The following historical article was published in the Blackcountryman, the quarterly Magazine of the Black Country Society in Autumn 1989 (Vol. 22 No 4). The factual article was penned by Geoffrey Reading who was inspired by an article in the Winter edition, written by David Brindley, which focused on the Bonded Warehouse.
We hope you enjoy reading the article and that you may learn something new about our local history.
No 1 Canal Wharf was an H.M. Customs & Excise Warehouse. The bondholders responsible for sureties were Edward Rutland & Son.
The Bonded Warehouse at Canal Wharf came under the control of the Worcester Excise Collector. The Surveyor at Stourbridge in 1929 was E.O’C. Horgan and the Officer, H.A. Tucker, lived in Greenfield Avenue, Stourbridge. They were followed by surveyor Bridgewater, affectionately known as ‘Bridgie’, who lived in Hagley and the Officer A.H. Ridley, from Pedmore. On ‘Bridgie’s’ retirement Surveyor Wright was appointed, having been an Officer at Canal Wharf previously. His Officers were Messrs. Ash, ‘Robby’ Robertson and Birch, all living in Stourbridge.
The Warehouse keepers from 1929 were W. Toogood, Oldswinford, 1947 G.R. Reading, Norton and 1959 J.C. Smales, Kingswinford.
The traders using the facilities at the Bonded Store were Edward Rutland & Son, Stourbridge, Nickolls & Perks, Stourbridge, Greenwood and Son, Lye, Garlick, Kidderminster, O.D. Murphy, Wrekin Works, Wellington and Trouncer & Company, Shrewsbury.
The Warehouse doors were secured with two padlocks, a revenue lock and the keeper’s lock so that an Excise Officer and the Warehouse Keeper both needed to be present before gaining entry.
Thomas Bantock & Company were agents for the Great Western Railway Company at Stourbridge Goods Station, Lower High Street, who delivered casks on drays pulled by heavy horses. One drayman, Lewis, wore a stiff white collar and was renowned for his loud voice, a great character.
On May Day all the horses were groomed and dressed overall with brasses and ribbons, manes and tails plaited. F.A. Reading inspected them and the best dressed drayman’s entry was presented with a prize of Five Pounds, the runners-up were each given a pint of best bitter beer.
The casks they delivered to the Bonded Stores at Canal Wharf were mainly from the Port of Bristol shipped by Turner Edwards Shipping Line. The deliveries included Butts of Sherry (108-110 gallons) from Jerez Spain; Pipes of Port Wine (115-130 gallons) from Oporto Portugal; Red and White wine in Hogsheads, Bordeaux wine (47-49 gallons) and French Burgundy (48-51 gallons) from Bordeaux and Beaune respectively. Rum was delivered in puncheons (two hogsheads) shipped from Jamaica to Liverpool. When empty, these casks were in great demand, Sherry wood by Whisky distillers in Scotland and Rum casks by Worcestershire farmers for Cider.
The casks were offloaded from the drays on skids and ropes and rolled into the warehouse cellar. They were then set up level for inspection by the Customs & Excise Officer. The wooden bungs were sprung by means of a ‘flogger’, a flat headed wooden mallet with a bamboo handle. The Customs Officer then measured the contents of the cask with a graduated dipstick to ascertain the contents in gallons. Wines were then stowed away in the cellar. Spirits had to be sampled for alcoholic strength. A sample was taken from the cask by means of a ‘valincher’ or metal pipette which was then poured into a glass measure and taken into the office. By means of a Sykes hydrometer the Officer would then ascertain the strength in degrees of proof alcohol and enter these into his records, Rum being 30o over proof.
When the casks were withdrawn from the Bonded Stores the same measurements were taken to assess the amount of duty payable.
There was no form of heating in the No1 Canal Wharf and on a Winter’s day it was extremely cold, so a boy was sent to the café in Lower High Street to collect a jug of hot coffee. Perhaps some Rum found its way into the coffee, who knows?
