Mellersh & Neale Fleet. c1933

Mellersh & Neale Fleet. c1933
View shows 5 Bedfords, one Albion, and a Shelvroke & Drewry electric freighter

Monday, 18 February 2008



Take-overs are normal business practice within the brewing industry and it has become increasingly apparent in the light of recent developments that those who live by the sword must die by the sword. It came, therefore, as no surprise to Mellersh & Neale when they received a communication from Hoare & Co. Ltd. early in January 1934. Unfortunately there are no details to hand of this offer but suffice it to say that it was rejected [1].

The second offer came in August 1935 when most of the Directors were on holiday and was from the British and Allied Investment Co. Ltd [2]. This offer was rejected by the shareholders but the vote against was narrow and it became apparent how small the Neale controlling interest was, only some 51% of the total share capital. This meant that it required only one member of the family not to support the rest or for there to be a death in the family for that majority to be lost. As a result when Meux's Brewery Co. Ltd. made an approach through a stockbroker in 1938 it was decided to open talks between James W. Neale, Chairman of Mellersh & Neale, and the board of Meux. Meux's original offer of £30 per annual barrel (approximately £720,000) was considered too low. James Neale suggested that a sensible figure should be more in the region of £950,000. To support this contention, James Neale recounted that the earnings for 1936, after adding back certain amounts disallowed for Income Tax, Directors Trustees and Auditors remunerations, were approximately £44,000. The appropriate gross barrelage for 1937 was as follows:-
Freehold Licensed Houses 19,650
Freehold Home Premises 300
Leasehold Licensed Houses 1,700
Clubs and Free Trade 2,600
Total: 24,250 barrels [3].

The Home premises included offices facing the High Street, Brewery, bottlery, mineral water factory, garages, stores, yard and sundry premises covering an area of about five acres in the very centre of town with an entrance from both the High Street and Bell Street. The mineral water factory sales for 1936 produced a gross profit of over £3,500 and for 1937 some £500 higher. The fixing of a minimum figure of one million pounds therefore had regard not only to present earnings but also to prospective expansion in an improving area. In a private letter from Mellersh & Neale was voiced the situation in a nutshell:
"There are two questions inseparable from a sale and the consequent transfer of control to other hands, and they are the personal positions of the Directors and of the staff and employees…. The business has been conducted by the directors with progressive success in circumstances of freedom and security with the support of relatives and friends. Their positions are for all practical purposes lifehold so long as they may wish to have the health to retain them. It would not be fair to ask them to surrender these positions without adequate and indeed generous recompense, corresponding in some measure to the advantage which shareholders may expect to derive on a sale, partly as a result of their work...... some of them may be sufficiently interested in the shares to regard the future with equanimity, others may not be so fortunate.... some of them may wish to continue in active work, others may think that the time is approaching when they might fairly claim and in present circumstances would no doubt receive a suitable allowance on retirement.....I think they would be unwise to claim any arbitary sum, but that their recompense should have some logical relation to their present emoluments and, it may be also, to the sum received by the shareholders….” [4]

These few words put into writing the sentiments of the directors entirely, and the negotiations continued with this view uppermost.

The board of Meux reconsidered their offer, and finally agreement was reached on the basis of the purchase of each £10 Preference Share for £13.10s.0d. and each issued Ordinary Share at £61.10s.0d. In addition, Meux offered a position on their board of Directors to James Wilfred Neale and the position of Second Brewer to Meux to Eustace John Fortescue Pulling, the Head Brewer at Reigate, on the same salary to which he was accustomed. Further, Meux made over to the Directors of Mellersh & Neale the sum of £61,500 compensation for loss of office. In addition, a sum of £20,000 was to be held in trust for five years which was to be used for paying compensation to any employee of Mellersh & Neale who lost his job as a result of Meux taking the company over. In the event, practically the whole of this sum reverted to Meux [5].

The Directors of Mellersh & Neale considered the offer and thought it foolish to turn it down. The offer went through, the merger took place, and the last brew was put through by Archibald Graham Neale's own hands in June 1938. A.G.Neale had supervised this last brew as a gesture to the company, being a great great grandson of the founder of the business.

The minutes of an Extraordinary General Meeting held on 30th June 1938, revealed the speed in which Meux was quick to assume command of their acquisition. Robert Edward Neale resigned as chairman, and Archibald Graham Neale took his place. The other Directors, James Wilfred Neale, Harry Wiles, Lionel King Pagden, and Reginald Wilson Neale all resigned (James Wilfred Neale to take up the offered post at Meux and were replaced by The Right Honourable Sir Francis Lindley, GCMG, CP, CBE., R.V.Hunter, M.W.Wright, and Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Humphries respectively [6].

