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History Behind Allsops Matatu Stage Along Thika Road

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The famous Allsops is a matatu stage along Thika Road which serves as the main transit point between matatus heading to the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD) and estates such as Garden Estate, Roysambu, Kasarani, Zimmerman, Thika et al to the east of the point and Kariobangi to the south.

Over the years, the area has undergone developments to control the growing human traffic who use it to get in between their destinations, be it on their way home or to their place of work.

Of key notice is the T-shaped footbridge which was erected to avert accidents between pedestrians and vehicles and due to the latter approaching the area with speed, it was one of the most dangerous spots for pedestrians to cross. This bridge could arguably be compared to the rest as it is one of the longest in the city covering different matatu spots.

However, the name Allsops didn’t just pop up at random. It was the original home of Allsopps Pilsner and White Cap built in 1938 by Taylor and Company Brewery, a building that once overlooked the General Service Unit (GSU) headquarters along Thika Road before plans to bring it down began.

An old photo of Allsopps brewery along Thika Road. /TWITTER.KENYAN MUSEUM

Taylor and Company Brewery was the main competitor to  Kenya Breweries, which had been established in Nairobi’s Ruaraka plains in 1922 by George and Charles Hurst. The two brothers who were initially based in Kitale as farmers thought their future would be centred around a brewery.

Allsopps Brewery became the focal point for the prominence of Taylor and Company and was coincidentally built by a former East African Breweries Limited (EABL) Managing Director William Taylor. During his tenure between 1931 to 1938, he introduced and popularised the Tusker beer into the Kenyan market.

The untold story is that the original Allsopps brewery was started with a meagre capital of £7,500 (Ksh1,074,750) before it expanded rapidly.

Taylor was highly respected in the industry and it was during his tenure at the EABL that the pasteurising of the bottled beer was introduced in 1924. He then promoted the Tusker beer into the market, giving it an edge over other lagers, a record that still stands to date.

However, a year after opening the brewery, World War II broke out in 1939 and for the next six years, he lacked the raw materials needed to boost his business. Despite the War bringing in very thirsty soldiers, the troops were rationed to only two bottles per man per week.

Both EABL and Taylor’s Brewery went through economic turmoil, but there was some hope after the War when the British government announced that it would settle most of the former soldiers in Kenya. The two breweries, therefore, expanded on this promise and when the settlement scheme failed, the industry found itself with a serious over-production capacity.

As a result, in 1947, the indigenous Kenyans were allowed to drink and sell bottled beer, thus opening a new market and saving the breweries from bankruptcy. This was as a result of the Liquor Ordinance of 1934 amended by Attorney General J. Basil Hobson to allow liquor licence holders to sell wines, beer and cider to “any native, Abyssinian, Somali, Malagasy or Comoro Islander”.

Some of the Africans who entered this market included former Minister of Defence Njenga Karume, who was in 1948 allowed to open a bar in Kiambu, and later a beer distributor thus turning him into a beer mogul in later years.

Meanwhile, EABL economically was in the red and one of the bar jokes of those times had suggested the renaming of Tusker to ‘White Elephant’, as it became difficult to either maintain or dispose of. The elephant has been in the Tusker brand ever since.

However, it was Taylor who would be the first to exit the Kenyan beverages market. He sold his controlling stake in 1951 to Ind Coope and Allsopp (East Africa) Limited and in May 1948, Ind Coope & Allsopp Ltd had acquired 49 per cent of the Taylor and Company.

The move would see the introduction of both Pilsner and White Cap into the market which worried EABL’s Tusker brand. The entry of the giant brand into East Africa would significantly alter the local beer market with the expansion of Taylor’s Ruaraka factory.

Allsopps meanwhile, together with Schweppes East Africa, started manufacturing soft drinks in Ruaraka way before Coca-Cola entered the scene. However, the parent company started making losses, intensified by the State of Emergency declared by Governor Sir Evelyn Baring due to the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule and which lasted between 1953 and 1959.

Following its recovery in 1961, its chairman H. Travis received a proposal in 1962 from EABL which was seeking to purchase the brewery. Allsopp (East Africa) Ltd was amalgamated with EABL to form the East African Breweries Group.

Its shares were acquired by Kenya Breweries which also acquired Nairobi Maltings and City Brewery. Under the leadership of R.O. Graham, Allsopps brewery started huge investments in the region as demand for its flagship Allsopps Pilsner lager beer began to grow.

Traffic jam near Allsops along Thika Road. /MARVIN CHEGE.VIRALTEAKE

By independence, in 1963, a further expansion of the brewery at a cost of £150,000 commenced. In order to promote the new Pilsner brand, the brewery organised for a bottle to be carried in the fuselage of the Supersonic Scimitar which was to fly down the Mombasa Road from Embakasi, to test whether it would taste as good after breaking the sound barrier.

Allsopps was not the pioneer brewery in Ruaraka but rather it was Charles and George Hurst who developed an interest in the area which was by then a desolate bush, with a permanent clean river in the valley.

The river, known as Rui-Rwa-Aka, meaning women’s river, was reserved for Kikuyu girls during circumcision for its cold-morning anaesthetic waters.

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Marvin Chege
About author: Digital journalist and managing director with a passion for writing captivating stories. Marvin is a young scribe, a social media, sports, gaming junkie and realist who specialises in viral news, multimedia and investigative storytelling.

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