Casks were numbered with a rotation mark and serial number on the head. These hieroglyphics were inscribed with a cooper’s tool and to the layman were undecipherable.
Cases of wines and spirits were stored on the first floor of Canal Wharf. Delivered in wooden cases containing one dozen bottles they were first weighed on an Avery platform scale to check for breakages. The cases were then stacked in numerical order, Whisky from Scotland, John Haig, Markinch, Dewar’s of Perth, Johnnie Walker, Kilmarnock etc. Walker’s Red Label was popular in the Black Country, particularly in the Brockmoor area.
Gin came from London, Booths being most popular, also Gordon’s and Sir Robert Burnett’s “White Satin”. Champagne came from Rheims, France, Moet & Chandon, Lanson, Roederer, Heidseick to name a few. Brandy came from Cognac, France, Martell and Hennessey mainly. Martell was the Black Country favourite.
On withdrawal the cases were stacked for loading in numerical order for checking by the Customs & Excise Officer and released on payment by cheque.
A fire watch was organised for the Bonded Store at Canal Wharf during the war years. Employees volunteered to sleep in the Bond office every night on a rota system. When the air raid siren sounded they patrolled around the warehouse armed with stirrup pumps and buckets of sand. Fortunately no incendiary bombs dropped on the warehouse.
No 1 Canal Wharf was closed as a H.M. Customs & Excise Bonded Warehouse in 1965.
The first wine merchants in Stourbridge were Messrs. Nickolls & Perks. Their premises were (and still are to this day) on the corner of High Street and Coventry Street next to The Board Inn. In the late nineteenth century the firm was acquired by Aucott & Reading. A.R. Reading was also a grocer and provision merchant in partnership with his uncle, Mr Hill. They had shops in Stourbridge and Amblecote.
Nickolls & Perks bottled vintage Port and Sherry in their cellars underneath the premises.
In the 1920’s H.R. Reading was taken into partnership and bought a disused Non-Conformist Chapel to the rear of the Board Inn. He built a wine and spirit bottling store and warehouse on the site of the old chapel.
Mr W.E. Gardner purchased Nickolls & Perks and the Board Inn in 1948 and continued to trade in wine and spirits together with his two sons. They expanded the business and opened branches in Lye and Cradley. They also purchased the Crispin Inn in Church Street Stourbridge, and opened an off-licence next door.
On the 11th day of October 1886, Jas. Clark, Collector of Inland Revenue, granted a beer licence no 41 to John Rutland and Edward Rutland to sell by retail at a house situated at High Street, Stourbridge, in the Parish of Oldswinford in the County of Worcester. On the 5th day of August 1887, the licence held by John Rutland and Edward Rutland was transferred to Edward Rutland of Stourbridge. He brewed beer at the Queen Brewery in Enville Street, Stourbridge, and sold beer in casks for one shilling and eight pence per gallon.
In 1896 Edward Rutland commissioned Thomas Robinson, architect and surveyor, to design a new building at High Street and Foster Street, Stourbridge, to be known as Bordeaux House, a wine merchant’s premises, to include a shop, offices, cellars and warehouse. The work was undertaken by Messrs Guest & Sons, Builders, Brettell Lane, Amblecote. The final cost of the building was £4,130, a large sum of money in those days. The wine cellars extend the length of Foster Street. Claret was in great demand at this time hence the name “Bordeaux House”. Vintage Port was popular and all the great vintages were stored here: 1896, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1920, 1924, and 1927.
Port was bottled two years after the vintage. The corks were branded with the shipper’s name e.g. Cockburn, Croft, Warre, Dow and Martinez and their vintage date. The bottles were then dipped in hot sealing wax to seal the cork and stamped with a brass seal! They were then stacked horizontally in wooden bins with laths between each layer of bottles. The bottles were whitewashed at the bottom end to ensure that the sediment or lees were not disturbed when decanted. At this time labels were not used, all the information being given on the corks and seals. The vintage Port would then lie for a minimum period of 10 years before being offered for sale. A gentleman would buy a pipe of Port on the birth of a son to be bottled up and kept until his 21st birthday – a nice surprise and a very good investment. The last bottling of vintage Port at the Bonded Warehouse, Canal Wharf, Stourbridge, was in 1957 when pipes of Cockburn, Croft, Dow and Martinez were bottled and stored in bonded cellars under Bordeaux House.
