Boddingtons beer was brewed at Strangeways in Manchester for 227 years. The museum visited the site to photograph and record the last days of brewing in 2005, and now holds a collection of objects and archives from the brewery.
Strangeways Brewery is believed to have been founded in 1778, by grain merchants called Thomas Caister and Thomas Fray. They built the brewery just outside the boundaries of Manchester in order to avoid paying a tax to the Manchester Grammar School, which had a monopoly on the grinding of grain within the town. The brewery was established on the eve of the Industrial Revolution, when the growth in population and industry created a ready market for locally brewed beer.
Henry Boddington arrived at the brewery in 1832 to work as a traveller for the company. In 1848, when Henry was only 34 years old, he was made a partner in the business, and within five years, he had become sole proprietor of the company. Boddingtons became a family business, as three of Henry's sons joined their father in the management of the brewery.
The 1870s and 1880s was a time of expansion for Boddingtons. The company acquired several other breweries and extended the works at Strangeways, and by 1877, Boddingtons had become the biggest brewery in Manchester. It was one of only 30 companies in the country to brew more than 100,000 barrels a year, and already owned 71 public houses.
Henry Boddington delighted in innovation and progress. In 1877, the local and national press reported that his company had become the first business in Manchester to install a telephone link between two of its sites. In 1887, Boddingtons Breweries Ltd became a publicly registered company, and in the following years, despite trade fluctuations caused by the First World War and the Great Depression, the company consolidated its position as one of the leading breweries in North West England.
On 22 December 1940, the brewery was struck when Manchester was hit by a massive air raid. The site was very badly damaged and brewing was forced to stop for seven months whilst repairs were made. After the war, the Boddingtons took the opportunity to modernise the brewery, embarking on a major construction programme. The Strangeways Brewery was once again expanded, and state-of-the-art brewing equipment was installed.
In the post-war period, Boddingtons fought off several attempts to take over the brewery, and members of the family continued to run the business until 1989. However, in October of that year, the brewing section of the business was purchased by the Whitbread Beer Company.
Under Whitbread, large-scale investment in the Strangeways site allowed Boddingtons to increase production from 200,000 to 600,000 barrels in 1994. The connection with Whitbread gave Boddingtons access to a national distribution network that included 7,000 pubs. This was also supported by the famous 'Cream of Manchester' advertising campaign, which helped to catapult Boddingtons into the national arena as an instantly recognisable and well-loved brand.
The brewing section of Whitbread's business was bought out by InterBrew UK (now InBev) in 2000. InterBrew moved to close Strangeways Brewery in 2002, but were forced to delay their plans following a concerted campaign by local people. However, in 2005, the decision was finally taken to close the Strangeways site after 227 years. Production of keg beer was switched to InBev's other sites in Salmesbury, near Preston, and Magor, South Wales. Boddingtons beer was brewed under licence at Hyde's brewery, Moss Side, but this brewery closed in 2012, meaning that Boddington's beer is no longer brewed in Manchester.
The museum holds a collection of objects and archives taken from Boddingtons Brewery at Strangeways, including a variety of advertising material and product samples, as well as barrels and a beer pump. We also acquired equipment from the brewery's sample room, where each batch of Boddingtons was tested for quality and clarity. Production at the historic brewery came to a close in February 2005, and we visited the site to photograph and record the last days of brewing.