Brewing in Georgian Bristol: smells and cellars

Queen Square by Samuel Jackson

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 thoughts on “Brewing in Georgian Bristol: smells and cellars”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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