Mr Henry Mitchell

Henry Mitchell bought Longnor Hall in 1890 and set about enthusiastically modernising the Hall and its surroundings. The Gate House and The Weighbridge Building are his creations, as is the magnificent oak staircase. Below is the entire obituary printed in the Smethwick Telephone newspaper on Saturday, November 7 1914. It has been retyped for complete legibility.

Mr Henry Mitchell - The Obituary

Mr Henry Mitchell, who had been associated with the commercial life of Smethwick for more than half a century, passed away at his residence, the Cedars Augustus Road Edgbaston, on Monday night. The event although not unexpected, cast quite a gloom over a wide circle, and particularly over the staff and employees, with whom the deceased gentleman maintained very intimate and friendly relationships. He was in his 77th year and had a most successful career.

Mr. Mitchell was not a native of Smethwick although he came here early in life. He was born in Worcester in the year 1837, and a few years afterwards his father, who was then engaged in the building trade, settled in this neighbourhood, becoming manager to what was regarded in those days as a big firm of contractors. He also took an interest in local affairs, and at one time served on the old local board. Mr. Henry Mitchell originally intended to follow his father’s business, but about the year 1869 he started business on his own account, and in 1866 he erected a brewery in the Oldbury Road,Smethwick. It was not until 1878 that owing to the development of his business he commenced the erection of the present brewery at Cape Hill, with the rapid development of which, until it assumed the present gigantic dimensions, many of our readers are very familiar. It is now one of the largest, as it is one of the most successful, breweries in the Kingdom. 

The outstanding events in his history are mentioned in the following summary: in 1888 the concern was incorporated under the title of Henry Mitchell and Co limited. Thanks to the business acumen of the late Mr. Mitchell the business developed with remarkable rapidity, and in 1898 an amalgamation was affected with Butlers Crown Brewery Limited, Broad St and the concern has since been known as Mitchells and Butlers Limited. Until the last general meeting of the company this year the late Mr. Mitchell remained at the head of the firm, but owing to failing health and advancing years he was compelled to relinquish the chairmanship, a post he had held with conspicuous success for so many years. From time to time a number of smaller breweries, including the Vulcan, Aston, and James Evans, Perry Barr were merged in Mitchells and Butlers, and last year Cheshire’s Brewery Limited was acquired. As regards output the firm under the guidance of Mr. Mitchell attained the 5th place among the Brewers of the United Kingdom. The total assets of the company this year amounted to £3,326,258 and the number of barrels sent out was over half a million.

Mr. Mitchell gave his best energies to business pursuits in which he achieved such remarkable success. Although often invited to take up public work, he never associated himself with the governing bodies. Up till recently he attended regularly to the important duties of his high position, but was seldom seen at any public function. In one of the obituary notices his characteristics are admirably portrayed. “A man of retiring disposition, his generous nature and genial personality endeared him to a wide circle of friends, and although he devoted so much of his life to business, his well stocked mind proved him to be a man of remarkable versatility. Reading and sailing were in fact his only hobbies.”

No memoir of the late Mr. Mitchell would be complete without a reference to the deep and personal interest which he manifested in the welfare of the numerous employees at the Brewery. He was held in the greatest esteem by all associated with the Cape Hill firm, and was regarded by them as a true friend. In fact, the relations between the firm and the employees have formed the subject of appreciative comment on many occasions. The deceased gentlemen’s enthusiastic sympathies in this direction were manifested in many ways. He did much to promote their happiness, sparing neither time nor money in order to attend this end. This is seen particularly in the extent to which the firm has made provision for the recreation of the workpeople. It is on a lavish scale, and the various clubs have a notable record.

By the death of Mr. Henry Mitchell, Smethwick loses one of its greatest benefactors. It is to his munificence we are indebted for the handsome drill hall, cricket ground, and the adjoining recreation ground, which was described at the meeting of the town council last week as a paradise for children. These occupy altogether about 13 acres. In the drill hall is an excellent gymnasium. The park itself covers about four and 2/3 acres, a conspicuous feature being the two outdoor gymnasia for boys and girls, both of which are fully equipped with up to date athletic appliances. These gifts were presented to the Borough in memory of his eldest son, the late Mr. Harry Mitchell junior, who took the greatest interest in the volunteer movement, fire brigade work, and all manly sports. A life sized portrait of Captain Mitchell (executed by Mr. Joseph Gibbs) occupies a prominent position in the drill hall.

These much appreciated additions to the town's public possessions also indicate the late Mr. Henry Mitchell’s personal tastes and public spirit. He was a most generous patron of healthy sports, and often expressed enlightened views on the subject of physical culture. As an instance of this, we have only to quote from his speech upon the memorable occasion when he received the freedom of the borough. This was in 1902, during the mayoralty of the late Alderman Samuel Smith. In acknowledging the kind this office fellow townsman, Mr. Mitchell said:- “He once heard the great physician and leader of thought, Sir Andrew Clark, delivered a lecture on what he called the Religion of the Body.” That was a sadly neglected subject and he was sorry to say that all schemes of education that had been brought forward did not include any teaching of that most essential subject. They found plenty of young men who commenced the battle with life with good constitutions with their health wrecked through ignorance of the causes of disease and the common laws of health. He thought medical men should be attached to schools to give an education to the children on that important subject as a finishing course. He would urge upon Smethwick to take the lead in that matter. They were an important town, and wanted to be in the van of progress. Why not make that a subject upon which to influence their legislation? It could easily be arranged by the state for the medical men to teach the children of both sexes the laws of health, and then he was quite sure this country would be healthier and far better able to face the competition of the world and hold its supremacy. If Smethwick would rise to the occasion and support that association which would have for its object that he dissemination of health lectures, influence the manufacturers to support the cause and influence members of parliament to bring it forth as active legislation, Smethwick would accomplish something worthy of its municipality, and worthy of the nation itself. He thought it only a privilege to have been able to give Smethwick the benefit of the Drill Gall and Recreation Ground and he should feel greatly rewarded if they would support the desirable object which he had been advocating. He had been rewarded far beyond what he deserved or expected; but if they would only support that object they would support a great national work and add renown, glory and honour to Smethwick.

