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George G Bateman

'Mr George' (as he was affectionately known by those who worked alongside him)

George G Bateman

I joined my father at the Brewery in 1950 as Executive Director in charge of the commercial side of the Brewery. After National Service I had trained as a brewer at Green’s Brewery in Luton and Kelseys of Tunbridge Wells, neither of which are around today. 

There were opportunities to work elsewhere but my roots were so securely embedded in Wainfleet and the family tradition and values that I returned home and stayed. Over the coming years there were numerous changes as our methods and the scope of the business evolved.

As far back as 1953 fermentation took place in the same casks as were used to ship beer out into the trade. The casks were stacked on pine troughs in such a way as to allow the fermenting beer to flow out of the bung hole and down the belly of the cask. The cask was then topped up again every two hours using beer from the troughs. The casks were stored in a downstairs area where, despite an annual coat of whitewash, the temperature could reach 25° in the summer. This was not good for the quality of the beer and we needed a more sophisticated temperature control system. The result was a significant investment in a stainless steel fermenting vessel with an internal temperature control mechanism; with refinements and additions, the basis of our system today.

With a not dissimilar emphasis on quality we always did everything we could to reduce the chance of getting a yeast infection and so I arranged for a number of fruit trees that surrounded the Brewery to be taken down including, much to my father’s horror, a fine old pear tree that was on the Brewery wall.

As well as brewing Good Honest Ales my family had, by 1957, built up an estate of 70 pubs. Around this time we had the opportunity to acquire 29 more establishments in and around Boston for the princely sum of £50,000. Although this doesn’t sound so much today in 1957 there was a very severe credit squeeze in progress and raising that sort of money was a major problem. I shall always be indebted to an anonymous friend in the trade who gave us temporary assistance with the finance!

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Before the Second World War perpendicular drinking was considered one of the deadlier sins, so most of our new pubs didn’t have bar counters but there was plenty of seating. Additionally, the law had prevented a pub having a full licence if it didn’t have two rooms. So, for the next eight years, I was in and out of court obtaining full licences as well as upgrading our new pubs with bars that we would recognise today.

As we moved into the “swinging 60’s” brewers, looking at making the production process less risky and cheaper, created a trend towards keg beer. Our traditional cask conditioned ale lost popularity and we were obliged to build a “Heath Robinson” keg washer and filler. However, we could not afford the significant investment required for a full blown modern keg line. The decline was so drastic that many of our pubs were being fitted with quarter pint pumps in place of the half pint beer engines. The prospects for Batemans looked grim. The decline was so so drastic that many of our pubs were being fitted with quarter pint pumps in place of the half pint beer engines.

Then, at the start of the 70’s, a knight in shining armour appeared in the form of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. CAMRA reawakened enthusiasm for a product with more and varied character and once again the foaming head on a Batemans ale was in demand.

While dealing with so much change I had been supported constantly by my wife Pat. We had met while on holiday in Italy and because she lived in Surrey I had conducted a weekend courtship. This involved me having lunch and Sarey, are you making tea? in Kingston on a Sunday and then driving back to Wainfleet where I arrived about midnight. Keen as ever, I would go straight into the Brewery to brew.

Jaclyn joined the Company in 1983 having done her nurse’s training and spent some time in Hong Kong. The family ranks were swelled still further when my son Stuart joined in 1987, having completed three years training with Mansfield Brewery.

A flourishing family concern one would think but in 1985 I had to face the hardest challenge of my life. My motto “Death or Glory” was put to the test for the next two years.

 The shares in the Brewery were divided between myself 41%, my brother 40% and my sister 19%. My father had been a very wise man and as we were his own flesh and blood, he thought this was the fairest way of dividing the shares. How wrong could he have been?

For a while there had been a simmering pot then in March 1985 it boiled over. My brother John and sister Helen announced that they wanted to put the Brewery up for sale to the highest bidder. I was devastated along with Pat, Jaclyn and Stuart. I had to get my thinking cap on quickly, as I knew it would not be long before rumours started to spread.

Although we delayed any announcement for a while the presence of merchant bankers and hordes of prospective buyers soon meant that I had no choice but to tell the staff and tenants, followed by the press, about what was happening.

I cannot believe the support we got from so many well wishers. One day a local farmer knocked on my door and said he had £3,000 to invest if it would help. On another occasion two daughters of one of our tenants asked if they could put a bottle on the bar to collect money for the Brewery. All the love and support we were given from employees, tenants and well wishers helped me and my family.

The only solution seemed to be an outright purchase of the Brewery. To my family I became known as “Mr. Ah, but”. I would go to bed at night deciding there was no way I could raise all the money needed. Having never been the best of sleepers I would lie awake trying to work out a way of sorting things out. In the morning, having told Pat the night before I could see no way out, my first words were, “Ah, but I have had another idea.” Off to the City I would go with, my by now battered briefcase and my new idea.

In August 1986 the tide suddenly changed. Our premium ale, XXXB, was judged “Beer of the Year” by CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival. Demand for our beers grew dramatically and with the help of a London Solicitor, who had heard Pat and myself telling our story on the radio, we were able to raise sufficient money and construct a deal that enabled me to buy out my brother and sister. On February 3rd 1988 I must have been the happiest man alive as I issued this statement; “We are pleased to announce that the long standing differences between the shareholders, as to the future of the Company, have been resolved.” Several serious parties followed!

Batemans Brewery has continued to go from strength to strength. Following a major restructuring in 1998 when we sold our free trade to Carlsberg Tetley we were able to further expand our retail estate. We moved outside Lincolnshire to make the majority of the acquisitions and now have pubs in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and York.

Our cask beers can be found in pubs throughout the UK and in recent years our bottled beers have been in distribution in most of the major supermarkets.

Further evidence of our commitment to brewing can be seen in the investments made at our Wainfleet site. While many regional breweries have closed their breweries or gone out of business altogether, we have invested in a new Brewhouse and created a Visitors Centre in the famous Windmill on the banks of the Steeping.

I can definitely see what my father meant when asked what the future for the family Brewery is. "There have been good times and bad times in the past and there will be again, but if you put your back into it and work hard, you will do well. If you just want to sit back and take money out of the business you will not succeed."

In 1997 I was delighted to be honoured with the award of Lifetime Achievement by the All Parliamentary Beer Group and also received an award from the Guild of British Beer Writers in 2000.

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The 7th March 2005 was a very sad day at Batemans as George's wife Pat, passed away. Two years later, on 25th June 2007, Chairman George Bateman also passed away. Their children Jaclyn and Stuart are still very much involved with the Brewery and after all their parents’ hard work are committed to ensuring that the Brewery continues to thrive.

 

 

 

 

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