Author John Owen by a portrait of Percy Neame
A new book is offering an insight into the life of the first Neame to run the Shepherd Neame brewery.
Percy Beale Neame and the Shepherd Neame Brewery, Faversham: 1836 – 1913 is the latest work by John Owen, archivist and historian at the Faversham-based brewery.
It completes his trilogy of books unravelling the development of Shepherd Neame, which start in 1100 and end with this title in 1913. The last book, The Emergence Of Shepherd Neame From The Earliest Days of Brewing in Faversham, Kent: 1100-1732, was of particular significance as it contained evidence that brewing has taken place continuously on the current site since at least 1573; 125 years earlier than believed and cementing Shepherd Neame’s title as Britain’s oldest brewer.
This new book is a biography of Percy Beale Neame, who gave his name to the business. Percy bought a third of the brewery in 1864, aged 28, and 13 years later bought out the executors of the remaining partner. When he died aged 76 in 1913, he was worth £240,000 and one of the richest men in Faversham.
John said: “It was an extraordinary achievement as Percy’s family background was farming, so although he had a good nose for barley and hops as they grew them, he knew nothing about brewing. He also had virtually no money, and borrowed from friends and family to get started.”
The book draws upon a vast archive of personal and business correspondence to offer an insight into Percy’s life, particularly his approach to running the brewery. While a family man with ten children, he was dedicated to his work at the brewery, involved in all aspects of the business, from fiercely haggling over prices with suppliers, to personally answering any letters of complaint. While generally conservative in his approach to the business, he oversaw two key innovations at the brewery — introducing bottling and developing a wine and spirits trade.
The brewing industry hasn’t changed much since Percy’s time, according to present chief executive Jonathan Neame, who has written a foreword for the book. He said: “I find it fascinating how many of the challenges he faced then are similar to those of today: the challenges of sourcing product and quality raw materials, the sensitivity of the market place to economic peaks and troughs, the constant change in consumer lifestyles and drinking habits. Some of his letters to suppliers or customers or tenants could easily have been written within the last few years!”
University of Kent history graduate John added: “This book is a celebration of the arrival of the Neame family at the brewery 150 years ago and a celebration of nearly 1,000 years of brewing in Faversham which continues to this day. For Percy Beale Neame to die one of the richest men in Faversham, to leave an estate of £240,000, after a personal original investment of only £3,000, and to leave a business that continues as a family business a century later was no mean feat.”
Percy Beale Neame and the Shepherd Neame Brewery, Faversham: 1836 – 1913, priced £14.95, is available from the Shepherd Neame Visitor Centre shop, online at www.shepherdneame.co.uk/shop and at good bookshops in the Faversham area.