Cubley Brook Brewery - Penistone Pure Malt Vinegar Company

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Cubley Brook brewery has been a significant part of Penistone’s history. It was founded as a beer brewery in 1848 by Joseph Brooke and sited on each side of Mortimer Road at its lowest point in Cubley Bottom. It is possible that beer/porter brewing started in that location earlier than 1848, possibly by one of the Marsh family. In those days there would have been a turnpike nearby but it is possible that there was a track/road/path along the site of Mortimer road even before it was turnpiked. From about 1923, the brewery moved to brewing only malt vinegar. It later became 'Penistone Pure Malt Vinegar Company' and kept that name right to the end.

From a snippet submitted by Mr Peter Lawford in Canada, we now know that Mr Hugh Coldwell was a brewer around 1860 in the company and that there was liquid there hot enough to scald him to death:

From Leeds Mercury - 25 Nov 1862

On Saturday afternoon last, an inquest was held at the Black Bull Inn, Thurlstone, before Mr T Taylor on the body of Mr Hugh Coldwell, late brewer in the employ of Mr B Brook & Co of the Cubley Brook Brewery, Penistone. The deceased was thirty eight years of age and was scalded on Tuesday evening last when he was so much injured that death ensued. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

The brewery used fresh spring water from Cubley Brook, producing vinegar of high quality. This vinegar was sold under a multitude of familiar labels, including Sarson's and Heinz and under its own name. It was also an important local employer for many years.

Cubley Brook feeds a dam which supplied the brewery and powered a water-wheel, which might still be there somewhere. The brook flows through Cubley Wood, which Penistone people used to enjoy as a favourite beauty and picnic spot for many years before 'Private - Keep Out' signs went up. Just above the dam there is a short but pleasant public footpath leading down from Mortimer Road. It crosses the brook over a small wooden bridge, passing near the 'out of bounds' wood and emerging on to Chapel Lane near the bad bend. I often walk up there and, judging by the wear and tear on the path, I would say it's a popular route.

Following the brook down to River Don, it flows under Mortimer Road and runs near Green Road until the bottom of Ward Street. Then it goes under Green Road where David Browns was and proceeds towards Spring Vale near to where 'The Nibble' dam used to be (now a housing estate), which it more than likely kept topped up. The Nibble was visible after scrambling up a very high wall behind the houses opposite the Britannia pub. The brook continues under Sheffield Road somewhere near Jackie's and across a field behind the houses to finally disburse its contents into the River Don.

Old Pictures
Mr. Peter Lawford very kindly sent me pictures and information, for which I offer my thanks. In fact, he rescued the old picture (first and second shots below) from a skip in 1974. He says that the managing director in 1970 was Martin Nicholson from Thurgoland. Peter bumped into him by chance in Edinburgh whilst visiting the Royal Yacht 'Britannia' in 2001. The old MD remembered the brewery quite well. Peter has also noted that the office roof was rotated through 90 degrees but could not discover why, having consulted various records.

The first two pictures of Penistone's vinegar brewery were taken from Chapel lane and look south towards Cubley. The tall building on the left was the maltings, which was originally the beer brewery. The close-up view (third picture is a close-up from the fourth) clearly shows barrels being transported by horse and cart on the dog-leg in Mortimer Road at 'Cubley Bottom' or 'Vinegar Bottom' which was later straightened out.

It was always exciting to travel down Cubley hill in a Baddeley's bus, to hit the kink in the road at speed. That was before drink-driving laws and there are stories about The Flouch and Baddeleys but - not here. The road was straightened after the brewery was demolished in the 1970s and new houses sprouted up on either side. The vinegar smell was well known in Cubley Bottom but it quickly disappeared with the demise of the company. I'll bet the houses don't use the address of 'Cubley Bottom' or 'Vinegar Bottom' - but they really ought to do.

Close-upVinegar Works
PPMVC Close-upPPMVCAles for Sale

According to this advertisement in Penistone Almanack 1900 (last picture above), a range of beers was available in 6, 9 and 12 gallon casks and upwards. Cubley Brook Brewery - Brook and Co. 'Brewed from the Finest Pale Malt and English Hops'.

The Brook Family
Returning to Joseph Brook, he was ancestor to Jill Bernadotte who posted this message in the Penpictorial Guestbook. My thanks to Jill:

"Hello, I am the Great-great grand-daughter of Joseph Brook who founded Cubley Brook Brewery in 1848. His Grand-son, (my Grand-father) was Joseph Brook Rhodes who, although born in Croydon, returned to Sheffield to Penistone College, (does that still exist?) and was in the Sheffield Yeomanry and was a member of The Odd Fellows. He died in the first world war."

She continued: "As for the family Brook, it is possible that the name run out despite there being about 7 children in the family, two of whom were boys. The only trace I have is through the girls who are named in rather a strange ’additional account’ to a will dated 1905, which must have been long after Joseph Brooks death. Their married names were Dickinson, Stones and Rhodes (my maiden name, also a Yorkshire name) there was also a Swift but not named in that particular part of the will."

The Production Line
New high-res pictures arrived in 2012 from Steve Millwood, who had been an apprentice at the company, for which I thank him. The first one might have been taken in a dark basement. Steve writes: 'I'm guessing it was taken circa 1964. It shows all the members of the Maintenance Team supposedly working on a centrifuge machine. Obviously posed! We are (L-R) Steve Millwood (me) - apprentice electrician, Mike Crowther - electrician, Dennis Richmond - gaffa and joiner by trade, and Graham Walker - fitter.'

The remaining pictures here are all close-up fragments from the wide view (top-middle) of the new Bottling Plant production line which was installed around 1967. The vinegar starts from the shiny tank top-right in the picture and the end of the line is on the left.

