One of Walsall’s hidden gems is the old Highgate Brewery building in Sandymount Road, which was Grade II Listed on 31st July, 1986.

The brewery was built between 1895 and 1898 by James A. Fletcher whose father ran Fletcher Brothers, a long established wine and spirit merchants in Ablewell Street. The location in Sandymount Road was chosen because of a supply of pure brewing water, rich in iron, from a bore hole at the end of the road. The brewing business was registered as the Highgate-Walsall Brewery Company Limited in 1898, and brewing began on 1st July, 1899 to supply the ten public houses that were owned by Fletcher Brothers. The first two employees were Fred Broadstock the brewer, and Bill Jones the representative and drayman.

Highgate Brewery.

The five storey brewery made the best possible use of gravity by allowing the various constituents to flow from process to process, from the top floor downwards. Production was originally aided by a steam engine, mounted on the ground floor, which drove much of the machinery including the malt mill. It remained in use until the 1920s when an electric motor took over.

In the first part of the twentieth century, Highgate Brewery acquired other breweries, and transferred their business to Sandymount Road. The first two were small concerns at local pubs, the first being at the Oak Inn, in Green Lane, acquired in 1903, followed by the Royal Exchange, acquired in 1904. During the First World War two other breweries followed. They were Yardley and Ingram’s at Bloxwich, and Town Brewery, in Short Acre Street, Walsall which had been run since 1901 by Bolton-born brewer, John Lord.

In 1914 Agnes Mountfield became Highfield’s head brewer. She is believed to have been the first female head brewer in the country.

Another view of the brewery.

The brewing Process
A Hot water tank (liquor tank).
B Liquor treatment plant.
C Mashing liquor tank which stores the treated liquor.
D Malt hopper.
E Malt screen and the grist mill which cracks the malt and breaks up the starch.
F Grist case which feeds the crushed malt into the mash tun.
G Mash tun where the grist and liquor are mixed and heated to produce wort.
H Underjack which regulates the wort from the mash tun and feeds it into the copper.
I Sugar storage tank.
J Copper where the wort is mixed with hops and sugar, and boiled.
K Hopback where the spent hops are removed, then sold for agricultural use.
L Jackback a storage tank for the 'brew' from the copper, and a 'brew' pump.
M Storage tank for the cooler.
N Cooler or paraflow which cools the 'brew'.
O Fermenting Vessel where yeast is added and fermentation takes place.
P Cooler or paraflow which cools the beer.
Q Racker where the beer is barrelled, and finings are added.
R Yeast tank where the used yeast is stored.
S Yeast press where the yeast is pressed before going into store.

In the early 1920s a bottling plant opened at Highgate, and the company began producing a range of bottled wines, spirits, and beers, including pale, mild, and old ales. Guinness was also bottled for resale in the company’s pubs.

Throughout the years the brewing plant was frequently improved and updated. The surviving fermenting vessels date from 1905 to 1962, the malt hopper dates from 1920, the belt-driven malt crusher came from Dresden in Germany in 1922, the hot loquor tanks were purchased in 1930, the wort receiver is from 1948, the coppers date from 1952 to 1957, the kickback from 1953, the hopback from 1955, and the paraflow, and fermenting vessels from 1970.

In 1924 James A. Fletcher and John Lord formed Walsall Breweries Proprietory Limited to take over the business of Arthur Beebee Limited, based at Malt Shovel Brewery, 130 Sandwell Street, Walsall, and its eleven public houses. Three years later saw the end of Highgate’s horse-drawn drays. From 1927 deliveries were exclusively made by motor vehicles.

The magnificent entrance gates.

Take Over

The business continued to grow. By 1939 the brewery owned over fifty public houses, produced 50,000 barrels of beer per year, and employed sixty five staff. Around that time the brewery entered negotiations with Mitchells & Butlers of Cape Hill, Smethwick, who were interested in purchasing the business. On 22nd July, 1939 when negotiations had been completed, Mitchells and Butlers purchased the whole concern, including Highgate Brewery, Walsall Breweries Proprietory Limited, and all of the company’s public houses.

Initially Mitchells and Butlers had decided to end production at Walsall, which was their usual practice for any brewery they acquired. The intention was to turn it into a depot, but World War 2 intervened. At the onset of war, every brewery received an allowance for malt and hops, which were rationed. In order to draw the ration, and to satisfy the great demand for Highgate dark mild ale, Mitchells and Butlers took the unprecedented decision to continue brewing at Highgate.