Mr. Mitchell enjoyed the distinction of being the first honorary freeman of the Borough of Smethwick. This honour was confirmed upon him in July 1902, in recognition of the eminent services rendered by him to the borough during the last 20 years. The scroll containing the resolution of the council was placed in a casket of solid silver, and presented to the first freeman whose association with Smethwick had been long, intimate and gratifying. He greatly appreciated the significance of that priority and expressed his assurances that the beautiful and artistically designed cabinet accompanying the gift would always be regarded by himself, his family, and their descendants with unmitigated pleasure and pride.

The Original Obituary

The complete article from the Smethwick Telephone newspaper November 1917

Mr Henry Mitchell - The Obituary Continued

Not only was he the first man to enter into competition with the Burton Brewers, but he was one of the earliest to grasp the importance of applying scientific principles to brewing, and to him should be given the credit of being one of the first to recognise the practical importance of the researches of the eminent Pasteur on fermentation. He was never a “rule of thumb man” but probed deeply into every subject in which he interested himself. This trait was one of the reasons of his success. Throughout the country he was acknowledged to be one of the best judges of hops and barley and for many years he was a judge at the cereal exhibits at the Birmingham cattle show. His grasp of the financial side of the business was perfect. He was a man of great tenacity of purpose and possessed the power of concentration in a marked degree. He thought long and deeply on any objects he had in view before disclosing it to anyone; but once having made known his policy, he never allowed himself to rest until he carried out. When approaching a new subject, he looked at it from all points of view, and his own ideas had to undergo a searching examination by himself. Had a great regard for accuracy, and if he had to quote figures he was always precise and quick to detect and inaccuracy on the part of others. He was a man of great energy, and this was wonderful considering his frails physique. Fond of physical exercise, he was never a slacker, and played his games with as much energy and zeal as he displayed in his business. In a losing game he was always at his best, and never gave in, very often turning almost certain defeat into victory. He was exceptionally well read and possessed a very retentive memory.

Mr. Mitchell was a vice president of the Smethwick Conservative Club, and a prominent member of the conservative association for the Handsworth division. He was also president of the Smethwick institute in 1908 to 9.

In 1886 Mr. Mitchell took into partnership Mr H G Bainbridge, who afterwards became one of the first directors of the concern when it was converted into a limited company. His son, Mr H W Bainbridge, the famous cricketer, is now a director. Upon retiring from the chairmanship of the company, Mr. Mitchell was recipient of an address, engrossed on vellum from the shareholders. This sets forward a record of achievement and is as follows:

"Henry Mitchell began to brew in Oldbury road Smethwick. In 1879 he moved to Cape hill and founded in 1866 the business which in 1888 was incorporated under the title Henry Mitchell and Co limited. The area of the land then occupied with 14 acres: the assets in the balance sheet were £585,602: the number of persons employed 271: the output in barrels 90,000. In 1898 an amalgamation with Butlers Crown Brewery Limited, of Broad Street Birmingham was arranged and the name of the company changed the Mitchells and Butlers Limited and in subsequent years the following businesses were acquired: in 1889 Alfred Homer Limited, Vulcan Brewery Aston: in 1900 James Evans Perry Barr: in 1913, Cheshires Brewery Limited, Windmill Brewery Smethwick. In 1914 the area of land had increased to 90 acres: the assets to£3,326,258: the number of people employed to 1098: the output of barrels to 594,997: and the business had attained the 5th place in order of output among the breweries of the United Kingdom."

Mr. Mitchell resigned his position as Chairman of the company in July 1914 and the resignation was announced by his successor Mr W Waters Butler at the 27th annual general meeting, held at the White Horse Hotel, Congress St Birmingham on the 13th of August, when the following resolution moved by Mr. James Evans and seconded by Doctor Quirke was unanimously adopted: “The shareholders of Mitchells and Butlers limited assembled at their 27th annual meeting, tender to Mr Henry Mitchell their sincere thanks for the great and valued services he has rendered to them as Chairman of the Board since the formation of the company in the year 1888, and deeply regret that advancing years and failing health compel him to resign the position. They record with feelings of gratitude that his untiring energy, efficient organising powers and wide practical knowledge of the brewing industry are largely responsible for the rapid and successful growth of the business and that’s his far sighted policy and prudent care of the Company’s resources is to be attributed the high position the business now occupies among the trading companies in the United Kingdom. They are pleased to know he will remain a member of the board and that is valued advice will still be at their service.”

See how the history of Longnor unfolded year by year from 1500 to the present day.

Read about Walter Shuker the man that lived at  Longnor Hall and never knowingly missed a free lunch!

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