IT’S a business whose story began 241 years ago, when many customers were thirsty agricultural labourers.

Today, Hall & Woodhouse has around 200 pubs across the south of England and turns over £107million, while 16 million bottles of its Badger beer are sold in supermarkets alone.

Managing director Anthony Woodhouse tells how the Blandford-based business has invested £30m in Dorset over the past five years.

“The first part of that is the new brewery. We build a new brewery every 100 years or so. The old one had done its time – 115 years,” he said.

“After 18 months, it’s now got a completely new brewhouse and bottling plant.

“The second bit is we’re always investing in our pubs.

“Our estate’s spread from Bristol and Exeter to London and Brighton. In the last five years, there’s been a lot of concentration on Dorset.”

Trends show that people are “perhaps drinking less but drinking more premium, more experiential” brands, he says. You’ll see Hall & Woodhouse stocking premium brands such as the Southbourne-produced Conker Gin.

We met at the Grasshopper on Bournemouth Road, Parkstone, which has had a £1.8m refurbishment which included providing the county’s first self-service beer.

The Crown Hotel in Blandford has had a £2.5m overhaul including a new bar and dining areas, as well as improvements to its bedrooms. The Olive Branch in Wimborne has had £750,000 spent on it, including on a dining room built around an open kitchen, and a “beer cave” with a ceiling made out of Badger bottles.

Other pubs to have been upgraded include the Duchess of Cornwall in Poundbury, the Lulworth Cove Inn, the Smugglers Inn at Osmington, the Fox Inn at Anstsy and the Old Granary in Wareham.

Hall & Woodhouse’s story began with Charles Hall, who founded a brewery in Ansty to provide beer to troops who were heading to America to fight the Colonialists. Sixty years later, his son Robert brought his nephew Edward Woodhouse into the business.

The trademarked badger logo was a symbol created for the benefit of some of its early customers. “They would have been agricultural workers, coming in off the fields and rehydrating with the beer – it was safer than water,” said Anthony Woodhouse.

“They wouldn’t have been able to read or write. They needed a symbol they could recognise. They picked the badger because it was prevalent in the countryside at the time.”

The company is owned by the Woodhouse family, but only a small percentage of the profits go to the shareholders. “The vast percentage is put back into the business,” said Mr Woodhouse.

He is part of the seventh generation of Woodhouses, while there are three members of the eighth generation – two women and one man – working in the business.

“It’s not there to provide employment for Woodhouses. That’s been drummed into us, that we’re here for a greater purpose than just making money,” said Mr Woodhouse.

The board is dominated by non-executive directors who are not members of the family. “They interview any family members who want to join the business to see if they have the potential as a future leader. It’s totally objective,” he said.

If family members are taken on, they face a three-year probationary period. “If they don’t pass that, then they could be asked to leave the business,” he added.

Members of the family should not be in charge “unless they’ve won it on a meritocratic basis”, he insists.

“There’s absolutely no glass ceiling. We’ve had non-family managing directors, we’ve had non-family chairmen. Anyone within the business can get to the board, can run the business.

“If you’re a great place to work, you attract great people.”