The Second World War brought a stop to the importation of wine. The greatest vintage Port of the century, 1945, was bottled by the growers in Oporto and shipped to this country after the war in limited quantities due to a quota imposed by the Ministry of Food. On arrival from the Bonded Stores the casks of wine were fined with whites of eggs for red wines and isinglass for white wines. The finings were thoroughly whisked before being poured into the wine and then roused immediately by rolling the cask along the cellar floor. The casks were then placed on a stillage and allowed to settle. The finings acted as a small mesh net which settled down slowly to the bottom of the cask carrying with it every particle of sediment in suspension. The yolks of egg were not wasted, the head cellarman being very partial to a glass of egg and Sherry! After a fortnight the wines were bottled, corked and labelled. Bottles were obtained from Pearson’s Glass Manufacturer’s at West Bromwich. Corks were obtained from Bristol and labels printed by J.T. Ford of Stourbridge. Wooden wine cases were made by Cliff & Co of Oldbury. Wines and spirits were also sold to public houses in stone earthenware jars of three, two or one gallons. Port, Sherry, Whisky, Rum and Gin were then poured into decorative china barrels behind the bar counters and sold by the gill from silver measures. Christmas was a busy time for the wine merchants. Local manufacturers in the Stourbridge area ordered cases of wine to be sent to their friends throughout the country. They were collected by Great Western Railway Company and despatched from Stourbridge Station.
Edward Rutland’s Wine list of 1906 makes interesting reading. He offers a Chablis White Burgundy “with fine body and bouquet” for 3 shillings per bottle, and Sauternes White Bordeaux at the same price. Saint Julien, Claret, vintage 1899 at 31 shillings per dozen bottles. Beaune Vintage 1899 was more expensive at 37 shillings per dozen, “a full flavoury soft wine” Liebfraumilch Hock was 25 shillings per dozen, and Moet & Chandon Champagne at 69 shillings per dozen. A bottle of his pure pot still Glenlivet Cream Scotch Whisky was 3 shillings and sixpence per bottle, and Martell *** Brandy 5 shillings and 9 pence. Rich fruity Port and pale golden Sherry were 36 shillings per dozen bottles. The oldest Vintage Port was Graham’s 1863, “price on application”.
Fifty years later the 1954 Wine List quotes similar wines as follows: Chablis 13 shillings, Sauternes 11 shillings, Saint Julien 9 shillings, Beaune 13 shillings, Liebfraumilch 11 shillings, and Moet & Chandon 25 shillings per bottle. Port and Sherry were 18 shillings per bottle, six times the 1906 price. Table wines had quadrupled and Spirits were 10 times the price, due to the heavy Excise duties. Here the oldest Vintage Port listed was Martinez 1922 at 35 shillings per bottle.
The first “wine tasting” in Stourbridge was held on Monday 13th March 1955 in the cellars of Bordeaux house. The Mayor & Mayoress, Cllr W.P. and Mrs Drew attended. The Chairman of the Sherry Shipper’ Association, Ian McKenzie, gave a short talk about Sherry waited upon by members of the staff.
Edward Rutland retired in 1927 and the business was carried on my his son, R.W. Rutland until 1933 when it was sold to Messrs. H.R. and F.A. Reading who continued trading under the name of E. Rutland & Son.
In 1948 the firm was made into a private limited company. Messrs. W. & A. Gilbey Limited acquired the firm in 1959. A new Board of Directors was formed with Chairman Mr. A.R. Gold, Managing Director G.R. Reading and Directors S.H. Bradley and E.G. Crawley. Mr J.C. Smales was appointed General Manager.
