Vast vats: Hill Evans & Co of Worcester

Hill Evans was the largest vinegar brewer in Britain for most of the Victorian era. It grew to become the largest vinegar brewery in the world.

Hill & Evans
Cowell, Crane & Kilpin was established as British Wine manufacturers on Foregate Street, Worcester in the 1760s.

William Hill (1788 – 1859), a Wesleyan Methodist from Stourport, and Edward Evans (1788 – 1871), a Welsh chemist, acquired the business from Charles Kilpin (1770 – 1845) in 1829.

Hill and Evans branched out into the production of vinegar from 1830. Vinegar was an important commodity, used as a preservative in an era before refrigeration. The vinegar-making process also utilised the waste from British Wine production.

A vinegar brewery was established at Lowesmoor, Worcester. Hill and Evans devoted themselves to producing the purest malt vinegar, and utilised the most efficient and up-to-date production methods.

By 1844 Hill Evans was the sixth-largest brewer of vinegar in Britain, and the largest producer outside of London. 153,875 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1848.

The sons enter the business
Thomas Rowley Hill (1816 – 1896) and Edward Bickerton Evans (1819 – 1893) had joined their fathers in partnership by 1848. It was the two sons, especially Rowley Hill, who provided the impetus and drive for the business to develop further scale. Rowley Hill had been barred from Oxbridge due to his Congregationalist faith, and instead received an education at University College, London.

Hill Evans produced 426,546 gallons of vinegar in 1852.

Dispute with The Lancet
The Lancet, a leading medical journal, commissioned a chemical analysis of leading vinegars in 1852, and asserted that Hill Evans used sulphuric acid, a widely exploited adjunct which reduced maturation times. Hill Evans & Co refuted this, challenging the editor of the journal to conduct “the most rigid analysis of their vinegar…by chemists of acknowledged reputation”.

Eminent scientists such as Dr Lyon Playfair (1818 – 1898) were afforded free access to the entirety of the Hill Evans site, as well as their brewing records for the previous twenty years. The Lancet was subsequently forced to back down in a rare and humiliating defeat, and conceded that sulphate of lime, which occurred naturally in the local water, had been mistaken for sulphuric acid.

The sons become sole proprietors
Thomas Rowley Hill and Edward Bickerton Evans were the sole proprietors of the business by 1858. Rowley Hill was a generous benefactor, with a strong work ethic and high integrity. Bickerton Evans was a down-to-earth Baptist. Hill Evans established a reputation as a model employer.

1,048,229 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1858. The following year 1,208,600 gallons were produced, which positioned Hill Evans as the largest manufacturer of vinegar in Britain.

Lea & Perrins used Hill Evans vinegar to make their Worcestershire sauce from at least 1862.

The vinegar manufacturing process
In 1862 there were eight fermenting vessels for producing vinegar, each with a capacity of 16,000 gallons.

There were thirty vats, each with a capacity of 8,000 to 12,000 gallons, for the acidification of the brew. The brew would be held in these vats for around a month, with birch branches used to oxidise the liquid. When this process was complete, beechwood chips were used to fine, or clarify, the vinegar.

There were around twenty storage vats for the finished product, with five vats reckoned to have a capacity of 80,000 gallons each.

The finished product was actually of pale straw colour, so caramel (burnt sugar) was added as a final process to darken the product in accordance with customer preference in the English market.

Continued development
A new vat was introduced in 1863 with a capacity of 114,645 gallons. It was the largest vat in the world, and far larger than its closest rival, an 80,000 gallon vessel at the Guinness brewery in Dublin.

Built in around 1870, the filling hall on Pheasant Street contained the large vinegar vats used for storage

Hill Evans had an annual output of two million gallons of vinegar by 1866, and was by far the largest vinegar producer in Britain. Around 100 people were employed.

Hill Evans had established a London office and warehouse on the site of the former Boar’s Head Inn in Eastcheap by 1867.

Hill Evans was the largest producer of British Wine by 1868, with an annual output of 130,000 gallons.

Hill Evans constructed a small private railway branch in 1870, which linked it to the Great Western & Midland Railway.

The third generation enter the business
Thomas Rowley Hill and Edward Bickerton Evans retired from the business in 1874, and distributed a bonus of £1,173 among their 118 employees. They were succeeded by Edward Wallace Evans (1847 – 1901), Thomas William Hill (1843 – 1898) and Edward Henry Hill (1849 – 1911).

Edward Wallace Evans was an excellent businessman, and much of the subsequent growth of the firm was credited to him.

Hill Evans was accounted the largest vinegar brewery in the world in 1881, based on its annual production of two million gallons a year. A single mash tun had a capacity of 12,307 gallons. There were eleven fermenting vats, each with a capacity of 15,000 gallons. All told, the brewery had a storage capacity of 500,000 gallons of vinegar. The brewery held more than 100,000 casks.

Thomas Rowley Hill died in 1896. He left a personal estate valued at £170,322.

The works covered over six acres by 1900. The brewery had an annual capacity of 1.5 million gallons of vinegar, and was probably the largest business of its kind in Britain.

Hill Evans becomes a limited company
Hill Evans became a limited company from 1900, with a share capital of £150,000. The conversion allowed the business to pay out the share of the company owed to Thomas William Hill, who had recently died.

Edward Henry Hill became chairman and Charles William Dyson Perrins (1864 – 1958) of Lea & Perrins joined the board of directors.

In later life Edward Wallace Evans suffered from gout in his hands, and bandaged his hands in cotton wool on the advice of his doctor. Evans attempted to light a cigar whilst reading a letter, and accidentally set the wool alight. Evans suffered serious burns, and died from shock in 1901. Curiously, he left a relatively modest net personalty of £10,876. The only son of Edward Wallace Evans appears to have played no active part in the business.

The works covered around seven acres by 1907. Exclusively English grain was used for brewing. The company probably still had the largest vinegar brewing capacity in the world.

Edward Henry Hill died in 1911 and left a net personalty of £147,081. A generous benefactor, he died unmarried.

Increased competition saw the company suffer from reduced profitability in the early 1960s. Hill Evans lacked the scale of its larger rival British Vinegar.

Hill Evans entered into voluntary liquidation in 1967, and the vinegar works were closed. The Grade II listed vinegar works building are used by the Territorial Army as of 2019.

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One thought on “Vast vats: Hill Evans & Co of Worcester”

  1. Thomas Rowley Hill was my gt. gt. grandfather. His son Edward Henry was married to Agnes Elizabeth BAILEY. The marriage took place at St. Georges, Worcester on 1 – 6 – 1870. They lived at Broadwas Court and are both buried at Broadwas Church.

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