Victorian London - Publications - Our Social Bees; or, Pictures of Town & Country Life, and other papers, by Andrew Wynter, 1865 - Chapter 21 - London Stout

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[-208-]

LONDON STOUT.

    On of the earliest things to strike the attention of our country-cousins is the universal appearance of the names of certain firms, painted in the largest letters upon the most florid backgrounds of the numerous public-house signs of the metropolis. "What does 'Reid's Entire' mean?" asked a fair friend of ours the other day, looking up with her brown eyes, as though she had asked something very foolish, and pointing to the puzzling inscription upon a neighbouring signboard. And, no doubt, a similar question arises in the minds of more worldly-wise people, and passes out again unanswered. Henceforth then, good people all, know that the word "entire" arose in the following manner:— Prior to the year 1730, publicans were in the habit of selling ale, beer, and twopenny, 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 [-209-] the taste of the "three threads," and to this he applied the term "entire." This concoction was approved, andĚ being puffed as good porters' drink, it speedily came to be called porter itself. The universal diffusion of this mild stimulant is indicated by other means, however, than the signs; you cannot go along a quiet street but you either see the potman, with his little rack of quart mugs brimmed with the frothy liquid, or rattling the shiny pots against the rails by their suspending strap; you cannot pass in between the ever-opening doors of the public without seeing the dilated eyes of some "thirsty soul" as he drinks, peering over the rim of the nigh-exhausted pewter. Great is the demand thereof; whence comes the supply? From what porterian springs issue these dark and foam-crowned floods ?
    To find one of these, our attention was the other day directed into that neighbourhood of the metropolis where, through the large glazed attic-windows, we see the glowing silks and satins just issuing new-born from the loom. In the very midst of Spitalfields stands the enormous brewery of the Messrs. Truman, Hanbury, Buxton, and Co., which covers nearly six acres of ground, and which, looked at from above, has more the appearance of a town itself than of a private manufacturing establishment.
    Let us then enter this great establishment, and witness the Brobdignagian brew which is perpetually going on there. The first thing that strikes the spectator's attention is, the total revolution which takes place in his own mind as regards his own proper dimensions, and of those of his kind who are moving about. A stalwart six-foot drayman, with a pair of shoulders worthy of Atlas, shrinks down in the [-210-] great brewhouse to the size of a pigmy. All familiar ideas of the relative proportion of things give way at once to a confused sort of thought that the kingdom of Brobdignag is come again, and that the little mites we see about are so many Gullivers. What other feeling can a man entertain who travels round the beer barrels of the establishment, by means of iron-staircases, and, after an exhausting climb, peeps fearfully into the interior with the same sort of giddy sensation with which he looks down the shaft of the Thames Tunnel? The largest of these vessels are termed the mash-tuns; of these there are two, each containing 800 barrels of the ordinary dimensions. In these the malt and hops are boiled, after being mashed up with hot water, the process of mashing being performed by a revolving spindle, with huge arms, exactly like a chocolate mill. Steam is, of course, the great arm which works incessantly the Titanic implements. Steam, in fact, does everything; it lifts the malt up from the waggons into the lofts by means of a Jacob's ladder, or collection of little boxes working upon an endless gutta percha chain; it removes it from one granary to another by means of an Archimedian screw, working in a long cylinder; it lifts the barrels up an inclined plane; it cleans the dirty ones in a very singular manner, as we shall show by-and-by; it attends to the fires, and thus keeps up its own constitution; it stirs with a great spoon the malt and the hops; and pumps, day and night, floods of liquor from one brewhouse to another.
