There has been a history of brewing & selling (and drinking) beer in the Reffell family since the early 1800s. Henry Reffell started the Bexley Brewery in 1876 and upon his death in 1886, it passed to his three sons as the Reffell Brothers Brewery. William Robert dealt with the brewing side and Arthur Henry handled the office, the wines and the spirits departments. Their brother John also worked at the brewery although by 1891 he had retired. The business expanded and the sales at that time consisted mainly of beers, wine and spirits to local public houses.
Around the turn of the century breweries needed to expand and re-equip with modern machinery in order to remain solvent. The Reffell Brothers Brewery was therefore put on the share market, with Reffells Bexley Brewery Limited registered on 3 December 1898 for a purchase price of £185,000. In common with a number of similar breweries of that period, the new company met with difficulties and from October 1903 until August 1904 it was controlled by a receiver. Within a short time, all the Reffell brothers were to leave the company. Although the Reffell name would survive in the brewery name up to 1956, the family connection to the brewing industry had come to an end.
In August 1904 Yorkshire man Percy Hugh Waistell was appointed as Head Brewer, his leadership and the company then became inseparable. The brewery began a long road to recovery, but it was not until 1934 that a dividend was finally paid on the Ordinary Shares (surely a well-deserved reward for some very patient people!). In celebration of this achievement all staff were given an extra week’s pay. The company always had very strong local connections and on the occasion of the incorporation of the Municipal Borough of Bexley in 1937, it presented a silver mace to the new Mayor. That year it was noted that three employees had attained 20 years employment with the company, another four had completed 25 years and four more had stayed for over 40 years.
The brewery advertising changed with the times over the years, from simple price lists through simple illustrations to a 1930s series of advertisements built around a jovial character. A rather rotund and well-dressed figure usually smoking a cigar, Uncle Reff would speak in rhyming sentences which he called ‘Reffellising’.
Further financial pressures grew after the Second World War and another round of industry mergers saw the brewery bought outright by Courage & Barclay in June 1956, along with the public houses then owned. Courage & Co Ltd had been established by John Courage in Bermondsey during 1787. In 1955, the company had merged with Barclay, Perkins & Co Ltd. to become Courage, Barclay & Co. Ltd. Today, it is part of the Marston’s Brewery empire.
Reffells Bexley Brewery Limited closed the following year and around 70 workers were made redundant.