Brought to book, the brewers who made a name for themselves

The lives of Yorkshire brewers have been included in the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Sheena Hastings reports.

JOSHUA Tetley, born at Armley Lodge near the rapidly-growing town of Leeds, in 1778, was one of four sons of a maltster who was declared bankrupt in 1800. Despite the crash, the family business, trading in wine and spirit sales and malting, recovered.

Joshua and his wife and five daughters moved into fashionable Park Square and later to the small rented Salem Place Brewery on the south bank of the River Aire. Tetley paid only 409 for the fixtures, fittings and the goodwill of the business; its rateable value was 22.

As we know, Joshua Tetley prospered, selling malt and flour as well as beer. He helped to change a market which, until then, had been dominated by beer made in-house by publicans. By 1839, when Tetley's only son Francis William went into partnership with him, the brewery was returning profits close to 3,000 a year.

Joshua moved away from the brewery to the more salubrious Woodhouse, and as his activity in the business waned, he went to live in the country at Hampsthwaite, near Harrogate, where he died on May 26, 1859.

His will left under 50,000, although he had already passed his interest in the business, valued at 42,393, to Francis, who took it from strength to strength.

Joshua Tetley's life story is one of 111 new biographies added to the latest edition of The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, available at libraries around the country and also accessible online for free to members of participating public libraries.

The ODNB was originally published between 1885 and 1900 as an A-Z of the lives of notable (dead) people in the UK and overseas who had made a mark in their chosen field. It had been updated every decade, but not comprehensively. It took 12 years and 10,000 contributors to launch the new version, which came out in 2004. The print edition comes in at 60 volumes.

Now holding 55,113 entries, there have been nine online updates in the last three years, adding 500 names annually. Among new niche sections is a tally of the nation's great brewers and distillers, including Joshua Tetley and also Tadcaster's John Smith.

When 23-year-old Smith took the bold step of buying a small brewery in Tadcaster in 1847, he saw the opportunity to supply the burgeoning demand for sharper, lighter beers that were becoming popular.

John's brother William built a state-of-the-art brewery and, their nephews the Riley-Smiths, continued the success of the business.

"We have a panel of external experts to consider entries for each area of the Dictionary," says Philip Carter, publications editor at the ODNB. "For this section we used Professor Richard Wilson, the UK's most distinguished expert on the history of brewing.

It's not just an exercise in

making toffs feel good about themselves through their dead relatives. "There's a full range of British life across the Dictionary," says Carter. "Tetley and Smith were people who have been included because they were interesting locally but went on to make their mark nationally and internationally."

While much of the ODNB's use in public libraries is to do with the explosion of interest in genealogy, information actually travels both says, says Philip Carter.

"When family historians come across a character of note in their family, someone we already have listed, they are often able to supply all sorts of letters and other documents that add to our picture of them when we update the Dictionary."


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has set a quiz for Yorkshire Post readers.

The winner will receive 10 titles from Oxford University Press's new Very Interesting People series: James Joyce by Bruce Stewart; John Milton by Gordon Campbell; Jane Austen by Marilyn Butler; Henry VIII by Eric Ives; Queen Victoria by KD Reynolds and HCG Matthew; Winston Churchill by Paul Addison; Oliver Cromwell by John Morrill; Thomas Paine by Mark Philp; JMW Turner by Luke Herrmann; William and Mary by Tony Claydon and WA Speck. The retail value of the books is 50.

The questions refer to Yorkshire personalities featured in the ODNB (access details below). Send your answers to Sheena Hastings, Features, Yorkshire Post, Wellington Street, Leeds, LS1 1RF or Entries to arrive no later than Friday, October 5. Answers will be published on the Features page on Wednesday, October 10.

1. By what name is Yorkshire author Currer Bell better known?

2. In 1934 Halifax's Percy Shaw had a bright idea: what was it?

3. Who was puppeteer Harry Corbett's culinary uncle?

4. To what did Thirsk's Thomas Lord give his name?

5. Which Yorkshire high-flyer was born in Hull in 1903?

6. Which Whitby local was lovingly described as 'an enormous purple man like a benevolent hippopotamus'?

The complete Oxford DNB is freely available online in public libraries across Yorkshire, with many allowing readers to log-in from home. Information on participating libraries is available at or ask at your local public library for details.