    After the process of mashing, the wort is pumped up into a large copper, of which there are five, containing from 300 to 400 barrels each, where the -wort is boiled [-211-] with the hops, of which often two tons are used in a day. We may observe that, many years ago, one of the brewers' men had the misfortune to fall into one of these tuns, and was, of course, instantly destroyed. On this occasion, the whole contents of the vessel, to the amount of 800 barrels, was immediately allowed to flow into the gutters, at a loss to the firm of 1,000l. at least, a fact which does the greatest credit to the good feeling of this princely house. The boiling beer is now pumped up to the coolers.  To get a sight of these, the visitor has to perform a climbing process similar to that required to get at the upper gallery of St. Paul's, and, when he has reached the highest point ladders are capable of taking him, he finds his nose on a level with a black sea, whose area presents a surface of 32,000 square feet. This large surface is partly open to the air, and to the soot, of which, of course, it would receive a large deposit under the ordinary circumstances of factory chimneys pouring out volumes of smoke; but we shall have to explain, by-and-by, how it is that in this brewery at least smoke is not. From the coolers the beer runs down into four enormous vats, each of which contains no less that 50,000 gallons. These four vats are ranged side by side, and towards the upper half an iron gallery runs so as to give the brewers' men access to the apertures by which their interiors are viewed. These apertures are square, and about the size of the port of a man-of-war, having sliding-shutters so adjusted that the vat can be filled without leaking. As you walk along this gallery, and look into these ports, it seems as though you were looking into the hold of a hundred and twenty gun-ship, except that about half-way down the black porter is seen, [-212-] with huge floating islands of barm, which revolve round and round, like the foam in some deep, dark pool at the foot of a cataract. The fermenting process is allowed to go on here for two nights and a day, and consequently an immense quantity of carbonic acid gas is developed, which, however, on account of its density, always keeps as close as possible to the surface of the liquid; the men can detect the height to which it has risen to within an inch or two with the bare hand, which immediately becomes sensible of the thick warm feel of this poisonous vapour.  When the fermentation has proceeded a sufficient length of time, the beer is drained into what may be termed yeast-traps, or into a long double row of smaller vats, called Rounds, the partially-opened lids of which communicate with a wooden trough running down the middle of the row.
    As the beer rises to the top of these receptacles it lifts up the yeast, which no sooner reaches the level of the side-shoots running into the central trough than off it goes, and in this manner immense quantities of yeast are speedily cleared away by the force of its own gravity. It has always been a matter of wonder to us how the brewers can keep the yeast under, considering the extraordinary manner in which the parasite multiplies itself under favourable circumstances. However, the world is not deluged with yeast, so, we suppose, our fears are groundless; the distillers, we are given to understand, take all the surplus produced by the brewing process. The beer is now thoroughly concocted, and it only requires storing in order that it may ripen before it is distributed. The time that it is necessary to store it depends on its destination; [-213-] that which has to go into the country or abroad requiring a longer period of rest than that which is to be consumed immediately.
    But the storing vats! — these are sights indeed. The spectator sees vista after vista opening upon him, long-drawn aisles of porter vats, a pillared shade of stout.  Of these vats, supported upon iron columns, there are no less than 134, and when full they hold the enormous quantity of 3,500,000 gallons of porter. The Messrs. Hanbury and Co. brewed one year no less than 400,000 barrels of ale and porter, or twenty-five million tumblers, more than enough to float a seventy-four gun-ship. It is generally supposed that the great brewers get their supplies of water from the Thames, and that the very impurities of the king of rivers gives that "body" to the liquor, to which its filling properties are attributed. This is a vulgar error; not even the brewers who live upon the stream use its polluted waters, but obtain their supplies from Artesian wells sunk to a very considerable depth; the well at Meesrs. Hanbury's is 520 feet deep, and those of other  brewers, according to their size, are of a proportionate depth. It might be imagined that the immense supplies drawn from these wells --- in the brewery under notice it is more than half a million barrels a year --- must have a very great effect upon the shallower wells of houses and smaller factories. The water beneath London has, within the last twenty-five years, sunk as many feet; and it is stated among the trade that the Artesian streams of the great breweries, situated upon opposite sides of the Thames, and more than half a mile apart, at one time so affected each other, that they were obliged to obtain their supplies on [-214-] alternate days. If the fall of water underneath London has been so great, however, it is gratifying to know that it has been serviceably used on the surface, in nourishing the bodies and cleansing the skins of such a vast population as we find living in the metropolis.
    The Messrs. Hanbury are both porter and ale brewers; some houses, such as Meux and Co., and Reid and Co., brew porter alone. The popular idea seems to be that there is some considerable difference in the method of manufacturing the two liquids, but this is not the case; the dark colour of the porter is entirely owing to the malt being charred in the kiln, instead of simply dried. 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; but the brewers, we suppose, may be pardoned for the illegal addition of so necessary an ingredient.
    Malt and hops, as might be imagined, constitute an enormous item in the manufacture of the beer of the metropolis. The house of Hanbury and Co. alone pay upwards of half a million annually for the malt and hops they consume. To procure this ingredient in its best condition, great care is taken by all the large brewers. Agents are located in the three eastern counties, which are the principal home of John Barleycorn: these attend the markets, carefully select the best samples, and malt it for their employers, charging a commission for their trouble. The malt is sent up to London as it is required, and stored in the bins of the establishment. These bins are in due proportion to the enormous size of the establishment, each one measuring twenty feet across, and about thirty-five [-215-] feet deep. The hops employed by the brewers are obtained directly from the hop-merchants. As they cannot be adulterated, not so much care is necessary in the agency by which they are obtained.
