Tuesday 15 May 2012

The City of London Brewery decides to move

London used to be stuffed full of breweries. It was the world's brewing capital for more than a century, after all. But it's still a shock to see how long large, industrial breweries remained right in the centre of the city.

The City of London Brewery was well named. Their Hour Glass Brewery really was in the City of London, right on the river immediately west of Cannon Street Station. You can make out part of the station here:

It wasn't far from another of London's great  Porter brewers, Barclay Perkins, who were just over the other side of the Thames.

In the 18th century the brewery was owned by Calvert & Co., one of the great London Porter brewers. For a while, they were the second largest brewer in London (which meant second largest in the world) .

Output of the largest London breweries (barrels)

1784 1785 1786 1787 1788 1789 1790 1791
Barclay Perkins 103,700 100,700 101,600 105,600 112,600 123,900 126,700 121,200
Whitbread 126,500 137,800 138,800 146,300 156,000 171,000 175,000 176,000
Truman, Hanbury 120,800 111,200 94,800 95,300 82,300 93,900 93,700 89,300
Sir W. Calvert Felix Calvert 93,800 100,700 75,200 91,600 81,800 80,500 57,800 81,400
Calvert & Co. 117,700 134,800 117,200 131,000 127,000 141,600 144,000 131,300
Meux, Reid 57,500 57,300 45,700 49,700 48,200 53,300 48,700 68,500
Gyfford 108,800 101,400 87,600 90,900 100,100 95,300 100,200 100,700
Parsons-Goodwyn-Hoare 62,900 62,000 61,300 66,400 61,600 63,100 60,500 55,600
“The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830”, Peter Mathias, 1959, p 551-552

They seem to have suffered the effects of the Napoleonic Wars more than their rivals and struggled to reach 100,000 barrels a year after 1794. They slumped to sixth or seventh in the league table of London brewers.

It's no surprise that, having bought Stansfield & Co.'s Swan Brewery in Fulham in 1919*, they decided to move brewing there. Especially given the potential value of the riverside site. This is how the Brewers' Journal recorded those deliberations:

The 29th annual general meeting of this company was held in London on the 11th inst., Alderman Sir G. Wyatt Truscott. Bart. (chairman), presided.

The chairman, in moving the adoption of the report, said he desired to express his great pleasure in once again being the medium of the board of directors in presenting such a satisfactory report. The profit from brewing showed a considerable diminution. That was due to the fact primarily, that during the past year they had been using materials which had cost considerably more than those they had been using during the period of the last two or three accounts. There had been a considerable increase in the wage bill, while the Government had increased the duty on beer during the year by 30s. per barrel. Regarding their investments, the income from them was £109,000, that was the net income. The gross income was round about €140,000 before the deduction of tax, so that after providing for debenture interest the amount drawn from those investments was enough to pay the preference shareholders something like four times over

Sale of City Brewery.

In their report a foremost place was given to the fact that they had under serious consideration now the removal of the whole of the manufacturing of the brewery to Fulham at a very early date. The board thought that the time had arrived, in fact they Were sure it had, when they must proceed, because the removal would make such a wide difference to the cost of manufacture. Besides, it would release for sale a most important site in the City of London. It was true that the cost of building would be considerably more than before the war, but they were proceeding on a modified plan. As he had said, the removal to Fulham would release an important City site for sale. There must be some regret in leaving a brewery which had been in existence for something like 350 years. Anyone who had the love of tradition in his soul must regret it. One could not, however, ignore the fact that it was absurd to be carrying on their business on the present expensive and valuable site when they had ready at hand, with a certain amount of adaptation, a very excellent site in the West of London. They had been on the City site since the days of Good Queen Bess, and there was no doubt in the early days the proprietors had their gardens running down to the river and had a very good time as residents that locality. The site was nearly two acres in extent, and where he asked would they find two acres in the City of London all in one position? Moreover it was only five minutes from the Bank of England, the very centre of the world. Excellent buildings were on the site — good substantial buildings - and shareholders did not require to be told that the value of that site to-day was very considerable. The whole site and its advantages were unique.

It had a splendid river frontage which secured light for all time to the site, and he anticipated after his announcement that day that the site was in the market, that they would have quite a demand for it. It might not a large demand because there were perhaps not many people who wanted two acres of ground in the City of London. They only wanted one purchaser and he thought it would not be very long before they found him. and when they did so the company would have turned into cash a very valuable asset with a satisfactory result that would be reflected in their accounts for many years to come. The chairman concluded by heartily congratulating shareholders on the state of their property to-day and Upon the result as shown by the accounts.

Sir William J. Peake Mason, Bart., J.P., seconded the resolution, which, after some observations by shareholders, was carried unanimously.
Brewers' Journal 1921, page 86.
Things didn't quite work out as they had hoped. Not finding a buyer, the brewery was used as a warehouse. Not that brewing continued for long in Fulham. That ended in 1936 when fellow London brewer Hoare bought a lot of their pubs**.

It wasn't developers who tore down the Hour Glass Brewery. German bombs helpfully cleared the site for them***.

* "A Century of London Brewers" by Norman Barber, 2006, page 81.
** "A Century of London Brewers" by Norman Barber, 2006, page 81.
*** "A Century of London Brewers" by Norman Barber, 2006, page 81.


Martyn Cornell said...

One day I'm going to try to unravel the knotted history of the Calverts, who ran TWO big London porter breweries, the other on the north side of the City near Whitbread's, until they merged early in the 19th century. Unfortunately both Calvert brewing families used the same first names, which makes working out who was who at any one time difficult: as far as I can see, even Peter Mathias confuses them in one of his tables in his superb book on the porter brewers from 1959.

As I'm sure you know, Ron, although the City of London Brewery and Barclay Perkins were across the Thames from each other, when one pumped water from its wells, the water levels went down in the other's wells too.

Ron Pattinson said...

Martyn, glad I'm not the only one who finds the Calverts confusing. As well as Perter Matthias's table I looked at references in a couple of old books. I ended up unsure of everything.

Still, not quite as bad as all the bloody Youngers in Scotland.

Ron Pattinson said...

Martyn, I've some more stuff coming up about London brewers in the 1920s and 1930s. Like the Charrington takeover of Hoare. Stuff I found when browsing my Brewers' Journals for Scottish material.

Bryan Dunleavy said...

A question to the knowledgeable. I am interested in Edmond (Edmund) Calvert who was a director of the London & Birmingham Railway Co. Was he a part of this brewing family?

Unknown said...

Hi I was looking on ancestry for a relative and found that he had something to do with "The City of London Brewery Ltd in 1909. His name was Samuel Plaisted. Do you know if there are any more details and if so where I could find them.



Ron Pattinson said...


I'm afraid I can't be of any help. I concentrate on the beer side rather than the human side of the brewing business. You should maybe try Zythophile:


Alan Hollingdale said...

I have just recently discovered that my great grandfather, John Hollingdale, drove the stationary steam engine at the City of London Brewery in the early 1900s and was still working there at the age of 72 in 1911. Hook Norton Brewery was the last to be powered by steam finally ceasing in 2006.
Knowing how the Victorians liked to photograph everything I'm hoping that there may be a picture of my great granddad somewhere in the brewery's archive.

H J Hill said...

From 1933 to 1937 the Decca record company had its studios in the former brewery premises; apparently on an upper floor, which required pianos and the like to be winched up the building.