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Article 8

Lee and Green - the American Connection

by Jonathan Smith

The firm of Lee and Green was founded at Sleaford by George Raynard Lee and Arthur Green in 1881. The mineral water bottling enterprise expanded to Spalding in 1886, Bourne in 1891 and Skegness in 1899. In addition to the bottling of superior aerated waters, the firm also specialised in the production of ginger beer, which gained Champion status.

Ginger beer of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century was said to have tasted similar to the best champagne, with sparkling effervescence. No wonder this favourite drink of England had crossed the Atlantic by 1790. Ginger beer is fizzy due to the carbon dioxide it contains (a natural by-product of fermentation) and the alcohol content when produced in the traditional process can be as high at 11 per cent, although it is possible to ferment ginger beer so it produces little alcohol. We have no details of the alcoholic content of Lee and Green's ginger beer.

It was the demand for English brewed Ginger Beer in America, particularly around New York which saw the firm develop factories in Syracuse and Buffalo in America early in the 20th century.

On March 7 1900 Arthur Green sailed on the Oceanic for New York to open a new factory just outside the city, at Syracuse. The firm secured the services of Nelson Anderson as manager of the branch which was at 113 Raynor Avenue. The opening of a further factory at 344-346 Oak Street, Buffalo, New York State, followed in 1904. O L La Due was the treasurer.

The American stoneware ginger beer bottles carried a very similar transfer to the English-made bottles used by Lee & Green's Lincolnshire factories, but described it as English-brewed (rather than Champion-brewed) ginger beer, and, in addition to the factories at Sleaford, Spalding, Bourne and Skegness carried either the names Syracuse or Buffalo, and in some cases both American factories. Most of the stoneware bottles used by the American branches were made in America, but some were made in this country by Price of Bristol.

The prospectus published in January 1902, when shares were issued in Lee & Green Ltd, makes no note of the American branches - just the four centres in Lincolnshire.

It seems likely that George Lee and Arthur Green continued the American business as a separate enterprise. The American business was later purchased by The Diamond A Ginger Beer Company, which was taken over in 1908 to the Salt City Bottling Company.

In 1910, the company moved its bottling works to 113-1/2 Raynor Avenue, which was Lee and Green's building, and the following year built a new building next door at 115 West Raynor.

Lee and Green's Buffalo factory moved to 52-54 St. Paul in 1910, with further expansion in 1916 with a move to 932 Ellicot Road in Buffalo. The business moved one more time in 1920, to 268-270 Plymouth Avenue. This was the company's last year of operation due to Prohibition.

Around a dozen variants of ginger beer bottles used by Lee and Green at Syracuse and Buffalo have been identified by leading American ginger beer bottle researcher Donald Yates.

Sadly, both in Lincolnshire and America, Lee and Green missed the peak of ginger beer's popularity. This peak happened in America in 1920 (when it was abruptly terminated by Prohibition) and in England fifteen years later, in 1935.

I am grateful to Donald Yates for supplying trade directory details relating to Lee and Green's branches at Syracuse and Buffalo. These American Lee & Green bottles are part of my collection currently on display at Bourne Heritage Centre, Baldock's Mill, Bourne - open Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays 2-4pm).