Saturday 3 May 2014

The Red Lion Brewery

Time for some more about the history of the Red Lion Brewery. Latterly know as Hoare and Co.

The brewery stood just to the east of St. Katharine's Docks, which were constructed in the 1820's. Luckily the brewery escaped the destruction need to construct them:

"The total cost of St. Katharine's Docks amounted to £1,700,000, and 1,252 houses (besides the hospital) had to be pulled down and removed to make room for that great undertaking. Hoare's brewery, although but fifty yards distant, was, however, spared from the wholesale demolition that then took place, and still stands as a relic of the most ancient brewhouse in England. As far back as the end of the fifteenth century there existed on this very spot a public brewhouse, where the citizens of London could bring their malt and raw material, and for a fee, or license, paid to the Government, brew therein their own ales. Pennant, referring to this building, says : "Below St. Catherine's, on the river side, stood the great breweries, or Bere Houses, as they are called in the map published in the first volume of the 'Civitates Orbis.' They were subject to regulations as early as the reign of Henry VII., who, in 1492, licensed John Merchaut, a Fleming, to export fifty tuns of ale called Berre. And in the same reign, one Geffry Gate, probably an officer of the king's, spoiled the brewhouses at St. Catherine's twice, either for sending too much abroad unlicensed, or for brewing it too weak for their home customers." He further states that the demand for this article, from foreign parts, increased to a high degree, and that in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 500 tuns were exported at once. At this time there seems to have been a free exportation, except when checked by proclamation, for fear of enhancing the price of corn by excess of brewing in scarce times; but even then it was permitted by the royal license."
"Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 3", Alfred Barnard, 1890, page 52.
Red Lion Brewery in 1746

It really was probably the oldest brewery in Britain. At the time of its closure in the 1930s it was noted that it was one of the oldest businesses in London. Given its very central location, it's probably more surprising that it lasted as long as it did.

I should also point out that back in Tudor times it was outside the City of London, which ended at the Tower.

"Entering beneath a broad archway from Lower East Smithfield, we found ourselves in a spacious courtyard engirt on one side by a lofty brewhouse, tun rooms and cask sheds ; on the other by a handsome semicircular block of buildings, lofty offices, etc. We were received by one of the partners, who introduced us to the head brewer, Mr. E. J. Tabor, by whom we were conducted through the works.

On the opposite side of the road in front of the brewery on the river Thames, is the firm's wharf, where sailing barges from the east coast deliver malt for the manufacture of Hoare's celebrated porter and ales. Thither we walked, accompanied by our guide, who at once drew attention to the means by which the malt is conveyed to the great malt warehouses in the brewery buildings. This is done by a string of sturdy porters, each carrying from the barge a large sack on his back. We counted forty of these men, who followed each other pretty closely, each one bringing his sack of malt (weighing about one-and-a-half hundredweight) from the barge and depositing the contents in the warehouse. Each one carries his sack of malt into the warehouse up several flights of stairs, and empties the contents into one of a series of enormous bins or boxes. At every second flight of steps there are halting-places, with shelves whereon the men deposit their loads for a few moments, to rest themselves before climbing higher. The bins, which are sixteen in number, are of such extraordinary dimensions, especially in height, that they will hold from 500 to 2,000 quarters each — as a matter of fact, they will hold together upwards of 15,000 quarters of malt. They are formed entirely of wood, and are supplied with malt till full, the earlier portions of the supply being introduced at a door half-way up the bin, afterwards closed up."
"Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 3", Alfred Barnard, 1890, pages 54-55.

At this time many breweries still had maltings in the brewery complex. Not in London, though. Land was presumably too dear for that by the end of the 19th century.

Red Lion Brewery in 1802

I'm amazed that they were still manually unloading malt at this late stage. The process had been mechanised at Barclay Perkins much earler. OK, I can understand that, not being directly on the river, they might have to carry the sacks to the brewery, but having porters carry them up to the top of the building? Hadn't they ever heard of a hoist? In a typical tower brewery - Holes is a good example - there's a special doorway with a beam above it for placing a pulley next to the malt store. It's the thing with the wooden surround here:

One-and-a-half hundredweight is 168 lbs, or around 75 kg. I wouldn't want to be carting that weight up several flights of stairs. Literally back-breaking work.

As a quarter of malt is 3 hundreweight, or two sacks, filling all the malt bins would require 30,000 trips up the stairs. A staggering amount of physical labour. Even at a time when labour was relatively cheap, that still sounds an expensive way of shifting malt about. A steam-powered lift would surely have been cheaper and more efficient.


Des de Moor said...

Thanks so much for this Ron! Just what I needed for the brewery heritage bits I'm writing in the 2nd edition of the London book. The brewery site, by the way, has always been outside the City, not just in Tudor times. The St Katherine's area was the parish of St Katherine's then the civil parish of Wapping in Middlesex, then the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney, then the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The Tower was Royal territory so therefore outside the City's jurisdiction: today it's also in Tower Hamlets.

Unknown said...

Hallo, I'm searching for a brewery that was set up in the parish of St George in the East in the mid 1700s by William Willson. He was bankrupted in 1772 but I'm pretty sure the buildings he would have had continued as a brewery. It is possible it was close to Little Hermitage Street. Any thoughts?

Many thanks, Peter