Phipps NBC
Phipps NBC
Bridge Street Brewery

Images of the Northampton brewery and copies of old Phipps NBC company information.
An Edwardian view of South Bridge and P.Phipps Brewery on Bridge St.
An arial image from the '20s supplied by
A late 60s view from the Baulmsholme side of the brewery with grain barges on their way to Whitworths in Wellingborough. Contrast this with the view above and you can see that the South Brewery site had altered in many ways even before Carlsberg arrived. Sent in by Jim Payler

Tom Whapples, Phipps' Brewery Engineer describes the Bridge Street plant

From 1950 to ’56 I served an engineering apprenticeship at Phipps. In my role at Bridge Street I can’t remember a place where I didn’t do some work and it resulted in me knowing the brewery and its facilities, including the maltings like, ‘the back of my hand’.

The brewery was a magnificent place with an unforgettable enveloping atmosphere of heritage, tradition and stability. The great building seemed to breathe with a purposeful calm and through treading the hollowed stone steps I sensed the spirits of men traversing them if former years, giving the overwhelming impression that it had stood for a 1000 years and would last forever.

The engineers were fine multi-skilled tradesmen, very strict tutors and despite being of working class stock, they were men of substance and good upbringing from a time when people were taught to respect one-another. They imparted moral values and decent behaviour, which contributed to workplace harmony and the personal development of the apprentices.

Not that I was unhappy at school but I loved going to work at Phipps and the tuition at College was meaningful because it linked to what I was learning at work. My world had moved into ‘broad sunlit uplands’ with most days bringing challenge, new experiences and excitement. The engineers shop was well set up with machine tools plus an abundance of equipment giving it the capability of a general engineering works and it was difficult to realize that it was within a brewery. There were a few comedians around the complex eager to convey the latest jokes and amusing stories helping to make it a happy place to work.

Post WW2 austerity existed with priority given to exports causing shortages of consumer goods and materials and the wartime philosophy of ‘make do and mend’ still applied. So when machinery failed the engineers were resolved to making replacement components to restore it to perfect working order necessitating intuitiveness, innovation, resourcefulness and improvisation.

Engineers were expected to be vigilant for signs of malfunctioning plant and be proactive in alerting authority and I too became very observant during my travels around the complex. In my minds nose and ear, I still clearly recall departmental smells and noises and instinctively knowing when machinery needed attention by the sounds it made.

The brewery was kept scrupulously clean and there was an unwritten rule that ‘whomever made a mess cleaned it up’. Most jobs created some mess and watchful departmental foremen called you back for a firm reminder if you left without removing it. By the time you reached the engineers shop he had ‘phoned the Chief Engineer and you received another ticking off. The engine room housed 2 immaculate huge Lightfoot ammonia compressors and walking between them when they were working was awe inspiring.

The brewers then were: Hipwell (head), Milner (second), Duncombe (third) and Seaward. Harry Page was the brewers clerk, Freddie Neighbours was the laboratory technician.
Head brewer Mr Hipwell surveys a foaming head

During my time there Phipps were producing:
PA and IPA draught and in bottles
Ratliffe's Stout in bottles
Number 10 barley wine in nip bottles (third of a pint)
Brown Ale in bottles (a blend of PA and Ratliffes Stout)
Bottling Guinness under contract from Park Royal.
AK draught for internal consumption (allowance beer)

AK was the workers allowance beer and of low gravity between 1030 and 1032. In relation to its gravity it was over hopped and very palatable when consumed with bread and strong cheese. It was said to be a product that had been specifically brewed for farm labourers to drink during harvest time! In addition to allowance beer it might have been sold commercially as SPA for special outdoor events, village fetes & galas, etc.

