Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Food and Drink - Brewers

BREWERIES AND BEER IN LONDON. The Great Breweries are those of: 
Barclay, Perkins, and Co., Park-st., Southwark.
Meux and Co., Tottenham-Court-road.
Combe, Delafield, and Co., Castle-st., Long-acre.
Whitbread and Co., Chiswell-street.
Truman, Hanbury, and Co., Brick-lane, Spitalfields.
Goding and Co., Belvedere-road, Lambeth.
Reid and Co., Liquorpond-st., Gray's-Inn-lane.
Calvert and Co., 89, Upper Thames-st.
Elliot and Co., Pimlico.
The visitor should exert his influence among his friends to obtain an order of admission to any one of the largest I have named. The best London porter and stout in draught is to be had at the Cock Tavern, 201, Fleet-street, and at the Rainbow Tavern, 15, Fleet-street, immediately opposite. Judges of ale recommend John O'Groat's, 61, Rupert-street, Haymarket; and the Edinburgh Castle, 322, Strand.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

BARCLAY AND PERKINS'S BREW-HOUSE, PARK STREET, SOUTHWARK, was founded by Henry Thrale, the friend of Dr. Johnson, and sold by Johnson and his brother executor in behalf of Mrs. Thrale, for 135,000l. Barclay was a descendant of the famous Barclay, who wrote the Apology for the Quakers, and Perkins was the chief clerk on Thrale's establishment. While on his tour to the Hebrides in 1773, Johnson mentioned that Thrale "paid 20,000l. a year to the revenue, and that he had four vats, each of which held 1600 barrels, above a thousand hogsheads." The establishment in Park-street is now the largest of its kind in the world. The buildings extend over ten acres, and the machinery includes two steam engines. The store-cellars contain 126 vats, varying in their contents from 4000 barrels down to 500. About 160 horses are employed in conveying beer to different parts of London. The quantity brewed in 1826 was 380,180 barrels, upon which a duty of ten shillings the barrel, 180,090l., was paid to the revenue; and in 1835, the malt consumed exceeded 100,000 quarters.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

 The following Breweries consume annually the number of quarters of malt hereinunder set forth, which we take - from the last published account; but of course a considerable quantity of London ales and porter is brewed for the country consumers and for exportation.
Barclay, Perkins, & Co., Park Street, Southwark 129,382
Hanbury & Co., Brick Lane, Spitalfields . . 140,090
Meux & Co., Tottenham Court Road . . . . 66,509
Whitbread & Co., Chiswell Street St. Luke's . 53,236
Coombe & Co., Castle Street, Long Acre . . 47,304:
Calvert & Co., 89 Upper Thames Street . . 32,310
Reid & Co., Liquorpond Street, Gray's Inn Lane 63,450

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865 

see also Andrew Wynter in Our Social Bees - click here


Breweries of London are described by Stow, in 1598, as for the most remaining near to the friendly water of Thames, which was long thought to be superior to any other for brewing; but Richardson, an experienced authority, alleges this to be a mistake, as some of the principal brewers find the New River water equally good; they have also been at great expense in sinking wells upon their own premises. In the Annual Register for 1760 the London beer trade is traced from the Revolution down to the accession of George the Third. The great increase in the trade appears to date from the origin of Porter.

    "Prior to the year 1730, publicans were in the habit of selling ale, beer, and two-penny, and the 'thirsty souls' of that day were accustomed to combine either of these in a drink called half-and-half. From this they proceeded to spin 'three threads,' as they called it, or to have their glasses filled from each of the three taps. In the year 1730, however, a certain publican, named Horwood, to save himself the trouble of making this triune mixture, brewed a liquor intended to imitate the taste of the 'three threads,' and to this be applied the term 'entire.' This concoction was approved, and being puffed as good porter's drink, it speedily came to be called Porter itself." -Quarterly Review, 1854.

