Catalogue ReferenceD/EX1557
TitleBusiness and personal records of the Butler family of Reading, wine and spirit merchants.
Date1873-1999
RepositoryBerkshire Record Office (code: GB 005)
LevelSub-Fonds
Extent19 vols, 35 bdls, 21 docs
Admin History'Butler & Sons. Wine Merchants, 1830-1976' by Miss J Butler, 1999.

'In 1830, Charles Butler, who had been a farmer at Blewbury on the Berkshire Downs, founded the business. He acquired the premises in Chatham Street which was a beer house. Charles Butler's son was another Charles, born 1827 and died in 1911. This Charles had a large family including Charles George (b. 12 August 1852), William Edward (17 August 1854 to 28 February 1924), Harry Butler (b.23 April 1862) and Benjamin Herridge Butler. Charles Butler, the founder, gave the business to his son Charles when his son was 21 years old. In 1873 Charles took his son Charles George into partnership. Charles George became an alcoholic. The partnership was dissolved in 1889. In 1889 William Edward and Harry Butler became partners with their father.

William Edward had been a grocer but had also been trained in brewing. He married Catherine Selina Painton at Wargrave, February 1872. He was a keen collector of moths and butterflies. He kept a continuous diary about his natural history studies from 1885 to 1924. His collection of butterflies and moths he gave to Reading Museum. He was a town councillor for many years. He died on the Chatham Street premises in 1924. William Edward, senior, had a large family. Two of his sons worked in the firm: William Edward junior (20 July 1872 to 6 December 1942) and Frank Ernest.

William Edward Butler, junior, was a school teacher at St Laurence's School and at the British School. After a very few years he was employed by the family firm and became a partner in 1919. Charles George Butler (1852- ?) went into insurance business. Benjamin Herridge Butler was a chemist. He had premises in London Road near Cemetery Junction. His business was continued by his son John R Butler and by his grandson, Charles. W E Butler junior's son, Bernard William Butler (b.19 November 1897 d. 7 March 1981) was a clerk on the GWR at Paddington. In January 1923 he was offered a place as clerk at Butler & Sons at a weekly wage of £4, an extra 10/- on his wage on the railway. He became a partner in 1935. Felix John Butler (b. 27 December 1905 d.17 February 1997) another son of W E Butler junior was a London school teacher until joining the army in 1942. On being demobbed in 1946 he joined the firm and became a partner in 1947. Frank Ernest Butler, a son of W E Butler, senior, worked in the firm until he was called up in the First World War. He was posted to Winchester where he met and married Florence Adams. He became a partner in 1919. He worked in the wine stores and bottling departments. Harry Butler (b.23 April 1862) was taken into partnership in 1889 but left in 1913/14. He had tried to expand the business too rapidly. The full page advertisement of 1907 must have been his idea. By 1913 the business was in debt to the bank. Peter George Steer (b.1928) was first employed as a clerk and then became a partner in the 1960s and until the business was sold in 1976.

Advertising and Delivery of Goods
Before 1920 goods were advertised in local papers in many parts of the country. Delivery was done by horse drawn vehicles and hand-carts. They had a motor van in 1916. Between the World Wars B W Butler travelled on one or two days a week to local villages to get orders from pubs and businesses. He used a motor bike at first. In 1936 they acquired a Morris 8 car (RD 7666). After 1945 they advertised in the Times newspaper and received orders from many parts of the British Isles as well as some from overseas. They had two or three motor vans for local deliveries. The vans were garaged in Bedford Road and serviced at the Weldale garage.

Work done on the premises
Wine, spirits and beer were bottled on the premises. Wine was delivered to the firm in wooden casks - hogsheads, pipes etc. Wooden crates were used for delivering bottles of drink to customers. Used bottles were washed and re-used. Alcohol could only be sold over the counter during certain hours of the day because of the licensing laws. This meant the shop was open till later in the evening. The licence was for six days a week. The whole place was closed all day on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day. On the other bank holidays the bar was open. The partners took turns to 'stock up the bar' on bank holiday mornings.

Staff, personnel
Besides the partners there were office and shop staff, a resident bar manager, van drivers, bottling and store staff, and bottle washers. We know there were more than 20 staff from 1945 onwards.

Street names
Charles Street, William Street and Caroline Street are named after members of the Butler family.

Sources of supply
Wine etc imported from abroad was kept in bondage stores until it was needed and customs duties paid. Much was imported through London docks. When London docks were on strike in the 1960s the importers used Bristol. When Felix Butler was on holiday in France he visited some of the vineyards that supplied the firm.

County Fire Office
For many years the firm were agents for the insurance company, the County Fire Office. There was a brass plaque on the outside wall of the shop.

The Premises were nos 85, 87, 89 and 91 Chatham Street. 89 and 91 were the bar, a public house called the Bakers Arms. The rest of the buildings were a shop, offices, wine, spirit, and beer stores and cellars, beer and wine bottling areas, bottle washing department and a covered sideway with a rail track and a trolley to carry heavy goods from and to the road.

The final years
In the 1960s and early 70s when the inner distribution road was being planned and built the town wanted to serve a compulsory purchase order on the firm's premises. After some 15 years of argument this project was dropped. The bulk of the premises remain today, 1999.

By 1976 Bernard and Felix Butler were aged 78 and 70. They sold to Fuller, Smith & Turner of London in October 1976. Fullers re-furbished the premises and re-opened the pub as 'The Butler'. Mr Bernard was invited to pull the first pint.

The pub still exists. The off licence and factory have been discontinued.'

[A pedigree is available in the paper catalogue in the searchroom.]
AcquisitionPresented in January 1999 (acc. 6379); in June 1999 (acc. 6461); in November 1999 (acc. 6524)

Schedule of accessions:

Acc. 6379: 1/1-42; 2/1-19; 3/1-7; 4/1
Acc. 6461: 1/43-46
Acc. 6524: 4/2
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