Samuel Smith (1862-1927)
Tanner and Brewer

Samuel Smith (1862-1927)Sam Smith’s Tadcaster Brewery, with its ‘Taddy Ales’ and its 300 pubs, are known all over the country – still independent and owned by a descendant of Sam Smith himself. Sam Smith was not originally from Tadcaster, but was a Meanwood man, partner in the massive Meanwood Tannery, and for a time resident in one of Headingley’s grandest mansions.

There were three generations of Samuel Smiths. Our Sam Smith was the third in the line. His grandfather, the first Samuel Smith, was a prosperous Meanwood butcher and cattle-dealer, with a good eye for investment and money to set up all his three sons in business – John and William in the brewery trade in Tadcaster, and his middle son Samuel in Meanwood, where he bought him an old mill and land just off Monkbridge Road. Here Samuel (the second – Sam’s father) built a massive Tannery in 1857 – his initials and the date can still be seen carved over the imposing stone entrance (the building is now converted into apartments). The Tannery prospered, and by the 1870s Sam’s father was the principal employer and landowner in Meanwood: he could afford to move his family out of their home next to the Tannery into the grandeur of Moorfield House in the exclusive suburb of Headingley.

Moorfield House is still there (offices now), round the corner from the Arndale Centre – gothic, castellated and turreted, perched on the hillside, it is at its most impressive seen from below in Grove Lane. It dates from the 1850s when Alma Road – named after the Battle of the Alma in the Crimea – was first laid out. It was built for William Glover Joy, partner in a prosperous seed-crushing and oil refining business, Town Councillor, and Mayor of Leeds in 1869. This grandiose house was designed to impress, with its luxurious interior and chapel, and its spectacular view down the hillside over fields, moorland and woods.  Its gardens had every possible refinement - a peach house, a vinery, a forcing house, an orchard, a fernery and conservatory. In addition there were 10 acres of land, with stabling and a cowhouse for the cattle which still grazed in the grounds (where the modernist ‘sunshine houses’ were later to be built, in the 1930s). This became Sam’s new home, with his parents, brother and four sisters, and at least three live-in servants.

In 1880, after only a few years in the house, Sam’s father (the second Samuel Smith) died, aged only 51. Sam Smith was eighteen and with his younger brother inherited the Tannery, though he had to wait until he was 21 before he could take complete control. His younger brother joined him in 1889. Under their management the Tannery flourished, becoming one of the largest in the country, with 300 pits capable of dealing with some 70 thousand hides – evil-smelling, its effluent polluting the nearby beck, but immensely successful.

But in 1886 a new, very different opportunity presented itself. Sam was bequeathed the ‘Old Brewery’ in Tadcaster in his uncle William’s will. In the event all that was left for Sam was the building, dating back to 1758, and its famous well – all the fittings, equipment, and the trade name had been transferred in 1883 to the magnificent ‘New Brewery,’ commissioned by his other uncle, John Smith, before his death and run by his nephews (Riley-Smith). Nevertheless Samuel decided to take up the challenge and move into brewing. Demand for beer was booming, particularly the bright bitter beer produced from Tadcaster’s limestone (‘popple’) wells. He re-equipped the Old Brewery and started trading in his own name, in direct competition with John Smith’s.

Sam and his family left Moorfield House and Leeds in 1887 and he gave up the management of the Tannery around the turn of the century to devote himself totally to the brewery trade. It was the beginning of a story which has continued up to the present day.


Eveleigh Bradford
January 2011