In 1953 they produced a Coronation Ale and packaged it in nip bottles with appropriate labels and metal foil cap. I remember it as a best pale ale style beer that had a delightful floral nose. In spite of the relatively high gravity, its keeping qualities were poor due to a fundamental brewing oversight. Consequently a large amount of the product never left the bottling stores and was destroyed. I drank it until the retail stocks ran out and thought it was gorgeous but whereas it should have been hailed as notable success for Phipps, it was soon forgotten. In fact the destruction of the beer that I mentioned signaled an unceremonious end to Coronation Ale and thereafter little more was said about it.
P.Phipps South Brewery in the 1950s when Tom Whapples was a brewery engineer

The brewery was designed by Davison & Scammell of London and constructed by a local builder named Dunkley in 1867. In 1905 William Bradford of Regent Street London extended the brewery and the general layout remained mainly unchanged until the Phipps NBC merger. The brewery was designed and equipped to operate a double-dropping system whereby fermentation was started and held for 24 hours in the Fermenting room. Then first dropped to the Tun room for the main digestion profile followed by a second drop to the Cleansing room. When trade was very brisk Phipps were able to dispense with the second drop thus temporarily increasing output up to 17,000 barrels per week.

There was an abundance of fermenting vessels from copper lined rounds and squares to many slate-backs. I am fairly sure that only one strain of yeast was used for all products on a perpetual subsequent pitching basis because they didn’t have a yeast cultivation plant. Number 10 was always fermented in what was referred to as the New Room that contained the smallest slate-backs.

With exception of crystal, roast and chocolate malts, Phipps didn’t use any other dry adjuncts, however in spite of having an abundance of mashing capacity they regularly used malt extract supplied by Munton & Fison. They also used a lot of block invert sugar supplied by Manbree & Garton in cardboard cartons. The invert sugar was cut into pieces and rendered down in the Sugar Dissolving Vessel, referred to by the workers as the Sugar Copper. .

Phipps had 5 mash tuns: two large ones with flat wooded tops and two slightly smaller with polished copper domes, plus a small one of 7 or 8 qtr capacity with a flat wooden top. I don’t know the exact sizes of the tuns, but estimate that Phipps total mashing capacity was about 97qtrs. At the time this was more than adequate for their current and future needs. The four large tuns were grouped together in square formation and the small one was confined to an area adjacent to the main staircase to the mash room floor. The smallest tun was mainly used for mashing No10 barley wine and Ratliffe's stout. The mash tuns, although in good condition were probably original from when the brewery was first equipped. They all had individual Steels mashers and grist cases but needed upgrading by adding mechanical spent grains discharge arms. At the end of sparging the goods had to be ‘dug out’ by a team of men using malt shovels. Consequently the task was highly labour intensive creating a turn round time of 4 to 5 hours resulting in poor plant utilization.

Phipps had a huge hop cold store for pockets of loose (seeded) hops and customary for that time they purchased a whole years supply that arrived during October, cramming the store. The cask beers, mainly in barrels and hogsheads were dry-hopped and I guess they used Goldings. The dry-hopped casks were rolled across the cellars daily for 7 to 10 days to leach out the hop oils giving the beer a hoppy nose. Phipps made their own finings in the central cellar and it was injected into casks immediately prior to dispatching them to the licensed trade.
Weston St. Maltings during the construction of St. Peter's Way

The malt came from a large malting at Ditchingham Norfolk supplemented by local supplies from the Anchor and Weston Street maltings. There were two rotary drum malt roasters at Weston Street in a building seemingly hemmed in by NBC premises. Phipps produced more malt than their annual needs and the excess was sold to other brewers that the firm had reciprocal trading agreements with. The brewing liquor was pumped from the ex’ Ratliffe well situated in a yard adjacent to the former Ratliffe brewery. The well is a real whopper, 125 ft deep with a vaulted gallery at the bottom and the liquor was pumped at 3 barrels per minute. I have a vivid memory of going down the Ratliffe well with an engineer to do maintenance on the pump that was located at the bottom. I wasn’t allowed to go down until I was 18 for insurance reasons.

