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The JW Story

  • 1853

    1853 - 1853

    The Watt Family Tree


    Our story really begins in 1853, when renowned bookseller, James Watt (b.1809) moves with his wife, Elizabeth Pollock (b.1811) and some of their 5 children, from Edinburgh to a suburb of Denton Holme, here in Carlisle.

    In a family who seemingly had many business heads among them, the eldest of the Watt brothers, Alexander Pollock Watt (b.1837), though not here in Carlisle, kickstarted perhaps the largest Watt business venture, when he formed quite the name for himself in the literary world as an ‘executor & agent’.

    Founding the world’s first literary agency which operated long into the 21st century & went on to represent a Nobel Prize winner, 4 booker prize winners & several Whitbread prize winners.

    A P Watt & CO. is recorded to have worked with clients such as Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling and W B Yeats to name only a few!

    Meanwhile his brothers, John (b.1839) & James (b.1852) Watt, were forming a partnership & what would go on to be another long-lasting business of their own, right here on the streets of our city in Cumbria…

  • 1865

    1865 - 1865

    1865 brings us the beginning of ‘John & J.W. Watt’ – grocers & tea merchants – established by Watt brothers, John & James, which finds its home at 2 Market Place on Glover’s Row, which stood between The Crown and Mitre hotel & the town hall near the Market Cross in Carlisle City centre. This is where some of our earliest, unique, blend recipes were created, recipes that have been passed down for over a century and remain closely guarded secrets within the business to this day!

  • 1872 - 1872

    An article is published in The Carlisle Express on 3 August 1872, page5, which mentions proposed alterations to the original Watt’s shop, which could not be carried out due to a ‘revolting WC’ !!

    It is also this year that is rumoured to be the birth of our much loved & long standing High Continental recipe! Legend has it that this particular roast was discovered by accident when one of Watt’s roasters (who will have been manually turning the roaster drum by hand in these days!) took his eye off the ball a little too long when roasting a much loved Brazilian bean. The result was an almost charred high roast with a notably strong flavour. The happy accident then proved a firm favourite amongst Cumbrian farmers, whom Watt supplied with High Continental to keep them awake the long nights and early starts during lambing time and has been such a popular coffee with John Watt & Son customers ever since, so much so, we continue to roast to the original recipe to this day!

  • 1885

    1885 - 1885

    City minutes on 29 October 1885 show that as their business grows, the Watts were accepted as tenants of premises in The Green Market (which we believe to be a few doors down at Glovers Row) at the rent of £100PA. Here, according to further city minutes, the brothers were permitted a new signboard to advertise their shop but were not given permission to use the gable end of their property for advertising purposes!

  • 1895 - 1895

    Youngest Watt brother, James, partner of ‘John & J.W. Watt’ dies at the early age of 42, at his home on Nelson St., leaving elder brother John to continue alone in the grocers business.

  • 1897 - John Watt at Bank St

    1897 - 1897

    Upon demolition of Glovers Row in order to increase the size of the market place and remove a ‘narrow & hazardous’ entrance to Castle Street, John Watt secured premises at 11 Bank St. for his growing grocers, coffee roasters & tea merchants shop, which is where he made the change from ‘John & J.W. Watt’ to ‘John Watt & Son’ and where we still operate our bustling cafe today at The Cafe on Bank St..

    In these days, rent was paid for, not with money, but with 6 cases of dog meat as requested by the solicitors; ‘Bright, Brown & Strong’ who occupied the offices above!

    1897 - News Article

  • 1916 - 1916

    Founder, John Watt dies at the age of 77 years old, leaving the business in the capable hands of his son Henry J Watt (b. 1878) who would not only go on to grow the business for the next 28 years, but also continue his fathers relationship with the Presbyterian Chruch on Fisher St. as well as forming a long association with Carlisle Golf Club, of which he became a captain & 6 time champion amongst many other golfing achievements!

