Charles Wells – Brewer, Maltster, Wine and Spirit Merchant
by Linda Ayres
Charles Wells was born on the 16th August 1842 and was one of the six children of George and Sarah née Hayward Waldron. At the age of fourteen, Charles left the Commercial (Modern) School, and joined the Merchant Navy. He signed up to the shipping-company Messrs. Wigwams as a midshipman on the frigate Devonshire. Charles sailed to many parts of the world including, New Zealand and India. It seems certain that Charles was on board the Devonshire on the 20th October 1862 when it set sail from Belfast on its maiden voyage to Auckland, New Zealand. Each adult who sailed on this voyage received a gift of forty acres of land in New Zealand. By 1868 his company made him captain and Charles took command of the company’s first steam ship. Charles would have found the steamship was much easier to steer. Steamships were faster and safer than sailing ships, and they did not depend on winds, but could plough their way through waves even in bad conditions.
Charles Wells’ marriage to Josephine Grimbly
In the early 1870s, while Charles was on leave from the navy, he met and fell in love with Josephine Grimbly. Josephine was born on the 22nd October 1849 and she was one of the seven children of Dr. Richard Grimbly (1815-1899) and Caroline, née Graves (1813-1865). Dr. Grimbly was the medical officer for the Borough of Banbury and Caroline was an apothecary. Josephine and her family lived at Nos. 12 and 13 Horse Fair, Banbury in Oxfordshire.
Charles wanted to marry Josephine but her father did not think it wise for Charles to leave his daughter alone while he was at sea for months at a time. He told Charles that he would not give his consent until he had left the navy, and found another job. So Charles left the navy and became a brewer. On the 24th September 1872 Charles and Josephine were married at Banbury Church, Oxfordshire. After their marriage they lived at Alexandra Road, Bedford. Charles and Josephine had eight children, three daughters and five sons.
Charles Wells the Brewer
Charles went into the brewery trade as he thought that beer would always be in demand. With financial help from his father, he purchased an old established Brewery that stood on a two and a quarter acre site at Horne Lane, Bedford.
Stephen Benson had built the Horne Lane Brewery between 1818 and 1836. It consisted of a wharf, malt house, kiln, and a brewery house. In 1836 he sold it to William Jones Johnstone, Charles Redden of Newport Pagnell, and Frederick Redden of Bedford. On the 1st January 1838 Charles Redden dissolved his partnership by mutual consent. In November 1848 William Johnston died after he fell from his horse at Bromham. In December 1851 Frederick Redden died and his widow, Penelope Corrie Redden, sold the business to Joseph Allen Piggot and Henry Collings Wells for £3.375. On the 29th September 1862 Joseph Piggot and Henry Wells dissolved their partnership by mutual consent. In 1875 Joseph Piggot put the brewery up for auction.
On the 17th December 1875 Charles Wells bought the brewery at an auction held at the Swan Hotel, Bedford. The lot consisted of a coal wharf, malt house, thirty-five public houses, a paddock of nearly two acres and a house for the sum of 17,800. By 1876 Charles had disposed of the coal wharf and rebuilt the brewery, and fitted it with a steam plant. The business was a success and by 1890 he owned 80 pubs and was brewing 12, 500 barrels of beer a year,
In 1904 Charles’s four eldest sons became partners in the company. In 1910 Charles turned his business into a limited company, and registered it as Charles Wells Ltd. The business at that time owned 140 public houses, valued at £150.000.
The best water for the best beer
It was said that Charles had more skills than the experts in searching for supplies of fresh water in Bedford. Charles believed that the best water for brewing beer was from the water filtered through the layers of chalk and limestone. In 1902 he had his own well sunk at Park Road North, Bedford. He tapped into the underground water source filtered through the layers of chalk and limestone to supply water for Horne Lane Brewery, about two miles away. In 1904 at his own expense Charles sank a well in a field located next to the Bedford Corporation Waterworks on Clapham Road. The amount of water pumped from the well was enough to supply the brewery and the town of Bedford.