As an historical point of interest, I remember it was openly said at Phipps the “someone was pinching our water” because Phipps were experiencing shortages. They were easily pumping the well dry and to overcome this, commissioned a Birmingham firm of artesian well experts to lengthen the vaulted gallery that extended from the foot of the well and drill more bore holes in the chamber walls. This took place around 1953 ’54 and I recall an air compressor near the wellhead, a multitude of pneumatic pipes and electric cables extending down the well. Apparently what they did restored the volume and the company also had sufficient liquor to expand production.
A flood on Bridge St. in 1947 showing the Malt Shovel, P.Phipps and NBC's Phoenix brewery

Power cuts were the norm at peak periods but it was the incredibly harsh winter of 1947 that really exposed the national supply weakness. As an emergency measure, the Government offered companies investment grants to buy their own stand-by electricity generators to ease the load on the national grid and Phipps responded in 1952 by procuring an alternator capable of keeping some production and the refrigeration systems running. Demand rocketed for power units causing a shortage and new suppliers emerged with all sorts of unusual packages.

Painted in battleship grey, Phipps chose a 150 KVA alternator put together by Houchin. A General Motors 7 litre 6-cylinder S-71 two-stroke diesel engine removed from an American army tank drove the alternator. A Rootes blower (supercharger) pressurized the crankcase and the pistons uncovering ports near the bottom of the cylinder walls admitted forced air to the cylinders. The exhaust gases were expelled through a row of 12 poppet valves in the cylinder head. The crown of each cylinder had 2 exhaust valves plus a fuel injector in-between them. The valves were opened simultaneously with a forked rocker, so each cylinder had 2 vertical pushrods, one to open the valves and the other to activate the injector. The unit and control panel was mounted on skids so it could be moved easily and it was decided to install it in the smaller part of the engine room adjacent to the main 440-volt distribution board. The alternator was placed on the same spot previously occupied by a horizontal twin cylinder steam engine, which the engineers reminisced about.

The output cables were connected via a contactor that switched and synchronized the alternator with the mains frequency. An exhaust pipe and silencer had not been supplied so we fitted a piece of steam pipe to the exhaust manifold and directed it via an elbow into the main yard near the spent grains chutes. The exhaust note from a 2-stroke diesel is sporty compared to a 4-stroke and when we pressed the starter it soon fired up and as the revolutions increased it sounded like a Grand Prix racing car. To test the alternator under load we made 2 triangular wooden frames and attached a steel plate to each of the 3 sides and connected them to the 3 phase output cables. We almost filled a sherry butt with water and hoisted the assembly above the cask with a pulley block to enable us to lower the contraption into the water to vary the load by raising and lowering it.

It worked better than expected and soon the butt was boiling, enveloping us in steam and because we were intensely monitoring the instruments, failed to notice the butt was boiling dry and quickly had to top it up. A governor controlled the engines throttle to maintain 50 cycles per second @ 3000 rpm, and the varying exhaust sounded like the death throes of a wounded monster. By this time a bemused audience had congregated to observe the spectacle from which they couldn’t have had a clue what was happening. They probably thought we were insane but it was an unforgettable learning experience. However it wasn’t long before householders opposite were complaining about the booming din and we had to fit a silencer.

My job with Phipps ended when I was called up for National Service in the RAF and it has been a long time since I lived in Northampton. I am a former Kingsthorpe lad and my wife was from Abington but we have lived at Caerphilly South Wales since 1979. I moved to Wales with Whitbread in 1978 to head up their Regional Management Services in Wales, based at the ex’ Crosswell & Ely brewery Fairwater Cardiff until it was demolished in 1982. I was then transferred to Whitbread’s Corporate Affairs Team at the London HQ but remained based in Cardiff, discharging some of my duties within the giant Magor brewery.