By Act of Parliament, beer and porter can only be made of malt and hops, the great council of the nation having omitted all mention of the water, which the brewers have added as a necessary ingredient. It has been well said that all nations know that London is the place where porter was invented; and Jews, Turks, Germans, Negroes, Persians, Chinese, New Zealanders, Esquimaux, Copper Indians, Yankees, and Spanish Americans, are united in one feeling of respect for the native city of the most universally favourite liquor the world has ever known.
    The increase of brewers has kept pace with London's increase in other respects. Whitbread's Brewery, in Chiswell-street, Finsbury, dates more than two centuries back: we find it at the head of the list in 1787; and so it continued until 1806 in the Picture of London, for which year Whitbread's is described as the largest Brewery in the metropolis, the year's brewing of Porter being above 200,000 barrels.

"There is one stone cistern," says the account, "that contains 3600 barrels; and there are 49 large oak vats, some of which contain 3500 barrels; one is 27 feet in height and 22 feet in diameter. There are three boilers, each of which holds about 5000 barrels. One of Mr. Watt's steam-engines works the machinery. It pumps the water, won, and beer; grinds the malt, stirs the mash-tubs, and raises the tasks out of the cellars. it is able to do the work of seventy horses, though it is of a small size, being only a twenty-four inch cylinder, and does not make more noise than a spinning-wheel. Whether the magnitude or ingenuity of contrivance is considered, this Brewery is one of the greatest curiosities that is to be anywhere seen; and little less than half a million sterling is employed in machinery, buildings, and materials.