   Having taken a hasty glance of the manner in which ale and porter are produced, let us examine the means by which they are distributed. As soon as the liquid is sufficiently ripe, it is racked off from the enormous store-vats, which we have before described, into casks such as ordinary mortals are accustomed to behold. Of these, of course, there is always an enormous number on the establishment of the Messrs. Hanbury; there were no less than 80,000 belonging to the establishment when we visited it; each of these casks, when new, is worth a guinea, so that here alone we have 84,000l. worth of property employed. Few of these casks are manufactured on the premises, but they are all repaired and cleaned here, after they have been returned from the publicans. It is a curious sight to see the enormous number of barrels piled in the yard, and the active detachment of coopers, of whom there are sixty-six, hammering and fitting, and walking round and round at their work. Some of the barrels smell so horribly that they are obliged to be broken up; the most charitable idea is, that they must have been used by the publicans as wash-tubs or dog-kennels. The manner in which the insides of the casks are made sweet is one of the most observable things in the brewery. You see in the distance a multitude of casks, in a double row, waltzing, and tumbling, and performing a number of gymnastic feats, as though they were practising for the profession of the acrobat. All this goes on under a clinking of chains such as [-216-] a score of Macheaths would make dancing in fetters. On a stricter examination, you perceive that steam machinery is here brought into play to supersede human labour. The casks are placed in iron frames, which rotate in every conceivable manner; and whilst these gyrations are going on, you hear a rumbling in the interior of each barrel, which testifies to an internal agony of no ordinary kind. On inquiring what caused these dismal moans, the gentleman who kindly showed us round the establishment mildly drew forth from a bunghole about a couple of yards of chain, studded with sharp cones, and explained how religiously these cones went into the corners, and worked about every inch of the interior of the devoted cask. We think it a pity that the ingenious engineer who devised this apparatus had not lived in the dark ages, to have exerted his skill in constructing refined torturing instruments for the benefit of the poor enduring mortals of that period. He is throwing himself away upon barrels, that is clear.
    To convey these barrels, when filled, to the publicans, we have the splendid stud of horses fitted to draw such noble liquor, and the army of draymen worthy to drive them:-
    "He who drives fat oxen
        Should himself be fat."
    The stables of these horses are the most interesting show-places of the establishment, especially to the ladies. There are two of these, containing stallage for 130 horses, the number employed by the firm. Over the rack of each stall, the name of the horse is painted, and here you see [-217-] Heroes, Dukes, Wellingtons, Milkmaids, Alexanders, Smilers; &c. eating away in profound ignorance of the honourable and pleasant names they bear. These are, however, only show names; each horse, it is true, always goes, when at home, under his label, but the drayman has generally a pet name of his own, to which they affectionately answer. These fine animals come principally from Lincolnshire, and are, we imagine, of Flemish origin; they cost, on an average, 70l. each, and last seven years. People imagine that they get so fat on the grains of the brewery, but this is an error; they are fed on the best oats, and work accordingly.  The intelligence of these animals must have often been remarked by the reader as he has passed along and observed them pulling the empty barrels out of the publicans' cellars, --- which is, by the bye, tougher work than it looks, and there have been many instances of horses having been dragged into the vaults by the weight of some of the heavier casks. These beasts are by nature good-tempered, but many of them become completely soured by little boys, who steal horse hairs from their long tails, to make fishing lines, while the draymen are down in the publicans' cellars.
    The draymen of this establishment are eighty in number. Perhaps these brewers' labourers are the most powerful body of men in existence. They are taller than the guardsmen, and heavier by a couple of stone. The dress of the drayman is peculiar: he wears a large loose smock frock extending to the knees, and over this a thick leathern kind of tippet, which covers the shoulders, and comes down in front like an apron. The simple line of , the costume makes the man appear still taller than he is. [-218-] The size of these men is not owing to the unlimited beer which it is popularly supposed they have at command. They are all picked on account of their inches, and are limited to a certain amount of free stout every day. The extensive stock of horses kept here necessitates a number of stable attendants; of these and farriers there are twenty-one, so that the Messrs. Hanbury and Co. could, if they pleased, furnish a troop of the very heaviest cavalry at a moment's notice.