  • 1939

    1939 - 1939

    Henry places an advert for coffee in the April of 1939 in local newspaper, The Cumberland News, for the ‘choicest’ coffee beans, including; Costa Rica, Kenya & Mysore which are all beans we still roast at John Watt & Son today!

  • 1944 - Obituary

    1944 - 1944

    Henry Watt dies at his home, Naworth House, (Northumberland Rd, Calrisle), leaving the business to his widow Sarah, who partnered up with prominent Carlisle City Councillor, Fred Hodgson, who was already a respected grocer in the city who would go on to occupy 11 Bank St. into the late 1950’s.

  • 1957

    1957 - 1957

    Fred brings the coffee roasting side of the business into the 20th century with a brand new ‘Uno Gas Heated Roaster’!

    Uno gas roasters were ‘open flame’ roasters that had small gas nozzles located in the centre of the drum, rather than underneath it like in older styles of roaster which allowed for a much more concentrated roast as there was nothing between the open flames and raw green beans.

    This very roaster was used right up until we made the move to Blackfriar’s St and is responsible for the famous smell of freshly roasted coffee across the streets of our city! If you pay a visit to The Cafe on Bank St. today & and take a peek through their side window, you can still catch a glimpse of this beautiful piece of historical machinery in all it’s glory alongside a display of traditional burlap coffee sacks & some beautiful, retro tiles in their original condition!

  • 1958

    1958 - 1958

    An advert appears in The Carlisle Examiner for the auction of 11 Bank St. as ‘an excellent shop, cellar and warerooms’ on ‘the 3rd day of November, 1958, at 8 o’clock in the Afternoon’.

  • 1960s

    1960's - 1960’s

    The business was taken on by new custodians Ashley Kendall and his son Ashley Kendall Jr. who would continue to grow & develop the business over the latter half of the 20th century & into the millennium over the next 40 years.

  • 1970s

    1970's - 1970’s

    As times change, we see the rise of self-service supermarkets & shopping centres resulting sadly in the demise of traditional, independent grocers, and so Ashley gets to work coming up with a solution to keep John Watt & Son afloat into the latter years of the 20th century…


  • 1982

    1982 - 1982

    Development to transform The Lanes shopping centre into what we know it as today inspired Ashley to put forward plans to adapt by developing the shop to include a cafe! A place where customers could not only come to find quality, local produce but to also sit, relax & enjoy samples of the coffee & tea they could then buy to take home with them – which is exactly what we strive for still to this day!

  • early 2000's - early 2000’s

    The shop was passed on to the Roberts family who continue to operate as an independent grocers & cafe, hand-roasting coffee in-house on the trusty Uno gas roaster.

  • 2015

    2015 - 2015

    Carol & Cumbrian born Peter Johnston become the new custodians of John Watt & Son, with a passion to help it survive another 150 years and with their daughter Naomi, remain the directors & proud owners of the business today.

  • May 2017

    May 2017 - May 2017

    After continuing to uphold a life-long reputation of quality & reliability in the local area, John Watt & Son form a partnership with another of Carlisle’s oldest institutions, Carlisle Castle, taking on operation of the cafe at Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life.

  • July 2017

    July 2017 - July 2017

    Increased success with the wholesale side of the business & higher retail demand sees our trusty Uno hand roaster struggling to keep up with the orders flying in, prompting a new chapter for John Watt & Son with a new premises, The Roastery on Blackfriars St.! The Roastery opens in July, becoming the beating heart of John Watt & Son, complete with a 15kg Toper roaster that’s put to work daily to meet high demand. Alongside, a small cafe space opens too, to allow customers to take in the wonderful smell of fresh beans being roasted, watch the process and chat to our roasting team, all whilst enjoying a signature cup of JW coffee or tea!

  • 2020 - 2020

    As the Covid-19 pandemic hits the UK, the business, like so many others, sees lockdown closures across its various sites.

    During this time, our team pulled together in attempt to keep spirits up & worked hard to ensure customers could continue to enjoy the pick-me-up of a good brew & the taste of John Watt & Son from the comfort of their own homes.

