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National Storytelling Week - The House of Townend Story

Established in 1906, House of Townend is a family-owned, family-run and independent wine merchant that has remained in the ownership of the Townend family for over 110 years. Developing and growing under four generations, House of Townend is now run by fourth generation John Charles Townend who has established this Hull based family company as the leading wine merchant in the North of England.

Founder Jack Townend, like so many successful Victorian businessman, came from a working class background. He left school and was apprenticed at Earles Shipyard in Hull. Playing professional Rugby and captaining Hull Football Club, Jack decided to cash in his popularity as a sportsman, and in 1893 left the shipbuilding industry and became the tenant of the Good Ship Molly public house in Dock Street renaming it ‘The Rugby House’. In 1900 he moved to the Bull Hotel on Beverley Road, and whilst there started to bottle Guinness, which he then sold to pubs and clubs, including his own, despite being a tied house! In 1906, the brewery woke up to the fact that he had not bought Guinness for a year and threw him out.  With a young family and nowhere to live, Jack acted quickly and bought a grocery, wine and spirit business. Not long after he stopped selling groceries and specialised in wine and spirits.

 Jack Townend

Post WW1 Jack was joined in the business by his twin sons, Charles and Jack, and the business continued to expand. Although he remained Chairman of the company until he died, he progressively handed over to the twins with the eldest, Charles, eventually becoming guardian.

  Charles Townend

It was Charles who was responsible for developing J Townend from a single shop into a significant business having persuaded his father to form another wine and spirit company based in a retail shop at the corner of Cave Street, with the intention of developing the wholesale business.

        

They began by buying a cask of bulk port and a cask of bulk sherry, bottled and labelled them by hand, then sold them to public houses and clubs. The wholesale business quickly expanded requiring them to build a new warehouse on the same street. Charles decided to expand further by acquiring two wine merchant shops, one being Brown Walker & Atkin, and the other J J Rippons.  Along with Rippons, the Whisky brand Dalmeny was acquired, which became the company’s own brand whisky for many years. It was with the acquisition of these fine old wine merchants that the firm first made its mark on the fine wine trade, and by 1939 the company was operating six branches. In the 1940’s Charles built up a substantial trade in rum under the name Red Duster and by 1949 when his father died, he became Chairman of the company. The company expanded further in the 1950s and three more shops were opened. In 1959, Charles’ son John joined the company taking over the day-to-day running while Charles remained Chairman until his death in 1977 aged 78.

 John E. Townend

Under John the company continued its expansion with the number of retail shops increasing to 35 and the development of the importing and wine bottling business, first wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy and vintage Port, and then gradually from most other European wine producing countries.

       

 

John opened the first bonded warehouse in Hull for 60 years, where whisky was blended, gin and vodka compounded and Keelings Advocaat produced. He also established a cash and carry, developed a national agency business and continued local wholesaling.  Retail shops were his forte though and he would walk the pavements assessing suitable locations for a new off license.

With this continuing expansion of the company, John moved the head office from the rear of the Beverley Road shop to the bonded site of Red Duster House on York Street with a grand opening carried out by Comté Robert-Jean de Vogüé, the Président-Directeur General of Moët et Chandon.

In 1992 he handed over Managing Directorship to his son, John Charles who had joined the company in 1988.

 John Charles Townend

At this time, House of Townend was still very retail orientated, but the market was changing quickly with the rise of the supermarket groups, and so John Charles set about steering the company towards supplying hotels and restaurants. This became the company’s focus over the next twenty years.  The acquisitions of Cachet Wines in 1994 and then Playford Ros in 2009 helped consolidate this move into the wholesale sector.

2011 saw the move to new, modern, purpose built headquarters in Melton on the outskirts of Hull, comprising offices, a dedicated logistics team, warehouse and temperature controlled bonded storage along with a retail outlet called the Cellar Door. Alexandra Pereyre de Nonancourt, from the owning family of Laurent Perrier, flew over to England to carry out the grand opening.

2012 saw further expansion when the company acquired Lakeland Vintners, based in Ings, near Kendal, a company that has supplied some of the finest hotels in the Lake District for many years.

Today, our team is over 60 strong with many long-serving core staff, some of whom have been with the company for over 25 years. It is down to these loyal staff members that we have been awarded the following accolades:

  • International Wine Challenge Regional Merchant of the Year for Northern England 2017
  • International Wine Challenge Regional Merchant of the Year for North East England 2011, 2012, 2013 & 2014
  • Corporate Live Wire Innovation and Excellence Awards Independent Wine Merchant of the Year 2017 & 2018
  • Runners Up - Decanter Retailer Awards 2018: Regional Wine Shop of the Year
  • Finalists - Drinks Business Awards 2018: Independent Retailer of the Year & On-Trade Supplier of the Year
  • Finalists – Drinks Retailing Awards 2017: Independent Wine Retailer of the Year

 

Here's to the next 100 years!



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