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Massey's: Burnley's famous brewers
Edward Stocks Massey
Edward Stocks Massey was prepared to see most of his fortune go to the town of Burnley

If you live in Burney, you must have heard of Massey's.

The Massey family dabbled in the cotton trade, but were more well known for being the owners of the Bridge End Brewery, founded around 1750.

The company once owned over 150 pubs and off-licenses in the town and Edward Stocks Massey was generous with his wealth.

Alan Gall tells us more about the history of the famous Burnley brewing family...

The duty of a parent to name a baby should not be taken lightly. Mr Child, for example, must have been thinking of future prosperity when his son was christened Baron de Roths in about 1888.

But the Palmer family of Brentford might have been taking things a little too far with 'Lord Sir' for their offspring. Surprisingly the first name 'Lord' is not totally uncommon - over a thousand examples exist - and this was given to a number of males in the Massey family of Burnley.


The Bridge End Brewery at Burnley is reputed to have been founded in 1750. It operated under the name of Lord Massey until 1889, when Massey's Burnley Brewery Ltd. was formed. The Massey family also dabbled in the cotton trade, and owned the Victoria Mill, Trafalgar Street.

Trade was poor for Massey's from about 1908. The Investor's Guardian of 9 December 1922, reported that the Chairman had sent a circular to shareholders warning that if matters did not improve, there would be a drastic impact on dividends. Matthew Brown & Co. Ltd. of Preston had put in a bid, by cash or an exchange of shares, an offer that he personally recommended. It would appear that this didn't happen.

The Bridge End Brewery at Burnley is reputed to have been founded in 1750
The Bridge End Brewery at Burnley is reputed to have been founded in 1750

The problem was a loss of sales owing to pub closures under the Compensation Act and one way of getting out of the doldrums was to take over the local competition, if finance could be raised. In 1925 Masseys acquired William Astley of Nelson followed by J. Grimshaw Ltd. during 1928 and then John Kenyon Ltd. of Cloughfold later that year.

The Astley family were looking to relinquish active management of their brewery and decided that flotation of the business under the umbrella of a larger company might be the answer. In 1921 Astleys had their estate valued at £293,720; £40,000 for the Nelson Brewery and the balance for 50 pubs and miscellaneous properties, totalling 75 separate lots in all.

Considerable profit

Matthew Brown was approached about the flotation but the negotiations ran into difficulties. When William Astley died, his executors sold the business to Massey's.

Apart from the Burnley Clubs Brewery, J. Grimshaw Ltd. was Massey's last competitor in Burnley. J. Pletts & Sons Ltd. of the Borough Brewery, Stanley Street, had appointed a liquidator in 1923 and Grimshaws had already absorbed G.D.L. Fernandes' Old Brewery on Bridge Street in 1918.

The purchase of Grimshaws, financed by the issue of shares, gave Massey's about 120 houses. Many were in Burnley itself and by 1939 the company had over 150 pubs and off-licenses in the town.

John Kenyon Ltd. operated from the Rossendale Brewery on Bacup Road, near to the Rossendale Union Gas Works. The company's major acquisition was the Edenfield Brewery Co. Ltd. bought during World War I. This substantially increased Kenyon's pub estate so that Massey's inherited another 78 outlets.

The opening of the Massey Music Pavilion in Towneley Park in the late twenties, demolished in the 1960s
The opening of the Massey Music Pavilion in Towneley Park in the late twenties, demolished in the 1960s

In 1904 the Mayor of Burnley received a very unusual letter from Edward Stocks Massey JP. The brewery had made a considerable profit for the owners over the preceding years and now Edward was prepared to see most of his fortune, estimated at over £125,000 after death duties, go to the town of Burnley.

There was a catch.

If the police or magistrates should close any of Massey's pubs in the borough of Burnley, then the full value of the property would be deducted from the town's inheritance. The letter made pointed reference to the recent refusal of a licence for the Wheat Sheaf Inn; "This loss might have been avoided if the frequenters of the house, who were inhabitants of Burnley, had been more careful as to their conduct."

Prize Stout

The period over which this clause was to operate extended from the date of the will to the time of death. As it turned out, the will in force on 27 December 1909, when Edward Stocks Massey died following a stroke (aged 60) had only been drawn up and signed ten months before.

The eleven-page document revealed that the University of Manchester was to receive a gift of £6,800 plus any additional amount forfeited from Burnley's share of the closure of pubs. eventually the university received £10,386.

Painting of Charles Townley (sic) by John Zoffany purchased with the help of the Stocks Massey bequest
Painting of Charles Townley (sic) by John Zoffany purchased with the help of the Stocks Massey bequest

The donation of the money helped to fund a new professorship called the Edward Stocks Massey chair of Electrotechnics, with Robert Beattie as the first holder. The title ceased with the death of F.C. (Freddie) Williams, famous for his involvement with the world's stored-program computer at Manchester.

Massey's introduced an Owl trademark in 1937. This featured on beer labels, although the exact style varied in detail. The bottled beers included Massey's 6d Special Mild Ale, Prize Stout, King's Ale, Golden Bitter Beer and Pale Ale. The brewery also successfully entered their products in numerous competitions.

Massey's Burnley Brewery was taken over by Charrington United Breweries Ltd. in 1966 and came under Charrington Lancashire Breweries Ltd. The Birmingham brewers Mitchells & Butlers Ltd. merged with Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton Ltd. in 1961 to form Bass, Mitchells & Butlers, which then combined with Charrington United Breweries in 1967 to become Bass Charrington Ltd.

Edward Stocks Massey had married Eleanor Harrison in 1887 and taken up residence at Bamford Hall, near Rochdale. He may have sent his butler out for a jug of Massey's ale at the Grapes Inn, 69 Bamford Road, Bamford.

The Bridge End Brewery stood near to the junction of Active Way (A679) and Westgate, close to the river Calder. Numbers 31 and 33 Westgate now mark the site.

Edward's legacy lives on and two students from Burnley College were recently awarded a Stocks Massey bequest of £3,000 each to subsidise their university education.

Article sent in by Alan Gall.

In pictures: Burnley in the 1900s
07 Jul 09 |  History

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