History of Starkey, Knight & Ford - Bridgwater

Formed by the amalgamation in 1895 of Thomas Starkey of North Pertherton, George Knight of Bridgwater, and Thomas Ford of Tiverton, the Devon side of the firm started in 1852, when Thomas Ford of Tiverton began selling home brewed ales from a horse and cart.

Thomas Starkey snr was born 1809 in Spaxton and established the North Petherton Brewery in the 1830’s. He sold the business to his son in 1855 also called Thomas, who also acquired the Taunton Brewery in Mill Lane in January 1882.

In 1840, George Knight a 38-year-old Maltster of Bridgwater, Somerset decided to cut out the middle-man and begin brewing himself. In 1885, George Knight died and his sons George (Junior) and Henry took over.


Thomas Ford and Son was founder of the Tiverton Brewery in Devon in 1852 when he only employed one workman and kept one cart.
In 1857 Thomas Ford bought the Georgian mansion which for more than a century was the firm’s headquarters in Tiverton.
The brewery is now the largest west of Bristol. It covers several acres and is lit by electric light. There are branches and agencies at Plymouth, Sidmouth, Exeter, Torquay, South Molton and Truro. .

Thomas was a philanthropist who in 1890 bought and built houses for his employees against the time they might become incapacitated. He also set up a trust fund to allow them a portion of up to 2/3rds of their previous wage. The following year he built almshouses for past workmen and their wives and was considering what to do to help his ex-employees widows.

He left Bridgwater alone, however and for forty years, Starkey and Knight each had their own Breweries.


In 1885, George Knight died and his sons George (Junior) and Henry took over. It was at about this time that the famous Black Horse trademark appeared, beginning its life as a stag and replacing a rather obvious image of an armoured knight.

In the meantime Thomas Starkey finally turned his attention to Bridgwater and in November 1887, through some negotiations, the two companies merged creating Starkey, Knight & Co. Ltd, with an estate of thirty pubs.

With their capital combined they were able to build a state-of-the-art new brewery at Northgate in Bridgwater.

It was in the 1890’s that the Northgate Brewery was enlarged by the tall brick building and loading bays.


2 January 1882 - Taunton Brewery Est. 1727

Ladies and Gentlemen:
Having purchased the lease, Good-will, Stock in trade and BookDebts of the Old taunton Brewery and Maltings for many years conducted by the Messrs Davey and lately by Mr Tebbitt, I beg to inform the Gentry and Inhabitants of the town of taunton and neighbourhood that it is my intention to introduce Modern Appliances which will enable me to produce Ales of high character, such as have been brewed for so many years at North Petherton. None but the best materials will be used so that the Ales cannot fail to be pure and wholesome and earnest endeavours shall be made to merit a continuance of support so freely accorded during past years, for which I beg to tender due thanks.

It is not proposed to supply my Customers at Taunton wholly from these Premises and the usual deliveries of Ales from the North Petherton Brewery will be continued to those of the Customers who prefer them.

I venture to remind my friends that the wine and Spirit Business has been conducted by me for some year at North Petherton and Bridgwater and all orders are punctually attended to. Considerable satisfaction has been given owing to the purity and mature character of the gods supplied.

Mr. E.E Coram has accepted the office of manager of the Taunton Brewery Business and I trust his attention to the requirements of my customers will be appreciated.

Again thanking you for past favours and soliciting a continuance of your appreciation.
I remain your obedient Servant – THOMAS STARKEY

1 July 1885

Property Sale – The Lamb Inn at Spaxton an old established and well frequented house was put up for auction by Mr Horace Hurman which was held at the Bristol Arms Hotel in Bridgwater.

There was large attendance of brewers and other business men with the auctioneer starting at £600 with it finally selling for the sum of £850. Mr Thomas Starkey of North Petherton was the purchaser.