    Let us, by way of contrast, pass from the dray-horses and the draymen --- which "are of the earth, earthy" --- into the painters shop of the establishment, or rather into the artist's studio, for here it is not only a mere matter of letter-painting we have to contemplate, but the fine arts! The mere painter's shop, it is true, is full of nothing but "Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton's Entire," "Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton's Ale," &c., painted on the brightest of backgrounds; but there is a little sanctum, wherein the fancy-work is done. When we entered this, we beheld the artist pleasantly contemplating the picture of a camel-leopard cropping the branches of an overhanging tree, and very well it was done, too; and so we told our friend, who, with palette in hand, informed us it was for the sign of the tavern in the immediate vicinity of the Surrey Zoological Gardens. The artist, no doubt, dwelt over the work with the more care, in order that no disparaging remarks might be made by persons who might have had an opportunity of seeing the spotted and tawny original so close at hand. The line taken by Messrs. Hanbury's painter does not , appear to be very clearly defined. We were afraid to ask him how many Red Lions he had painted in his time, or [-219-] how finished he had become in portraits of the Marquis of Granby. We can answer, however, for his proficiency in the subject of White Harts, and he was putting the last touch of gilt upon a gigantic carved bunch of grapes, with all the artistic sensitiveness of a Lance.
    The large brewers of the metropolis always furnish the signs to the publicans who sell their beer and porter. We were informed at Messrs. Hanbury's that they had sent out that year 400 new ones, and repaired 350, at a cost of 1,300l.; these sign-boards remain the property of the brewers supplying them. Many people have an idea that the great brewers take and entirely furnish taverns for those who will become agents for the sale of their beer; this is another popular error. The brewers, however, are in the habit of advancing a sum of money on the publican's lease, but no bargain is entered into, we have been given to understand, by which the publican is compelled, in return, to sell their goods; if, however, the brewer holds the lease, that follows as a matter of course. It is obviously to the advantage of the brewers to obtain trustworthy venders for their ale and porter, as their names stand as guarantees of the goodness of the article sold within, and a dishonest man has it in his power to damage a brewer in the public estimation by adulterating his beer. This may be done in many ways; firstly, by simply sugaring and watering it, the commonest method of all; secondly, by dosing it with salt and tobacco, in order that the toper's "appetite may grow with that it feeds on;" and thirdly, by embittering it with quassia, in order to give it a hoppy flavour. The idea that ale is sometimes adulterated with strychnine, a little time ago very prevalent, was quite a [-220-] mistaken one, as that drug is by far too expensive to bet used for such a purpose.
    To return, however, to our subject. .From what we have said, it will be seen that the Messrs. Hanbury are, in fact, to a very great extent, their own tradesmen. Thus there is a cooperage, a farrier's shop, a millwright's shop, a carpenter's shop, a wheelwright's shop, and a painter's shop, and a little artist's studio. The different buildings in which all these trades are carried on surround the central yard, or beer-barrel depot, and they make up, in short, a very respectable village. Here is a list of this little industrial army:-

    Brewers' men and stokers ... 35
    Mill-loft men ... 7
    Draymen ... 80
    Storehousemen ... 39
    Coopers ... 66
    Stablemen and farriers ... 21
    Millwrights and engine-drivers ... 17
    Carpenters and brickmakers ... 32
    Wheelwrights ... 4
    Painters ... 18
    Bricklayers ... 40
    [Total] 359

    This number is exclusive of the higher class of skilled labour employed in the direction of the establishment and in the counter. The heads of the different departments are filled by the partners in the house, of which, we have been given to understand, there are eight, and that six of these take an active part in the business. A general council decides all matters of importance, but each partner is responsible for some particular department. Thus one [-221-] manages the publican department. The different houses under his management might be looked upon as his colonies; from them flows in the main part of the revenue of the firm, and in return he assists them in their need. In this office he is assisted by one of the younger partners. The head of this department has also the important duty of purchasing the supplies of hops required by the house ---  a duty which requires, for its proper fulfilment, great judgment and experience. Another of the partners presides over the malt department; he looks over all the samples of barley and malt, and to him the different rnaltsters employed by the firm always appeal.  The storehouse, also, is under his eye, and his is the important duty of seeing that the ale and porter manufactured is sent in good condition to the customers. One of the younger partners acts as his lieutenant in this arduous and responsible post. To the principal partner is entrusted the financial department. Through his hands pass the enormous sums of moneys paid and received, the total amount of which may be guessed from the sum already mentioned as having been expended in the purchase of malt and hops alone. Another partner presides over the export trade --- a very large and growing department, now that so many English mouths accustomed to wholesome English ale and porter are to be found in America and Australia. Another manages the cooperage, and has control over the eighty thousand barrels subject to the firm, which, if placed together end to end, would extend forty-five miles in length; in addition to which he manages the country trade, which is very large in the manufacturing towns, where the signs of the firm are almost as well known as in [-222-] London. After the ministers, or council of six, come the clerks; of these there are forty employed. Their stations are various. The most important is a gentleman who looks after the publicans; one is engineer, architect, and surveyor; others are spread among the storehouses, the brewery, and the cooperage; and some collect the moneys of the firm, whilst the remainder act as clerks in the counting-house.