In 1965 new offices and warehouses were built at Camp Hill, Wordsley near to Stuart’s Glassworks. The architect was Harold Kay, a partner of Robinson and Kay. His predecessor, Thomas Robinson, had designed Bordeaux House in 1896. The official opening of The Rutland Building at Camp Hill, Wordsley, by Mr John Talbot MP was on Monday 28th June 1965. A Wine and Cheese Tasting was held in celebration and a thousand guests sampled the wines during the day. Wine had come to the home of crystal glass.
Mr R. Boon became a Director of E. Rutland & Son Ltd. and controller of Peter Dominic wine shops in the Midlands. On his retirement he opened a wine merchant’s business in Oldswinford.
Messrs. Gilbeys appointed J.W. Turner, Midlands Sales Manager, a local Stourbridge Old Edwardian and keen supporter of Stourbridge Rugby club.
Bordeaux House became a Peter Dominic branch under the management of R.V. Knott who later formed his own form “Bob Knott Wines” at Wollaston and Kingswinford.
Today the buildings designed and built for wine merchants by the Stourbridge architects Robinson & Kay, have changed into other hands. Bordeaux House is now a Building Society Office and the Rutland Building at Wordsley is headquarters for a firm of tile distributors.
The writer of this article still possesses a bottle of Martinez 1927 and a bottle of 1934 Vintage Port – a reminder of Vintages Past.
“Dinners over – let us talk
Of politics or sport!
Clear the board, bring out the nuts,
And circulate the Port!”
I don’t know about you but I found this heavily detailed historical article quite fascinating when you look back and try to imagine what was going on just ‘down the road’ at what was a pioneering time for our emerging transport infrastructure, commercial developments and the overall entrepreneurism demonstrated.
I also noted that many of the individual’s names referred to in the article can be seen frequently in the area, being used to name streets and buildings. Indeed perhaps many of us can remember when some of the business were operating in the towns around Stourbridge – I certainly can (as a Colley Gate chap) vividly remember the Gardner’s family running the Nickolls & Perks wine shop (and the newsagent) at the top of Windmill Hill and going up there at Christmas time to fill a bottle with sherry from one of the casks behind the counter as part of our Christmas cheer. More recently we also had a Wetherspoon pub in Stourbridge High Street named The Edward Rutland.
As a point of interest, the ‘bonding’ business conducted down in the Bonded Warehouse was recently “brought to life” when, as we were having a major clear-out in the office behind the Avery weighbridge, we came across a number of interesting artefacts, many made of brass which we couldn’t initially identify – however after a bit of delving and noting clues from some of the annotations (e.g. C&E) we determined that they were tools used by the Customs & Excise Officers when conducting some of the measures described by the author of this fine article. We have cleaned them up a little and they are now displayed in the Stourbridge Navigation Trust Board Room as a testimony to our close association with the Stourbridge Wine Trade which forms a key part of the chequered history of this landmark building.
The photograph gallery hopefully illustrates well some of the buildings referenced in the article, notably the Bonded Warehouse (Bonded Stores) where the pictures show the impressive exterior of the building. Linked to the wine trade, one picture of the interior shows the steel pillars which not only acted as structural supports but if you look closely are manufactured so that wooden slats can be inserted so as to divide up areas for storage of different goods. There is also a good picture of Nickolls & Perks at the top end of Lower High Street and it is perhaps déjà vu that The Old Wharf public house in Canal Street, next to the Bonded Warehouse, which recently reopened after a massive refurbishment, is owned and managed by descendants of that family. It is also interesting to note the décor on the parapets of Bordeaux House which depicts grapevines and bunches of grapes, reflecting its origins and links to the wine trade.
The artefacts used by the Customs and excise Officers were a nice find and are now on show in the SNT Boardroom – the photographs will hopefully resonate with some of the people involved in the wine trade or indeed make their own at home.