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date: 01 July 2022

Boddington, Henryfree


Boddington, Henryfree

  • R. G. Wilson

Boddington, Henry (1813–1886), brewer, was born at Thame, Oxfordshire, on 18 December 1813, the second surviving son of John Boddington (1777–1839), miller, parish overseer, surveyor of the roads, and master of the workhouse in the parish, and his wife, Elizabeth, née Moores (1778–1849). Henry appears to have kept a commonplace book and then, unusually for a brewer, towards the end of his life wrote his autobiography, 'The record of an unimportant life'. Like similar chronicles this unpublished memoir (which is no longer extant but is quoted in Jacobson, 200 years of beer) dwelt on his childhood and early struggles. He received a sound basic education at a dame school and later one in the town hall at Thame, which gave him a love of literature. On leaving school at the age of thirteen he joined his father; five years later he was compiling the 1831 census return for Thame. But by this time John Boddington's attempts to put together a living for his eight children had failed in the difficult years of post-war agricultural adjustment. He and his family seem to have moved north, following their elder son John Boddington (1807–1868), who first found employment as a mill foreman in Stockport and then, in 1831, as a clerk at the Strangeways brewery of Hole, Potter, and Harrison on the northern edge of Manchester. In the next year Henry joined the firm as a commercial traveller.

In his autobiographical account Henry Boddington traced the varying fortunes of seven other young men who started out at the same time as himself in the dizzy world of Manchester's headlong expansion. From their experience, especially that of his brother, who left the brewery to found a corn and provisions agency but who failed in his speculation and in 1845 emigrated to America, where he died penniless twenty years later, Henry drew important conclusions about the need and means to achieve. Godfearing, he expressed them in textbook nineteenth-century terms—the necessity for sobriety and chastity, the necessity to rise at five o'clock, the necessity of cleanliness in person and dress.

The brewery of Hole and Harrison (after 1835) was a small one. In the early Victorian period Manchester was a centre of publican and beerhouse brewing; the common brewers (there were ninety-nine in 1850 in the Manchester excise collection district) were invariably small, relying on the beers they could push into the rapidly expanding number of those pubs and beerhouses that did not brew their own very variable beers. Henry Boddington's training was in this tough, competitive world. He clearly did well. On 8 July 1847 he married Martha, the daughter of William Slater, a Salford dyer and, the family record states, banker. Certainly William Slater appears to have helped the couple financially. A year later Henry obtained a partnership in the Strangeways brewery when Samuel Hole left to become a maltster in Newark. Five years later, again with his father-in-law's help, Henry became its sole proprietor.

Output at the Strangeways brewery expanded. Within a decade Boddington was brewing almost 17,000 barrels a year, a 60 per cent increase. Then, in the heady days of further rapid population growth and the remarkable per capita increase in beer consumption, Boddington's brewery took off. By 1877 it was brewing about 100,000 barrels of beer, making it one of the largest in Manchester, indeed in the north of England. Although its sales were principally in the Manchester area, it had opened stores in Birmingham, Rochdale, and Crewe. Altogether it employed 238 men and boys in them, its office in central Manchester, the brewery, and its outpost in Burton upon Trent managed by Henry's eldest son, Henry Slater Boddington. It owned an impressive number of licences by this date, those of seventy-one freehold public houses and the leases of a further thirty-two. The acquisition of a brewery in Burton again indicated Boddington's high rating for enterprise in the ranking of country brewers. Burton had been famous for its pale ales since the 1830s, and following the incredible success of its two principal firms, Bass and Allsopps, around a dozen breweries from London and the provinces established outposts there in the beer boom of the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Once there, they hoped to brew the perfect pale ale, the premium beer of Victorian England. Boddingtons acquired its small brewery in Burton in 1875 and continued to brew there until 1890.

As Henry Boddington's success in brewing is a first-rate example of Victorian business enterprise, so is his family life typical of Victorian domesticity. Martha Boddington, who produced eight children, died in 1871. Two years later, on 8 January 1873, Henry married Eliza (1835/6–1915), daughter of Edward Nanson, a brewer, and had four more children. With this young second family he retired to Silverdale, near Carnforth in Lancashire, in 1878, although his grip on affairs in Manchester was maintained by a constant stream of letters. At Silverdale he defrayed the main cost of building a new church. He died there on 19 August 1886, leaving an estate valued at nearly £150,000.

In 1883 Boddingtons became a private limited company and a public one five years later when its assets were valued at £320,465. It then began, with debenture issues, to acquire further public houses, as did its major competitors, Groves and Whitnall, Threlfalls, and the Manchester Brewing Company, in the post-1885 scramble by the new brewing companies to acquire public houses. By 1892 Boddingtons owned 212.

Continuity in the firm was maintained by three of the four surviving sons of Henry Boddington's first marriage. Henry Slater Boddington (1849–1925), unlike his father, who took no part in Manchester's public life, was a city councillor, justice of the peace, and an ardent supporter and early director of the Manchester Ship Canal. With an income of £12,000 a year on his father's death, he bought the Pownall Hall estate near Wilmslow, retired from the chairmanship of the firm in 1891 in his early forties, and then seems to have spent most of the year at the house he had bought near Étaples in France. A friend of Ford Madox Brown, he was himself a keen amateur artist. William Slater Boddington (1853–1908), the second son, head of a firm of solicitors in Manchester, chairman of Manchester Conservative Association, and a benefactor to the Anglican church in Eccles, followed his brother as chairman of the brewery until his death. Robert Slater Boddington (1862–1930), the youngest, educated at Repton School, had a fifty-year association with the company. He was its chairman from 1908 to 1930, and for many years a vice-chairman of the Brewers' Society.


  • M. Jacobson, 200 years of beer: the story of Boddingtons' Strangeways brewery, 1778–1978 (1978)
  • N. B. Redman, ‘The history of the Boddington's Brewery at Strangeways, Manchester’, Brewer, 81 (1995), 288–95


  • photographs, repro. in Jacobson, 200 years of beer, 35, 62

Wealth at Death

£146,029 7s. 5d.: probate, 13 Nov 1886, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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J. Burke, , 4 vols. (1833–8); new edn as , 3 vols. [1843–9] [many later edns]