A Little History
William Tanner, born in Shropshire in 1839, went to sea and sailed the world, visiting places as far flung as Australia and Chile. Returning as a ship’s captain in 1872, he took his brother Henry into partnership and founded the firm of W. & H. E. Tanner in Shrewsbury. Its cellars were those of the now demolished Victorian Market Hall, its offices were in Shoplatch.
The business later passed to Alfred Tanner of Shrawardine near Shrewsbury, a successful breeder and exporter of pedigree Shropshire Sheep and Hereford Cattle. He employed a manager until two of his sons were old enough: Frank, who died in 1960 and Clive who died in 1983. In 1912 they acquired the Old Brewery at Welshpool, founded 1860, which by then had ceased brewing beer and, in 1926, the wine merchants business of Thos. Whitefoot and Sons, Bridgnorth, dating from 1825. The ancient carved figures you can see on the Bridgnorth shop front are great curios of unknown origin. For many years prior to Thomas Whitefoot, when 36 High Street was a coaching inn, they decorated the balcony of the inn yard at the rear of the premises. Eldest brother, Craig Tanner, was a well-known Hereford Cattle breeder and point-to-point rider who farmed at Eyton-on-Severn, carrying on a family tradition of farming in the area going back over 400 years.
Before the wine boom of the 1960s, country wine merchants like Tanners also acted as beer wholesalers, bottled beer and manufactured mineral waters. W. & H. E. Tanner had, since the 1880s, acted as local agents for the excellent Burton-brewed beers of Worthington & Co.. Dumpy green beer bottles embossed ‘W. & H. E. Tanner’ and pale green mineral bottles with rounded bottoms and marbles in the neck are to be found in collections of old bottles.
Butts of sherry, pipes of Port, hogsheads of claret and burgundy were shipped via London, Bristol or Liverpool and on by rail for resting and bottling in Shrewsbury. The clarets, burgundies and vintage Ports, with full length corks and embossed wax seals, were binned in cellars to rest until mature. Rum arrived in puncheons via Liverpool from Jamaica and Guyana. More Irish whiskey was sold than Scotch, mainly in stone jars surrounded by basket work for protection. Many marked ‘W. & H. E. Tanner, Shrewsbury’ exist today. Those marked ‘W. Tanner, Ludlow’ were from Billy Tanner, one of the Clungunford/Ludlow branch of the family, who owned The Feathers Hotel in Ludlow, supplying it with fresh produce from his farm at Bromfield. The room on the right as you enter The Feathers is still called the Tanner Room or ‘Tanners’.
Thomas Southam & Son, founded at Wyle Cop in 1842 and having an excellent reputation as wine merchants, was taken over by Tanners in 1936. For some years the two businesses were run separately but, when Tanners’ cellars were requisitioned during the war as air raid shelters, both businesses were amalgamated at Wyle Cop. The firm traded as Tanner & Southam until 1960, when the name Southam was dropped to eliminate confusion with Southam’s Brewery, then still trading.
In 1978 Tanners acquired the Hereford wine merchants, William Pulling & Co, together with their bonded warehouse and the old Hereford Distillery. As wine merchants and distillers in Hereford, Pulling’s dated from 1813 and has been in the present premises since 1917, but its origins date from 1760 when George Pulling, a Devon cider merchant, leased five ‘cyderhouses’ in Ledbury. At one point Pulling’s had branches in Cardiff, Ross-on-Wye and Ludlow, the latter trading as Keysell & Co, founded in 1780.
In 2001 Tanners opened a new distribution depot at Welshpool, leaving the Old Brewery in Brook Street, Welshpool after almost 90 years. Transport and warehousing operations were moved out of Shrewsbury, thereby allowing us to refurbish our historic premises on Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, and to extend the Cellars Shop and offices. In 2005 Tanners purchased Terry Platt Wine Merchants in Llandudno, North Wales. Many times IWC Welsh Wine Merchant of the Year, Platts was founded in 1964. This brings the number of years trading for the six old companies that make up the present day Tanners ‘group’ to 1015 years in total! Of course, such experience is only of use if it translates into better services and better wines.