Big Brewery Buyout

‘Payday for McKenna’s workers ended however when Walker and Homfrays bought the concern for £130,000. In their report for the year ended December 1905, the Directors of W & H stated ‘The entire undertakings of B & J McKenna Ltd have now been absorbed by the company.’’(Gall)

After just 10 years in existence as a limited company, it is not known why Bernard and John gave up the business to the acquisitive Salford brewers Walker & Homfray. Perhaps the offer was too good to refuse: in today’s money (2011) the purchase price is equivalent to £10.4 million.27However, it is possible that the disposal of the assets was triggered by financial difficulties, resulting from new legislation. In 1880, the Inland Revenue Act ‘required brewers to pay tax on their raw materials, irrespective of the amount of beer they actually produced. As a result of this, many small, less-efficient breweries and home-brew pubs found they could not compete with their bigger neighbours and sold out’. ‘More Manchester breweries, hit by increased taxation and further loss of outlets under the Compensation Act of 1904, closed’.28

Whatever the reason, in June 1905 at a Special Meeting of B & J McKenna Ltd it was decided to place the company in voluntary liquidation. The Liquidator was Joseph Gillow, of Brook House, Alderley Edge.

The choice of liquidator was far from arbitrary. Joseph Gillow was married to Eleanor, daughter of John McKenna, and the Gillow family was involved in running the McKenna brewery. Joseph’s son, Henry Paulyn Gillow became a director of Walker & Homfrays Ltd after the take-over.29 Early title documents also show that Eleanor Gillow, with other family members, was one of the owners of the George & Dragon and associated properties that were conveyed to B & J McKenna Ltd shortly after the company’s incorporation in 1895. Eleanor was born in Manchester in 1855, probably at the The Briton’s Protection. She married Joseph Gillow, from Preston, in 1878, and in 1901, then aged 46, was living at Cheadle Hall, Cheadle, Cheshire, with her husband, their three sons, John (20), Henry (18), Richard (8) and four servants.

Though B & J McKenna Ltd was now demised, John Harold McKenna retained a foothold in the licensed trade by continuing as the licensee, ‘wine merchant and restauranter’ at the George & Dragon for another five years, presumably as part of the takeover deal. His restaurant was on the ground floor of No29, the existing Picturehouse Bar at Band on the Wall, and accessed both from Swan Street and at the rear from Goadsby Street, facing the busy Smithfield Market.

On April 14, 1910, the licence that he had held for 17 years was transferred to the first of Walker & Homfray’s nominee or tenant landlords, Patrick Morley30 who previously had been one of the McKennas’ pub managers, at The Balloon at 79 Rochdale Road, just 400 yards away. The McKennas’ half-century run at the George & Dragon had come to an end; after over 80 years and three generations of development and expansion, the licensed trade and brewing business started by grandfather Bernard, born in Ireland 134 years earlier, was finished.

In the following year, 1911, John Harold McKenna, aged 50, was living with his family in the Welsh hillside village of Llechwedd, eight miles from Conwy, Carnarvonshire.31He and his wife Amelia are both listed in the census as of ‘private means’. With them are their three children, Norah (21), Reginald (17) and Brian (13) and a cook and a housemaid. John Harold McKenna had a lengthy retirement from the licensed trade: He died, aged 89, in Anglesey in 1949. Brother Bernard died 30 years earlier, aged 63, in Salford.


27based on retail price index, Measuring Worth.com

28Neil Richardson, Introduction to ‘Manchester Breweries of times gone by,’ Part 1, 1980, by Alan Gall

29Alan Gall, email to Ian Croal, 10.9.11

30Register of Licences, Manchester Record Office

31Census records, 1911