THE PORT OF LONDON is the scene of the industrial triumph now to be recorded. It could not
have a better setting. Many fortunes must have been made on the waters and banks of the
stretch of
the Thames - (see map dated 1600 showing London Bridge and the Tower and indicating
the site of the original brew-house (Beere-howse in red) purchased by John Courage) - which flows
down from London Bridge but the expanse is now cut by the Tower Bridge. That most seaward of
the bridges opens for the passage of steamers which still bring their freights of wealth to London
Port, and the old time life of the Pool, on which the life of London itself was so largely founded, is
maintained in the twentieth century waterborne traffic which travels backwards and forwards with
every tide. Among the wharves and granaries and factories which line the waterside, and are fed
by, and feed, the ships and barges in the Pool, stands, and has stood for many years, the
Horselydown Brewery of Courage & Co.

This is on the Surrey bank of the river, and is now just below the Tower Bridge.  The Pool itself is
alive with interest and these terms can be used as truthfully of the land on its Surrey side. The
topography alone is a romance—Horselydown (in earlier years Horsey Down, because horses were
pastured and sold there); Shad Thames, strangest of street names, the road in which the Brewery
is situated, Fair Street; Goat’s Yard; Boss Street; Walnut Tree Court; Carter Lane; Glean Alley; Mill
Lane; Battle Bridge Stairs; Great Maze Pond and Little Maze Pond (they are streets, not pieces of
water); Stony Lane (an old Roman Road); Pickle Herring, Grieveson’s Rents; Three Oak Lane,
Crucifix Lane; Potter’s Fields—these and other local names, are survivals of the old nomenclature,
and remind us how thick with the romance of history is this now industrialised corner of South
London.  There is still a quaintness in some of the little waterside streets and alleys, and always
there the Tower of London across the water, wearing the same dull frown which loomed upon the
pleasure-seekers in Horselydown four or five centuries ago.

That Horselydown was a place for amusement, in the old days, will be gathered from our
reproduction of a picture dated 1590, now at Hatfleld House.

see also -


This represents some kind of fête on the Down perhaps the Fair after which Fair Street was named.
There is no suggestion of commerce or industry at that date, men exercised themselves differently
then. Thus in 1554 an information was filed in the Exchequer Court against the churchwardens of
St. Olave’s Parish for not providing archery butts, as ordered by a statute of Henry VIII, and in
consequence butts were erected on Horselydown for this purpose.

There is a yet earlier pictorial record as shown, a plan of  ”Horseye Downe”.  This plan is in the
possession of St. Olave’s School, bearing the date 1544. From this it appears that the Down was
an oblong field broken at the western or Bermondsey end by an enclosure. The map describes it as
“The Garden of ye Parishe” surrounded by small houses, with a larger house in the middle, the
whole being designate “Glene; his Rentes”; and on the river side, by some alms house and a
churchyard, though this last must have been added later than 1544, the churchyard—existing
today as “The Old Churchyard “— only dates from 1587. The whole field, which was approached by
a gate from Tooley Street, formerly called Horselydown Lane, was surrounded by gardens, fields,
orchards, and a few houses, which on the river side intervened between the Down and the river.
Among those houses is one described on the plan as “Knight’s Hous,’ flanked on one side by an
orchard, and on the other by a garden, while a water mill which the plan calls “St. John of
Jerusalemes Milles” adjoins the house on the river front. The names of the house and mill indicate
the early ownership. The Knights Hospitallers had a manor or liberty there, which was called the
Liberty of St. John of Jerusalem. This land was seized by Henry VIII who afterwards sold it, and
eventually it was acquired by the Abdy family with whom the freehold remained until 1925, when
Courages bought it.

North                                                                                                                        South

This Knight’s House is singled out among the neighbouring properties for particular mention
because it is now (1932) the site of Courage’s Brewery, though the land formerly leased from the
Abdy family for that purpose is today only part of the brewery premises; as adjoining land has been
since acquired, which brings the whole extent of the buildings up to four acres.

There was appropriateness in establishing a brewery at this spot, for it is said that back in the
fifteenth century there were close to Horselydown Lane four “berehouses” and a house called the  
“Boreshead”; and since in those days beer was brewed on the premises where it was consumed we
may infer that the neighbourhood possessed at least five breweries, an indication probably of the
goodness of the water as Southwark ales were famous in Chaucer’s day.

It is worth noting here, that during excavations for rebuilding purposes, made between 1891 and
1895 on Courage’s brewery premises, many flagons and jugs, etc., of Dutch origin were unearthed.
These were relics doubtless of the business done in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at the
hostelry which figures so pleasantly in the Hatfield picture, and is marked on a map of London of
1600 as illustration shown at end of Book.

Among these early brewers of Horselydown were two whose names have come down to us. One
was Vassal Webling, or Weblink, who endowed St. Olave’s School out of the fortune made from his
brewery, and whose estate, when he died, comprised 103 messuages and two wharves in St.
Olave's parish, besides property at Barking; and the second, one Leke, who actually was the
founder of St. Olave’s School. It has been suggested by an antiquarian that either this Leke’s son
Henry, or Vassal Webling, is the principal figure in the Hatfield picture. What is remarkable for our
present purpose about these two early brewers is that both were Flemish Protestant emigrés who
fled to this country from religious persecution in France; the original Courage was also a
descendant of a Protestant emigré, driven to Britain by the same cause.

It was into these surroundings that the founder of the house of Courage came in the eighteenth
century to start what is now one of London’s principal breweries. It was not the Horsey Down we
have been speaking of upon which he looked, for building, including St. John’s Church, had already
turned the open fields into a busy industrialised neighbourhood, and the forthcoming brewery was
but to add to the locality’s new working aspect.

All rights reserved.

1787 - 1932

by Mr. G.N. Hardinge, Managing Director


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(River Thames)
Joris Hoefnagel Fete at Bermondsey c.1569           
(if this is the true date, the etching above must have been done some years later)