Saturday, 9 March 2013

London Porter Breweries in the 1830's (part two)

Moving away from the inaccurate technical descriptions, the author is on firmer footing when discussing the financial aspects of London brewing.

Here he talks about the capital tied up in the large London breweries:

"From various causes, it would be extremely difficult give any thing like a correct estimate of the capital embarked in one of the great London brew-houses. In the hop room alone of such a concern, there lies a princely fortune, some single houses having usually a stock of hops on hand about two hundred thousand pounds in value. This is in some measure dormant capital, as such a stock would last a year or two. But the keeping of so large store is a provision against scarcity or a rise in prices, and the power of making such a provision is magnificent proof the means held at command. The stock of malt, again, in the larger houses, is on an equal scale. Malt and hops together will generally amount in value to about three hundred thousand pounds. The stock-vats exhibit another immense absorption of money. In these vats vast quantities of porter are stored up, to ripen and mellow for public use. The vessels in question resemble houses in size more than any thing else. In Messrs Whitbread's brewery there are about thirty vats, each between twenty and thirty feet high, and of a proportionate transverse diameter. They hold many thousand barrels each, and are usually full to the brim. These vats are bound with a succession very strong iron hoops, set close one another as they can well go; and, in reality, the danger would be extreme, without powerful supports of this kind. A number of years ago, a vessel of this nature burst in one of the London brew-houses, and did no small damage, floating a family in a neighbouring house clean out of doors, besides other feats of the like order."
Kendal Mercury - Saturday 26 January 1839, page 4.

I think the last sentence refers to the Meux beer flood of 1814. It was a bit more serious than just floating a family away. Eight people were killed and many more injured.

Were stocks of hops really that large? £200,000 was an awful lot of money back then. It's easy enough to check up if that figure is a reasonable guess. In the 1830's, hops averaged around 1s a pound. £200,000-worth would have been around 4 million pounds.

In the brewing season 1839-1840, Whitbread brewed 209 times in their Porter brewery, using about 2,000 lbs of hops on average per brew*. Which adds up to about 400,000 lbs of hops used in a year. Add in what they used for Ale brewing and the total is probably about half a million pounds of hops annually. Two years supply would still only be a million pounds, well below 4 million pounds. I think that valuation of hop stocks is way too high. Two years stock for Whitbread, one of the largest London breweries, would have been worth around £50,000 (1 million pounds of hops at 1 shilling a pound).

He's right about the huge and about the enormous sums tied up in maturing Porter. And the huge size of Porter vats:

"A few years before Mr. Thrale's death, which happened in 1781, an emulation arose among the brewers to exceed each other in the size of their casks, for keeping beer to a certain age ; probably, fays Sir John Hawkins, taking the hint from the tun at Heidelburg One of the trade, Mr. Whitbread, it is conjectured, had constructed one that would hold some thousand barrels, the thought of which troubled Mr. Thrale, and made him repeat, from Plutarch, a saying of Themistocles : "The trophies of Miltiades hinder my sleeping." Yet the late Mr. Boswell, in his Journal, relates, that Dr. Johnson once mentioned that his friend Thrale had four casks so large that each of them held 1,000 hogsheads. But Mr. Meux, of Liquorpond-Street, Gray's-Inn-Lane, can, according to Mr. Pennants, shew 24 vessels containing in all 35,000 barrels; one alone holds 4,500 barrels; and in the year 1790, this enterprizing brewer built another, which cost £5,000, and contains nearly 12,000 barrels; valued at about £20,000. A dinner was given to 200 people at the bottom, and 200 more joined the company to drink success to this unrivalled vat."
"Arithmetical questions: on a new plan" By William Butler, 1811, pages 298-299.
A barrel of Porter retailed at around 36 shillings per barrel. Which would mean Meux's 35,000 barrels of Porter in vats were worth £63,000. Remember that Meux weren't even one of the largest Porter brewers. In 1811, they were only in sixth place, brewing 103,152 barrels**. The largest, Barclay Perkins, brewed 264,200 barrels that year***.

Now let's take a look at the people working in the breweries:

"In reality, however, the leading partners, whose names are at the head of these firms, are in many cases men possessed of extensive landed property, and to all intents and purposes private country gentlemen, though retaining, it may be, large shares in the establishment to which the wealth and standing of their families were originally owing. There are always some of the principal partners in these concerns, nevertheless, who take an active share in their management. The mode conducting them is thoroughly systematic, as much so, and necessarily much so, in the case of the Bank of England. The whole divided into sections, with responsible persons at the head of each. One man usually, and sometimes two, superintend the brewing department. These are the operative managers, who are a shrewd and intelligent class of men. Salaries in these extensive concerns are on the handsomest scale, the motto of the proprietors being, "best service, best pay." The number of operatives about these places of course very great. They are usually stout, florid men, with countenances and persons alike redolent of the cherishing fluids amid which they live, move, and have their being. And when hard exercise is combined with this generous nutrition, they will, we have no doubt, be as healthy they appear. Otherwise, they will be liable, it is to be feared, to apoplectic and dropsical affections. Numerous as are these common workers at the brewing business, however, those who conceive the employment flowing from these vast establishments rest and end here, will form but a poor idea of the range of their influence. Hop-growers, iron-founders, coopers, colliers, publicans, horse-dealers, saddlers, cart-wrights, agriculturists in all the various lines of barley corn, and hay growing, with many other trades and professions are all directly and perpetually benefiting from the maintenance of these great concerns. It is astonishing how many of all these tradesmen one single brewing-house will sustain within its circle, disseminating its work and its payments with never-failing punctuality."
Kendal Mercury - Saturday 26 January 1839, page 4.
Once they'd made their fortunes, the parnters in the large London brewing firms usually bought country estates and gradually worked their way into the aristocracy, either by marriage or through political manoeuvring. But it's true that, in the first half of the 19th century, one or more of the partners would remain involved in the day-to-day running of the enterprise.

I'm not sure the "stout, florid" workers would be described as healthy-looking today. Different times, different standards. Doubtless compared to an undernourished consumptive they looked the picture of health.

The number of people employed directly by breweries, even ones as large as those in London, was comparatively small. But, as stated in the article, a host of other trades were needed to supply and keep breweries going. Indirect employment must have exceeded direct employment several fold.

Next time we'll be looking and London's tied house system.

* Whitbread brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives document number LMA/4453/D/09/033

** "The Edinburgh encyclopaedia", 1830, page 462.

*** “The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830”, Peter Mathias, 1959, p 551-552

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