These pictures are reproduced here with the kind permission of these fine companies, for which I have offered my thanks: Maintenance Team - By courtesy of The South Yorkshire Times of Mexborough and the Bottling Plant - By courtesy of Greaves Photographers of Huddersfield.

Maintenance TeamWide View of Bottling PlantBottles close-up
Christine Tozer
Tops put onFilling Bottles

Steve remarked: 'The people in this picture are (L-R): My future wife Christine Tozer (now Millwood), Phylis Ranson, Peggy Rathbone and Glynis Walker (nee Cox). Peggy is still married to Derek Rathbone who was a lorry driver for the brewery at the time. Glynis was married to Graham Walker (Graham in the maintenance team). Both Phylis and Glynis died some years ago.'

Steve continued: 'The picture shows the new bottling line with the filling machine at the far end, followed by the capping machine then the labelling machine. Unfortunately there was no packing machine. This was done by hand and what isn't apparent in this photograph is that the bottles were being filled with hot vinegar. Hands got rather sore when packing so the operators were moved around from time to time. Prior to this new plant being built the vinegar was bottled cold. Along the other wall of the building (unseen behind the photographer) is another bottling line just like the one shown. The plant machinery and all the electrics were completely fitted out by the maintenance team seen in the other photograph. We were a versatile gang.'

The floor in the bottling plant looked wet because it was covered with a special acid-resisting seal. It could also have been wet in places but that would have been water, not vinegar. Regarding the hot bottling process, the vinegar was shipped in wooden barrels as well as bottles, and the last process before filling either was pasteurisation. In this process the vinegar was heated to 80 degC and then cooled rapidly to normal ambient temperature or perhaps a bit lower (cold water temperature). When the vinegar cooled in the sealed bottles it created a partial vacuum which would help to preserve it.

Vinegar aficionados might be interested to know that there is an International Vinegar Museum in South Dakota, USA. Also, as a matter of interest, a TV advert had been filmed at the Brewery for the US market.

The Latter Years
Although PPMV Co made quality vinegar for a wide range of brand-names, it was doomed to close down. A scanned document at the London Gazette (pdf file) reports on the application for liquidation of PPMVC. Many Penistonians will remember the strong vinegar smell as they walked past the dog-leg in the dip of Mortimer Road. The kink in the road was later straightened out.

Peter Lawford in Winnipeg explained what happened at the end:
'The Vinegar Brewery closed its doors in April 1974, almost four years to the day after I joined them. Much of the business was transferred to Middleton, Manchester, where many of us were offered employment. Eventually all of British Vinegar's holdings were wound up including the Tower Bridge site in London. Silkstone Construction purchased the property but they too fell by the wayside and the whole site was cleared in order to build people boxes.'

DemolitionSignoffice Staff
Vinegar Bottles
The Commercial

Looking at this batch of pictures, the sad demolition view is one of my own. The oval wood etch shows the centre detail of a sign which mysteriously turned up in an antiques shop in Yeovil, a scan of which was sent by my cousin Betty. It shows much the same view as Peter's picture but as a wood carving. The office staff picture was kindly sent by Pat Crawford, who says that the date on the back was 1st April 1966. She also gives the names:

Regarding the bottles, PPMV bottled 'H.M.S. Cod' and '10 Downing Street' vinegar, produced for H.M.S. Cod Inc., Palos Verdes, California. Guestbook correspondent Stuart Turner found the bottles in his mother's cupboard from when she worked at PPMV Co. They were produced for the US market and special attention was paid to applying the metallic shrinks and the "netlon" covering. The bottles were also different from standard issue. The MD Martin Nicholson made a trip to the USA some time between 1970 and 1973, which led to vinegar being shipped there in 45 gallon wooden barrels. Peter does not know the details but recalls hushed whispers about how the barrels leaked on a UK dockside.

The last picture was kindly loaned by Lynn Dean, nee Harley, whose parents kept The Commercial, Thurlstone. This is now called The Huntsman. The picture was taken at the pub in the early 1970s. I don't have any names besides Lynn's and she can be seen bottom-right in the picture. My thanks to Lynn for this picture and others on the Old Thurlstone page..

Demise of the Old Horse Trough
Right up to recent times, the last remaining connection with this famous business was the old horse trough at Cubley Bottom. It might have been installed when the brewery was built, as horse-drawn wagons were the only way to transport goods in and out and they would need water. Or it might predate the brewery. Either way, it has now been obliterated by building work.

On the old picture at the page top, it was just above the maltings building (near the second horse). In the first picture below, from 2006, it is shown in good condition in the wide pavement area. A year later in 2007 it was buried in builders' rubble as a prelude to its ultimate fate. A new house was built in 2007/8 next to No. 11 and the trough was tarmacked over. New walls were built along the centre of the pavement at the expense of the public walkway, to give the new house a larger front yard. Penistone Town Council was aware of it and expressed concern.

2006 TroughTrough2007 view
Trough been removed

The top-middle and top-right pictures from 2007 show the builder's rubble, while the bottom-left picture from August 2008 is after the trough was buried and tarmacked over (or possibly dug out). The last picture from June 2009 shows the trough's complete eradication. No it's not barrel distortion in the camera lens, the walls really do lean forward. Unless the house leans backwards.

Horse troughs have limited uses in modern times but it is so sad when a piece of local history has been unceremoniously erased; be it milestone, monument, boundary stone or horse trough, especially if it is for a personal advantage. The local council and various historical groups took a passing interest in the matter but did nothing about it. Pen T Council minutes from the time are no longer available to download from their website.

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