Tuesday, 28 May 2013

War damage

As well as the indirect effects of the war - shortages in raw materials, lack of manpower, limits in the amount of fuel available - there were rather more direct ones in the form of German bombs.

It's hard to imagine now, but the centre and East of London used to contain many large breweries. Some of the largest in the country, in fact. Only Burton had larger establishments. In 1940 London breweries were bang in the firing line when the Luftwaffe began its bombing campaign against the capital in September 1940.

There was good and bad news for breweries. On the down side, they were full of things like hops and barrels that would burn really nicely. But, the larger ones, precisely because they were so full of flammable stuff, had their own fire brigades.

Whitbread lost most of their cask staves and hops in one raid:

"The porter tun room is dated "S.W. Jnr. 1774." This building, although hit several times by incendiary bombs, still survives. The hop loft was dated 1790, but this and several adjacent buildings were completely gutted by enemy action. During a particularly heavy air raid the hops got alight and the adjoining cask timber staves caught fire as well. Both burned furiously, and we lost forty-six thousand pounds' worth of hops and eleven thousand pounds' worth of staves."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 49, Issue 1, January-February 1943, Page 3.
One of the reasons Britain was comparatively well-prepared for air attack was that it had already endured one bombing campaign. It's often forgotten how much damage Zeppelins and Gotha bombers caused during WW I.

"During the air raids of 1914-18 our neighbours were admitted to the cellars, but only when the official warning was given and no sleeping accommodation was provided."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 49, Issue 1, January-February 1943, Page 3.
Of course, the WW II bombing campaign was of a different magnitude. December 1940 seems to have been particularly bad. Whitbread's Chiswell Street brewery was hit again:

"During this war more elaborate accommodation has been made. Many of our own employees whose homes had been bombed made this their temporarily permanent sleeping quarters for their families as well as themselves. On more than one occasion these men responded to the call for volunteers to help our own fire brigade. On the night of 29th December, 1940, we experienced our worst raid, and the following morning telephone, gas and electric current were cut off, and the water supply reduced to a trickle. The premises were isolated, and access to the brewery could only be made by a track up Whitecross Street, which itself ended in a large bomb crater. No beer was sent out on that black Monday. On the Tuesday we sent out 682 barrels. On the Wednesday normal deliveries had been resumed. On Thursday we were able to mash once more, but our anxieties were not over because a fire was discovered to have started in a malt bin which contained over a thousand quarters, and for several days—while the hops smouldered on the north side—a thousand quarters of malt were burning on the south side. The fire was prevented from spreading to the other bins. So far we have lost no lives, and in spite of numerous rumours to the contrary, all the horses were saved."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 49, Issue 1, January-February 1943, Page 3.
You can imagine the disruption caused by utilities being cut off. A brewery can't operate without large supplies of water. Then there's the damage to the buildings and equipment and the destruction of raw materials. The combination of all those factors must have made life very difficult.

Then there's the financial loss. £46,000 in hops, £11,000 in staves and about £3,000 in malt (a quarter of malt cost around £3). That's £60,000 in total, quite a sum of money when a pint of beer cost less than a shilling (5p).

The Whitbread Porter log has this entry on the 9th September 1940 brew:

Air Raid Warnings: 5:15 pm to 6:25 pm And 8:40 pm to 5:45 am.
It shows bombs didn't need to actually fall on a brewery for its operations to be interrupted.

I think I should give Whitbread's brewing books for 1940 another look to see if there's anything else mentioned about the bombing.


Derek said...

I first read that as 46,000 pounds of hops.

Which seemed like a lot of hops :)

Ron Pattinson said...

Hops cost 2 shillings a pound approximately in 1940 so you need to multiply that by 10 - about 460,000 pounds weight.

At the time Whibread were using between 800 and 1,800 pounds of hops per brew.