Tom Whapples 2008
The new pipeline that connected Phipps South Brewery with NBC'c North after the merger
The north end of the brewery, on the right the Red Barrel plant built by Watneys in 1961
The south end in the 1970's, the sign still reads "Phipps Brewery, Watney Mann (Midland)".
The Christmas 1960 delivery to the Peacock Hotel, Market Square; Special Pale Ale, Guinness and Babycham
Wooden barrels along with some new aluminium casks lined up in the rain ready to go into the cellar to drop bright

We are told that the two gentlemen in the pictures above are Allan Britton and Charlie Bellham
Bridge Street Staff, some in Phipps blazers, on a visit to Guinness Dublin, John Clipston , 3rd from the right - middle row.
NBC Head Brewer Robert Heron, father of Pat, on his retirement, September 1960,

taken by the Chronicle & Echo in front of the coppers in the former NBC North Brewery

Bob Carvell; Phipps, Watneys and Manns from 1939 to 1986
Bob Carvell enjoying a pint in the '70s and today with the Phipps 150th Anniversary pub cards he drew

Bob, from Semilong, Northampton, joined P.Phipps and Co in 1939 at the age of 15. His father was a dispatch clerk for LMS in the Far Cotton freight yards and Phipps were one of his key customers with malt and hops coming in and bottled beer going out. Elder brother Earnest was already with the brewers and provided an introduction to Phipps' MD Major Frazier. After a brief interview at the offices on Gold Street, he started in the Cask Office on Bridge Street.

In 1943 Bob enlisted in the Kings Royal Irish Hussars as a tank driver and fought through France to Berlin and the end of the war. Phipps paid any of their workers who were in the services a small retainer, unlike NBC, and held his job open for him after the war. He rejoined the firm and moved into the Architects Department on Gold St..

One of his early jobs was providing the sketches for some of the 25 Phipps pubs that were shown on commemorative cards stuck to the back of beers bottles. This promotion was to mark the 150th anniversary of the company in 1951 and the idea was to collect all 25, then claim a free crate of beer from the brewery. As many will have suspected, one card was made deliberately hard to get, limiting the number of crates ever claimed; The Swan at Duxford being the rarity. Following the closure of the Gold Street Offices, Bob took on the task of converting the old Crown and Anchor Maltings into offices and store rooms. He remembers the difficult task of breaking up the cast iron water tanks in situ and finding the back wall 3” out of line. He also remembers the Praeds take over well, making inventories of plant to be removed from Wellingborough and the arrival of a group of Praeds workers in Northampton who stood out with their different ways of doing things. Throughout the 50s and 60s Bob added extensions and modernised Phipps and later Phipps NBC pubs and Working Mens Clubs. After the building of the new Bridge St. office block in 1958 the Architects Dept. moved in on the 2nd floor.

Like many Phipps men Bob was keen on most sports, playing Football, Cricket and Rugby. He particularly remembers the extra intensity of matches between Phipps and NBC, sometimes on Phipps' Baulsmholm fields, sometimes on NBC's Spinny Hill grounds. This rivalry would be repeated in later years as Phipps Northampton teams would often play other Watney Mann brewery sides, games that had a fraternal rivalry. In the 70s Bob was chairman of the Northamptonshire Cricket Assn.

During the preparations for the closure of the Phipps Brewery and the building of Carlsberg, Bob was involved in the re-routing of the River Nene to create a larger, single site incorporating both the old brewery and the Baulsholm. He moved up to the Lodge Farm depot with other Watney Mann estate staff, finally bowing out in 1986 when computers came into the office, a 47 year career.
Bob in the Duston Offices Reception which he designed and at home with his medals

What's in a name?

The company's history as told through letterheads from the Bridge St. and Gold St. offices
P. Phipps & Company, Northampton and Towcester Breweries Ltd.

