Brewery History

This history of Bentley’s brewery at Woodlesford was compiled by David JohnsonThe images show the layout of the brewery and are taken from a BYB pub mirror which is on display in the Bay Horse at Selby.

The Bentley Family

For the greater part of 150 years the village of Woodlesford was synonymous with Bentley’s Brewery. Generations of local families spent their lives working there.  

Long before the brewery was founded at Woodlesford the Bentley name was well known in the area. One of its most noted ancestors was the eminent classical scholar Richard Bentley (1662 -1742) who became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Another was James Bentley, Richard’s grandfather, who was a Captain in the Royalist Army during the English Civil War. 

The branch of the Bentley family concerned with the brewing industry came from Lockwood, near Huddersfield. Timothy Bentley was born in 1769 and built a brewery there in 1794. 

Henry Bentley, the founder of the Woodlesford brewery, was the second son of Timothy by his second wife Betty (nee Green) and was born on 4 September 1803. 

Henry Bentley married his first cousin Maria Stocks, the third and youngest daughter of Michael Stocks JP of Upper Shibden Hall, Halifax. This marriage took place at Halifax Parish Church on 21 August 1828. 

Henry and Maria had three sons. Timothy the eldest was born in May 1831, Henry Junior in December 1832, and Frederick in 1837. There were two daughters, Eleanor born in 1829 and her sister Mary the following year. At first they lived in part of the brewery but then they moved into Eshald House when it was finished in the early 1840s.
Timothy Bentley, the patriarch of the family, died on 3 March 1830 some 2 years after Henry built his brewery at Woodlesford. Under Henry’s leadership the brewery flourished but his health was not good and on 24 November 1848 he died aged 45. 

According to his death certificate the cause of death was given as jaundice and dropsy. Both these complaints are associated with diseases of the liver. He was buried in the churchyard of St John the Evangelist at Oulton. 

When Henry Bentley died, Timothy and Henry Junior were 17 and 16 respectively. Immediate control of the brewery fell to Maria but eventually Henry Junior took over the management and not his elder brother Timothy. 

Maria Bentley survived her husband Henry by 6 years and died on 2 October 1855 aged 46. 

On 26 March 1856 Henry Junior married Jane Walker Hoyle from Rotherham who was known as Jeannie. Their first two children, Violet Maude and Florence Edith both died in infancy. They then had a son, Harry Cumberland Bentley, and another daughter, Constance. 

Under Henry’s control the business expanded rapidly and he and his wife took a great interest in the affairs of the village. He became the patron of the Woodlesford and Oulton Flower Show which was held annually in the grounds of Eshald House. He was also one of the founders of All Saint’s Church at Woodlesford which was opened in 1870. There are several stained glass windows in the church dedicated to members of the Bentley Family. 

One other position that Henry held was that of Chairman of the Yorkshire Brewers Association.
In 1880 the brewery became a limited company, Henry Bentley and Company Limited.
Henry’s wife Jeannie died on 29 March 1882. The inscription on her gravestone reads “Jeannie Walker Hoyle, the Beloved Wife of Henry Bentley”. 

After his wife’s death Henry went to live at Westacre at Swaffham near Kings Lynn in Norfolk but still maintained Eshald House. In the summer of 1886 he was staying in London where he kept a room at the Royal Yacht Club at 7 Albermarle Street just off Piccadilly. In July of that year he travelled to Norwich to vote for his friend, Lord Henry Bentinck, in a Parliamentary Election. On the journey he caught a chill which developed into pneumonia and on 1 August 1886 he died aged 53 in London. His body was returned to Woodlesford and laid to rest in the churchyard of St John’s at Oulton, there being no graveyard at the church in Woodlesford. The route from Eshald House to the church was lined with villagers and brewery workers who paid their respects to their employer. 

With Henry’s death the Bentley authority at the brewery was greatly reduced. 

Charles Frederick Hoyle, Henry’s wife’s younger brother had been the Head Brewer at Bentley’s before moving to John Smith’s Brewery at Tadcaster. He was recalled to be general manager and in 1893 was made Managing Director of the company which had now become Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries. 

