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Truman, Sir Benjaminfree

(1699/1700–1780)
  • Peter Mathias

Truman, Sir Benjamin (1699/1700–1780), entrepreneur and brewer, was born in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London, the younger son in a family of nine children of Joseph Truman, brewer, and his first wife. His father died in 1721 and Truman became a partner in the family firm in 1722 (his elder brother Joseph withdrawing in 1730).

Building up his stake to eleven shares in the partnership out of eighteen by 1743, Truman was the sole partner responsible for management. He was backed by various other investors and took a wealthy sleeping partner, John Baker, with a third share from 1767 to 1771 to help finance prodigious expansion. Production at the Black Eagle Brewery rose from 55,500 barrels in 1750 to 83,000 in 1766, an output surpassed only by the Whitbread and Calvert breweries.

In the 1770s Trumans was one of six ‘capital houses’ in London. They were virtually single-product businesses, producing porter, a heavy black beer, which was robust enough to stand the hazards of large-scale production, long storage, and distribution. Out of 142 ‘common brewers’ in London in 1776, collectively brewing 1,288,000 barrels, for example, the leading six houses brewed over 40 per cent, an unprecedented example of scale of individual business and industrial concentration. At Benjamin Truman's death the net assets of the firm were £171,900, compared with £23,300 in 1741. His personal estate was worth £180,000 and he had a further £160,000 capital in the business.

This great fortune derived almost exclusively from the profits of the business, which itself grew primarily by internal accumulation from retained profits. Such a high rate of internal investment proved fully compatible with taking enough out of the trade annually to sustain the life of a gentleman consistent with Truman's great fortune. In the 1770s Truman withdrew almost £4000 annually, with large additional sums occasionally to finance the purchase of land and the expenses of his private houses. These included a country estate, Popes, near Hertingfordbury, Hertfordshire, and a grand city residence by the brewery. Truman was knighted in 1760, on the accession of George III, in recognition of his standing in the London business community and for large loans to the crown. His portrait is one of the largest and most powerful canvases Thomas Gainsborough ever painted (Gainsborough was also commissioned to paint two granddaughters and two great-grandsons).

Unlike Samuel Whitbread, Henry Thrale, and John Calvert, Benjamin Truman never sought a parliamentary seat, which his wealth and city and country position might have suggested. Married to Frances (1702/3–1766), with whom he had a son and a daughter, he was, first and foremost, an entrepreneur and industrialist: his life's priorities may be read in the statement he wrote, as an old man, across the final page of the brewery accounts in 1775, instructing his grandson about the creation of wealth in business: 'there can be no other way of raising a great Fortune but by carrying on an Extensive Trade. I must tell you Young Man, this is not to be obtained without Spirrit and great Application' (Mathias, 265). He died on 20 March 1780 in his eighty-first year, and was buried in the churchyard at Hertingfordbury.

Continuity of business at the Black Eagle Brewery was maintained after Truman's death, but not the family dynasty. Truman's son, James, died in 1766 leaving him no male heir. Both his two grandsons by his daughter Frances declined to follow the trade, one of them becoming a general. In his will Truman put his entire estate in trust for his two great-grandsons, appointing as executor his head clerk, James Grant, who was also to continue to run the brewery. Grant became a partner in 1788 but died in July 1789. Sampson Hanbury then bought Grant's share and took over Trumans. Hanbury subsequently brought in Quaker partners, taking the business to greater heights and establishing longer term family dynasties than the Trumans were able to achieve.

Sources

  • P. Mathias, The brewing industry in England, 1700–1830 (1959), 263–5, 551, 556–8
  • Trumans, the brewers: the story of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co [1966]
  • F. H. W. Sheppard, ed., Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, Survey of London, 27 (1957), ch. 9, 116–22
  • GM, 1st ser., 50 (1780), 155
  • tombstone, Hertingfordbury, Hertfordshire

Archives

  • Grand Metropolitan Brewing Ltd, The Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London, Truman MSS
  • LMA, Truman MSS

Likenesses

  • T. Gainsborough, oils, The Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London

Wealth at Death

£160,000, capital in business; approximately £180,000 personal estate; also Hertfordshire estate (‘Popes’); town house near brewery: Mathias, The brewing industry in England, 274

Gentleman's Magazine