This is the first in our new series of Notes & Queries posts. If you have a question you’d like us to try to answer email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you have any information about Falmouth Brewery or Falmouth Brewing Company? I believe it closed some time around the early 1900s. — Neil McDonald
A quick look at Norman Barber’s definitive reference work A Century of British Brewers 1890-2012 (Brewery History Society, RRP £17.95) tells us that the proprietors of the Falmouth Brewery Co. were W & E.C. Carne, that it was acquired by the large West Country brewing firm of Devenish in 1921 and that brewing ceased in 1926.
Brothers William Carne and Edward Clifton Carne came from an important local family of merchants, bankers and mine speculators and William, like his father, served more than once as mayor of Falmouth.
Though there are earlier mentions of breweries in Falmouth, the first reference to a company by this name that we can find in the newspaper archives is from 1863  when a beer shop selling its products stood opposite Carne’s general stores on Market Street. It was run by the elderly Mrs Ann Allen, born in around
1876 1776. Her sons, George and Robert Allen, were listed in an 1847 trade directory  as the only brewers in the town. Robert Allen suffered bankruptcy in 1851  but continued trading as a brewer, without George (who had probably died) at least until 1878.
Meanwhile, the expansion of the Carne brothers’ business can be charted through the same sources: in 1847, they are general merchants; by 1856, wine and spirits have been added to their portfolio (along with guano…); by 1877, the Carnes were boasting in advertisements of being the ‘sole agent’ for the Falmouth Brewery Co’s ales  and in 1878 were listing ale and porter among their interests, though still not describing themselves as brewers. At some point, though, they had clearly taken in a stake in the business, or had otherwise come to be identified with it, as an 1868 article refers to it as ‘Carne’s Brewery’.  By 1883, the Allens were out of the picture altogether and the the rather grand advertisement at the top of this post appeared in Kelly’s Directory.
Now to the juicy stuff, and what we suspect Neil (a brewer by trade) will be most interested in: what did they brew? In 1889  this was their line-up:
XXX MILD ALE 24s
XX MILD ALE 21s
P.A. LIGHT DINNER ALE 19s
X. MILD BEER 19s
P. PORTER 20s
More than a decade later, in 1902 , that had scarcely changed, though the stronger mild had apparently gone, replaced by another pale, bitter-type beer:
XXX. MILD ALE 21s
T.B. TONIC-BITTER ALE 23s
P.A. LIGHT DINNER ALE 19s
X. MILD BEER 17s
P. PORTER 19s
(Does T.B. strike anyone else as a particularly poor name for a beer…?)
There’s nothing distinctively Cornish about that range and it looks pretty much in line with what we know Hicks (St Austell), another Cornish brewery, was brewing in 1912. As to where any brewing logs from the Falmouth Brewing Co might be found, the Devenish archive at the Dorset History Centre is probably the best place to look. It certainly contains brewing logs, though whether any Carne recipes are included we can’t say.
The brewery itself, small but with a high chimney, stood a few doors down from the town hall, about where the Tesco loading bay is now. (There’s a photo of it c.1900 here.) It was demolished to be replaced by an art deco Odeon cinema, itself now gone.
In the 1980s, Devenish revived the Carne’s brand name for a keg bitter and bottled ales with a fanciful founding date of 1756.
So, there you go — that’s what we’ve got for now. If we find out anything more on our trips to the archives, we’ll update this post. In the meantime, any experts on the history of Cornwall, or of beer, or both, who have more to add should feel free to chip in in the comments below.
1. Royal Cornwall Gazette, Friday 02 October 1863
2. Williams Commercial Directory of the Principal Market Towns in Cornwall, Liverpool.
3. North Devon Journal, Thursday 27 November 1851
4. Royal Cornwall Gazette, 26 January 1877
5. Royal Cornwall Gazette, Thursday 09 January 1868
6. West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, Thursday 19 December 1889
7. West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, Thursday 14 August 1902