Hoyle remained as Managing Director until 1913 when on 21 October he collapsed and died of a heart attack in Boar Lane, Leeds. He too was buried in Oulton churchyard. 

The last member of the Bentley family to be associated with the brewery was Captain Irvin. He was the son of Constance Bentley, Henry Junior’s daughter, and the Reverend Irvin, the Vicar of Woodlesford. Captain Irvin retired from the board of the brewery in 1964. The last link with the Bentley family was broken after 136 years.  

The Woodlesford Brewery

Timothy Bentley, the father of Henry Bentley, founded a brewery at Lockwood near Huddersfield in 1794. In 1808 he purchased land at Woodlesford and established a maltings to provide malt for his brewery. A maltings was a place where barley was prepared and allowed to sprout before being used in the brewing process. It is thought that the gatehouse, now a listed building, was part of the original maltings. 

Why Timothy Bentley should have his maltings so far from his brewery is not clear. The land around Oulton and Woodlesford was mainly agricultural so it is likely that there was an abundance of barley available. There was, however, still the problem of transporting it to Lockwood, some 15 miles away. Its likely that it was sent by river and canal on the Aire and Calder Navigation, which had already been in operation for nearly a century by then. 

Timothy Bentley was a friend of Joseph Priestley, the famous chemist who was noted for his work on the isolation of gases and the discovery of oxygen in 1774. It is clear that Timothy made full use of these discoveries in formulating more scientific methods of brewing. Timothy invented the Yorkshire Stone Square System of brewing which was copied by other breweries.
In 1828 Timothy’s son Henry expanded the maltings to create a brewery. It’s position of the brewery could not have been better. It was alongside the turnpike road from Wakefield to Wetherby and more significant was the pure spring water from the Eshald Well. The brewery was opened in 1828 and further advantage was gained with the opening of a new cut of the Aire and Calder canal just about 100 yards to the east of the brewery in 1835. 

Both Eshald House and the brewery were built using stone from quarries in the Woodlesford and Oulton areas.
At first the small brewery could supply only the immediate locality because the only means of transport were horse drawn vehicles but in 1835 came another stroke of good fortune for Henry Bentley and his brewery. 

The North Midland Railway Company decided to build its line from Derby to Leeds and commissioned George Stephenson to plan the route along the bottom of the valleys formed by the rivers Amber, Rother, Don, Dearne, Calder and Aire. 

The route from Methley to Leeds was planned to go through the heart of Bentley property, separating the house from the brewery, but Henry Bentley welcomed the railway with open arms as a station would be built at Woodlesford. 

He realised that the railway would allow him to expand his business. He would now have three main methods of transport at his disposal: road, rail and canal. 

The railway was opened in full on 1 July 1840 and with the expansion of his business Henry was able to establish agencies at York, Bradford, Hull, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Birmingham. 

Henry Bentley died in 1848 but the business continued to flourish and by the early 1870’s the brewery under Henry Junior employed over 200 workers. The brewery had its own gasworks which supplied not only the brewery but Woodlesford station and the houses and street lamps of Woodlesford and Oulton.

Soon the brewery had its own private railway siding, just to the south of the station. There was a turntable to allow wagons to be moved to different parts of the brewery. There is nothing to suggest that the brewery had their own locomotive. The wagons would probably have been moved by hand or by horses. 

In 1877 a Wine and Spirits Department was set up in the brewery to supply the public houses owned by Bentley’s but it soon outgrew the space available. The company had premises at the Corn Exchange in Leeds so the Wines and Spirits Department was transferred there. In 1926 new premises were provided at the brewery and all the stock was returned from Leeds without a single breakage.

The December 1933 wine list shows over 200 different brands ranging from Australian wines to champagne, clarets, ports and sherries. Bollinger Champagne 1924 was quoted at £12 per case and Australian wine at 3/- (15p) per bottle. Spirits were still received by rail from Scotland until the 1970’s from such as Haig’s at Markinch, Johnnie Walker at Kilmarnock and Distillers at Inverkeithing.
In 1880 the brewery became a limited liability company known as Henry Bentley & Company Ltd. In 1886, Henry Bentley, who had been living away from Woodlesford, died. It seems that with his death the structure of the company was destined to be altered greatly. 

