Breweries with Chimneys: Endangered Species?

The number of breweries in the UK keeps growing every year but, at the same time, a certain type of brewery keeps on disappearing: that is, big old ones.

They have great tow­ers and gate­ways, their own wells, signs you can see for miles across town, and shelves creak­ing with dusty leather­bound brew­ing logs. They were ‘Est.’ between the 17th and 19th cen­turies. They brew bit­ter and best bit­ter and maybe even mild. Their founders might have looked a bit like this:

Henry Boddington I, aged 33, in 1847, a year before he became a partner in the Manchester brewery he would later take over and to which he would give his name.
Hen­ry Bod­ding­ton I, aged 33, in 1847, a year before he became a part­ner in the Man­ches­ter brew­ery he would lat­er take over and to which he would give his name.

They are at the roman­tic end of indus­tri­al, you might say, where the whiff of hors­es and beeswax is potent.

In his 1973 book The Beer Drinker’s Com­pan­ion Frank Bail­lie list­ed 88 ‘Region­al (Inde­pen­dent) Brew­ers’, from Adnams to Young & Co. We’ve just reviewed that list (only quick­ly, mind) and realised that, in the last 40+ years, some­thing like anoth­er 47 of that num­ber has been lost.

(Where ‘lost’ means that the brew­ery build­ings have gone, are derelict, or have been con­vert­ed to oth­er uses, even if the trad­ing name lives on.)

Here’s the list of casu­al­ties as we reck­on it:

Boddington’s, Bor­der Brew­eries (Wrex­ham), Brak­s­pear, Matthew Brown, Buckley’s, Burt’s (Vent­nor), Carlisle and Dis­trict State Man­age­ment, Castle­town (IoM), Cook’s (Hal­stead, Essex), Darley’s (Don­cast­er), Davenport’s, Devenish, Eldridge Pope, Gale’s, Gray & Sons (Chelms­ford), Guernsey Brew­ery Co, Hardy & Han­son, Hartley’s (Ulver­ston), Higson’s (?), Home Brew­ery, Hoskins, Hull Brew­ery, Simp­kiss, King & Barnes, Maclay & Sons, Mans­field, Mitchell’s (Lan­cast­er), Mor­land, Morrell’s, North­ern Clubs Fed­er­a­tion, Old­ham Brew­ery Co, Paine (St Neot’s), Randall’s (Jer­sey), Ridley’s, Ruddle’s, Shipstone’s, South Wales & Mon­mouthshire Clubs, Thwait­es, Tollemache & Cob­bold, Tru­man, Vaux, Usher’s, Ward’s, Work­ing­ton, Yates & Jack­son, York­shire Clubs, Young & Co.

So that’s about half, allow­ing for quib­bles, some of which have gone as recent­ly as the last five years. That’s some­thing of a counter to the nar­ra­tive (one to which we’ve con­tributed) of Upward, Ever Upward, for British Beer!

Yes, we have a lot of brew­eries now; and we’re still not sure any­one should drink beer they don’t like out of a sense of duty; but this par­tic­u­lar type of brew­ery con­sti­tutes a kind of endan­gered species and that does make us think, well, maybe we ought to force down the odd pint of Wad­worth 6X when we see it.

7 thoughts on “Breweries with Chimneys: Endangered Species?”

  1. It will be inter­est­ing to see how many of the recent wave of new brew­eries suc­ceed in build­ing endur­ing busi­ness­es. Some of the post-CAM­RA star­tups cer­tain­ly seem to have done, such as But­combe, Exmoor, Wye Val­ley and Black Sheep. But I doubt whether they’ll be build­ing mag­nif­i­cent tow­er brew­eries.

    Of those that remain, some, such as Hydes and Ever­ards, have moved to new, pur­pose-built plants that don’t have the archi­tec­tur­al appeal of the old ones.

  2. Brew­eries with chim­neys? There were no oth­ers when I start­ed drink­ing in the ear­ly 70s. My local inde­pen­dent brew­eries – Tom­son and Woot­ton of Rams­gate (nev­er tried their beer, I was too young, but I remem­ber the won­der­ful aro­ma over the town on brew­ing day), and Cob­b’s of Mar­gate – had been bought out by Whit­bread and closed down a few years ear­li­er. So my first beers were keg, Whit­bread Tankard, Tro­phy, and Tru­man’s bit­ter. My real ale epiphany was dis­cov­er­ing Har­vey’s while at poly­tech­nic in Brighton lat­er in the decade. Through the 80s, hol­i­day­ing around the UK, I dis­cov­ered, among oth­ers, beers by Wadworth,Wem, Devenish, Eldridge Pope, Gales, Gibbs Mew, Adnams, Don­ning­ton, and King & Barnes. All in their home ter­ri­to­ry: and in most cas­es I went and mar­velled at the won­der­ful brew­eries, chim­neys and all. It’s a huge sad­ness to me to know most of these are now long gone. The beers were all dis­tinc­tive, with their unique yeast strains, I guess , and you knew you were on hol­i­day in Dorset with a pint of Eldridge Pope Roy­al Oak in your hand. I’m not grum­bling: I know things are bet­ter for the beer drinker than they’ve ever been, and don’t wish to suf­fuse all old region­al brew­eries in a hazy nos­tal­gic glow which they may not have deserved, but I can’t help miss­ing those of the above which are no more. Their sheer pres­ence in town, Vic­to­ri­an brick and steam­ing tow­er, was cer­tain­ly more impres­sive than a micro­brew­ery in a shed on a mod­ern indus­tri­al estate. So, yes, cher­ish those of the above which are still remain­ing. Oh and Palmer’s, and Hook Nor­ton too!

  3. Brains could be added to the list – they closed their Old Brew­ery in cen­tral Cardiff in about 2000 after buy­ing the for­mer Han­cocks Brew­ery from Bass and mov­ing pro­duc­tion there.


  4. I think you should also add Web­sters to your list. They were a true region­al brew­er in the 1970’s with TV adverts fea­tur­ing Fred True­man. “Webters Pen­nine Bit­ter dri­ves out the north­ern thirst” was the tag line. The rather beau­ti­ful foun­tain head brew­ery is now a school, amongst oth­er things.

    Wikipedia seems to sug­gest that that some web­sters prod­ucts are still being pro­duced. I cant say I have encoun­tered them recent­ly. From mem­o­ry they rich­ly deserved to be dis­con­tin­ued.

  5. Was won­der­ing why Flow­ers weren’t on the list, checked in Arnot’s Britain’s Lost Brew­eries (which is great but also SAD) and it con­firms they sold out to Whit­bred in ’68. The Chel­tenham brew­ery fits all of yr oth­er descrip­tions above though…

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