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Our Stories

Samuel Whitbread was an apprentice

Established in 1742, Whitbread is one of the UK’s oldest and most respected companies.

The story begins with the birth of Samuel Whitbread in 1720 in Cardington, Bedfordshire. Samuel was youngest son, and seventh child of eight, of yeoman farmer Henry Whitbread and his second wife, Elizabeth Read. He left home at just 16 years old to become an apprentice to London Brewer, John Witman, before founding his own brewery just six years later.

Whitbread was married twice. Firstly to Harriet Hayton with whom he had three children: two daughters and a son. Secondly he married to Lady Mary Cornwallis, with whom he had another daughter, Mary.

In 1742, Whitbread formed a partnership with Thomas Sherwell, investing £2,600 into two of the smaller breweries that belonged to the Sherwell family: the Goat Brewhouse, which produced porter beers, and one in Brick Lane, which primarily produced amber beers and pale ales.

The strong porter beer from the Goat Brewhouse became increasingly popular and Whitbread struggled to meet demand. He became fascinated in how this beer could be manufactured and stored using very large containers, unlike lighter beers, so he bought a site in Chiswell Street in 1750 to build a larger brewery, which he named the Hind’s Head brewery after Whitbread’s family coat of arms.  Whitbread was solely responsible for the management of this brewery and was the leading financial partner, so using this opportunity to start over, he invested in state-of-the-art technologies to industrialize the production of the porter beer. He created the first ever purpose-built-mass-production brewery in the UK, stored the beer in large vats and installed a steam engine to maximize efficiency. Whitbread’s innovative nature and forward thinking attitude is something that we still keep at the core of our business.

In 1751, Whitbread took advantage of a report suggesting that cheap gin was responsible for a large number of deaths. As gin sales fell by three-quarters, Whitbread promoted beer as a healthy, wholesome drink pushing sales up to 65,000 barrels per year by 1758 and making Whitbread a household name.

Seven years later, Whitbread bought out Sherwell’s share for £30,000 and by 1800 the Hind’s Head brewery was one of the largest brewers in England, producing over 200,000 barrels per year.  Bottling beer was introduced in 1868 which made Whitbread a national brand.

Following his conquest in the world of brewing, Samuel Whitbread entered politics and was elected the High Sherriff of Hertfordshire in 1767 and a Member of Parliament for Bedford in 1768, holding his seat until 1790 before representing Steyning until he died in 1796. Whitbread was a strong supporter of the abolition of slavery and was involved in the House of Commons anti-slavery debates of 1788, arguing that the trade should not be regulated, but destroyed.

Before his death, Whitbread invested in property, buying and remodelling Lord Torrington’s estate, a 17th century house named Southill Park in Bedfordshire, which is still the Whitbread family home to this day. He also bought land in Old Warden and Elstow, as well as Elstow Manor in 1792.

When he died on 11th June 1796, Whitbread was estimated to be worth over a million pounds.

In 2001 the company reinvented itself, becoming the Whitbread it’s known for today. We sold the breweries and left the pub and bar business behind turning our focus to hotels, restaurants and coffee shops which coincided with the ending of this country’s brewing and pub-owning tradition, started by Samuel Whitbread over 275 years earlier. 

The first Travel Inn opened in 1987, followed by the first Beefeater in 1974 and the acquisition of Costa Coffee in 1995. Since then our portfolio and businesses have changed, evolved and grown to make Whitbread the UK’s biggest hospitality company and the owner of some of the UK’s best loved brands: Premier Inn, Costa Coffee, Beefeater, Brewers Fayre, Table Table and Taybarns.

Although our core businesses have changed over the years, we remain true to Samuel Whitbread’s founding spirit to put our people first and customers at the heart of everything we do, all the while looking at ways to innovate to stay ahead.