To the Brewery of Barclay, Perkins and Co., in Park-street, Sonthwark, has, however, attached a greater celebrity, from its great extent. It may be inspected by a letter of introduction to the proprietors; and a great number of the foreigners of distinction who visit the metropolis avail themselves of such permission. The Brewery and its appurtenances occupy about twelve acres of ground, immediately adjoining Bankside, and extending from the land-arches of Southwark Bridge nearly half of tire distance to those of London Bridge. Within the Brewery walls is said to be included the site of the famous Globe Theatre, "which Shakspeare has bound so closely up with his own history. In an account of the neighbourhood, dated 1795, it is stated that "the passage which led to the Globe Tavern, of which the playhouse formed a part, was, till within these few years, known by the name of Globe-alley, and upon its site now stands a large store house for Porter." We are inclined to regard this evidence merely as traditional. However, the last Globe Theatre was taken down about tine time of the Commonwealth; and so late as 1720, Maid-lane (now called New Park-street), of which Globe-alley was an offshoot, was a long, straggling place, with ditches on each side, the passage to the houses being over little bridges with little garden-plots before them (Strype's Stow).
Early in the last century there was a Brewery here, comparatively very small; it then belonged to a Mr. Halsey, who, on retiring from it with a large fortune, sold it to the elder Mr. Thrale; he became Sheriff of Surrey and M.P. for Southwark, and died in 1758. About this time the produce of the Brewery was 30,000 barrels a year. Mr. Thrale's son succeeded him, and found the Brewery so profitable and secure an income, that, although educated to other tastes and habits, he did not part with it; yet the Brewery, through Thrale's unfortunate speculation elsewhere, was at one time, according to Mrs. Thrale, 130,000l. in debt, besides borrowed money; but in nine years every shilling was paid. Thrale was the warm friend of Dr. Johnson, who, from 1765 to the brewer's death, lived partly in a mouse near the Brewery, and at his villa at Streatham. Before the fire at the Brewery, in 1832, a room was pointed out, near the entrance gateway, which the Doctor used as a study. In 1781 Mr. Thrale died, and his executors, of whom Johnson was one, sold the Brewery to David Barclay, junior, then the head of the banking firm of Barclay and Co., for the sum of 135,000l. " We are not here," said Johnson, on the day of the sale, "to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice." While on his tour to the Hebrides, Johnson mentioned that Thrale paid 20,000l a year to tire revenue, and that he had four vats, each of which held 1600 barrels, above 1000 hogsheads. David Barclay placed in the brewing firm his nephrew from America, Robert Barclay, who became of Bury Hill; and Mr. Perkins, who had been in Mr. Thrale's establishment - hence the firm of "Barclay and Perkins." Robert Barclay was succeeded by his son, Charles Barclay, who sat in Parliament for Southwark; and by his sons and grandsons. Forty years since, the Brewery was of great extent; in 1832 a great portion of the old premises was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt, mostly of iron, stone, arid brick. The premises extend from New Park-street, southward, through Park-street, both sides of which are the Brewery buildings, connected by a light suspension bridge; to the right is the vast brewhouse and principal entrance. There are extensive ranges of malt-houses extending northward, with a wharf to Bankside. From the roof of nearly the middle of the premises may be had a bird's-eye view of the whole.
    The water used for brewing is pumped up by a steam-engine through a large iron main, which passes under the malt warehouses, and leads to the "liquor-backs," two cast-iron cisterns, on columns, reaching an elevation of some 40 feet. By this means the establishment may be supplied with water for brewing to the extent of a hundred thousand gallons daily. There is on the premises an Artesian well 367 feet deep; but its water, on account of its low temperature, is principally used for cooling the beer in hot weather.
    The machinery is worked throughout the Brewery by steam. The furnace-shaft is 19 feet below the surface, and 110 feet above; and, by its great height, denotes the situation of this gigantic establishment among the forest of Southwark chimneys.
    The malt is deposited in enormous bins, each of the height or depth of an ordinary three-storied house. The rats are kept in check by a standing army of cats, who are regularly fed and maintained.
    The malt is conveyed to be ground in tin buckets upon an endless leather band (" Jacob's Ladder"); and thus carried to the height of 60 or 70 feet, in the middle of the Great Brewhouse, built entirely of iron and brick, and lighted by eight large and lofty windows. The Brewhouse is 225 feet long by 60 in width, and of prodigious height, with an elaborate iron roof, the proportions reminding us of Westminster Hall. Within this compass are complete sets of brewing apparatus, perfectly distinct in themselves, but connected with the great supply of malt from above, of water from below, and of motive force from the steam-engine behind, vast coolers, fermenting vats, &c. Each of the copper boilers cost nearly 5000l., and consists of a furnace, a globular copper holding 320 barrels, and a cylindrical cistern to contain 120 barrels, an arrangement equally beautiful and useful from its compactness and the economy of heat. There is no continuous floor; but looking upwards, whenever the steamy vapour permits, there may be seen at various heights, stages, platforms, and flights of stairs, all subsidiary to the Cyclopean piles of brewing vessels. The coals, many tons per day, are drawn up from below by tackle, and wheeled along a railway.

    "The hot water is drawn from one of the copper boilers to the corresponding mash-vat below; and machinery working from a centre on a cog-rail that extends ever the circumference of the vat, stirs the malt. The mash-vat has a false bottom, which in due time lets off the wort through small holes to an under-pan, whence it is pumped back to the emptied copper, from whence it receives the hot water, and there, mixed with hops, it is boiled, and again run off into a vast cistern, where passing through a perforated bottom, it leaves the hops, and is pumped through the cooling tubes or refrigerators into the open cooler, and thence to the fermenting cases; whence, in a few days, it is drawn off into casks, again fermented, and when clearer put unto the large vat.

