Meet The Philanthropists: A good pint - the brewing industry’s race to give

In this series, we explore some of the most prolific, trailblazing or notorious philanthropists in history, taken from ‘Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain’. Today, the brewing industry’s race to give.

We have seen that at various times in the past, there was a clear social expectation on businesspeople to do good with their money through personal philanthropy. In certain industries this took on the nature of a race, with those who competed against each other in the commercial arena also trying to outdo each other when it came to their charitable deeds.

Caricature of Sir Andrew Barclay Walker, by Liborio Prosperi (aka ‘Lib’) for Vanity Fair, 1890.

The brewing industry was one such example. In the 19th century, almost all of the figures behind the biggest beer brands of the time were significant donors. This was almost certainly in part a response to the ongoing criticism of their brewing activities by the vocal temperance movement. For instance,
it is noted of the Liverpool brewer and philanthropist Andrew Barclay Walker (who gifted to the city the art gallery bearing his name)348 that ‘his business interests in the brewing trade made him a controversial political figure in a city riven by sectarian and religious differences’, and that ‘many saw Walker’s philanthropy as a crude attempt to establish his own cultural status in the town and to curry favour with metropolitan artistic elites’.349 Critics saw his support for the arts (which admittedly came somewhat out of nowhere) as
nothing more that an attempt to ‘buy a knighthood through showy displays of philanthropy’.

Whatever the motivation behind their donations however, and notwithstanding such criticisms, it was clear that ‘. . . brewers were expected to be involved with the community and to be charitable’. In fact, so ubiquitous was charitable giving among the major figures in brewing (dubbed ‘the Beerage’ ), that a failure to give was reason for raised eyebrows. Fred King, of the still‑famous Greene, King and Sons, for instance, ‘may be the only brewer of whom it never seems to have been claimed that he made the world a better place by some means other than his beer’.

Postcard of The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool circa 1910.

Other notable examples of the Britain’s philanthropic beer barons

  • Sir Felix Booth, distiller of Booth’s Gin, who financed the Ross expedition
    to the Antarctic which located the magnetic pole in 1831.
  • John Elliot of the Stag Brewery, who was a supporter of the RHS
    (Royal Horticultural Society) from its foundation in 1804, and acted as
    Treasurer for 20 years from 1807.
  • William McEwan, the Scottish brewer, who gave generously to Edinburgh University, where the Graduation Hall bears his name.
Caricature of Lord Iveagh (Edward Guinness), by Leslie Matthew Ward (aka ‘SPY’) for Vanity Fair, 1891.
  • Edward Guinness, whose widespread philanthropic work in Dublin and London included the establishment of many new houses for the working classes in Dublin.
  • Thomas Buxton, Director of the Truman Brewery in East London, who was involved in a number of major social campaigns including the abolition of the slave trade, raising the wages of Huguenot weavers, and prison reform.

For your chance to win a copy of Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain, visit the CAF website.