An interview with Stephen Crawley

Wirral’s Stephen Crawley, entrepreneur and the man behind the resurrection of the legendary Higsons beer brand talks to Wirral Life in an exclusive interview.

Glasses have been raised to celebrate the return of Higson’s beers to Liverpool! Brewing is now underway at Higson’s new home – the unique H1780 Tap & Still on Bridgewater Street, Liverpool 1. The beers mark the 21st century revival of a brand that was synonymous with Liverpool and the City Region for more than 200 years. The H1780 business is the brainchild of Wirral entrepreneur, Stephen Crawley. Wirral Life caught up with him to find out more about it.

You have been in the press recently regarding the exciting and impressive re-launch of Higson’s Brewery under the name of H1780. How did that happen?

Well I had more than 20 years working in Scotland’s brewing industry and I wanted to channel my experience and passion for better beer into creating a high quality branded drinks business. The H is for Higson’s and 1780 was the year in which Higson’s first flowed in the city. The company was part of and parcel of life in Liverpool and well beyond until 1990 when the last pint of Higson’s was brewed. To bring that back, I had a vision of a beer, gin and food experience all under one roof in the Baltic Triangle, and I’m delighted how that has come about. From a run-down warehouse for a rubber business, the transformed building is home to the brewery, a distillery, 3 bars, a kitchen, events space, as well as tours and tastings starting in early 2018. We’re extremely pleased with what we’ve achieved.

Let’s go back to the beginning and your Wirral roots. You attended Birkenhead School, is that where your love of cricket began?

I was encouraged massively by our master in charge of cricket, Micky Bowyer and as we reached the National U15 semi-finals two years running and I grew in confidence. The turning point was an eye test – with glasses I could now actually see the seam on the ball! My Birkenhead School final year report read ‘if he spent as much time on his studies as his cricket…” so I guess that says something about me! I then started with Wirral Schools U13 representing Wirral ad that culminated with England schools. A schoolboy highlight was playing for MCC Schools at Lords on Royal Wedding day in 1981. Then I was a contracted professional at Lancashire County Cricket Club between 1982 and 1984. I played at Cheshire County Cricket Club and amazingly for Scotland in the 1998 Commonwealth games in Kuala Lumpar where I faced the world’s fastest bowler Shoaib Akhtar. When I left school, I wanted to be a professional cricketer.

Are you still involved in sport?

Whilst I was living in Edinburgh, I ran the Grange CC junior section and MCC in Scotland. Time commitments mean I am not involved here other than as a ‘taxi driver’ for 17-year-old Jamie who is a very keen cricketer. It’s great fun he loves it and we do lots of miles all over the country. A bonus is I bump into people I used to play against! I am a member of Royal Liverpool Golf Club and as an MCC member I love going to Lords. Jamie played there last year – that was a great family day out – 35 years after I had first played there!

How did you get from being a geography and PE graduate from the University of Birmingham to a Director designate at a Scottish brewery in Edinburgh?

I played a season of cricket in Australia, and then worked for Dunlop Sports Surfaces but was made redundant with no pay-out and a mortgage to pay! I became good at dealing with adversity! I got a job with Labatts UK after pestering a friend I played cricket with and from there in 1993, an Edinburgh based, Birmingham University pal sent me an ad from Scotland on Sunday for another job there and I applied. I turned up for that interview – unable to speak as I had really sore throat and was dosed myself with lozenges only to find out I was in the wrong office! They had sent me a letter confirming the change, but it was bank holiday in England and it hadn’t arrived – no mobile phones in those days! I was an hour late as a result and could barely speak but remarkably I got the job!

You lived in Scotland for 20 years in the beer industry and set down roots there, tell us about that.

For my 6th birthday I went to Edinburgh to the Tattoo with my mum we had family holidays in the Scottish Borders. I loved Edinburgh from visits to see my good pal from University with its great bars, great pies and I even loved the buildings. I was obviously delighted then, to be part of Caledonian becoming the official beer of the Tattoo and to live in one of those crescents we used to admire – curved front windows, amazing cornices and really high ceilings. Playing cricket for Scotland and running Caledonian, which was close to people’s hearts meant 20 years simply flew by.

Have your family settled into life here on the Wirral and what are their favourite things about living in this area?

Still settling into our new home as it’s been quite hectic doing the house project and the business at the same time. Jamie is away at school and Fergus went to London after graduating from Durham University in the summer. Enjoying the coastal location is a favourite of mine although it’s a bit windy at times! We love walks with Fergus’s dog Odi on Hoylake and West Kirby beaches, a pint of Love Lane Pale Ale in the West Kirby tap – the simple pleasures – there’s good chat, and then home for a family meal, a cup of tea or a bowl of soup you can’t beat it!

The launch of H1780 must be all consuming at present but how do you view your life in say 5 years’ time?

60? When do I get my bus pass? Seriously I have a talented team, so I would expect one of them to be pushing me for them to run the business day to day by then. I can’t see me retiring – but currently I am not looking that far ahead – there’s plenty to do!

What makes H1780 different?

We are very excited at being in the heart of L1 and to be making our drinks in the same building as people are learning about them and consuming them. We have recruited the best people we can with skills, knowledge and passion for what they are doing whether that is making great gins, brewing very drinkable pints or cooking tasty food. It’s all about quality. We want everyone to feel part of what we are doing – building a leading beer and gin business in the North West.

As a child what was the best and worst Christmas present that you’ve ever had?

My mum tells me as a toddler I wanted a wheelbarrow? I was so chuffed! I just put all the other presents in it and wheeled them round for ages! The worst was a binder for my cricketer magazines – it had instructions that were hard to follow, and I got very annoyed and frustrated I couldn’t get them in the binder for ages!

How do you relax?

It’s a strength of mine – very quickly, although this project has challenged that trait occasionally! My office has often been my car for the past 3 years (until this week!) I can quite often make do with a power nap of 10 minutes!

You’ve spent time in the US on business, but where is your favourite place to go on holiday?

Let me try and try and remember – what’s a holiday again? I’ve not had one since Oct 2015! That was Windjammer in St Lucia which we like a lot. My favourite holiday was when we went to watch Jamie play cricket in South Africa and it doubled as my wife, Fiona’s 50th. We loved the trip to Rorkes Drift and Islandwana (I was a fan of Zulu as a boy). It was awe-inspiring! That plus Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Cape Town and the Hermanus area made for a wonderful holiday.

Favourite cuisine overall?

Shellfish (langoustines, large prawns or scallops for starter) Steak (sometimes blue steak). If travelling – sushi/sashimi – love it and makes me feel good!

Most recent meal in a Wirral restaurant?

Had an excellent meal for Fiona’s birthday in Cafe Nancie in West Kirby – it was our first visit and we really enjoyed it.

Favourite Liverpool restaurant?

Lots of choice now which is great – depends on the occasion – but Love the food at the Art School, and like Maray and Salt House Tapas.

Guilty pleasure?

I think most probably quality food and drink with family/friends. I’m also hoping progress will allow golf to become a pastime again without feeling like a guilty pleasure!

If you could have one Christmas wish granted, what would it be?

Fiona’s brother Rob, an Old Birkonian died February 2014 aged 39, her sister is having chemo now and a friend in Edinburgh’s son is in a bad way after an injury on the rugby field, so my wish would be health and happiness for my friends and family!

To find out more about the new Higsons venture – H1780, visit