The firm of Hitchman & Company was founded in 1796 by James Hitchman in partnership with his brother, William Spence Hitchman. James Hitchman was born in 1773 and had formerly been employed by Thomas Henry Kingdom who carried on business as Wine Merchant at the Bunch of Grapes. In the same year that the business was founded he married Sarah Lock Simkins.
The business was established in West Street where the Old Swann Inn formerly stood
Although James Hitchman died on 26 May 1830 he had already worked up a wide connection in the town and neighbourhood and the business was taken over by his son William Simkins Hitchman (born 1799) who not only introduced malting but in 1849 built the Brewery and the extensive malthouses in Albion Street. A supper was given on 6 April 1850 by W.S.Hitchman to 60 workmen etc. employed in his newly erected brewery plant which was then nearly completed. It is reported that they did ample justice to the good old English dishes of beef and plum pudding followed by a liberal supply of choice ale from the Brewery which it was scarcely necessary to say was of excellent quality.
William Simkins Hitchman was the first Mayor of the Borough after the Corporation was remodelled under the Municipal Act which came into effect in 1835. In addition to the business of brewer, maltster and wine merchant he had a farm at Chapel House, the Tally Ho Quarry at Blockley a Coal Merchants business and was also the Lessee of the Gas Works. He build a country residence, Kitebrook House and died in 1881 at the age of 82.
His son Alfred William Spence Hitchman had been actively associated with the business and continued to run it after his father’s death. In 1890 however, he sold the business to a Limited Company and went to live in Weymouth where he kept a yacht on which he frequently entertained his friends from Chipping Norton. He retained his chairmanship of the firm until his death some 25 years later.
The first meeting of Hitchman & Co. Ltd., was held in London on 27 March 1890, among those present being Abraham Creswicke Rawlinson of The Elm, (acting Chairman), Mr. Epps of the Manor House and a Mr. C Akers, the firms accountant. Joseph Reader was appointed Secretary. The price paid to Mr. A.W.S.Hitchman for the Brewery premises, public house property etc. was £47,180; book debts and loans £12,500 and stock and beer, malt, hops, wines and spirits etc.; horses and vans £16,500.
Shortly after its incorporation Hitchman & Co. Ltd, acquired Lardner’s Brewery at Little Compton who owned several public houses in Chipping Norton.
In 1917 the Company purchased a brewery and bottling plant at Worcester from B.C. Harper’s Trustees which it operated by means of a subsidiary Company called Harper’s Hitchman Ltd.
During 1924 negotiations had been going on for amalgamation with Hunt Edmunds of Banbury. As Hunt Edmunds & Co. was a private company with a large debenture issue, a complete amalgamation was not practicable so combination was effected by formation of Hunt Edmunds Hitchman Co. Ltd. This company, by exchanging its shares for the ordinary shares of Hunt Edmunds and Hitchman’s formed the link between the two.
The former Directors of the two Companies became Directors of the Hunt Edmunds Hitchman Company.
The Directors of Hunt Edmunds were Mr. Edmunds, Commander Holland RN and Mr. R.H.A. Holbech. Hitchman & Co, also had three Directors, Mr. A. Newland (Chairman), Mr. W.N. Rowlell (Managing Director) and Mr. F.W.P. Matthews, the Shipton-under-Wychwood Corn Merchant.
The Secretary of Hitchman’s, Mr. Reader was followed in 1928 by Mr. J.F.Barlow who had been associated with the firm for many years.
The first step taken by the new association was the combining of activities at Worcester. Both Companies had been bottling establishments there and Wine & Spirit businesses in Evesham, and Harpers Hitchman Ltd. Both brewed and bottled and also sold wines and spirits in Worcester.
In March 1925 Hitchman’s bottling stores at Evesham took over Hunt Edmunds bottling and the latter’s premises were sold. The Evesham wine and spirit businesses were also combined at Hitchman’s premises. This arrangement continued until 1929 when brewing at Lowesmoor Brewery, Worcester was discontinued and transferred to Chipping Norton.
The supplementary budget of 1931 increased beer duty from 103/- to 134/- per barrel and it was essential to effect economies in production. Hitchman’s Brewery closed the following March and brewing was completely centralised at Banbury. Some members of the firm were found employment at Banbury and some of the older servants received pensions. The wine and spirit stores and offices continued in West Street.
The Brewery was one of the Town’s largest industries and held a place of importance in the town which was difficult to dispense with. Much of Hitchman’s success was attributed to the quality of it’s water obtained from deep wells on the premises. The Company for many years had a small side line for the supply of mineral water to public houses in the immediate neighbourhood of Chipping Norton and in 1935 tenants of all three Companies were required to purchase their mineral waters from Hitchmans. This became an important department of the joint businesses and continued after the removal of brewing and did not close down until 1968.
Mr.W.N.Rowell died on 20 April 1936 aged 67. He became a Director of Hitchman & Co. in 1910 and eventually its’ Managing Director and he had succeeded Mr. Newland as Vice Chairman of H.E.H & Co. Ltd. He was well known in Chipping Norton as the proprietor of an Engineering works in Albion Street and an Ironmongers business in the High Street.
Mr. T. Langley-Jones who had been Hitchman’s brewer for many years became the Head Brewer of the combined undertaking.