Hugh Tennent


A son of the famous family of brewers, or maltmen, Tennent was born at Well Park in the east end of Glasgow on 16 February 1780. He began his working life as a manufacturer and Havana merchant, but took over the brewery in 1827 on the death of his uncle John Tennent.

Tennent broadened the domestic-market firm into an international concern, and his son Charles (who died five months before his father) further expanded this. The brewery included a staff of 500, a stud of 40 Clydesdale horses and, at the end of each brewing season, a stockpile of 1,000,000 gallons of stout stored in 19,000-gallon vats. Two-thirds of this was exported in bottles.

Tennent married Christian Rainy and they had five sons and two daughters. A love of sailing saw him cross the Atlantic in his schooner St Ursula. He died afloat off Bantry Bay on 15 July 1864.

ONE of the popular delusions of the day is that whisky not only is, but has ever been, our national drink. This idea has no doubt been fostered by the fact that whisky seems specially designed to mitigate the climate of Scotland, and the climate to promote the consumption of whisky. But it is erroneous. The main drink of the Scotch down to the beginning of this century was not whisky, but "yill," as the sound ale of the country was called. It was a peck o' maut that the immortal Willie brewed, and that Rab and Allan preed with such hearty good-will. It was reaming swats that the crafty kimmer brought in with the girdle cakes well toasted brown to Andrew with the cutty gun, and his light o' love. By the end of last century whisky had so far come into common use that it is coupled with ale by Burns in his "Address to Scotch Drink," but ale is as frequently referred to by the poet as whisky.

For long it was the custom not only for the keepers of the change houses, but for all families of any standing, to brew their own beer. Hence there were few breweries but many maltmen, and the trade or incorporation to which the brewers belong is the Incorporation of Maltmen. In McUre's time there was apparently only one brewery in Glasgow, the "stately brewarie belonging to Robert Luke, goldsmith, adjacent to the above great tannarie (on the Molendinar), consisting of a large kiln, lofts, cellars, and other store-houses, with all easements and other pertinents thereto belonging." Gradually as private brewing died out breweries increased. Among the early brewers were Mr. John Struthers (grandfather of Mrs. Kirkman Finlay and great-grandfather of Alexander Struthers Finlay of Castle Toward), whose premises were in the Gallowgate, where he was succeeded by his sons, who afterwards removed to the Greenhead Brewery, where the business is still carried on under the firm of Steel Coulson & Co. Then there was the Anderston Brewery of Murdoch Warroch & Co., whose senior partner was George Murdoch, Provost in 1766-67, pronounced by George III. to be the handsomest Scotchman he had ever seen. Mr. Warroch's name survives in Warroch Street, Anderston. At Grahamston, too, just where Hope Street joins Argyle Street, was Robert Cowan's brewery. The most remarkable, however, of all the Glasgow brewers past or present are Messrs. J. & R. Tennent of Well Park Brewery. They have the largest brewery in Scotland; they have been in the same place under the same firm for over a hundred years, and they and theirs have carried on the same trade in Glasgow for nearly three hundred years. The Tennent's were originally bonnet lairds in the parish of Cumbernauld, and are said to have removed to Glasgow towards the end of the sixteenth century. The records of the Maltmen prior to 1605 are lost, and the first Tennent that appears in existing records is Robert Tennent, said to be of the same family, who was entered at the near-hand on 18th February, 1632, which would show a connection of this family with the craft dating from before 1605. From the year 1687, when Patrick Tennent, a Freeman, entered the Incorporation as "mariand a Frieman's daughter," to the present day, seven generations of them from father to son have been maltmen in Glasgow. Some time before the year 1777 John Tennent and Robert Tennent, sons of Hugh Tennent of Easter Common, maltman in Glasgow, commenced business as brewers in the Drygate, under the firm of John and Robert Tennent.

