Bedford’s Charles Wells brewery, bought for a few thousand pounds 140 years ago, has been sold lock, stock and barrel for £55 million.
Pub giants Marston’s plc signed the agreement with the historic family-run brewery last week.
Charles Wells’ bosses, who include two of the founder’s descendents, admitted it was a “poignant moment” for the family.
But chief executive Justin Phillimore assured historians and beer fans alike that the Charles Wells name – and the taste of its ales – will live on.
“The fact is, that customers will not notice any difference in the actual beer they drink,” he said.
“It will be made in the same Havelock Street brewery, to the same recipes, by the same experts – many of whom have worked with us for decades – and the water will come from the same natural well in Park Road North.”
The family also insist it will not be the end of Charles Wells beer being brewed in Bedford.
“We are planning to set up a smaller brewery in the town over the next couple of years and we are already looking at sites,” said Mr Phillimore.
Charles Wells will retain its name and two of its brands – the well-known Charlie Wells specials and also John Bull lager.
But all its other famous brews such as Bombardier, Eagle, McEwan’s, Young’s and Eagle will be under the Marston’s label. Though the beer will not change, the branding labels could be “tweaked”, say Marston’s.
The riverside brewery was founded by Charles Wells himself in 1876 and has spent the past 140 years brewing its distinctive beers for pubs all over the UK and France.
These pubs will not be included in the sale.
Mr Wells bought the brewery and a chain of pubs at an auction in the late 1870s – for the princely sum of £16,700. It soon became one of Bedford’s most thriving businesses.