Session #133: Hometown Glories

Illustration: HOMETOWN.

This is our contribution to the monthly beer blogging event which is hosted this time by Gareth at Barrel Aged Leeds who asks us to think about our hometowns and their pubs and beer.

We have two home­towns to think about, of course, both very dif­fer­ent to each oth­er: Ray grew up in a small indus­tri­al town in Som­er­set, Jes­si­ca in east Lon­don. That led us to reflect on what they might have in com­mon and that, we realised, was the long absence of any brew­eries.

The Essex Brewery in 1973.
The Essex Brew­ery in 1973 (cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Chris Hodrien –

Waltham­stow was once home to the Essex Brew­ery, found­ed by the Col­lier broth­ers in 1871 and tak­en over by Tollemache of Ipswich in 1906. The brew­ery oper­at­ed until 1972 after which it was demol­ished but retained a pres­ence in the form of the brew­ery tap pub which trad­ed in one form or anoth­er until rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly when it was con­vert­ed into flats.

A large Victorian pub.
The Brew­ery Tap in 2014.

So for the entire­ty of her child­hood and youth, there were no E17 beers – not one beer brewed in a dis­trict of around 100,000 peo­ple.

The SKF brew­ery in Bridg­wa­ter in 1969. (Via the Brew­ery His­to­ry Soci­ety.)

Bridg­wa­ter was sim­i­lar­ly once home to a large ‘prop­er’ brew­ery, Starkey Knight & Ford, which was tak­en over by Whit­bread in the 1960s and shut down. Ray grew up around pubs with the SKF pranc­ing horse sym­bol on their faces, with his Dad sigh­ing over the lost SKF beers he had enjoyed from the age of 12 (!), and with the site as waste­land, then an unloved swim­ming pool, and final­ly a car park. A town with a pop­u­la­tion of around 30,000 had no brew­ery to call its own, and loy­al­ty to no out­sider brew­ery over any oth­er.

Prancing horse logo.

There might be some con­clu­sions to be drawn from what hap­pened next, though. Things began to change in Waltham­stow when the Sweet William brew­ery at the William IV, just over the bound­ary into Ley­ton, began trad­ing in the year 2000. It closed in 2005 and was reborn as Brodie’s in 2008 – a seri­ous, well-regard­ed brew­ery whose beers actu­al­ly turned up in pubs, and whose bot­tled beers were every­where for a while. (Dis­clo­sure: very ear­ly on in the life of this blog, and their brew­ery, James and Lizzie Brodie sent us a case with one bot­tle of every­thing they made.) As of 2018 there are mul­ti­ple brew­eries in Waltham­stow prop­er includ­ing Wild Card and Pil­lars, as well as sev­er­al on indus­tri­al states in its bor­der­lands. Beer has come back to East 17.

Bridg­wa­ter, mean­while, still has none. There was briefly a Bridg­wa­ter Brew­ery, from 1993 to 1996, but it was actu­al­ly in Goathurst and it’s fair to say its beer wasn’t wide­ly avail­able in town. There are some in the coun­try­side around but (as of Ray’s last sur­vey) not many pubs in town that sell any of their prod­ucts. In fact, we see more beer from Quan­tock at our new local in Bris­tol than we ever have in Bridg­wa­ter.

You can look at this two ways: opti­mists will see small provin­cial towns as the next stop­ping point for the rebrew­er­i­fi­ca­tion (which is a word) process already expe­ri­enced by even the out­er­est (also def­i­nite­ly a word) of out­er Lon­don sub­urbs. Cyn­ics, on the oth­er hand, will sug­gest they’re being bypassed, per­haps mut­ter­ing some­thing about met­ro­pol­i­tan elites as they go.

We can’t help but think that Waltham­stow could sup­port one or two more brew­eries yet, and that Bridg­wa­ter sure­ly has room for at least one, even if like the (cur­rent­ly out of action) Ash­ley Down Brew­ery here in Bris­tol it exists pri­mar­i­ly to sup­ply a sin­gle microp­ub.

2 thoughts on “Session #133: Hometown Glories”

  1. It’s inter­est­ing that you con­cen­trate on the brew­ery sit­u­a­tion in your home towns; I briefly touched on it in my piece, too. Thir­ty years ago, towards the end of the brew­ery con­sol­i­da­tion to build pub estates it would not be remote­ly sur­pris­ing. Now, though, it seems a lit­tle odd. This is a town that likes beer, that might have lost the odd pub, but actu­al­ly has more water­ing holes than it did back then, and every one of them has real ale on; so I won­der why there’s no brew­ery? Could be because we’ve 2 oth­er towns and a city right on our doorstep, I sup­pose, all boast­ing brew­eries; or could be we just like drink­ing beer, not liv­ing it.

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