Hook Norton Brewery hosts a family reunion with a historical twist

Hook Norton Brewery hosts a family reunion with a historical twist

Two family groups gathered at Hook Norton Brewery on Saturday 6th August to celebrate a special link that unites them. Descendants of William Bradford, who designed the Victorian tower brewery in 1900, met descendants of his nephew, William Foster Stovin-Bradford, who took over his uncle’s brewery architectural practice in 1919.

Hook Norton Brewery is regarded as one of William Bradford’s greatest designs. Architectural historian Lynn Pearson, in her book ‘British Breweries: An Architectural History,’ describes it as “one of his most attractive and best-known works.” His descendants have always taken immense pride in his accomplishments.

A surname, a hyphen, and a lightbulb moment

The brewery gathering is the upshot of a chance mention of a name in a Bedfordshire village. David Kerr, a family historian, heard the name and it instantly rang a bell – and helped to solve a mystery that had bugged him for years. Kerr is married to Ann, a great granddaughter of William Bradford, and had kept coming across the names Stovin and Stovin-Bradford in his family history searches but could not work out the link.

“Back in 2010, a friend said that he worked with a Richard Stovin-Bradford. Hearing his double-barrel surname and discovering it was hyphenated at last helped me to solve the link between our two families. Until then, I had thought that Stovin was a first name. William Foster Stovin-Bradford was Richard’s paternal grandfather and, as part of the arrangement to take over his uncle William’s practice in 1919, had added ‘Bradford’ to his name through deed poll,” explained Kerr.

Kerr contacted Stovin-Bradford and it was not long before wife Ann and her third cousin Richard met. Not surprisingly, it did not take long for their chat to turn to the hassle of repeatedly having to spell out the hyphenated surname.

A further coincidence

Then, in 2021, there was another chance twist. Stovin-Bradford was having lunch at Caerhays Castle in Cornwall, the home of Charles Williams, an old college friend, and his wife Lizzie. Over lunch, Lizzie happened to mention that she was a board member at Hook Norton Brewery and that her family and that of managing director James Clarke have worked together for years. And so, the idea of a family party in a brewery began to take shape.

“It’s amazing to think that my great great uncle William Bradford designed the brewery for the same family that runs it today and that some twelve decades later there is once again a link between the Clarke family and the family of the architect they chose to design their ‘new’ brewery in 1900,” said Stovin-Bradford.

“We’re so grateful to Hook Norton Brewery for going the extra mile to make this reunion such a special occasion and delighted that the brewery attaches so much importance to its living heritage and continues to play such a significant role in the local community,” he said.

Almost 50 Bradford and Stovin-Bradford family descendants, spouses and children were welcomed by managing director Clarke, who gave a brief history of the brewery and showed us William Bradford’s invoice for his services. Family members went on brewery tours to see Bradford’s design in action, including its original steam engine, before enjoying a spectacular Drayman’s lunch in The Steep, the atmospheric meeting space on the ground floor of the brewery.

Ann Kerr said: “It really was special to meet distant cousins for the first time and several generations of our branch of the Bradfords in a place that means so much to us all, and to see for ourselves what Bill Bradford achieved over a century ago,” adding: “The hours Dave has spent at his computer putting all this family history together have really started something and brought us all closer.”