We know London has numerous reminders of the paternalistic empire building of its breweries, from suburban sports grounds to social housing, but it had never occurred to us that they might also have their own wharves.
“The above title may occasion some surprise to many in the employ of the Company. They may have heard of a Wharf somewhere on the riverside where some of our beer was shipped or malt landed. But “Public Wharfingers” ??? As a matter of fact the Company have been members of The Association of Public Wharfingers of the Port of London for many years, and have carried on a considerable business as such, for a very long period.”
Truman’s Black Eagle No 2, July 1930, pp.27-29
We recently obtained some editions of The Black Eagle Magazine, the annual publication of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co., which consisted of an eclectic mix of sporting reports; reminisces from various Chairmen about their holidays; jokes, mottos and wise words; and occasionally a nice picture and profile of an improved pub.
In amongst the filler, there are also some genuinely interesting insights into the many avenues and alleyways explored by the Truman enterprise.
In the July 1930 edition there is a piece on Trumans as “Public Wharfingers” – that is, as members of the Association of Public Wharfingers of the Port of London.
The piece itself is more colourful than informative, being somewhat vague about when this area of the business started or what exactly was traded on a day-to-day basis.
There is a picture of the wharf in Wapping and another of a boat called The Ben Truman loaded with barrels, but no significant information to go with it.
Towards the end we find out that…
“Besides performing useful services for the Brewery, for which of course it primarily exists, many thousands of tons are landed annually for storage and distribution, and in some years rubber to the value of not less than two-and-a-half millions sterling has passed over the wharf and been shipped into craft en route to New York and other places abroad… There are other Breweries who own or use waterside premises in the course of their business, but Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. are alone, so far as the writer is aware, in carrying on also the business of PUBLIC WHARFINGERS of the PORT OF LONDON.”
This sent us down a bit of a rabbithole looking for evidence of other breweries setting up as wharfingers – a word we didn’t even know until we read this article.
To be clear, this isn’t just a case of using vessels for transport – this is a separate business landing and storing a whole range of goods.
Just two years later, there was another article on the same subject in The Black Eagle.
This gave a purchase date for the wharf – 1841 – and provides a little more detail:
“About 1889 HOYS began to make their appearance. These were usually sailing barges, and they undertook to sail regularly from an advertised Receiving Wharf in London, and deliver a general cargo to places round about the mouth of the Thames – as far as Dover on the one hand and Aldeburgh on the other”.
Truman’s Black Eagle No 4, July 1932
The piece then goes on to talk about competition from the railways and motor transport, and the winding up of the wharf:
“About 1923, however, motor transport began to make itself felt, and by the end of 1924 it had become such a severe competitor that one by one the Hoys had to give up for want of support, and none are now in existence.”
Unfortunately motor transport not only killed the old Hoys, it very soon began to threaten The Ben Truman also.
Soon after the war, doubts began to exist as to the wisdom of continuing to send our beer to Chatham by water. Would not motors do the work quicker, and – with so much less handling – cheaper? Opinions as to this differed for a time.
There was a very natural disinclination to break the intimate link nearly a century old-between Brick Lane and Old Father Thames; but ultimately, as it was bound to do sooner or later, sentiment had to give way to modern methods, and the change from Chatham to Gravesend put an end finally to any doubts which may have still existed. It was by now quite apparent that the wharf had outlived its usefulness, at any rate so far as the Company’s business was concerned, and by the time this is in print, to the very great regret of all those who have been associated with for so many years, Black Eagle Wharf will have passed into other hands, and TRUMAN, HANBURY, BUXTON & Co., Ltd., will no longer be carrying on the business of PUBLIC WHARFINGERS of the PORT of LONDON.”
We found it interesting that there was no mention in 1930 of any doubts about its viability.
Perhaps even the management didn’t even have this part of the business on their radar.
There were clearly plenty of Brewery Wharves in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, each of which now seems to be the site of a “stunning collections of 2, 3 and 4 bedroom apartments”.
But we haven’t yet found much information about how those wharfing operations, including Truman’s, actually worked.
If anyone knows anything further about this interesting chapter of Truman’s history, or indeed anything similar at other breweries, we’d love to hear it.
And can anyone work out if any of the buildings in the pic above are still there on Wapping High Street? It’s not immediately obvious to us from Google Street View.
“Casks are a great source of spoiling well-brewed beer…” That’s the judgement of J.A. Pryor, Chairman of the London brewery Truman, Hanbury & Buxton, writing in The Black Eagle in July 1930.
