Strettons Manchester Brewery stood on Ashbourne Road, bounded by Surrey Street and Frederick Street. The firm was founded in 1867 when the Stretton brothers bought John Porter’s Brewery on the Ashbourne Road. In 1929 the brewery was closed and sold to local soft drinks manufacturer Burrows and Sturgess. It was lost to a fire in 1978.
The distinctive maltings buildings still stand, converted into flats. These can be seen on Manchester Street, which leads off the other side of Surrey Street. Manchester Street is thought to be named after the brewery, not the other way round.
The combined firms of Strettons and Altons (DWWIPP-1) held annual dinners for around 250 employees “from the smallest boy to the burly drayman”. Typically, there was an “admirable dinner”, with several toasts “heartily drunk”, with the rest of the evening “devoted to harmony, an excellent musical programme having been arranged”.
The toasts gave an opportunity for directors and senior staff to make speeches and detailed reports of these in the Derby Daily Telegraph give us a glimpse into the early years of the war from a brewer’s perspective.
From these reports we learn that the Strettons management were, rightly, proud of the number of their employees who had volunteered and bore with equanimity the problems of the shortages of ingredients, the requisitioning of dray horses and the loss of so many young male customers to overseas service. But what rankled was what they saw as interference in the business by the Government and the Temperance Movement (DWWIPP 3).
The main target of their attack was David Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had introduced “iniquitous licencing taxes”, which either “singled [the brewers] out purposely” or “he was a bad financier”. They also believed that the temperance movement was responsible for promoting “legislation specially directed against [our] trade”, of which they protested, “none of [us] are ashamed”.
Two notable figures, Walter and Leslie Finch, father and son, worked for the brewery. They lived nearby at 9 Heyworth Street, which somewhat ironically was named in honour of Lawrence Heyworth, the MP who laid the foundation stone of the Temperance Hall (DWWIPP-3). Walter Finch was head brewer and a significant figure in the British brewing industry. Leslie Finch had been an assistant brewer and went on to have a distinguished wartime career.
In 1908, aged about 18, and like many local young men of his time, Leslie Finch had joined the 5th Battalion of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment (the Sherwood Foresters). This was then part of the Territorial Force, similar to today’s Army Reserve but committed to home defence only.
At the outbreak of war, Lord Kitchener thought little of these ‘amateur soldiers’. His famous recruitment posters were aimed at raising a totally new army. But this would take time to train and Kitchener urgently needed to support the British Expeditionary Force, the ‘Old Contemptibles’, as survivors came to call themselves because the Kaiser allegedly called them Britain’s “contemptible little army”.
Territorial Force soldiers could not be compelled to fight overseas, but Leslie was one of the many who volunteered to do so. As a result, he found himself on the front line in France in January 1915, now promoted to the rank of Captain. By the time Kitchener’s Army was ready for its first major engagement the Autumn of 1915, the Volunteer Force soldiers were battle hardened and well-regarded by their regular army colleagues who has been in France since 1914.
Officer casualty rates on the Western Front were about 17%, compared with 12% for other ranks, but Finch survived to return home on leave in March 1917 and marry Alice Snell, a widow 15 years his senior. Just a year later, the Derby Daily Telegraph carried a brief report that Leslie was missing in action. This had happened on the first day of the Battle of St Quentin. This was the first action in the German Spring Offensive of 1918, their last attempt to defeat the allies.
From 4.30 am the 2nd/5th Sherwood Foresters were subject to four hours shelling by first gas and then high explosive rounds. In the subsequent attack the Germans gained 2000 yards in eight hours. Due to the terrain and mist, individual units became cut off from each other and the battalion was overwhelmed. R. C. Sherriff’s famous play about the futility of war, ‘Journey’s End’ is set in an officers’ dugout in the British trenches facing St Quentin in the four days leading up to the battle.
In many cases, the fate of soldiers missing in action was not confirmed for months. In Leslie’s case and happily for all concerned, Walter was able to tell the Telegraph a couple of weeks later that he had received a (standard) postcard from his son to say that he was “a prisoner of war in Germany, and quite well”.
Captain Finch’s war finally ended in January 1919 when he was repatriated. However, he continued to serve in what became the Territorial Army until 1926. He moved away from Derby and in the Second World War was a Major in the Staffordshire Home Guard. In addition to his wartime medals, and his oak leaf clasp for being mentioned in dispatches, he was awarded the MBE for military services.
Strettons maltings are now flats and not open to the public
The Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment (known as the Sherwood Foresters) is now part of the Mercian Regiment. More details can be found here: https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/sherwood-foresters-nottinghamshire-and-derbyshire-regiment; and in displays at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery https://www.derbymuseums.org/ and in the Nottingham Castle Museum (closed for refurbishment until 2020).
This Wonder is one of a series of thirteen researched by the Derby World War One Pubs Project (DWWIPP). In describing the wonders, we also develop an underlying narrative on how the war lastingly affected pubs and the brewing industry, and society itself. For this reason, it may be preferable to read them in sequence, DWWIPP-1 to DWWIPP-13.
The thirteen wonders in this series and other stories featuring the effects of WWI on pubs and breweries can be found in a special Armistice Centenary Edition of Derby CAMRA’s magazine, Derby Drinker. It, and the current edition, can be downloaded free of charge at https://derby.camra.org.uk/derby-drinker/DerbyDrinker/DerbyDrinker_WW1special.pdf . You can also download an ‘Ale Trail’ leaflet featuring the thirteen Wonders in this series from https://derby.camra.org.uk/
The DWWIPP team are grateful for the support and encouragement of many organizations and individuals, in particular to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and all National Lottery players, for the funding; the Derby Branch CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale); the Derby Local Studies and Family History Library; and the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery (Wonders of the Peak). Thanks also to Maxwell Craven (Street by Street Derby, Breedon Books 2005, ISBN 1 85983 426 4) and John Arguile for information on Manchester Street and the origin of the Strettons brewery name.
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