By Greg Scott
Hertford is a town with a proud brewing tradition. McMullens have been brewing since 1827, and are well known throughout the county. How many younger Hertford residents are aware that until the mid 1960s, there was another brewer in the town?
In 1846, Samuel Ongar Nicholls was a licensee at the Oddfellows’ Arms in West Street and by 1853, became a brewer at the small brewery on the same street. His son William Henry succeeded him in 1863, but unfortunately died sixteen years later. His wife Ellen managed the business until her retirement in 1896. The business stayed in the family with their sons William Henry II and George continuing as brewers, and trading as W.H. & G. Nicholls.(1)
The brewery’s water supply came from an artesian well, dug approximately one hundred years ago, which after analysis was found to be well suited to brewing. In addition, to brewing, Nicholls’ operated a bottling plant at West Street which bottled beers from other brewers as well as Nicholls’ own.(2)
Nicholls’ were a well respected Hertford firm, supplying beer with such names as XK, Family Bitter Ale and Old Nick Strong Ale in casks from four and a half to fifty four gallons, to their small tied estate which included the Two Brewers, Port Vale and the White Horse, Castle Street, and to large country houses in the county. However, orders from such houses declined throughout the twentieth century as they were either pulled down or used for other purposes.(3)
By 1965, demand for Nicholls’ beers had fallen drastically, to the extent that they were mashing only once a week, producing approximately five barrels of beer. At this time, Hertfordshire County Council were in the process of planning the Gascoyne Way by-pass. Unfortunately, the brewery boiler was directly on the planned route. The County Council made a compulsory purchase order which was approved and the brewery was pulled down to make way for the new road.(4)
Next time you are walking or driving along Gascoyne Way, where it crosses West Street and Castle Street, you will be covering the ground where once upon a time some fine Hertford beers were produced. Perhaps spare a thought for the old brewery and wonder how their beers tasted. I know I will!
Thanks to Les Middlewood, The White Horse, Castle Street and HALS
(1) A. Whittaker, Brewers In Hertfordshire, A Historical Gazetteer, (Hatfield 2006), p. 134
(2) Unknown Publication, circa 1910. Retrieved from the White Horse PH, Hertford
(3) Whittaker, Brewers , p. 135