We believe that without raw materials of exceptional quality it is impossible to produce first-rate beers. Therefore, we go to great efforts to source the best malted barley from around the UK and spend the hop harvest every year picking out the finest grown hops for our Ales. We have a staple of distinctive regular beers and introduce seasonal and special ales throughout the year.
Anyone visiting Arkell’s Brewery for the first time could be excused for thinking they have walked straight into a time machine.
The beer is still brewed in much the same way as it was when John Arkell first made it in 1843 and the brewery buildings seem untouched by the passing years. If you speak to any of the staff about the company, everyone is still as fiercely proud of its local and family roots as John Arkell was himself.
But Arkell’s has not achieved its unique position as Swindon’s oldest company and one of the oldest traditional breweries still operating in Britain today, simply by standing still.
The company has remained true to the principles of loyalty, quality and tradition set down by its founder 175 years ago, but it has also adapted brilliantly to the changing world around it. Some things never change at Arkell’s, but it is the ability to change effectively when change is necessary that has been at the cornerstone of the brewery’s success story over the last 175 years.
Arkell’s bought The Fox Inn in Highworth in 1862, The Golden Cross at Cirencester in 1864, The Tavern at Greatfield (later renamed The Butchers Arms) in 1866 and supplied The Harrow, Wanborough on a ten-year lease. Soon, John opened his second Swindon pub, The Artillery Arms in Regent Street, which survived until 1936 when it was demolished to make way for a new Woolworth’s store.
By 1867 the business had even outgrown the new brewery and John was forced to convert the old Kingsdown Inn into offices and build a new pub across the road.
Sadly, John Arkell was to see his tied estate grow no more. He died on 21st October, 1881.
Sons Thomas and James took over and Arkell’s continued to expand, still focusing on the boomtown of Swindon. The pubs would serve both Arkell’s and the community well as the railway works headed for its heyday after the turn of the century.
Arkell’s became a private limited company in 1927 with all shares owned by the family – as, indeed, is the case today. Now at the helm were James’ sons, Thomas Noel (later Sir Noel), James Graham and John Oliver Arkell.
By now the brewery was over 70 years old and it was time to modernise, so the 1930s saw the closure of the maltings and the opening of a high-tech bottling plant which employed up to 25 people.
Despite the slow recovery period after the Second World War, a handful of new pubs were added to the Arkell’s estate and, in 1954, Peter Arkell, the eldest son of Sir Noel, joined the company as a director.
2003 was also very special year for the Arkell family and the brewery with the 80th birthday of Chairman Peter Arkell – marked by the brewing of Moonlight ale to recognise his World War 2 bravery as a nightime pilot – and the marriage of George Arkell.
In 2008, Arkell’s had continued to expand with further investment in pubs and hotels in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire & Wiltshire to bring the number of establishments under the Arkell’s name to over 110. That year, James Arkell also became chairman, with Alex Arkell, James’s youngest son making the decision to join the family business, firstly as a ‘tenanted’ pub landlord at The Rusty Bicycle in Oxford.
The late Dave Backhouse, chairman of the Swindon branch of CAMRA, said: “Given its combination of tradition and efficiency, we can hope for a long and prosperous future for this well-run local company.”
We’ll drink to that!