23 November 1887

We are informed by the prospectus issued by Starkey, Knight and Co Ltd that the public will have an opportunity of becoming shareholders in the old established Bridgwater, North Petherton and Taunton breweries. Brewery businesses are more profitable by combining maltings and the wine and spirit trade and this combination will result in extended trade and profits.

In this instance the freehold properties together with long leaseholds nearly as valuable are assessed at around £58,000 so that the rentals from this class of property add much to the profits and form a security for the debenture holders.

The board of directors as at present constitute is composed of practical brewers who are willing to give their services gratis until eight per cent has been paid to the ordinary shareholders.

On the 26 November 1887 Starkey, Knight and Company was officially formed

28 November 1888

The first annual meeting of shareholders was held at Bridgwater under the presidency of Mr Thomas Starkey.

Mr Walker secretary read the report:  the whole of the £10,000 representing the Debenture stock and share Capitol has been subscribed with the exception of Preference shares to the extent of £3,480 and which the directors have been unwilling to issue having no immediate employment for the money but the purchase of the numerous properties referred to in the prospectus has been dully effected, though there yet remain one or two subsidiary matters for arrangement

Your directors have also acquired several additional properties which they have every reason to believe will prove judicious purchases and materially augment the trade and enhance future profits, but little benefit has at present accrued, since in some cases they have not yet even been taken over.

Mr Starkey:  with regard to capital sum we did not see our way at present to issue the whole but as soon as we can we think it will now be well to sell the remaining shares. I should recommend that they be offered on the Bristol and Cardiff Stock exchanges at a premium.
The acquired properties are the Bridgwater Arms in Fore st; Race Horse in Taunton; Nags head and Halswell Inn in Bridgwater; also 69 Tudor street in Cardiff, now used for the business of the agency.

Other properties have been acquired but which the conveyance has not yet completed on September 29.

2 February 1895

The Company known as Starkey, Knight and Company Ltd was formed in 1887 to purchase, amalgamate and carry on the important Brewery business situate at Bridgwater. North Petherton and Taunton respectively with Maltings, Wine, Spirit and Aerated Water businesses, Public and Beerhouses connected therewith and has from its formation always paid a well earned dividend of 8% on the ordinary shares

13 February 1895

Ford’s Tiverton and Plymouth Brewery have been purchased by Starkey, Knight and Co of Bridgwater and Taunton. The sum required to cover the purchase and clear off certain existing charges upon trade properties acquired since the formation of the company in 1887 amounts to approximately £85,000.

It was in the 1890’s that the Northgate Brewery was enlarged by the tall brick building and loading bays.  

27 February 1895 Messrs Starkey Knight & Co is contemplating amalgamating of the extensive brewery business Messrs T Ford & Sons of Tiverton.

The business was founded by Mr. Thomas Ford in 1852, when he only employed one workman and kept one cart. The brewery is now the largest west of Bristol. It covers several acres and is lit by electric light. There are branches and agencies at Plymouth, Sidmouth, Exeter, Torquay, South Molton and Truro.

And so Starkey, Knight & Ford was born. Though the company continued to acquire small family breweries across the region, this was the last new partnership, and the last change of name.

July 17 1907 the morning of Monday work of demolishing the Old Oak and the Bull and Butcher plus two shops intervening owned by Starkey, Knight and Ford began to be replaced by modern buildings, Messrs. Gleed Bros were the contractors.

In October of 1963 the Borough Licensing granted the transfer of the full licence of the Kings Head at 54 High St to the former tailors shop at 22 High St

Tuesday 4 February, Northgate Brewery closes down, Starkey, Knight and Ford brewery ceased to brew locally. The company which has around 450 public houses in Somerset and Devon with breweries at Bridgwater and Tiverton and a small bottling plant at Burnham is now part of the Whitbread organisation.
The former home of Starkey Knight & Ford head office in High St was sold to County Stores, up until January 1980 it was Bridgwater Antique Galleries owned by Colin Dyte antique dealer.

Flag Counter