It’s interesting to see casks presented, first and foremost, as a problem to be solved.
At the same time, the brewery went to a lot of trouble to make sure its casks were as good as could be.
First, there’s the matter of material:
[No] expense or care is spared by T. H. B. & Co., to ensure first of all the purchase of the very best timber, which it may surprise some of you to know comes entirely from the Baltic. This is the only suitable wood in the world for making our casks. English oak is, alas, unsuitable, and only during the War years, when it was impossible to get Russian oak, did we have to use American and a small proportion of Austrian oak. Very unsuitable materials both, and I am glad to say we have none in use to-day.
Next, Mr Pryor talks about the cleaning of casks – going into some surprisingly squicky detail:
The cleaning of casks is vastly important, and each one as it comes into our London Cooperage is first of all “run in,” i.e., filled with boiling water, and allowed to stand for as long as possible. This is to soften any yeasty deposit there may be, and makes the subsequent washing easier.
Then he introduces an interesting bit of technology:
[The casks] are then taken to the “Goliath” machines, where they are subjected to eight separate processes of either raw steam or boiling liquor under pressure, and the outsides also scrubbed in water and brushed… By the way, it is well worth your while, if you can find time, to go and look at these machines in operation as they are uncannily human. We have a fine battery of them in London, and also at Burton.
It’s easy to think of the past – even ten years ago – as a kind of barbarous dark age. This article is a helpful reminder that even in the 1930s Truman’s was brewing scientifically:
After the casks leave the machine they are each placed on drying and cooling nozzles, and pure filtered air is driven into them under pressure. Great care is exercised over the Pure Air Filter, and the two plates following show air before and after filtration.
Except at the end of the process, of course, things suddenly get very ‘craft’, with the human nose coming into play:
Each cask is then “smelt” and “pricked,” i.e., any remaining pieces of broken shive, etc., are removed from the interior, before they are passed as fit to go into the cellar.
“Cask smeller” was a real, very skilled job and we can actually see cask smellers in action at another London brewery, Whitbread, in this film from 1959:
Pryor concludes with what might be read as a shot across the bows, or as encouragement to do the right thing, depending on your point of view:
This last work is of very real importance, and is entrusted to some of you, who make it a pride not to pass a suspicious cask. If you should by chance miss one you are pretty certain to hear of it, as each cask is again examined in the cellar before filling.
We use the phrase ‘pub crawl’ all the time but recently found ourselves wondering when it emerged as a concept.
Helpfully, the Oxford English Dictionary (which we can access in full online for free with one of our library memberships) offers an immediate answer: it’s a late Victorian and Edwardian thing.
Here are some selected entries from the list of examples provided by the OED in its entry for ‘pub-crawling’, under ‘Crawling’:
1877 | York Herald | women on ‘gin crawls’
1902 | Daily Chronicle | “the cockney ‘beer crawl’”
1915 | Nights in Town by Thomas Burke | “We did a ‘pub-crawl’ in Commercial Road”
The entry for ‘pub crawl’ under ‘Pub’ is oddly less comprehensive, omitting anything before that 1915 entry.
This all makes sense.
For a pub crawl, you need a certain concentration of pubs, which means you need a substantial town and city.
For pub crawling to become a commonly understood idea you need lots of substantial towns and cities.
And the 19th century was when British towns and cities exploded in size. Consider Bradford, for example, to pick somewhere at random. In 1801 its population was around 6,000. By 1850 it had grown to 182,000.
At the same time, the number of pubs increased.
We’re glad we chose Bradford, now we think of it, because that means we can check Paul Jennings’s book The Public House in Bradford 1770-1970 for stats.
In 1803, there were 41 public houses in Bradford. By 1830 there were 55 – and then a load of beerhouses came along, too, after the passing of an 1830 act of Parliament. By 1850, there were 178 of those, as well as a number of established public houses.
With around 220 boozers, give or take, you’ve got some options for a crawl.
Are there earlier mentions of pub crawls than the OED lists?
Beating the OED at its own games is a bit of a sport in the age of the digitised newspaper and book archive.
Whereas the dictionary compilers spent years scanning periodicals and recording usage, we can just run a ton of searches and see what can be dredged up.
On this occasion, though, we couldn’t find any earlier examples of:
pub crawl, crawler or crawling
beer crawl, etc.
gin crawl, etc.
