Takeover calls time on Britain's oldest brewery

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When Humphrey Langridge began brewing ale 425 years ago in the Elizabethan village of Wandsworth, he chose the "pugnacity and bravery" of the ram as the symbol for his business.

But yesterday, the beer and pubs group Young & Co signalled a slightly less than pugnacious surrender to the realities of modern brewing by announcing the closure of the Ram Brewery and the oldest continuous beer-making site in Britain.

The London-based brewer, which made a profit of £13.6 million last year, said it was merging with rival Charles Wells and moving its brewing operation from south London to Bedford, with the loss of 90 jobs.

The announcement, which is the latest example of consolidation in an industry now dominated by a handful of brewing giants, was greeted with "disappointment and concern" from real ale campaigners.

Steve Williams, regional director for the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), said: "I am greatly disappointed that London and Wandsworth will be losing their flagship brewery. Another great brewery that has produced fine beers for hundreds of years is lost in the name of progress."

The Wandsworth site, which was part of Surrey when Mr Langridge began brewing in 1581 and now squeezed into more than five acres of prime London real estate, was taken over by the Young family in 1831.

The company has since produced some of the country's best-loved ales using London tap water and a mixture of Victorian and modern technology after a £5m re-fit of the site in 1984.

But managers insisted yesterday that hard economics meant tipples from Young's Special to Waggledance could no longer be made in the capital. The company saw its profits fall by 0.6 per cent last year. Production will be moved to the Bedford base of Charles Wells, whose brands include Bombardier bitter as well as licensed brewing of premium lagers such as Red Stripe and Kirin. The merged brewer will be called Wells & Young.

Peter Whitehead, finance director of Young & Co, said: "Brewing these days is all about scale in this very competitive market - it's scale that gives you profitability."

The site in Wandsworth, which has been earmarked for regeneration, is estimated to be worth £80m.