Charles served on the Bedfordshire County Council (1892 to 1907), and the Bedford Borough Council (1903 1909). He was a Governor of the Harpur Trust, representing the East Ward, (1891-1909). He served on the Bedford Board of Guardians, as well as the Management Committee of Bedford County Hospital. He was a director of the Bedford Gas Light Company.
Charles continued his love of sailing. He was a member of the Royal Portsmouth Corinthian Yachting Club, and kept his yacht at Gosport, where he enjoyed yachting on the Solent. He also kept his boat the Moorhen on the River Ouse. He was a member of the Bedford Regatta Committee and supported most athletics and games organisations.
Charles had the reputation as one of the most straightforward men that one could wish to find. All who knew Charles held him in high regard for his honesty and sincerity.
Charles and Josephine’s Final Years
Charles had suffered from ill health for some years, before he died on the 1st April 1914 at his home Newnham House, Horne Lane, Bedford. Charles’s burial took place at Bedford Cemetery. Section G4. 140
Charles and Josephine had lived at Newnham House for nearly forty years. After Charles died Josephine went to live with her daughter, Mabel at Castle Close in Newnham Road, Bedford. By 1925 the Corporation had acquired Newnham House for the offices of the Borough Engineer, Norman Greenshields.
On the 16th February 1933 Josephine died, aged 83, at her home in Castle Close. Josephine’s funeral service at St. Paul’s Church preceded her burial in the grave with Charles and her son Harry. Grave Ref: G4.140
Children of Charles and Josephine Wells
On the 14th May 1914 the wine and spirits licence for Charles Wells Ltd at 9 St, Paul’s Square, and the retail spirits licence for the Horne Lane Brewery, transferred to Charles Wells’ eldest sons, Charles Ernest Wells and George Hayward Wells. On the death of his father, Charles Ernest Wells became the Chairman of Charles Wells Ltd.
Colonel George Hayward Wells
George Hayward Wells (1876-1952) and his four brothers went to the Bedford School. For many years, he had taken a prominent part in local government in Bedford, and was the Mayor of Bedford in 1931. Towards the end of his life George was Managing Director and Chairman of Charles Wells Ltd.
George died at his home, Ickwell Bury, Bedfordshire. His burial took place on the 11th June 1952 at Northill Parish Churchyard. On his death George nominated his wife, Mary to be a director of Charles Wells Ltd.
Sir Sidney Richard Wells
On leaving school, Sidney (1879-1957) joined his father and brothers in the brewing business. Sidney was a Conservative Member of Parliament for Bedford (1922-1945), and the first of the Wells Baronets of Felmersham, created on the 21st January 1944. He became known as Sir Richard Wells.
2nd Lieutenant Harry Britten Wells 1878-1925)
On leaving school Harry worked with his father as an assistant brewer. He became one of the directors of Charles Wells, Ltd.
Harry was the President of the Bradgate Road Tennis Club. He had a hall built in Bradgate Road alongside the tennis courts and continued planning and carrying out improvements. His ambition was to see the tennis club become successful.
In 1915 Harry went to France and was in charge of the ambulances that were sent there by Charles Wells Ltd. He was with the French army at the time of the attack on Verdun, in 1916, which was one of the most savagely fought battles of WW1.The Germans fired two million shells in the first eight-hours. The battle lasted for 300 days and left an estimated 800.000 soldiers dead, wounded, or missing. For his services Harry received the French military decoration the Croix de Guerre with palms. Harry subsequently took a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps (R.A.S.C.) for which he received medals.
Harry enjoyed travelling; in April 1923 he toured around North America, with his friend, Talbot Jarvis. Including both east and west coasts of Canada, and the States of Mexico, returning home via the Panama Canal.
