Beer history

The Barley Wine of the English Rhine

Warfleet Brewery -- the Barley Wine of the English Rhine

Dartmouth, Devon, with the holiday season well over, is the perfect place to get lost in time, amongst bent-backed, half-timbered Elizabethan merchants’ houses and the remains of fortifications from war after war. Just out of town, along the coast path, is Warfleet, where there used to be a brewery. In the drizzle, we read a tantalising reference on an information board, and then, back in town, asked about it at the museum. The staff were very helpful, but couldn’t find much information in any of their books or folders of clippings. As is often the case, however, the internet held the answers, thanks to an excellent local history group.

There was brewing in Warfleet by 1840 and, by 1853, it was a ‘well accustomed brewery’, according to a note of its availability for rent in The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (13 Dec):  ‘The Brewery is of stone; it has two coppers, one of twenty-seven barrels, the other of twenty-two barrels, with Coolers, Refrigerator, &c., in proportion.’

In 1875, a someone called Madocks took it on and, by 1882, Madocks & Co were running weekly advertisements in The Dartmouth Chronicle, boasting that their town-centre office was in ‘telephonic communication with the brewery’. Each advert was headed with an illustrated device bearing the text ‘The Barley Wine… of the English Rhine’. (The river Dart is steep-sided and broad at this point, and Queen Victoria noted a similarity with the Rhine when she visited in the 1840s.)

Prices were listed for Pale Ales (numbers 4, 3 and 2); Burtons (4 and 2); India Pale Ale; and ‘Light’. But was the ‘barley wine’ of the slogan a specific product — an ‘old ale’ or strong beer — or just a snappy phrase used to describe beer in general? (And chosen at least partly because it rhymed with Rhine?)

In 1926, the Brewery was ‘amalgamated’ with Heavitree of Exeter (taken over), and ceased brewing in 1929. Since then, the building has been used for various purposes, though a plan by a Ministry of Agriculture man to turn it into an experimental poultry farm in 1948 was turned down.

Almost every town in Britain had at least one brewery. What about yours?

Scans of the Dartmouth Chronicle at the Dartmouth Archives Local History Project.
The Story of Warfleet by Ray Freeman. (Link to PDF.)
The British Newspaper Archive.

9 replies on “The Barley Wine of the English Rhine”

Almost every town in Britain had at least one brewery. What about yours?

Excellent question. I wonder, though – without doing a lot more reading I can’t be sure, but I get the impression that local commercial brewing of the type that the early CAMRA mourned for (and romanticised?) was a relative historical newcomer. What really had long historical roots (I think) was brewing your own, with the people who ran taverns basically being a subset of home-brewers.

A quick Google reveals that the area in which I live (Telford, Shropshire) had a number of commercial breweries, including The Shropshire Brewery (closed 1917), The Union Brewery (closed 1920), The Red Lion Brewery (closed during 1920s) and The Wrekin Brewery (closed 1969), which was apparently the last one in the area.

Now, within the TF postal code, there are three established breweries: All Nations, Ironbridge & Rowton, whose beers can be found in a number of pubs in the region. Dickensian Brewery, which has been operating from a new base in Roden since 2010, was set up by the former owner(s) of the Dolphin Brewery, which had its base in Shrewsbury and there’s a new micro brewing operation at The Odfellows pub in Shifnal, which boiled its first batch of wort only last week.

The brewing scene is alive and well again in this part of the UK!

Where did you drink in Dartmouth ?
I go there quite often and would be interested in your take on the place.

Would be great to see more local brewery histories chronicled.

Prof P-T – only had time for the one before our bus, so we went for the really old place (Cherub Inn?). Where would you recommend for next time? I think we’ll be doing a lengthier trip next time.

Boak – I like the Cherub,nice landlady, and there’s something about a pub run by women which somehow makes it better.
In the square the Dolphin is a great,all-round boozer with rotating guest ales and cider.Always something interesting.Used to be dog-rough but quite yachty now.Also in the square the Windjammer keeps a good pint.Food-orientated and could be a cracking little boozer but the landlord’s melancholic demeanour and the fact he’s been trying to sell it for years means it’s tired. Worth a pint though.
The Floating Bridge Inn,by the upper ferry,as you arrive into Dartmouth.Great pub food,probably the best in town,and well-kept beer.
If you get the smaller ferry over to Kingswear from the middle of the town I recommend the Ship Inn. Regularly holds beer festivals.
Good luck.

The home-brew pub was a surprisingly localised phenomenon: huge in the Black Country right through to the 1920s and later, quite big in parts of the West Country, and the North of England, eg Leeds, Preston, Derby, almost non-existent in the south-east and East Anglia.

The Brewery History Society now has a large number of county brewery histories available, and if you look you can still find the ones of Manchester and Liverpool produced by Alan Gall: a guy called Keith Osborne (sp?) has also produced a few, and others are also out there. See the excellent Beer Inn-Print website

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