The brewery site continued for some time as a depot for Meux, the beer coming by train from London and being distributed from Reigate. The motor transport fleet comprising two beer-lorries, No.1 and No.8, two-ton Morris; and two mineral lorries, one two-ton Thorneycroft (No.4) and another two-ton Morris (No.9). A Shelvroke & Drewry electric freighter was used for town deliveries. Later, when the beer was distributed direct from Meux, the fleet consisted of a two-ton Freighter, three four-ton Albions, and one seven-ton Thorneycroft.

The brewery offices, which stood in the High Street, were burnt down in 1942 during the war - but not by enemy action. The offices had been derelict some time before this but when war broke out, Meux moved their own offices out of London, clear of the bombing, and occupied those at Reigate. However, one day an employee thought he smelled burning somewhere and sounded the alarm. Both the fire-brigade and the insurance company attended, searched the premises, and went away again having found nothing. Within the week the place went up in smoke and was gutted. Apparently a faulty hearth stone in a fireplace that had not been used for many years caused hot ashes to fall through onto a wooden beam which smouldered for some time before setting light to the building. At the time of the fire, the fire-watch was on duty in the Town Hall opposite and was completely unaware of the situation. There was no alert-officer at the time, so no breach of discipline occurred, but it took the diligence of a policeman patrolling the top of Park Hill - half a mile away - to raise the alarm. The offices were completely gutted and Meux lost the bulk of their records. It is interesting to note that apart from blast-shattered windows, the offices Meux had vacated in London came through the war completely unscathed [7].

Whilst on the subject of the war years, there survives an amusing anecdote concerning an unlikely alliance between the brewery and the local Home Guard Unit. It had become regular practice for the Home Guard to stage mock attacks upon Redhill aerodrome, the home of 611 Squadron. It must be explained that they were a part of the aerodrome's support defence unit, and upon regular manoeuvres, were used as part of the enemy forces in assaults upon the airfield to test how well it could be defended. However, over the months leading up to August 1942, when in particular there was a build-up of squadrons in preparation for Operation Jubilee, rivalry between the Home Guard and members of the aerodrome's other defence units had got to such a point - the Home Guard having been beaten-off at every attempt to storm the aerodrome - that it had become a matter of honour to effect a successful raid at any cost, and the idea of gaining such a prize was branded upon the hearts and minds of every member of the unit. They began to have nothing else on their minds but the thought of "taking" that airfield. Plan after plan was put into operation, but as each one failed, and as each time they were driven off, they became more and more determined. That aerodrome must be taken.

One day, someone remembered that one of their number was a drayman for Mellersh & Neale who delivered beer regularly to the areodrome. He was instructed to scrutinize the "lay of the land" when he next made a delivery, and to mentally note the deployment of the guards. When he reported back to his fellow conspirators, his findings provided a key to their success and revealed a flaw in the aerodrome's defences. For some reason, there were fewer guards deployed around the Station Headquarters based at Hamme House, than there were around the airfield proper. This knowledge led to the hatching of a darstardly plot!

His next visit to the aerodrome was preceded by a visit to the Home Guard Headquarters where willing hands lovingly removed a number of casks from the rear of the vehicle and the resultant space filled with well-armed volunteers. A tarpaulin was all there was between the conspirators and discovery. The loaded dray was cheerily, even eagerly waved through the checkpoints at the aerodrome, and within half an hour the Station Commander and his staff had become victims of the oldest trick in the book - the Trojan Horse. Undoubtedly many pints of beer were drank in celebration for weeks after this coup [8].

Although the brewing of beer ceased after the 1938 take-over, Mellersh & Neale survived as a mineral water factory, being a subsidiary of Meux, During the war years it traded under the wartime cover name of Soft Drink Industries, pooling profits with those of other companies into a central fund. The idea was that everyone got some measure of profit again, whereas in the normal way the war might have bankrupted them. As it was, many of the firms folded up despite the Fund.

After the war, the depot was closed down and sold. The gutted offices were demolished to make way for shops, and the tower was sold to Messrs Northovers, the undertakers, as a furniture depository. The old yeast store on the ground floor was used as a coffin workshop.
The mineral water factory, erected in 1936, continued to produce minerals until 1961, when it was acquired by Cantrell & Cochraine Ltd. In 1963 the business was closed down and the site purchased by Reane Investments, a property development company, who wished to build an estate on the site. After 25 years of dereliction, the final remains on the Mellersh & Neale site were cleared away in 1988 for a shopping precinct. A Morrisons supermarket and adjoining carpark, now stand upon the site.
1. Neale Papers.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Records of Mason & Sons, London.
5. Neale Papers.
6. Ibid.
7. Guy W. Bingham, Deceased. Local historian; also A. G. Neale.
8. Tait, G., Redhill at War, The Lighter Side. [1983].

Cartoon of the Redhill Aerodrome raid

Cartoon of the Redhill Aerodrome raid
from "Redhill at War, a lighter side", by Geoffrey Tate.

Mellersh & Neale trade advertisment c1908-12.

Mellersh & Neale trade advertisment c1908-12.
note the early telephone number.