    Coffee & Tea Clubs & retail delivery success since the pandemic leads The Roastery team to further adapt to keep up with demand & we swap out our cafe space to create more room for a smooth, slick operation; roasting fresh coffee, hand-packing orders & posting them off to our wonderful customers all around the world!

  • 2021 - 2021

    2021 - John Watt & CUFC


    2021 saw the formation of en exciting catering partnership between John Watt & Son and local, professional football club Carlisle United.

    To mark the occasion, head roaster Haydn created a special new blend packed with fruity flavour & a delicious smoky aroma. Taking its name from the football ground, Brunton Park, which has been home to Carlisle United for over 100 years since 1909, this new coffee set out not just to be a new & unique dark roast, but, as well, a matchday offering for all the fans who attend the games & a coffee that needed enough kick to retain its flavour when brewed pre-match.

    A dark & silky coffee, The Brunton Blend is the perfect solution to a cold afternoon at the pitch side or as a general pick-me-up when you feel like you need a bit of a boost!

  • Cakes and Ales - Menus

    March 2022 - March 2022

    Cakes & Ale, the much loved hideaway cafe within the walls of a fine Georgian house, housing one of the country’s largest (& arguably most magical!) independent bookshops, becomes the newest addition to the John Watt & Son family.

    Tucked away in the depths of Bookends & Bookcase bookshop in the historic quarter of Carlisle, Cakes & Ale is a firm local favourite for many with an idyllic secret garden, homemade cakes, local ales, a warm & friendly atmosphere & of course our classic brews & blends. As another business in Carlisle surrounded by such rich histories, we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to be a part of a community that provides a such a platform for local history, with regular events & talks, keeping the old tales of our city very much alive!


    Cakes & Ale

  • July 2022 - July 2022

    John Watt & Son sees a ‘brand re-fresh’, a process that took us right back to our roots for inspiration and challenged us to express what we’re really all about here at John Watt & Son.

    As our rich history is something we’re incredibly proud of here, we wanted to make sure we could try & bring our humble beginnings back to life when starting to think about our packaging. We began looking for inspiration by taking it right back to the start, revisiting our roots as a traditional grocers shop back in 1865 and thinking about the kind of colours, lettering and handmade touches this could bring to our new-look.

    It also inspired us to create our first ever piece of original, official merchandise with The JW Mug!

  • April 2024 - April 2024

    In early 2024, we sat down to redefine our core values, deciding that ‘FRESH’ underpins every decision we make.

    Fresh – Freshly roasted, fresh local produce, fresh ideas, and a fresh approach

    Reliable – On budget, each time, all the time

    Economical – Creating economically beneficial partnerships for all involved

    Sustainable – Biodegradable, environmentally friendly, ethically sourced, sustainably grown

    History – Cumberland’s original coffee roasters and Carlisle’s oldest coffee shop have served the community since 1865 from the heart of the Great Border City.

    Drawing on our wealth of experience in all types of catering, as a family, we have been able to expand our retail and wholesale partnerships beyond Cumbria and South-West Scotland to across the United Kingdom. If you’re interested in becoming a wholesale partner, fill in our enquiry form!

  •  - May 2024

    In May 2024, we received a nomination for a North West Family Business Awards in the Community Champion – People’s Choice category!

    “We are delighted to have been nominated and to receive independent recognition for all the hard work that is put in by ourselves and our wonderful employees,” said Peter Johnston, Director of John Watt & Son.

    “Having taken over the business nine years ago we are over the moon to have been nominated. John Watt & Son has been in the heart of Carlisle since 1865 and we continue to strengthen our relationships within the community,” said Carol Johnston, Director of John Watt & Son.

    “I am so proud to be part of our family business and to receive this nomination, it is testament for all the hard work that is put in from everyone who works at John Watt & Son!” said Naomi Johnston, Director of John Watt & Son.

    Carol & Peter attended the award ceremony at Bolton Wanderers FC Stadium and, although we didn’t come away with the award, had a wonderful evening surrounded by amazing people from the North-West!