As the last barrels of Hanson's mild drop into the cellars of pubs across the Black Country we take a nostalgic look back at Dudley town's much loved and last major brewer. The company also had the unique distinction of being the only major UK brewery to carry a woman's name. I am, of course, referring to Julia Hanson and Sons Limited.
Julia came from a brewing background. Her father, John Mantle, owned the Saracen's Head, an important coaching inn in Stone Street, Dudley, from 1835 to 1850, along with several others pubs in the area. In 1846 Julia married Thomas Hanson and the newlyweds set up, in partnership with William Hughes, as wine and spirits merchants in Priory Street, Dudley, under the name of Hughes and Hanson. The partnership was dissolved in 1864, with Julia and Thomas continuing to trade. Thomas died in 1870 and, despite having a young family, Julia continued to run the business and began brewing a medium dark mild.
In 1881 the company office moved to the Market Place, Dudley, Julia's mild ale proving successful. Her sons, Thomas and William, now joined her in the business by being placed as landlords, Thomas at the Talbot, Wolverhampton Street, and William at the Brown Lion, near the company office in Market Place.
The Hansons began buying other pubs when they became available. Julia Hanson passed away in 1894 and the Hanson brothers took control of the company. In 1895 they purchased the Peacock brewery and hotel near Top Church, Dudley, and production of their beer was moved there. They registered the company as Julia Hanson and Sons Limited in order to purchase the small brewery of Edward Cheshire. This marked the beginning of a major expansion, with Hanson's buying many small home brew houses in the district, including their grandfather's former pub, the Saracen's Head.
Hanson's were now brewing several ales and by the end of the First World War the business owned over 100 public houses and many free trade outlets. Once again they decided on a massive expansion programme, but this time their targets were not individual pubs but other local breweries. Their first major purchase was the Frederick Tandy brewery in Wood Street, Kidderminster, as well as its 30 tied houses.
In 1927 the Peacock Hotel and the adjoining Three Crowns, along with several shops, were demolished and the present Three Crowns built in their place. This became the brewery tap. In April 1934 Hanson's purchased Smith and Williams' Town Brewery at Round Oak, with its 60 tied houses. This was described by the County Express as "the largest purchase of licensed property in south Staffordshire and north Worcestershire." Also, included was another of their grandfather's pubs, the Stewponey and Foley Arms Hotel, a popular venue because of its outside swimming pool. Another hotel in the Hanson's estate was the Ward Arms Hotel, built in competition to Wolverhampton and Dudley Brewery's Station Hotel, where many a star from the Dudley Hippodrome stayed.
Hanson's take-over of Smith and Williams caught the eye of Wolverhampton and Dudley Brewery, brewers of Banks's, whose directors then started to purchase shares in Julia Hanson and Sons. When the Hanson brothers registered their company they left themselves unprotected from a take-over. Their aim had been to raise finance to expand the company. In 1937 Samuel Woodhall Limited, of High Street, West Bromwich, was purchased and the brewery was closed by Hanson's immediately following its take-over. This was also the last take-over by managing director Thomas Hanson, who retired soon afterwards, leaving younger brother William as managing director.
Hanson's last take-over was in 1942, with Gornal's Red Lion Brewery. The brewery was demolished soon after but the pub still exists today, overlooking Gornal bus station. In 1943 W&DB gained enough shares to take control of Hanson's. However, for W&DB it was more of a merger than a take-over and it provided them with a strong brand of ales and over 200 pubs.
In the early '60s Hanson's purchased the former offices and warehouse premises of another famous Dudley family business, Alfred Preedy and Sons. Following their move to new premises, during the next 20 years many of Hanson's old pubs were demolished and rebuilt and today form a part of the W&DB estate. Following the merger Hanson's was allowed to continue brewing its ales and keep its identity and trademark of Dudley castle. The last pub to carry the castle logo was the Old Park, Russells Hall, built in 1963, and the logo remained there until 2000.
Hanson's logo was dropped in 1974 and from then on its signs carried the Banks's lion logo which, incidentally, is now being dropped in favour of the Marston's brewery logo - W&DB became Marston's plc in January 2007.
Hanson's Peacock brewery closed in April 1992 and production transferred to Wolverhampton. The old brewery was demolished and the Netto supermarket now occupies the site. In March 2007 Marston's plc announced that Hanson's mild was to cease production this month.