We did, however, like this description of a gin crawl from Fun magazine (a Punch knockoff) for 9 July 1879:
The Lancet seems to think that lime-juice will be the drink of the future. Possibly; but we should like to see the hansom cabby, the purple-faced “bus driver, and 92 X “splicing the main-brace” with a glass of lime-juice and water. The favourite pastime of some of these gentry on their off-days is to go for what they term a two-of-gin crawl, which means flitting from pab to pub until sufficient moisture is imbibed. We wonder if the day will ever arrive when they will indulge in “a two-of-lime-juice crawl.”
There’s more to be said about pub crawls. We’ll be digging at this a bit more in subsequent posts.
Among the many bits of breweriana at the Kirkstall Brewery taproom was an enormous enamel sign advertising R.W. Miller of Stokes Croft, Bristol – another historic brewery of which we’d heard nothing and seen no sign.
There’s a closer view of the brewery as depicted on the sign available via an online auction website…
…and also, shown in the main image at the top of this post, a similar view shown in the Western Mail for 26 December 1893, via the British Newspaper Archive.
Depictions of breweries on letterheads and advertisements often take a bit of licence but, even so, we can’t ignore a landmark like this.
We were about to start researching dates and details from scratch when we came across this incredible piece of work by Mike Slater for his West Country Bottle Museum website.
It gives chapter and verse on the founding and evolution of the Stokes Croft brewery, including its various owners and operators over the years.
This kind of thing makes us feel fortunate to live in a region with such active local historians, both professional and amateur.
In summary, the dates Mr Slater gives are as follows:
Brewery possibly established c.1717 (or is that a later marketing claim?)
1842-43 – brewery rebuilt
1843-73 – Foll; Foll & Turfrey; Foll & Abbot
1873-78 – West of England Pale Ale Brewing Company (Abbott & Gardiner)
1878-89 – Harvey & Co
1889 – R.W. Miller moves to Bristol from Hereford and takes over
1890-1911 – R.W. Miller’s Stokes Croft Brewery
1911 – taken over by George’s
Re: that founding date – if the brewery did exist in 1717, it wasn’t on the same site. The incredible Know Your Place website (a hyper-local, hyper-detailed equivalent of the NLS maps website above) provides a composite map from various late 18th century sources which shows a ‘Dissenting Charity School’ taking up the entire block.
Mr Slater also provides what is apparently a portrait of Robert William Miller in his prime (above) and directs us to a useful source, The Ports of the Bristol Channel Wales and West, published c.1892. It’s the kind of directory in which business pay to be included so we should probably take this glowing description with a pinch of salt:
After passing through the spacious and well-appointed general offices, affording every convenience for the numerous clerical staff employed, we proceed through the special offices and private rooms provided for the use of travellers, &c., and reach the private office of the principal, which is richly and elegantly furnished. From this private office a fixed bridge affords communication with the manager’s office, which is also admirably appointed. Leaving here we come eventually to the brewery proper, and pass through the fermenting-room, the mash-room, the malt-room, and other departments associated with the brewing process. Order and cleanliness are everywhere apparent, and we note the efficiency of the various appliances in use, all of them being of a highly improved type. These several departments are situated one above another, and the highest point is reached when we come to the large tank for washing the refrigerators… The hop-room at the Stokes Croft Brewery contains an immense stock, and besides this the firm holds large quantities of hops in London… In connection with the Stokes Croft Brewery are large cellars, and on entering these the visitor is sure to be impressed with the vastness of the stock on hand, an index to the magnitude of the firm’s business… Crossing Moon Street, which runs at the back of the Stokes Croft premises, we enter another cellar, where the firm keeps a great quantity of their special “I.P.” ales. Here also we find a vat warehouse, coopers’ shop, and stores for the old ales, stouts, and porters… Leaving these premises, and crossing Back Field Lane, we reach the firm’s wine and spirit stores, containing large and choice stocks of champagnes, hocks, moselles, ports, sherries, clarets, liqueurs, whiskies, brandies, rums, gins…
A similar but more detailed description (possibly written by the same person) appeared in The Bristol Times and Mirror for 20 February 1892. This is a long one so get comfy:
The brewery… stands in a splendid business position, having a large frontage to Stoke’s Croft. At the entrance there is a newly-erected porch of freestone, artistically carved, and having the name of the firm emblazoned upon it in picturesque lettering. Entering through two new doors, constructed of specially-selected pitch pine, which, by the way, is one of the features of the recent alterations to the premises, the visitor finds himself in a lobby made of the wood mentioned previously, and having a pretty tessellated tiled pavement. A door, set off with Muranese glass, leads into the brewery; but taking a turning to the left, one obtains access to the counting-house. The two folding doors leading to it are pretty in design, the upper parts being of cathedral glass, with rural scene in the centre. The counting-house is a well-lighted room, the recent alterations having considerably enlarged it… The apartment is lighted with the well-known Wenham burners – one also being in the porch – and five standards supply ample light for the clerks at the desks. The fittings of the office are of walnut and oak, and have very handsome appearance. Opening out at the far end of the room is the telephone room, lavatories, and the strong room. At the end of the counter a screen of pitch pine, with Muranese glass, is constructed, and this leads to the travellers’ office and private room. The former is a lofty apartment, and is designed for the use of the large staff of travellers and collectors in the employ of the firm. The walls are cased with pitch pine, giving the room, which is over 30ft in height, an imposing appearance. From here a well constructed staircase leads to the principals’ private rooms and the sample room. On the right hand is the principals’ private office, and on the left is a large and spacious room, elegantly fitted up, for the use of Mr R. W. Miller. From this apartment access may be obtained into the brewery; but before this is visited it is well to take a peep into the laboratory, which is the sanctum of Mr J.H. King. This gentleman holds the important position of brewer and manager, and comes to Bristol with the highest credentials, having had many years experience at Exeter and the Ale Metropolis, more familiarly known by the name of Burton. The art of brewing has now become science with modern brewers, and therefore the necessity of knowledge of chemistry is only too apparent. In Mr King’s laboratory are all the appliances for carrying out the testing, &c., so necessary in the manufacture of high class ales. Under the care of Mr King, a visit to the brewhouse discloses some interesting particulars. Entering the mashing-room, one notices the mashing plant, which was designed and fitted by Messrs G. Adlam and Son, the well-known engineers of Bristol. One of Steele’s mashing machines and inside rakes, similar to those used in most large breweries, is here; the adjoining compartment, which is called the copper room, has a spacious underback with coils, and adjoining it is a large copper for boiling the wort. Close to the copper is the hop back, from whence the wort is pumped to the cooling room, which is at the top of the building. Ascending a flight of stairs, the malt room is reached, outside which there are two large mashing backs for heating the liquor. The malt room is filled with sacks of malt, and in the corner is a bin, into which the grain is placed, and from there it runs to the crushing mill on the next floor, and thence, by series of ‘Jacob’s ladders’, is conveyed to the grist case in the centre of the room. From there is taken into the mashing tub below. The cooling room is situated at the top of the premises, and is a large building some 40 or 50 feet square, and in this are placed coolers. From receptacles wort proceeds to one of Lawrene’s refrigerators, where it is cooled and conveyed to the fermenting vessels, which are placed in the room beneath. Here a gas engine is employed to drive what is called the ‘rousing’ machinery. Passing this important part of the building one comes to a large apartment, really apart from the main structure, and the delicious scent once apprises the visitor of the fact that this the hop-room. Pockets of the choicest varieties are to be seen, and piled around the room they make an imposing array. Descending to the next floor, a room is entered which is fitted with dropping backs and slate tanks for the storage and preservation of pitching yeast. On reaching the ground-floor one enters a spacious room fitted with three large racking vessels and containing casks of the firm’s beer. Leading out from this is the engine-house, in which is a powerful engine and the pumping machinery mentioned before. Now descending into the ‘depths of the vault below,’ there are thousands of casks of beer housed. The casks are of different sizes, and each bears hieroglyphics upon them, which the manager would tell the uninitiated were intended to represent the quality and strength of the beer. For instance, in one cellar nothing but bitter beer is kept, and in another only mild beer. The pale ales compare most favourably with finest Burton productions. There are four qualities, the prices ranging from 10d to 1s 6d per gallon. The mild ales are full bodied, and are preferred by many to the more bitter qualities. The beer has also been found most suitable for bottling, compares favourably with the productions of other firms. Crossing the road at the back, one finds that the firm has cellars there, where there is a large storage of bitter and old beers, and stouts and porters. Going through the main entrance of this building, a large and spacious room becomes visible, and this is filled with 37 huge vats of malt liquor. Here also is where the famous old beer of the firm is stored. In reaching the offices again a covered yard is passed, where a number of men are engaged in washing casks; and in an adjoining room there is a special engine and fan, erected for the purpose of sending a current of pure air through the casks and thus making them dry and fit for immediate use. The firm has stores at Plymouth, Cheltenham (No. 100 High street), and Bath, besides in other towns, and their motto is ‘Strength and purity’.
