Obituary – Edward Stone of Stratford-Upon-Avon

The Ale Taster who developed a taste for the finer things in life.

Edward Stone, who built a fortune trading in everything sheep related, was a man in search of permanence in a transitory world. He claimed that his success was based on an early understanding of ‘the flow of things’.

Stone was born on a farm whose lands stretched down to the Avon.  From his earliest days he witnessed the moods of the River Avon as it flowed or flooded at the edge of his father’s lands.  The river, he claimed, provided two of his earliest lessons: the importance of understanding the flow of things, and the compelling consequences of inhibiting that flow.

Stone’s background in farming prompted his earliest trading in sheep and sheep products. The Clopton Bridge in Stratford, being a gateway across the River Avon to the Cotswalds, led to Stratford-Upon-Avon being a centre for sheep and wool trading.

With a capability flowing from his involvement with sheep from his earliest days, he quickly extended his trading activity until the income allowed him to purchase two rental properties in the very centre of Stratford-Upon-Avon; one of which he converted into the Fleece Tavern.

The following year provided both his most significant setback and also the impetus for his later rapid rise.  A fire in the centre of the town destroyed the Fleece Tavern, whilst leaving the brick-built Swan’s Nest, nearby, relatively unaffected.

From that moment he determined that brick was the material on which he would build all his future investments in property. Property, after all, provided influence; and Stone’s influence would be fireproof.

Faced with increasing competition and much reduced circumstances following the devastating Stratford fire, the memory of the flow of the river Avon at the bottom of his parent’s farm now gave him the inspiration he needed for his later success.

It was the middle of winter, the time when travel by road was difficult or impossible.  Rather than travelling out for trade, Stone instead set his sights on climbing up the social ladder.

With an understanding established in his earliest years, Edward Stone set about taking control of the flow of those things that made up the lifeblood of the town; whilst following a refined approach of gentle restriction of those flows rather than their sudden reduction. Whilst his competitors fought over the executive roles that controlled trade, such as the position of ‘Alderman to the Council’ and the bitterly contested role of ‘High Bailiff of the Guilds’ – a role that controlled permits to travel out of the Town – he earned and bought himself the support necessary to become the Stratford-Upon-Avon Ale Taster.

He was recorded as stating that ‘A pauper can live for weeks on two pennies. But a townsperson can hardly last twenty four hours without a safe drink of beer’. Whilst everyone else fought over the pennies, Edward Stone took control of the flow of beer from the brewers and into the ale houses.

Not only was he the arbiter of which breweries or ale houses were meeting the required standard, he could adjust the standards to gave a slender preference to those producers that understood how to show their gratitude.

Stone, with his fingers on the flow of beer through the Town, then pulled off his master stroke. He used his position to gain enough support to become elected to the post of Chief Warden of Clopton Bridge. The role of a ‘Warden Of The Bridge’ held the highly visible responsibility for collecting and distributing income from the Clopton Bridge toll.  Such a position was little contested, carrying with it the requirement to maintain the bridge, as well as to be legally responsible for managing the taxation of that income and the equitable distribution of the remaining funds.