The surface of one of the fermenting cases nearly filled is a strange sight: the yeast rises in rock-like masses, which yield to the least wind, and the gas hovers in pungent mistiness over the ocean of beer. The largest vat which contains about 3500 barrels of porter, which, at the retail price, would yield 9000l. The "Great Tun of Heidelberg" would hold but half this quantity.
    Nearly every portion of the heavy toil is accomplished by the steam-engine. The malt is conveyed from one building to another, even across the street, by machinery and again to the crushing rollers and mash vat. The cold and hot water, the wort and beer, are pumped in various directions, almost to the exclusion of human exertion. With so much machinery and order, few men comparatively are required for the enormous brewing of 3000 bushels of malt a day. The stables are a pattern of order. The mane of each horse is painted upon a board over the rack of each stall. The horses are mostly from Flanders, are about 200 in number, and cost from 70l. to 80l. each.
    Truman, Hanbury, Buxton, & Co.'s Brewery is situated in Brick-lane, Spitalfields, and covers nearly six acres of ground. Here are two mash tuns, each to contain 800 barrels, the mashing being performed by a revolving spindle with huge arms, like a chocolate-mill. The wort is then pumped into large coppers, of which there are five, containing from 300 to 400 barrels each; it is then boiled with the hops, of which often two tons are used in a day. The boiling beer is now pumped up to the cooler on the roof of the brewery, which presents a black sea of 32,000 square feet, partly open to the air. There are sixteen large furnace-chimneys connected with this brewery, the smoke of which is consumed by Juckes's apparatus. There is a vast cooperage for the 80,000 barrels; a farrier's, millwright's, carpenter's and wheelwright's shop; a painter's shop for sign-boards; all which surround thecentral gear or beer-barrel depot. The malt bins are 20 feet across and 35 deep. The stables are of great extent, and there are a score of farriers. The drayman is sui generis; there are some 80 in numbers, taller than the Guardsmen, and heavier by two stone.
    Meux's Brewery (now Reid & Co's) in Liquorpond-street, Gray's Inn-lane, was described by Pennant, in 1795, as "of magnificence unspeakable." In this year, Meux built a vessel 60 feet in diameter, and 23 feet in height, which cost 5000l. building, and would contain from 10,000 to 12,000 barrels of beer, valued at 20,000l. Their vats then held 100,000 barrels. Messrs. Meux removed from Liquorpond-street to their great brewery at the end of Tottenham Court-road. The head of the firm, Sir Henry Meux was created a baronet in 1831, when he had a fortune of 200,000l., which by his income from the brewery, increased in after years to between 500,000l. and 600,000l.

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    The handsomest edifice of this class its the metropolis is the Lion Brewery, built for Goding, in 1836, in Belvedere-road, next Waterloo-bridge, and surmounted with a colossal stone lion. The top of the building is a tank to contain 1000 barrels of water, pumped up from a well 230 feet deep, or from the Thames; this supplies the floor below, where the boiled liquor is cooled-200 barrels in less than an hour; when cooled it is received on the floor beneath into the fermenting tuns; next it descends to the floor for fining; and lastly, to the cellars or store-vats. The steam-engine passes the beer under the Belvedere-road; loads or unloads barges; conveys malt by the Archimedes Screw or Jacob's Ladder; and pumps water and beer to every height and extreme position, displaying the advantage of mechanic power, by its steady, quiet regularity.
    The Metropolitan Breweries have their signs, which figure upon the harness of their dray-horses ; thus, Rat-clay and Perkins, the Anchor; Calvert's (now the City of London), the Hour-glass; Meux, Horseshoe, &c.

John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867

Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London : A pilgrimage, by Gustave Dore and Blanchard Jerrold, 1872



