Beer history bristol

Brewing in Georgian Bristol: smells and cellars

When I’m not obsessing over beer I sometimes obsess over architecture which is why I’ve been reading Walter Ison’s The Buildings of Georgian Bristol.

It was first published in 1952 and revised for a second edition in 1978. It mostly comprises fairly dry research into buildings and street layouts – who designed or built what with reference to original contracts, whether the pediment is segmental or not, and so on – but you won’t be surprised to learn that there are a couple mentions of brewing that leapt out.

The first is with reference to Queen Square, which you can see from Small Bar on King Street, to give a beer geek friendly reference point. Originally marshland, it was divided up into plots from 1699 and built up between 1700 and 1718. It had a dual carriageway running through the middle for most of the 20th century but is these days once again a peaceful public space.

Ison quotes from the city records for 1699 which include the terms of what we would now call planning permission for the first house on Queen Square:

[No] Tenement [is] to be lett out to any sort of Tenants particularly no Smiths Shopp Brewhouse nor to any Tallow-Chandler or to any other Tradesmen who by noyse danger of ffire or ill smells shall disturbe or annoy any of the Inhabitants who shall build neer it…

This was a classy development for well-to-do folk and it wouldn’t do for it to pong or otherwise exhibit evidence of people working. These days in Bristol, breweries tend to be on industrial estates – the logical conclusion of this kind of zoning regulation.

The second reference comes in a description of the development of Portland Square from 1788. Here, Ison quotes for a sale notice for the middle house on the south side of the square from 1812:

[The house contains] three arched under-ground cellars, a servants’ hall, housekeeper’s room, back-kitchen, larder, brew-house, and other offices…

A brewhouse is an interesting addition to a large, fashionable house as late as the early 19th century. Other houses nearby seem to have had wine cellars rather the brewing facilities, at least according to Ison’s notes, so the owner of this one was clearly one of us.

But who did the brewing? What did they brew? Where would we even start looking to find out?

Main image: detail of ‘The Mansion House at the corner of Queen Square looking along Queen Charlotte Street’, Samuel Jackson, 1824, via Watercolour World/Bristol Museums.

5 replies on “Brewing in Georgian Bristol: smells and cellars”

1812 would be when the upper classes were expected to be patriotic and drink Barley wines instead of (unavailable in large quantities) wines like claret. Perhaps not uncommon at the time to have home brewed.

There’s a potentially fascinating but initially tedious job for a PhD student to go through newspaper house ads from the 18th and early 19th century and see how many mentioned brewhouses: my impression from ploughing through many old papers is that large houses with brewhouses were “not uncommon” in the 18th century but the practice was dying out in the 19th. However, the large copper used for heating water for cooking, washing etc that would have been virtually an essential part of the “kit” in almost any house larger than a cottage would have been easily repurposed into a brewing copper, and all you then need is one large tub for mashing, another for fermenting and a cellar for storing your casks in, all probably there already even if you didn’t have an actual “brewhouse” on site.

This sounds like manorial brewing, basically what Pamela Sambrook wrote about in “Country-house brewing”. That seems to be a branch of brewing in between farmhouse brewing and commercial brewing that’s far less explored than it should be. Looking at what kind of sources Sambrook used might be instructive.

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