Although many Loiners are still mourning the loss of Tetley’s to the city, it’s easy to overlook the fact that we actually had another major brewery operating in Leeds up until 1983. There’s not much info out there about Kirkstall Brewery, and I in fact had to glean what little info I could about it the old-fashioned way: going to the library and reading.
The brewery started life in 1793 when two enterprising young men, Henry Cooper and Joseph Musgrave bought some land by the canal to start independent malting operations. In 1833, Musgrave’s business was bought by Hunslet-born Thomas Walker, who stopped malting and turned the two buildings into one brewery. He didn’t do a very good job of it, and died bankrupt. On his death, the brewery fell into the hands of Simeon Musgrave (Joseph’s eldest son), who promptly sold it to a chap called Benjamin Dawson. Dawson & Co obviously saw potential, and bought Cooper’s malting as well. A period of expansion followed; the land became the site for the brewery as it stands today.
Kirkstall Brewery Co bought the brewery when Dawson died. I’m not sure where they came from, or who was involved, but according to Dyson & Grady’s excellent Blue Plaques of Leeds, they churned out around 26,000 barrels of beer per year. It would seem that ales of all types – from Milds to Stouts to Pales – were brewed and exported in a healthy fashion; using the waterways. In my picture you can see the arched doorways by the waterline; this would be where the hogsheads would be rolled onto barges, and then transported up the Leeds-Liverpool Canal onto Goole. Here – and this is my favourite part of the story – they were loaded onto the SS Kirkstall and SS Charante and sailed around the world. Not much information exists about either boat, but according to Dyson and Grady they sailed as far as Australia and New Zealand - quite a feat!
In 1936 Dutton’s of Blackburn took over, but sold up to Whitbread’s of London in 1954. Whitbread’s overhauled the plant, increasing capacity to 62,000 – but I believe their main line was Mackeson’s Stout by this time. Another overhaul increased capacity again to 250,000 barrels per year, but the brewery closed for good in 1983. The brewery is now a Halls of Residence for Leeds Met University – although the trained eye, it’s clear what the building once was. At least the conversion has preserved the building - I wonder how many students get the irony of being housed within a brewery? If you want to see it, the brewery sits on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, straddling the border of Kirkstall and Bramley.
The excellent Leodis website has a number of pictures of wagons, and suggests the the nearby Bridge Inn was at one time a Kirsktall Brewery Pub. Please do head over there for some wonderful archive pictures to support this post.
I’d love to know more about Kirkstall Brewery. Sure, it has a blue plaque, but it’s hidden from view, about ten feet up in the air and off the main road outside it. Who were the Kirkstall Brewing Co? What did they brew - what beer, brewed here, ended up in Australia? If anyone can add to this story, please contact me.