Our History

Heron & Brearley started as a partnership between two brothers sharing an inspiration and an ambition to succeed. Our timeline shows how those humble beginnings, with its roots in the 1850s and 60s grew to a success story and legacy even they might not have imagined today...

  1. 1850

    A brewery is founded...

    Okell's brewery was founded at Castle Hill in Douglas by Dr William Okell, a medical practitioner with a strong interest in scientific brewing. The origins of Okell's adds to the history of Heron & Brearley and proves why the two companies were brought together in later years when Okell's was acquired by H&B.


  2. 1860's

    Early roots

    J. C. Brearley entered the employment of Mr George C. Heron, of Castle Mona Stores, Douglas and began acquiring a thorough knowledge of the wine and and spirit business.

  3. 1874

    Pure and Simple

    The Isle of Man Pure Beer Act is a law on the Isle of Man regulating the ingredients in beer. It was enacted by Tynwald, the Island's Government in 1874, stating that only water, malt, sugar and hops were allowed to be used in production. The law was introduced after campaigning by Dr William Okell, founder of the Okell's Brewery. Because of the legal autonomy of the Isle of Man, the Free Mash Tun Act of 1880 which relaxed a tax on malt and other restrictions in the United Kingdom did not apply there, and so the Act remained upheld.

  4. 1898

    Heron and Brearley founded...

    In December 1898, Heron and Brearley Limited was incorporated, encompassing the businesses of the Herons and William Allen in Drumgold Street, directors at the time were H. & J. C. Brearley, James Ritchie, James Cubbon and William Allen. Shortly afterwards J. D. Cowley was employed as company representative.

    Exclusive contracts were confirmed with well-known brands such as Moët & Chandon champagnes, Martel cognac, Guinness and Bass beers; these were distributed to hotels and retails outlets.

  5. 1900

    A lucky escape

    In 1899 Dumbells Bank acquired three breweries and 46 licensed houses; Heron & Brearley, however, luckily declined the 'Breweries Combination', which, one year on, in 1900, collapsed into bankruptcy, closing the bank at the same time.

  6. 1914

    Passing the torch for the future

    J. C. Brearley passed away; J. D. Cowley was then appointed as director. The Cowley association with Heron & Brearley had been, and continues to be, the longest, and most continuous in the company's history . The company continues to work closely with Okell's and they both begin to acquire pubs to protect their trade.

  7. 1926

    End of an era

    The founding chairman, H. Brearley, passes away; J Ritchie (senior) is appointed as chairman and the business continues without its founders. In the same year, Maningtons was acquired, with a portfolio of hotels (such as the Castle Mona) and pubs. Henry and Leslie Cowley became part of the company, as the Drumgold Street site began to expand.

  8. 1939

    Directors join the war effort

    The 15th (Isle of Man) Light Anti-Aircraft Brigade,RA (TA) was formed with two batteries on 1 July 1938 at Douglas, Isle of Man. In December 1938, the batteries were numbered as 41st and 42nd and on 1 January 1939 the brigade was redesignated as a regiment. On 26 August 1939 a third battery – 129th – was regimented to bring the unit up to full strength.Henry, Leslie and Ken Cowley joined this Manx Regiment.

  9. 1946

    Okell's joins the family

    The acquisition of Okell's represented a conscious diversification from wines, spirits and bottling as the company secured a dominant position in the Manx drinks trade.

  10. 1986

    Castletown Brewery and a new warehouse

    Castletown Brewery acquired; it was in need of substantial renovation, and the beer market in the Island had shrunk, making two breweries excessive (Castletown Ale continues to this day, brewed by Okell's).
    A new warehouse built at Kewaigue. Drumgold Street site sold to become Marks & Spencer.

  11. 1987

    Foundation of Island Automatics

    Originally owned jointly by Castletown Brewery, Heron & Brearley and the Palace Group. Castletown's interest was taken over in the acquisition in 1986, and in October 1987 Isle of Man Breweries bought from the Palace the remaining 40%.

  12. 1991

    A new site

    It was increasingly clear that Drumgold Street was a difficult location from which to operate a business involving a large number of heavy vehicles in a narrow street of central Douglas. Accordingly the directors acquired a greenfield site outside Douglas at Kewaigue to erect a new warehouse and office; in 1991 the site was occupied.

  13. 1996

    Okell's Falcon Brewery moves to Kewaigue

    Falcon brewery closed and moved to Kewaigue with modern equipment. The Old Brewery was dismantled and converted into a fine wine store.

  14. 1997

    Okells IOM Ltd. incorporated

    In October, with only two pubs to its name, Manx Cat Inns rebranded as Okell's IOM. Now, 17 years later, the UK businesses have increased to five pubs, which hold many awards and stand heads above the rest in their areas.

  15. 2000

    Trade Distribution Limited was formed

    The business began in 2000, managing the warehousing and distribution facility of the Isle of Man’s leading drinks wholesaler Heron & Brearley. Other companies came to recognise the value of employing Trade Distribution’s specialist skills in this sector and now more than 70 UK drinks suppliers are retained as customers.

  16. 2007

    CI News acquired

    In April, H&B acquired CI Newsagents with the intention of improving and expanding the stores. In 2013, the expanding CI News was rebranded as Mannin Retail.

  17. 2011

    Market Town Taverns marks major UK expansion

    Market Town Taverns, a group of 15 pubs in Yorkshire, which specialises in fine wines and beers joined the H&B family, providing significant additional expansion into the UK.