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The House that Jack and the Johns built

Published:  23 July, 2008

After one hundred years of trading, the House of Townend is celebrating this year. It all began with Hull Kingston Rovers' star Jack Townend taking a pub tenancy - the youngest licensee in Hull at the time - and then starting to bottle Guinness on the side.

The problem arose after the House of Townend took over a drinks manufacturer called Gale Lister and acquired the know-how for making egg-based and wine-based drinks.

According to Townend's official company history, Advocaat was an egg-based alcoholic drink with no set recipe and no specific geographical home. Although mainly from Holland, there were also Advocaats from Germany, Belgium and the Channel Islands. The Dutch version was made from the base spirit of Dutch gin. In the Channel Islands it included cream, and Belgium's was a wine-based drink.

Townend's Advocaat, called Keeling's after some West Riding shops it had acquired, was made from wine fortified with brandy, thus paying the lower fortified wine duty. Townend sourced the wine base, known as 'water white', from a winery in Cyprus.

The success of Keeling's resulted in a letter from Allied objecting to the use of the name Advocaat on the basis that the product was not Dutch. At the same time, Customs & Excise claimed that Keeling's contravened a 1952 act because it was not a spirit. To cut a long story short, Townend beat off Customs & Excise but lost to Allied. Allied claimed 3.5 million; the family was personally liable and was estimated to be worth up to 2.5 million.

Desperate, Townend wrote to Showering, the Allied chairman, asking if it was really in Allied's interest to destroy the House of Townend and bankrupt the family? In a master stroke, Townend said that as a bankrupt, he would have to resign his Parliamentary seat. He said that in his personal statement to the House he would 'explain the reasons in full and illustrate how a big national company was deliberately destroying a family and a family business'. Showering instructed his lawyers to settle. After much negotiating, it cost the company 500,000, including damages and costs.

Today the House of Townend has a turnover of approximately 15 million. With Townend himself now in semi-retirement, the company seems in a 'safer pair of hands' with John Charles, who is content to stay well out of the limelight, and out of public life, concentrating on playing house.