In 1892 the company became Henry Bentley & Co and Yorkshire Breweries Ltd. Later in that year a new company was formed with the amalgamation of a number of other concerns in Leeds, Halifax and Bradford. The new company had 182 freehold houses, 11 long leasehold houses and 159 licensed houses with a total value of £700,000. 

In 1893 with the company greatly expanded it became Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries Ltd or BYB for short. 

On Tuesday 10 June 1902 there occurred a serious fire which could have had serious consequences for the future of the brewery. A spark from a grinding machine set malting material ablaze and although staff made valiant attempts to put out the fire it spread rapidly. 

The fire brigade from Leeds was called by telephone at 0505 and by 0545 an engine and  9 men had arrived. Considering the state of the roads in those days just 40 minutes for a journey of over 6 miles seems quite remarkable. 

News of the fire spread throughout the surrounding villages and a large crowd gathered to watch the firemens’ efforts. Fortunately there was a plentiful supply of water available from the nearby Aire and Calder canal. It took the brigade about 4 hours to finally extinguish the flames. 

The roof of a 3 storey building collapsed, much damage to machinery was caused and 9,000 gallons of beer was lost. The chimney of the boiler house was so damaged that it had to be dismantled and rebuilt later. 

The total damage was in the region of £10,000 but the premises were insured with the London and Liverpool and Globe Company. The subsequent loss of production lasted approximatel 3 weeks. With money from the insurance company the brewery took the opportunity to install the most modern systems of brewing available at that time. 

The brewery continued to prosper until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Many of the men, as in other industries, volunteered to fight against the Germans, a few never returning. Production was drastically reduced as raw materials became scarce and many horses were commandeered by the Army to haul wagons in France.
After the Armistice in 1918 production gradually returned to normal until unrest broke out in the country. The General Strike in 1926 and in particular the miners’ strike which lastedfor 6 months, again disrupted production and many of the brewery staff were laid off. 

Conditions for the brewery were not too good during the depression of the 1930’s but as things were beginning to improve World War II was declared against the Germans. Again many of the workers joined the armed forces. The office was staffed by women with only one man left as the office manager. Production was again curtailed as raw materials were in short supply. 

After the war production slowly improved and on the surface the brewery seemed to be on an upward trend but big conglomerates were appearing on the scene. Both Whitbread and Bass Charrington had bought a significant amount of BYB shares. Because of this Whitbread were able to persuade Bentley’s to sell Whitbread’s bottled beer in BYB public houses. 

In May 1968 half yearly pre-tax earnings fell £58,000 to £204,000. Sales also decreased. The Business Times stated: “The Board cannot look to the future with much optimism”.
After this the share value continued to fall until Friday 19 July 1968 when Whitbread made a bid for the company. They already held 27% of BYB shares and then agreed to buy Bass Charrington’s stake of 24%. This gave WhitbreadS 51% and effective control of the company. 

Other shareholders had ho option but to accept similar terms for their shares. The whole deal valued BYB at just over £5 million. 

On Monday 14 April 1969 150 men at the brewery walked out on strike for 7 hours after three of their colleagues were sacked for not turning up for work on the previous Saturday. The union claimed the men were on a five day week and Saturday working was optional. The men were reinstated and work resumed at 1530 the same day. 

Each month BYB would send 1 crate of 12 bottles of water from the well to London by rail for analysis. In 1970 it was discovered that the water was not up to its usual pure standard and its use was discontinued. 

In 1972 brewing ceased altogether and the premises became a storage, bottling and distribution depot only. Beer was brought into the brewery in bulk for kegging and bottling. 

On 5 September 1984 the axe finally fell and the brewery closed and the workers were made redundant. 

The buildings were eventually razed to the ground, the chimney of the boiler house being the last, demolished early one Sunday morning. When the buildings were demolished the Eshald Well was exposed. The wheel appeared to have turned a full circle. 

The importance of the impact of BYB on the economy of a small village such as Woodlesford cannot be over estimated. For over 150 years it provided employment for over 200 workers from the locality. The village would not have developed as it did without the foresight and business acumen of the Bentley family.