Late Victorian and Edwardian letter heads still being used in 1938, decades after the Towcester brewery burnt down; waste not want not!
After WW2 P.Phipps finally ran out of headed note paper with Towcester in the title
NBC's Statement form, telegrams "Barleycorn, Northampton"
P. Phipps Statement overprinted with the new merged company name in August 1957
The new joint logo and name on a 1959 letterhead
The independent Phipps NBC statement from May 1960
At first things carried on as normal after the Watney take over, just the new owners name added as a line under the Phipps NBC title
In late 1963 the NBC part of the star logo was removed and the logo received a make over but the company still traded as Phipps NBC. The Watney Red barrel is now on the company letterheads
A year later and the NBC name is now dropped altogether
From 1968 to the end of brewing and the brewery itself, the company was styled as merely a division of the Watney Empire although the site was now officially known as Phipps Brewery, having been just "The Brewery" in the past

Bottled Beer
The new joint Bottling Plant in 1958, taken by the Chronicle and Echo, Ratliffe's Stout bottles awaiting labels

NBC Labels
P. Phipps Labels
Early Phipps NBC
Later Phipps NBC
Phipps NBC with new logo
Phipps Brewery Limited
Watney Mann Midland labels
21st Century Phipps NBC
An illuminated sign advertising NBC's Dark Mild from Pat Horton.
It came from his family's pub "The Gypsies Tent" in Dudley. The pub was a late example of an original brewpub with its own small model brewery attached. This ceased brewing in 1961 but the pub stayed open until 1982. Pat kindly allowed the Black Country Museum to remove the bar and many original fittings for re-use in their re-created pub.
Early '1960 Inn Sign Cocktail Sticks
"12 Hotels and Inns Around Northampton"
Plastic cocktail sticks featuring local Inn signs were a feature of many pubs in the '50s, '60s and '70s. No glass of Cherry B would be complete without a maraschino cherry speared by a plastic sword or pub sign. The makers of these "Genuine Swinging Signs which clip over the rim of the glass in a delightful manner" covered the country offering bespoke cocktail sticks to the landlords and ladies of hostelries with ambitions to go one better. These would then be collected together by region and sold as novelty sets. Its no surprise to find Phipps NBC well represented in the Northampton area set
Joyce and Jerry Wood welcomed you to the Red Lion in Brixworth, " A Phipps House" with snacks at the bar and coaches welcome.

Mr and Mrs R. Morton at The Romany, Kingsley Rd, Northampton promised musical evenings along with Phipps and Watneys.

Mrs Partridge of The Horseshoe, Sywell boasted of her attractive gardens and large car park.

The Silver Cornet, Kings Heath, Northampton had it all; modern bars, indoor fountain, background music, Phipps and Watney's Red Barrel
The full line up was The Crown, Brackley; The Dog and Duck, Wellingborough; The Red Lion, Brixworth; The Romany, Northampton; The Stag Inn, Welton; The Horseshoe, Sywell; The Queen's Head, Bulwick; The Saracen's Head, Towcester; The Silver Cornet, Northampton; The Pytchley Hotel, West Haddon; The Ram Hotel, Northampton and The New Inn, Staverton
Beer Price increases from 1958, you do the maths on what that would be today. One Barrel equates to 188 pints.
Phipps Northampton Brewery was making money as can be seen in this document from 1958
The Purchase of Phipps NBC by Watney Mann Ltd
This document dates from the 1959 acqusition plan of 159 addtional premises.
North West of Northampton
North East of Northampton
South West of Northampton, here we see many of the 159 premises which were being purchased marked with a cross .
South East of Northampton, Charles Wells territory
Old Ledgers give a picture not only of suppliers and varities but also of book keeping in the Brewery.
"Another double for Wakeflield-Dick!"

Circa 1950's transport advertisement.

Phipps had been using Wakefield-Dick Lubricants for since the 1930's and had just installed a Wakefield Hose Reel .
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Phipps NBC, P Phipps & Co, Ratliffe and Jeffery, Hoggleys and the Phipps NBC star are Registered Trademarks of Phipps Northampton Brewery Company Ltd.