings present at the time and the extent of the development from what is now 124–134 St Albans Road. The building at this time shared distinctive Bradford features of “lettering just below the roof, along with dormers, ironwork and an idiosyncratic roof line”. [7] This plan shows us that the site included a railway line linked to the St Albans Abbey branch line. At a time before an increase in road traffic the railway was the most reliable means of transporting goods and it is not unusual for manufacturing businesses to incorporate a railway line into their premises for this purpose. It is believed that this railway link allowed the beer to be taken from the brewery in St Albans Road to the manufacturing area of Chalk Farm, North London. [8]

Wells Brewery became known for their AK Pale Ale, but like other local breweries included a Watford pale ale and mild in their range. [9] They concentrated their manufacture on bottle ales, which were transported to their Chalk Farm plant for bottling, crating and storage, ready for onward distribution.

By 1913 the Wells Brewery manufacturing plant in St Albans Road was extended with new offices and a large new bottling plant being established on-site.

On 25 April 1925, £110,000 capital was raised to take over the business, allowing Ralph Thorpe to retire. [10] At this time the directors of the newly-formed company were Sir Edward Lionel Fletcher OBE, Tom Montagu Winch and John Richard Godson. Although these directors are described as “gentlemen well fitted to conduct the Company's affairs,” [11] it appears they were prospecting investors, in the same period also being share holding directors of a number of other companies. Fletcher's business interests included The British Lion Film Corporation [12] and Associated Greyhound Racecourses Ltd., [13] whilst among Winch's were The Albanian National Brewery [14] and Direct Produce of London, dealing in vegetables, fruits, cereals, flowers etc. [15]

The notice of sale of shares describes Wells brewery as an “old established brewing business… stands on 2 ½ acres of Freehold land." This business acquisition included 12 tied houses (3 freehold, 9 leasehold). The Brewery itself was described further as having “… modern well built offices and private residence [which] occupy an excellent position on an open thoroughfare in the centre of Watford.” At the time of sale the brewery was capable of an output of more than 30,000 barrels per year. It was also noted that the railway sidings leading onto the property formed a part of the premises.

1951 saw the successful offer from Lazard Brothers, on behalf of Benskins Brewery, also of Watford, to purchase Wells Brewery. [16] Although Wells Brewery had, over the previous 50 years, increased in size from Ralph Thorpe's early beginnings, it is important to recognise that in the eyes of Benskins this was regarded as the “tiny Wells Watford Brewery… with a handful of tied houses.” [17] These included the Tudor Arms public house, off licences in Leggats Rise and Bushey Mill Lane, as well as a number of other licensed premises across London. [18]

It appears that by 1952 Benskins had started selling off land on this site and on 9th June 1955 the company owned by Benskins, yet still trading as Wells Brewery was voluntarily wound up. [19]


Wells Brewery building

The Wells Brewery building, behind Hille House, as it is today.


View Larger Map

Map showing locations of:
Hille House marker Hille House
Old Post Office marker The Old Post Office
Wells Brewery marker Wells Lion Brewery building
Hille factory marker Hille factory building


Research: Jill Waterson and Rebecca; North Watford History Group.
Author: Rebecca; North Watford History Group.
Photograph: Jill Waterson.
Thanks to Ian Scheer of S. Hille & Co. for his insight into the development of Hille Business Centre. [20]


  1. Barber, N.; Where have all the Breweries Gone, 1981
  2. Nunn, J.B.; The Book of Watford, 2003
  3. Barber, N.; Where have all the Breweries Gone, 1981
  4. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1901. Data imaged from the National Archives, London, England. Class: RG13; Piece: 1316; Folio: 6; Page: 4.
  5. Wells' Watford Brewery, Limited advertisement in The Times, 4 May 1925; page 22
  6. Pearson, L.; British Breweries: An Architectural History, 1999
  7. Pearson, L.; British Breweries: An Architectural History, 1999
  8. Whitaker, A.; Brewers in Hertfordshire: A Historical Gazetteer, 2006
  9. Poole, H; Here for the beer: A gazetteer of the brewers of Hertfordshire, 1984
  10. Barber, N.; Where have all the Breweries Gone, 1981
  11. Wells' Watford Brewery, Limited prospectus in The Times issue 43952, 4 May 1925; page 22
  12. The British Lion Film Corporation Limited prospectus in The Times issue 44751, 29 Nov 1927; page 23
  13. Associated Greyhound Racecourses Limited prospectus in The Times issue 44764, 14 Dec 1927; page 22
  14. Albanian National Brewery, Limited prospectus in The Times issue 45148, 11 Mar 1929; page 26
  15. Direct Produce (London) Limited (Incorporated under the Companies Acts, 1908 to 1917) prospectus in The Times issue 45133, 21 Feb 1929; page 20
  16. Another Brewery Offer article in The Times issue 52025, 12 Jun 1951; page 9
  17. Cornel, M.; Benskins of Watford; Brewery History No. 110, Winter 2002
  18. Whitaker, A.; Brewers in Hertfordshire: A Historical Gazetteer, 2006
  19. Wells Watford Brewery Limited; Gazette issue 40517, 21 Jun 1955; page 15
  20. Scheer, Ian; The history of Wells Brewery site from 1902 ; 2 Sep 2008

[Added by Glen: 10:48pm 14 Sep 2008]
[Updated by Glen: 09:22m 18 Nov 2008]
[Updated by Glen: 9:58pm 5 Jan 2009]
[Updated by Glen: 11:15pm 5 Feb 2009]
[Updated by Glen: 11:20pm 13 Apr 2009]

This page was last updated on 18 May 2009.