On the 27th July 1925 Harry died aged 47, at his home, 37 De Parys Avenue, Bedford. The Rector of St. Peter’s, the Rev. F. M. Squibb read the funeral service in the Foster Hill Road Cemetery Chapel. His burial took place in the grave with his father. Grave Ref: G4.140
Captain Guy Franey Wells
Captain Guy F. Wells was born on the 17th June 1882. He went to the Bedford Grammar School (1893-1899). On leaving school he went into the (R.M.A.) Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. In July 1901 he received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. He served in the Balloon Section for five years, and was sent out to Gibraltar twice to make experiments with a balloon in which he ascended over Gibraltar harbour. In April 1904 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
While Guy was in Spain, he took part in hunting, polo, and sailing, and went to Casablanca twice with a polo team. In 1911 he returned to Chatham. The following year he was promoted to the rank of Captain. He went to the Front in August 1914, and the following month he was appointed adjutant.
On the 15th June 1915 a fragment of shell hit him during the night, while he was in charge of work in the trenches. He died a few hours later in a Field Hospital. His burial took place at the Bedford House Cemetery, West Vlaanderen, Belgium. Plot Enclosure No 2V. B 31. Memorial ID 11584373.
Captain Guy F. Wells is commemorated on the War Memorial in St. Paul’s Church, Bedford, and on the Wells family memorial at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Ref: G4.140.
Mabel Mary Wells
Mabel was born in 1873 and was the eldest child of Charles and Josephine. Mabel lived with her mother in Castle Close, Bedford. After her mother died, she went to live at 4 The Embankment, Bedford. Mabel died aged 87, on the 16th April 1960.
Alice had been in poor health for many years. She died aged 62, on the 10th April 1937 in a nursing home, in Bedford. She took no part in public life.
Edith Josephine Wells
Edith was born on the 4th December 1880. On the 2nd July 1914 Edith married Thomas Britten at St. Paul’s Church, Bedford. Thomas was born in 1874 in Northamptonshire, and was the son of Arthur and Ellen Britten. The Rev. Canon Spark conducted the marriage service. Edith’s brother, Major Charles Ernest Wells, gave her away. The Laxton Bros. of Bedford had decorated the chancel with flowers. Edith wore a gown of white satin charmeuse, trimmed with Brussels lace, and carried a sheaf of lilies. It was a quiet wedding owing to the family being in mourning for her father. The family were the only guests invited to the reception held at Newnham House, Horne Lane. Her going away dress was of white silk poplin, trimmed with black and black and white sash, with black hat trimmed with ostrich feathers.
Edith and Thomas moved to Chelmsford where Thomas worked as an engineer. In 1932 Thomas died at their home, Baddow Lodge, Great Baddow, Chelmsford. Edith returned to live in Bedford. She died aged 93, at Charter House, Kimbolton Road, Bedford. They had no children.
Mabel, Alice, and Edith’s burial’s took place in the Wells family grave at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Ref: G4.140.
Charles Wells Brewery leaves Horne Lane
Because of the growing demand for Charles Wells’ beers, in 1976 the brewery moved from Horne Lane to its new site, The Eagle Brewery on Havelock Street, Queens Park, Bedford. In 2017 a Wolverhampton based brewer, Marston’s, bought the Havelock Street brewery for £55 million.
Charles Wells sold the brewery so that it could focus more on the pub side of its business. They built a small brewery at Cut Throat Lane, Fairhill, off the A6 outside Clapham, to produce beers for its own pub estate. In October 2020 Wells and Co’s Brewpoint opened at Fairhill. The fifth generation of the Wells family now runs the business.
Photography: Linda Ayres
The London Gazette 1831 Part 1 Page 261 and 18TH November 1927
The Belfast Morning News. 3rd October 1862 and Bedford Record September 1st 1877
Bedford Mercury 25th November 1848 and 26th February 1904 and 19th July 1907
Bedfordshire Times and Independent September 30th 1904 and 1st May 1908
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 22 May 1914 and 31st July 1925
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 6th February 1925 and 24th February 1933
Bedfordshire Advertiser and Luton Times 2nd June 1915
Biggleswade Chronicle 23rd September 1932 and 13th June 1952 and 26th July 1957
Family Search and Census Records 1841-1911 and General Registry Office Records.
Kelly’s Directory 1885 and 1910
Charles Wells Bedfordshire Libraries 2011
August 04, 2021