    Among the earliest of risers in London are those who supply it with its beer. Having seen the opening of Covent Garden Market on a summer morning (and there is not a more striking picture by the banks of the Thames), stroll along the Strand and Fleet Street, alive with newsboys and newsmen, and home-returning compositors; through Thames Street, over Southwark Bridge, to Park Street. Your nose will lead you to the town of Malt and Hops. The massive drays are
out; the prodigious draymen are arrayed in their leather, that would gall any limbs but theirs of Titan build ; the stately horses that are the astonishment of the foreigner and the pride of the English brewer are tossing their noble heads and pawing the ground. The barrels are rolling and swinging in all directions. Thirsty London is being attended to, with a will: and with perfect order, under the control of matutinal clerks and overseers. Before the ordinary tradesman has touched his shutters, lumbering processions of heavily laden drays are debouching on various quarters of London, bearing the famous "entire" to scores of customers.
    Within the gates are the government houses of the town of Malt and Hops, in which there are upwards of forty officials, who direct the coming and going, the filling and repairing, the brewing and selling of a rolling army of something like eighty thousand barrels. Their domain covers an acre of land, and comprises several streets bridged by light iron bridges, that look slight as spider-webs from the pavements.
    A journey through the town of Malt and Hops is heavy work. The departments are many, and are all spacious. They follow in well-considered sequence. The mashing, the boiling, the cooling, the fermenting, the cleansing, the barrel-filling, the storing, the despatching, are so many departments of the government; with a sustaining aroma holding all in one atmosphere and which  keeps the mind in an unbroken train of thought even when contemplating the stables where the famous horses are kept as daintily as in the Royal Mews. Perhaps the first startling scene in the round is the mash-tun. 
     Mashing is the elementary process of beer making, and the object of these strange workers with wooden spades is to mix the malt thoroughly with the water. The result is an amber liquid, called wort, lakes of which we proceed to view, lying placidly in tanks. During its progression to perfect beer the sweet wort grows sour. On its way it is pumped up from the cool lakes into gigantic copper boilers, and boiled with great care, for here the experienced and learned brewer shows himself. The boiling satisfactorily done, the wort flows out into broad lakes, airily situated, where it can become rapidly cool, without getting sour; and then it gradually subsides into these prodigious gyle tuns, about  which staircases are ranged, and in which you would have to drag carefully for the body of an elephant. In these towers, against which men look like flies, the wort ferments and we have porter, or "entire." I should explain that "entire" is a combination of the qualities of three beers, that, in primitive London brewing days, were made separately, and mixed from different barrels in the customer's glass. Hence the "Barclay, Perkins and Co.'s Entire" that is all over England, and the painting of which upon gaudy signboards occupies a distinct department in the town of Malt.
    Looking over London from one of the high-perched galleries that traverse the streets of these mighty brewers' realm, with St. Paul's dominating the view from the north, our guide gently interposes the figure of Mr. Thrale, and his illustrious friend, that Londoner among Londoners, Samuel Johnson. We are upon classic ground. Where the coopers are overhauling hundreds of damaged barrels, and giving them their proper adjustment of hoops; where the red-capped draymen are gossiping in groups; where the enormous butts are ranged; where the smiths are shoeing the colossal horses, and where the 300 feet of stables stretches; Samuel Johnson lounged and talked, -and worked at his dictionary, under the protecting friendship of Mr. Thrale, then  owner of the brewery. The rough old Doctor was executor to the will under which Mr. Thrale's property passed into the families of its present owners, who have realised his description of its capabilities by extending it until it has become one of the representative industries of the world. "We are not," said executor Johnson "to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dream of avarice." The boilers and vats of the city of Malt realised ?135,000, even when Messrs. Barclay and Perkins bought it. 
    How much would the boilers and vats: the drays and barrels, realise to-day ? 
    The potentiality of growing rich beyond the dream of avarice may not have been reached even now by the firm; but a good step along the doctor's highway has been taken. If "he who drinks beer thinks beer," this must be a beer-thinking age, for how many foaming tankards take their laughing rise in this town of Malt! How many hop-yards to feed these vats and lakes? A humorous speculator, who accompanied us, and sat in a little office where we finally tasted the various brews, suggested, "Yes, and how many temperance advocates do these stupendous men and horses keep going, the ungrateful varlets!" 
    "There's a good deal of 'talkee' yet to be done, sir," a sensible drayman said to us, flirting a flower between his lips as he spoke, "before they teach English workmen that there's sin and wickedness in a pint of honest beer."  
    And with this he set his heavy dray in motion.  

Meux's Brewery, 1830

Old and New London, c.1880