The story behind the Luddite Brewing Company and Calder Vale Hotel in Horbury

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 July 2019

Luddite takes pride of place on the bar

Luddite takes pride of place on the bar


It’s the stuff of dreams. Jacking in the day job to run your own brewery and pub. Tony Greenway meets three boyhood mates from Horbury who did just that.

Pals in their pub: l-r Tim Murphy, Ian Sizer and Gary Portman with their Luddite brewPals in their pub: l-r Tim Murphy, Ian Sizer and Gary Portman with their Luddite brew

Childhood pals Gary Portman, Ian Sizer and Tim Murphy are Luddites… and proud of it. They've started their own brewery, the Luddite Brewing Company, selling the beers they make in a pub which they've renovated and re-opened to the public.

Going into the beer business with each other has been a labour of love, admits Tim. The trio funded the work out of their own pockets and had to do most of it themselves, so it's a good job they've been mates since they were kids (they're in their late fifties now).

'We were all at Horbury School together', says Ian.

'Gary and Tim have known each other since they were about four-years-old. When things get a little bit tetchy, it helps that we're friends who go way back.'

The old pub was revitalisedThe old pub was revitalised

'It does, absolutely', agrees Tim. 'We've got a lot of hinterland to fall back on. If you're going to start a business, it's got to be with people you trust.'

They aren't the most obvious candidates to open a pub. Gary had been running his own IT firm, and Ian had just come back from Australia where he'd been living for 20 years working in advertising. Tim, meanwhile, was a physicist and research engineer-turned stand-up comedian. All three were looking for a new challenge, and had always dreamed of owning a brewery (mind you, who hasn't?).

It's one thing to start your own brewery, quite another to open your own pub. That happened because Gary's dad, Mick, owned a pub called The Calder Vale Hotel on Horbury's Millfield Road. The building had lain dormant since Mick retired, so it was an obvious location for their brewery.

'We realised that the most viable way of starting a brewery was to have our own outlet for the beer', adds Tim.

The cosy interiorThe cosy interior

The building, dating back to 1874, was in a terrible state. It didn't just need a bit of cosmetic TLC. It needed a total overhaul.

'I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking: 'Oh my God! That's a least a year's work', says Ian.

'That was optimistic, because it actually took two years. It's a beautiful Victorian building, so we've taken it back to how it was originally. We took a lot of period features from a pub of a similar age that was being demolished and reused them.'

The Luddite Brewing CompanyThe Luddite Brewing Company

Tim needed a bit of persuasion. 'Ian came up the with the Luddite Brewing Company name, which I thought was a great branding idea', he says. 'I wasn't worried about that. I was more concerned about whether we could turn the building into a usable pub.'

But that's exactly what they have done; when it re-opened earlier this year, it was packed from the get-go with paying punters. Apart from selling their own beer, Gary, Ian and Tim use local suppliers, such as cider from Holmfirth and locally produced gin, vodka and rum.

As for the name Luddite, after the 19th century movement of English textile workers who destroyed the mill machinery they feared would replace them? Not an entirely positive connotation.

'We're trying to reclaim and redefine the term', explains Ian. "They were highly skilled people who knew they would be replaced, but they were vehemently against the way it was being done. It was destroying communities and lives, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.'

Indeed. On April 9, 1812, during the Luddite risings in West Yorkshire, 600 masked men descended on a mill at Horbury Bridge (a five minutes' journey from the pub) owned by Joseph Foster, smashing everything inside. 'By calling ourselves Luddites we wanted to make people more aware of our local history', says Ian.

'We were never taught this period of history at school, yet it happened right on our doorstep and was really significant. Being a Luddite feeds into our back-to-basics philosophy of supporting the local community and rebelling against the big, corporate breweries. It also tied in with where the three of us found ourselves in our careers and lives', he adds.

The guys chose to open the newly renovated Calder Vale Hotel on April 9. 'It seemed like a fitting date to do it', says Ian, who reveals the trio have christened one of their craft-brewed beers '1812'.

Time to let Ian and Tim get back behind the bar. There's still some hard work ahead of them and more renovations to do but, so far, brewing their own beer and running their own pub has exceeded their wildest expectations.

'When you're making beer, you don't know if people will like it', says Tim. 'But now we can give it to our customers to see if it actually works. After getting through all the hard work this, finally, is the fun bit…' 

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