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When Wrexham was a 'lager town'

The Albion Brewery, Brook Street, Wrexham, overlooked by St Giles
The former Albion Brewery, Brook Street, was one of 19 breweries in Wrexham

By Nick Bourne
Looking back on Wrexham's relationship with booze, amid news of nightclubs slashing prices to keep customers and village pub closures

Wrexham was once known as a "lager town".

Beer was its chief export, as it was home to the UK's first brewery.

Wrexham Lager bottle

In fact, Wrexham has been known for its beer from medieval times, says Jonathon Gammond, of Wrexham Museum, as the town had good underground water supplies.

"Good water meant good beer," says Jonathon.

By the 1860s, there were 19 breweries in the town. The most famous became Wrexham Lager which was founded in 1882 by Otto Isler and Ivan Levinstein, two German immigrants from Saxony.

They called it the Wrexham Lager Beer Company in 1881 and started brewing lager a year later.

Their business struggled to survive in the early years due to problems with their refrigeration process.

Wrexham Lager logo - the ace of clubs - could be seen on bottles around the world
Wrexham Lager logo - the ace of clubs

But in stepped another German immigrant, businessman Robert Graesser, who moved to Wrexham - founding one of the area's oldest companies, the former Monsanto (aka Flexsys) chemical works at Cefn Mawr - helping Wrexham Lager to establish itself as the most famous brewery of its time.

The company's logo - the ace of clubs - could be seen on bottles served on GWR trains and Cunard liners, while the soldiers besieged with General Gordon in Khartoum, Sudan, sought refreshment by drinking a bottle of Wrexham Lager.

1947... Staff at Border Breweries Mineral Works, Wrexham
1947... Staff at Border Breweries Mineral Works, Wrexham

As Wrexham Lager was enjoying success along the banks of the "mineral rich waters" of the River Gwenfro, so too was Soames's Brewery.

In Alfred Barnard's 1892 tour of British breweries, Soames's was singled out as "making the best beer in Wrexham".

Meanwhile, around the corner the Old Swan pub, Abbott Street, used to have its own brewery. And today, at Island Green shopping centre, former brewery oast houses have been converted into flats.

The former Marstons Brewery, Holt Road, Wrexham, courtesy Cheryl Mills
The former Marstons Brewery, Holt Road, Wrexham

But tastes were changing and the 20th Century began to be hard on Wrexham's breweries.

During the Great Depression, Soames's Brewery merged with two local rivals forming Border Breweries to survive.

In 1947, the then manager of Border Breweries Mineral Works, Mount Street, Wrexham, William BN Kington, a keen photographer, took a series of photos of staff, which today serve as a historical record, says his son, Stewart from Bristol.

Then, clogs and headscarves were the uniform of the day and a big sense of community was created with regular social group outings, including crates of beer of course.

But such events were only a respite and rationalisation of the industry continued, leading to the closure of Border Breweries in 1984.

Wrexham Lager was trying to adapt too. In 1978, owners Allied Breweries decided to re-launch Wrexham Lager but, despite their awards, by 2000 Carlsberg Tetley, the last owners, closed the brewery.

Now, as micro breweries have been able to establish themselves as successful small businesses, there are hopes that the beer, and the name Wrexham Lager, could be revived.

Former brewery microbiologist, Martyn Jones , retiring MP for South Clwyd, bought the brand name after the brewery closure and is keen to see it back in business.

Whether that could be on draught in local pubs or on supermarket shelves, only time will tell.

Exterior of Border Breweries, Mount Street
An exterior view of Border Breweries, Mount Street, ahead of a staff outing




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