After the take-over, the bottling plant closed, and the product range was limited to Mild Ale, and Old Ale (produced between September and February, and bottled at Cape Hill), the last bitter being produced in 1940. During the war the Auxiliary Fire Service was stationed at the brewery, and company’s mild ale continued to be extremely popular.

A Highgate beer mat.

The next major change took place after 1960 when William Butler & Company Limited of Springfield Brewery, Wolverhampton became part of Mitchells & Butlers.

The distribution side of the business at Walsall was transferred to Springfield Brewery, and the production of Highgate Old Ale ceased.

Mitchells & Butlers replaced it with Butler’s Old Ale, brewed at Springfield.

In 1961 Mitchells & Butlers merged with Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton to form Bass, Mitchells & Butlers Limited.

By the early 1980s, lighter bitter ales, and lager had become more fashionable, but Highgate still managed to produce around 100,000 barrels of mild each year, with about thirty staff. In 1982 the number of staff was reduced to twenty two, and further reduced in 1985 to twelve. It became Bass, Mitchells & Butlers Limited’s smallest brewery.

Turbulent Times

Late in 1995, Bass, Mitchells & Butlers Limited decided to close Highgate Brewery. Its fate seemed to be sealed, but on the eve of closure it was saved by a management buyout, led by the group’s Marketing Manager, Steve Nuttall, and the Brewing Director, Neil Bain. They acquired the brewery at a cost of £600,000 and its future seemed secure.

In 2000, Bass announced the end of its beer production and the sale of its breweries, including Highgate Brewery which was purchased by Aston Manor Brewery, based in Aston, Birmingham.

The new owner, a large producer of canned beers and ciders, purchased it to produce canned beer for supermarkets. 

Two years later the company decided to revive the once-famous Davenports brand which disappeared in 1986 after the closure of Davenports Brewery.

This resulted in a new range of Davenports’ beers, which were brewed at Highgate.

Another Highgate beer mat.

The brewery seemed to be in a good position with a bright future ahead. It had nine public houses which it supplied with its range of 30 cask ales, including Highgate Dark Mild, and produced a range of bottled beers including Old Ember Ale, England's Ale and the popular regional brew Davenports, which sold well in the large supermarkets, and off-licences. The brewery had an annual turnover of around £5.5 million.

In July 2007 Aston Manor Brewery sold Highgate Brewery to the pub company Global Star which had over one hundred public houses. Global Star planned to supply Highgate beers to all of its public houses. This would increase production at the brewery, which had been running at half of its production capacity.

£0.5 million was to be invested at Highgate, which would still continue to supply beers to Aston Manor. A bottling plant was to be built on the site, and the three original wells would be brought back into use, to remove the brewery's dependence on mains water.

Sadly the new venture was short-lived. In September 2009, the company, now called Highgate & Davenports, went into administration with reported tax debts of more than £1 million. The brewery continued to operate and was soon sold by the administrators for £80,000 to two property developers, Simon Toon and David Lindol. Unfortunately on 14th June, 2010 it went into voluntary liquidation and closed, with the loss of twenty jobs.

Throughout its life, the brewery has owned many Walsall pubs at one time or another, including the following:
Pub Location   Pub Location
Bakers Arms Caldmore   Old Still Digbeth
Brewery Stores High Street   Paul Pry New Street
Brown Lion Pleck   Priory Park Street
Bulls Head Bloxwich   Rose & Crown Birchills
Criterion Green Lane   Royal Exchange Bloxwich
Curriers Arms Day Street   Royal Exchange Ryecroft
Durham Ox Park Street   Royal Oak Palfrey
Dusty Miller North Street   Seven Stars Stafford Street
Fox Stafford Street   Tavern In The Town Bradford Street
Globe Bridgeman Street   Teddeslay Arms Teddesley Street
Golden Lion Birchills   Three Crowns Wood End
Hatherton Arms Lichfield Street   Turks Head Digbeth
Littleton Arms Hatherton Street   Union Bath Street
Malt Shovel Lower Rushall Street   Watering Trough Ablewell Street
Oak Inn Green Lane      

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