    Steam-power, as we have shown, is extensively used throughout the brewery. There is one feature, however, connected with the product of the steam, to which we wish to call special attention, as it is a matter of the utmost importance to the public in whatever light we look at it.
    There are sixteen large furnace-chimneys in connection with the brewery, which of old used to pour forth a cloud of smoke from morning to night. The blacks arising therefrom would have been nuisance enough in any neighbourhood, but in the centre of Spitalfields, the seat of the hand-loom weaver, it was destructive in the highest degree; the fine satins and expensive silks manufactured, here were always more or less damaged whilst issuing from the loom itself. It became a matter of importance, therefore, to put a stop, as far as possible, to so serious an evil ; and as early as the year 1848, long before the Smoke Consuming Act was passed, the Messrs. Hanbury and Co. made an experiment upon one of the furnaces with Jucke's smoke-consuming apparatus, which entirely succeeded, and they have since successively applied it to all the furnaces. The apparatus is exceedingly simple, and never gets out of order. The principle of action is to supply the fuel to the bottom of the furnace; by so doing all the smoke has to [-223-] pass through the fire instead of over and away from it, as in the ordinary manner. The way this is accomplished is very simple. An endless-jointed and rather open blanket-chain, the width of the furnace, is made to revolve over two rollers placed at either end of the fire. This chain consequently forms the base or platform upon which the coal rests. One end of this revolving platform extends a couple of feet or so beyond the furnace-door, and on this portion a quantity of screened or dust coal is always kept. When a fresh supply of fuel is required, the engineer has only to turn a handle, the chain works on a couple of feet, and whilst the coal is insinuated under the clinkers at one end, the refuse is worked out of the furnace at the other. In order to test the power of this invention to consume the smoke, we were taken up to the roof of the brewery, which commands a view of the fourteen tall chimneys belonging to it. Not a particle of opaque vapour could be seen emerging from anyone of them; in fact, they looked as idle as the "silly buckets on the deck," in the Ancient Mariner. These smokeless shafts, however, were a fine prospect, and as we gazed upon them, the atmosphere in the future, like a dissolving process in the views at the Polytechnic, became exquisitely clear, the newly-built columns came out sharp against the sky, the clouds of soot from St. Paul's dropped down like a black veil, and all the city, in our mind's eye, stood before us at mid-day, as clear, bright, and crisp, as Paris appears from the Arc de Triomphe. Sooner or later this vision must be a reality; the great factories within the limits of the city must consume their own smoke according to law; and now that Dr. Arnott has applied the same apparatus to the domestic [-224-] hearth, we may reasonably hope to see every grate consume its own smoke. The best incentive to manufacturers to apply the new apparatus is the fact that the saving in the consumption and prime cost of the fuel used is thereby considerable.
    A still more interesting question to us, however, is that of the "moral smoke," in connection with the people employed in this brewery, and of the measures taken by the firm to consume it. We are glad to find that in this great brewery the partners have been also mindful of the condition of their work-people. A library containing nearly 2,000 volumes has been provided. These books are lent out to read, and however little of the look of the student the burly drayman might have about him, we can assure the reader that very extensive use has been made of this lending-library. A short time since a reading-room was added, but this has not turned out so successful. The only time that the persons employed in the brewery could attend would of course be after the hours of labour, and it is found that, either from the men being too tired to return to the brewery, or from a disinclination to do so, the place is but little used.
    The proprietors have had more success with what appears to us the most important institution of the brewery --- the savings bank. We are informed that the labouring men have already deposited a considerable sum in it; and this sum is exclusive of the subscriptions to the benefit club, and of the sum laid by in the same institution by the clerks, which reaches a much larger amount. The school --- a very large one --- built for the use of the children of the workmen, some years ago, is not in the im-[-225-]mediate vicinity of the brewery, as the firm could not obtain a convenient site. It contains a thousand children. It is not exclusively nor even chiefly used by them, but by the children of the neighbourhood in which it is situated. The firm is, however, about to establish a. school for the elder boys of the men, which is to be of a first-rate character. This mental training-ground is to be made subsidiary to the interests of the firm, as well as of the children themselves; that is, the lads who show most talent and industry are to have the first offer of employment in the concern. By this means merit will find its due reward, and the brewery will be fed with that invaluable commodity ---  intelligent and assiduous labour.

  

source: Andrew Wynter, Our Social Bees; or, Pictures of Town & Country Life, and other papers, 1865