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  Samuel Arthur Brain (1850–1903), by unknown photographer Samuel Arthur Brain (1850–1903), by unknown photographer
Brain, Samuel Arthur (1850–1903), brewer, was born at 76 West Street, Bristol, on 4 May 1850, the son of Samuel Brain, timber merchant, and his wife, Emma, formerly Barnett, née Grattan. His grandfather, according to family sources, was ‘an eminent engineer’ in Kingswood. The 1871 census records Samuel Arthur employed as a clerk, presumably in a brewery, since he was living in the household of George Gould, brewer. Later in the 1870s he was manager of the Phoenix Brewery, Cardiff.

The key to Brain's career seems to have been his marriage, which took place at St John's parish church, Cardiff, on 18 April 1872. His wife, Frances Elizabeth Thomas (b. 1849/50), was the daughter of John Thomas, who had owned the Old Brewery in St Mary's Street, Cardiff, since 1862. Founded as early as 1713, it was, like Welsh breweries in general, a small affair. Cardiff's rapid population growth (it had only 6187 inhabitants in 1831) was recent. Centrally placed in one of Britain's fastest growing towns, the brewery had changed hands many times in its history. It passed in the 1870s to two sons of John Thomas, one of whom, John Griffin Thomas, became its sole proprietor. But shortly after the passing of the Welsh Sunday Closing Act (1881) he sold the Old Brewery to his brother-in-law, Samuel Brain, and his well-to-do uncle Joseph Benjamin Brain (1831–1907), a coal owner, chairman of the West of England Bank, and a director of the Bristol gas works.

When they acquired the brewery in October 1882 it had, according to the informant of Alfred Barnard, compiler of the Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, a tiny annual output of little more than 5000 barrels. Brain transformed its fortunes in the next decade. He achieved this in three ways. First, he extended the number of public houses the firm owned and leased. In 1897 it held the freehold and (chiefly) long leases of seventy-four pubs and three off-licences, all but eight of which were in Cardiff itself. Second, to circumvent the workings of the Sunday Closing Act, he made every effort to obtain the free trade of the Working Men's Clubs whose numbers mushroomed in the wake of the legislation. In the year the statute was passed the firm supplied one working men's club: five years later no fewer than 141 were on its books. Last, he modernized the Old Brewery. In 1887 Brain built a new one, the largest in south Wales, at a cost of £50,000, adjacent and linked to the existing one with state-of-the-art equipment installed by Adlams of Bristol, the leading brewing engineers of their day.

By the early 1890s Brains were brewing an excellent pale ale of Burton type, a mild beer, and a stout. Brewing traditional Welsh ales, heady and spicy, was, the firm's head brewer told Barnard, a thing of the past. Samuel was fortunate in having a rapidly growing beer market on his doorstep. In the early 1890s it was producing 50,000 barrels a year, a tenfold increase on a decade earlier. ‘No brewery in the kingdom’, thought Barnard, ‘has increased output as rapidly as this’ (Barnard, 3.480). When the partnership was converted into a public company in July 1897 its prospectus revealed the success of Samuel in creating the leading brewery in south Wales. The new company was, a little generously, capitalized for £350,000 by its four directors, all members of the Brain family. A debenture issue of £125,000 was made to pay off mortgages and leases and to provide additional working capital. Profits for the previous three years had averaged a healthy £25,878.

Samuel Brain's notable enterprise was not limited to the brewery. He was extremely active in the life of the burgeoning borough. A Conservative, although not a strong party man, he was a member of Cardiff's corporation from 1885, serving on many of its committees. He filled the office of mayor in 1899 and was elected alderman two years later. But his activities extended well beyond city politics. In his youth he had been a good cricketer and vocalist, ‘much in demand during the 1860's vogue for penny readings’ (South Wales Daily News, 20 Feb 1903, 4). He was also involved in the volunteer, freemasonry, and friendly society movements as well as being prominent in wider brewing affairs, serving as chairman of the south Wales, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire district of the Country Brewers Society. In his evidence, in October 1889, to the royal commission on the operation of the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act (1881), he maintained that the act had simply led to illicit drinking dens supplied by small casks obtained outside the licensed outlets of the trade.

Samuel Brain died suddenly of a brain tumour at his home, Roxburgh, Penarth, Glamorgan, on 19 February 1903. He was survived by his wife and their three daughters. His deep involvement in the many aspects of life in south Wales was evident from his funeral at St Augustine's Church, Penarth. Extra trains were laid on to carry members of the many organizations he had been associated with and the hundred employees of the Old Brewery. Direction of the brewery was maintained by his uncle and original partner, Joseph Benjamin Brain, and then by the latter's two sons, Joseph Hugh Brain (1863–1914) and William Henry Brain (1870–1934), who were educated at Clifton College and at Oriel College, Oxford, and who both played cricket for Oxford University and (as amateurs) for the Gloucestershire county side.

R. G. Wilson


S. A. Brain & Co.: 100 years of brewing, 1882–1982 (1982) · A. Barnard, The noted breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, 4 vols. (1889–91), vol. 3, pp. 467–84 · Brewers' Journal (15 March 1903), 128; (15 Sept 1907), 499 · Brewing Trade Review (1 March 1903), 101 · South Wales Daily News (20 Feb 1903), 4; (24 Feb 1903), 6 · Western Mail (20 Feb 1903) · census returns, 1871, 1881, 1901 · The Times (27 June 1914), 14; (21 Nov 1934), 6 · P. Bailey, P. Thorn, and P. Wynne-Thomas, Who’s who of cricketers (1984) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.


photograph, S. and A. Brain & Co. Ltd, Cardiff [see illus.]

Wealth at death  

£140,570: probate, 25 May 1903, CGPLA Eng. & Wales