At first the business was but small, and was carried on in a primitive way. The brothers led the barley from the paternal farm of Easter Common (which lay to the north about where the Garngad Road now is) to their malt kiln and malted it themselves. Gradually their business increased, and in 1777 they acquired the Drygate property. It soon grew too small, and in 1793 they acquired the adjacent lands of Well Park, extending to four acres, and another acre also part of Well Park, known as the Bogacre. The latter had been used as a bleachfield, but there was an old brewery on Well Park occupied by William McLehose, member of an old family of maltmen in Glasgow, now represented by Colonel Hozier of Mauldslie. Well Park and Bogacre were parts of the lands of Wester Craigs, and in the year 1757 had been feued from the Merchants' House by William and Robert Donaldson, merchants in Glasgow, for a feu-duty of £9 10s. a year. By the feu-contract the Messrs. Donaldson got the right - now of immense value - of collecting the water of the springs on the adjoining parts of Wester Craigs at their own cost, and of conveying "the same in open or close ditches through the said lands without molestation or hindrance for ever." The water is collected by means of deep mines driven into the rock, and bought to the brewery by channels cut through the solid rock a hundred feet below ground. The springs, however, are so high above the brewery that the water rises to the surface there by gravitation. This water, owing to its absolute purity and to its containing much sulphate and carbonate of lime, is peculiarly suitable for brewing, and to this day almost no other water is used for that purpose at Well Park. Both John and Robert Tennent rose to such honours as the craft could give them. Robert was Visitor in 1775-76, and John in 1777-78, besides being a Deacon-Convener of the Trades of Glasgow in 1787-88, and a bailie in 1793. He died on 14th August, 1827, and Robert in 1825. The business was then taken up by Hugh, son of Robert Tennent and Christina Neilson, who was born at Well Park on the 16th of February, 1780. Mr. Hugh Tennent was not bred a brewer, but began life as a manufacturer, and afterwards became a Havana merchant, in partnership with William Middleton, under the firm of Middleton & Tennent. On his uncle's death in 1827, he left that firm to take up the brewery. It is a curious fact that neither Mr. Middleton nor Mr. Tennent, who both left large fortunes, ever did any good in business till they separated. Before Tennent entered the business it had been entirely confined to the home trade, and so small was it at that time that all the workmen might, as the late manager, Mr. Neilson, put it, have been entertained round an ordinary dinner table. Mr. Tennent's training as a foreign merchant now stood him in good stead, and he commenced the export trade, which his son Charles afterwards so largely increased. The struggle at first was severe, but the perfervidum ingenium of the race (and his ingenium was very perfervidum) at length triumphed, and Well Park was started on its career of success, which has ever since continued. Two men specially contributed to this success. One is still alive - Mr. James Neilson of Biggar Park, who was connected with the brewery for thirty years. The other, Charles Stuart Parker Tennent, Mr. Tennent's youngest son, died on 19th February, 1864, aged forty-seven. He was not only a good brewer, but also a most able man of business, with a special talent for organization. The management of the brewery - and to realize how perfect it is it must be seen - is to this day practically as it was left by Charles Tennent. In 1855 Hugh Tennent retired from business, and Charles getting the sole command, the business started on a new career of success.

The brewery is one of the most interesting sights in Glasgow. But it is not only a brewery, it is a maltster's, a cooperage, an engineer's shop, a printing office, a wright's yard, a saw mill, a carriers' quarter, for nearly everything required in the business, except the bottles, is made on the premises, which extend to over ten acres. Then there is a stud of forty pure Clydesdales, the best that knowledge can find and that money can buy. One veteran, "Peacock," has taken the first prize for draught geldings at nearly every horse show of any importance in the kingdom, and was declared by the late Mr. Lawrence Drew to be the most perfect Clydesdale he had ever seen. Though now seventeen years old he is as sound as the day he was foaled, and at work every day. The brewing season extends from October to April, and when it is over there are lying in stock thirty thousand oaken hogsheads of ale and nearly a million gallons of stout, in giant vats, each containing about nineteen thousand gallons. During this busy time over five hundred men are employed, many of the labourers being crofters from the Western Highlands, who in the summer and autumn return to the more congenial pursuits of fishing for herring and deforcing sheriff officers. In the picking department one sees endless rows of casks destined to Melbourne, San Francisco, Mauritius, Calcutta - all the ends of the earth, for J. & R. Tennent supply over a hundred and thirty foreign markets. Some idea of the extent of the business may be gathered from the fact that the firm brew annually over four and a half million gallons, of which one third is stout. Two thirds of this is exported chiefly in bottle, and the Messrs. Tennent, though not the largest brewers, are the largest exporters of bottled beer in the world.

Mr. Tennent married Christian Rainy (who died in 1863, aged eighty-seven), daughter of the Rev. Mr. Rainy, of the parish of Criech in Sutherland, and a sister of the well-known Dr. Harry Rainy. By her he had five sons - Robert, William Middleton, Gilbert Rainy, Hugh, and Charles Stuart Parker, and two daughters - Anne Eliza, married to the Rev. George Kennedy of Dornoch; and Helen, married to Maurice Cragie of Dumbarney. Mr. Tennent was a man of great energy and throughput, and, as is common with men of that stamp, his temper at times broke away from him, but quick though he might be he was never vindictive. He threw himself heart and soul into the cause of the Free Church, and to her his hand was ever open. At his own charge he built the handsome Free Church at the gate of his work. When he bought the estate of Errol, in the Carse of Gowrie, he "designed" out of it a glebe for the Free Church minister, and he gave handsomely to every scheme she promoted. He and his brothers-in-law, Charles Parker, of McInroy Parker & Co., West India merchants, and Robert Brown, elder brother of the late William Brown of Kilmardinny, built three villas at Fairlie, which the profane dubbed the "Clyde Clapham." There he could indulge to the full his love of yachting, which was the only sport to which he had any inclination. Starting with an eight-tonner, the "Helen," he worked up to the "St. Ursula," a fine square-topsail schooner of two hundred tons. He was no smooth-water yachtsman. In the "St. Ursula" he crossed the Atlantic, and made voyages both to the Baltic and Mediterranean. He was setting out for a cruise when he was seized with his last illness, and died on board his yacht at Glengariff, Bantry Bay, on 15th July, 1864, aged eighty-five.

After Mr. Charles Tennent's death the brewery was carried on by his trustees till 1884, when it was acquired from them by Hugh Tennent Tennent, now of Well Park and Dunalistair, his second son.

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