There’s a bit of information about the beer itself there and a bit more again is given in The Ports of the Bristol Channel advertorial:
The cheapest beer brewed by Messrs. Miller is that at 10d per gallon (X mild or FA bitter). This beer is really excellent in quality, as we can testify from experience, and is capital value for the money. The AK bitter ale, at 1s per gallon, is a special brew of extra quality, for which there is a great and increasing demand. The PA and IPA beers are ales of fine character, respectively 1s 2d and 1s 6d per gallon. Of the IPA ales there are two different brewings, one in March and one in October. All the above-mentioned beers bottle splendidly, and have an immense and steadily-growing sale. In the old malt-house of the brewery, now used as a cellar, there is a large stock of mild ales. The 1s porter is an excellent article, always in demand, and the 1s 4d stout is one of the best in the market, being admirably suited for invalids. The celebrated old beers of this firm are known respectively as the ‘Bristol Old Beer’ and the ‘West of England Old Beer’, and are greatly esteemed by connoisseurs.
And here’s a newspaper ad from 1891 listing all the beers on offer:
Wait – what’s GPA? Golden pale ale? Gloucestershire pale ale? This one’s new to us.
It feels as if we’re getting a pretty good idea of what it must have been like to wander through Stokes Croft and see this substantial brewery occupying most of a block.
But here’s one more nice little detail, from a court case of 1894, as reported in The Bristol Mercury for 4 October that year:
A BREWER FINED FOR OBSTRUCTION.
Robert William Miller, of Stoke’s Croft Brewery, was summoned for causing an obstruction, by allowing thirty barrels to remain in Moon Street, and eight boxes on the footway in Upper York Street, for three-quarters of an hour. The evidence of the police showed that the obstruction was noticed on the afternoon of the 19th… Evan Drew, a cooper in the defendant’s employ, and John Lewis, defendant’s mineral water foreman, gave evidence… and declared that these cases were only left on the pavement after being delivered by the railway company for time sufficient to allow of their being examined… Supt. Croker said that Drew in 1893 was summoned on behalf of Mr Miller for obstruction and fined 5s and costs; and in August last Mr Miller was fined 20s and coots for a similar offence. The Bench now imposed a fine of 40s and costs.
So, as well as those smoking chimneys and the smell of the mash, you might also have noticed carts coming and going and found the pavements cluttered with casks and boxes.
Frustratingly, what we can’t find is a photograph of the brewery. There are shots of Stokes Croft with it just out of view but none of the brewery itself. Even the usually reliable Britain From Above collection only gives us a murky, grainy, distant image of a box-like shape that might be the brewery as it looked in 1921. If you know of any images we’ve missed, do shout.
What is there to see today? Not much. The corner where the brewery once stood is now home to a modern block of shops and flats although the Lakota nightclub on Upper York Street does occupy an old brewery building – the former Victorian malthouse, later the mineral water bottling plant.
At the time of writing, you can also pop across the road and visit Basement Beer, one of Bristol’s newest breweries. So new, in fact, that we’ve not had a chance to drop in ourselves.
Harp Lager was once a household name in the UK but, never much loved by beer geeks, and outpaced by sexier international brands, has all but disappeared.
It was launched in Ireland in 1960 as Guinness’s attempt to steal a slice of the growing lager market, hitting the UK in 1961. It is still brewed in Dublin and apparently remains popular in Northern Ireland. We can’t recall ever seeing it on sale in England, though – even in the kind of social clubs where you might still find Whitbread Bitter or Bass Mild.
There’s always something fascinating about brands that arrive, dominate, and disappear. Harp Lager in particular is interesting because of the sheer amount of time, money and energy which Guinness sunk into it over the course of decades; because it provided a glimpse into the era of multinational brewing that was just around the corner; and because it tells a story about the early days of the late 20th century UK lager boom.
The tale begins in the post-war era when, for reasons that are much debated, British drinkers began to turn away from cask ale and towards bottled beer, with hints that lager might be the next big thing.
Guinness was then very clearly an Anglo-Irish business, with major brewing operations at both Park Royal in London and at St James’s Gate in Dublin, and managed largely from London.