"AS soon as it was known that Mr Newsome Baxter, the well known brewer of Thornton-le-Moor, had passed away, all the blinds were drawn in the village and it was decided to postpone the annual sports and feast," said the D&S Times on June 15, 1889.

"By his death, Thornton-le-Moor has lost one of the greatest benefactors. His generosity was something extraordinary, and his sympathy with the people attracted the greatest respect, good will, and even love."

Today, Thornton-le-Moor is a quiet village – population in 2011: 425 – south of Northallerton, sandwiched between the two coaching roads of the A167 and the A168. But Mr Baxter used its good transport links, and its flourishing fresh water, to turn it into a hive of industry, employing 50 or more men in his brewer, which had a tall, smoky chimney and a grand clocktower fit to grace any mill anywhere in Yorkshire.

Mr Baxter, though, was a masterbrewer, with his beers in demand from Teesside to Thamesside.

The brewery in the village was started in 1737 by William Sadler in the Black Swan Inn. In the days before drays, every community had one or more places brewing something as essential to life as beer.

The Sadlers brewed for a hundred years, although in 1810 the brewery swapped sides of Main Street to Brewery House.

Mr Baxter bought the business in 1851 for £1,335 (about £175,000 in today’s values, according to the Bank of England Inflation Calculator). He was 48 and came from Sheffield, where he was a well regarded maltster. He clearly saw an opportunity in this out-of-the-way place.

He’d done his homework. Thornton is on the side of geological ridge, and he knew the water that came gushing out in many places was good for brewing. He also knew the fields around were good for growing barley. He’d spotted that South Otterington station had opened on the East Coast Mainline in 1841, so there was potential to reach markets as far away as London, and he knew that the two coaching roads could carry his beer to Northallerton and even to Middlesbrough, where the first thirsty blast furnaces of the ironopolis were being lit.

The brewery grew to become the village’s major employer, and it acquired a chain of pubs: as well as the Swan and the Bay Horse in the village, it had The Fleece Inn and the Railway Inn in Northallerton, the Farmers' Arms at Scruton, the New Inn at Thrintoft, the Horseshoe Inn at West Rounton, and the Zetland Hotel next to Middlesbrough station.

Mr Baxter brewed a Strong Mild and an Extra Strong Mild, but his signature beer was known as “BOF” – Beer of the Future. It was paler and more bitter than his other brews.

It was to the taste of people as far afield as London, and one writer said: “The ales brewed here are held in high repute by the medical profession for their tonic and stomach properties and delicacy of flavour which they, probably, owe to some peculiar quality of the water.”

Brewery House became the offices of the company, with rows of cottages front and back for employees to live in, and property next door, Moss Lodge, was the Baxters’ home, a supersize wing added to it, dwarfing neighbouring properties in the fashionable late Victorian buff brick.

In 1887, the Baxters – Newsome’s son, William, was by now heavily involved – doubled the size of the brewery to the designs of architects Hepper and Fisher of Castlegate, York. They added 25 quarter Brewhouse and a 90ft tower, complete with clock, and decorated with ornamental brickwork.

It was so noticeably tall that as it was going up, the Archbishop of York passed in a train a mile away, and said: “Dear me, I wasn’t aware of any such church tower being built in this part of the diocese.”

But, on June 10, 1885, Mr Baxter died, aged 86. In its obituary, the D&S noted that only the previous year “parishioners and friends had assembled in the schoolroom and presented him with an illuminated address, a splendid family bible, and a rosewood inkstand, in order to commemorate their respect for him”.

Under his direction, the brewery pumped water to peoples’ homes and out to neighbouring villages, and its gas lit the village school and street.

On June 13, his son “took a last glimpse of the features of the deceased as he lay in his coffin, which was made of polished oak with brass mountings”, and Newsome’s last journey began to his resting place in North Otterington churchyard.

“The sad procession was a very long one,” said the D&S, “consisting of about 50 carriages and a number of people on foot.”

Barely had the brewery recovered from this blow than, in 1892, William Baxter died leaving the brewery in trust to his two teenage sons.

But now something begins to sour the tale. A dispute, perhaps, turns the lads against each other and neither becomes involved in the brewery, and the bitterness is such that the head brewer, John Metcalfe, leaves Brewery House and sets up the Star Brewery directly opposite in direct competition.

In 1897, the ailing business was bought by Joseph Alston Dover, a Newcastle ale and spirit merchant, and then it was gobbled up in 1901 by Archibald Arroll, brewers of Alloa. Brewing ceased in Thornton in 1909, although mineral water bottling continued until 1934.

CH Greensit, of Breckenborough, near Thirsk, takes up the story: “My grandad, AW Richardson, bought it about 1939 and retired from farming at Newby Wiske. The brewery buildings were demolished in 1939-40 and the rubble was taken to Northallerton so forces personnel could use it as foundations on which to build the prefabs of the Friarage Hospital. The iron gate at the entrance to Brewery House was removed by the government for the war effort.”

Indeed, it is said that the reason the tower, which had startled an archbishop, had to come down was that it was feared it was such a prominent landmark that German pilots might use it to navigate by.

But because it was such a big concern in this small village for so long, the scent of the brewery still lingers in Thornton. The big brewery houses can still be spotted, the Black Swan still serves, and only last year villagers held a murder mystery evening entitled Murder at the Brewery in which Mr Newsome Baxter put in an appearance 120 years after his death.

Plus there are a few Baxters’ bottles still about, a couple even their glass Codd’s marble intact – there may even be enough to make a crateful.

MUCH of this information and the old pictures come from Everyone Had A Pig, a book about Thornton-le-Moor's history which was compiled for the millennium. Copies are still available for £15. Please email rmbarker2201@gmail.com for further information. Many thanks to everyone who has been in touch about Baxters’ brewery, especially Mr Greensit, Colin Narramore, Robert Barker and Rodney Wildsmith. If you’ve got anything to add, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk