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The Master's unusual bet!

Among the Brewers’ Company archives is a scrap of paper from 1771, recording an unusual bet between the then Master, Samuel Hawley, and a Past Master, Henry Mason. Their names can be seen by visitors to Brewers’ Hall as they ascend the stairs, and pass the boards listing all Past Masters. The bet between Hawley and Mason concerned another Brewer – one whose name was to eclipse both Hawley’s and Mason’s in longlasting fame. This was Samuel Whitbread, founder of the famous brewery.

Samuel Whitbread (1720-1796), the seventh of eight children, did not come from a brewing background. His father died when Samuel was an adolescent, and at 15 he was apprenticed to a brewer, John Wightman – who happened to be Master of the Brewers’ Company at the time. This set Samuel on to a good career path and in 1742 he was able to establish a brewery himself, which by 1760 had become the second largest in London. When Samuel died in 1796, his brewery was London’s biggest, producing 202,000 barrels a year. His obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine stated that he was ‘worth over a million pounds’.  Samuel was also an MP (for Bedford constituency) for many years. In Parliament, he was a man ahead of his times. He supported the abolition of slavery long before that cause succeeded, and introduced a Minimum Wage Bill in 1795 – which was rejected by Prime Minister William Pitt.

So what was this unusual bet, made at Brewers’ Hall in 1771? It concerned Samuel Whitbread’s personal life. Samuel had married in 1757, but his wife died at the age of 29, just seven years later. Four years after the death of his first wife, Samuel married again, this time to the daughter of the Earl of Cornwallis.  However, his second marriage was to last only 16 months. His new wife also died, in childbirth, at 38.

Samuel Whitbread was once more a widower, and the bet made between Hawley and Mason was regarding the prospect of his soon being married fora third time!

The wording is:

August 9th 1771. Mr Hawley (the Master) lays, that Mr Whitbread will be married within 6 months from this day. A Gallon of Claret. Mr Henry Mason lays ye Contrary.

One wonders whether Samuel Whitbread knew about this bet! We shall never know, but we do know that Samuel did not go on to marry a third time. His will of 1796 states that he had had two wives, and he wanted to be buried in the same church vault where they both lay.

Mr Hawley therefore lost the bet, and at the beginning of 1772 he was obliged to give Henry Mason a gallon of claret. Nevertheless, 1772 was a good year for Hawley. The unexpected death of his older step-brother, the third Baron Hawley, meant that Samuel succeeded to the title, becoming the fourth Baron Hawley. Having already been Master of the Brewers’ Company twice by then, he also went on to be re-elected for a further three times. This explains why he appears first as Samuel Hawley, and then as Lord Hawley, on our list of Past Masters.

We are unaware if our present Master participates in any bets of a similar nature, regarding the marriage prospects of other Brewers!