REFERENCE HAS JUST BEEN MADE to the French origin of the first Courage. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1683 France became an uncomfortable country for Protestants, and among the 200,000 who preferred to place a distance between themselves and Louis XIV were members of a family named Courage. They sought refuge in Northern Scotland, and in 1696 we find the name of James Courage in a Poll Book relating to Milbrae of Colpney, taxed in respect of his wife, his trade and the possessing of land. His trade appears to have been that of a tailor and farmer, he is also returned as a crofter.
James had a brother named Alexander, who had a son called Archibald, and Archibald had two sons, Alexander and John, according to a letter written in 1859 by John Courage the 3rd, who refers to Archibald as the common ancestor of the Courage family.
Alexander the elder of these sons was apprenticed to the shoemaking trade, but afterwards set up as an optician in Aberdeen and earned local renown in that occupation, but he died at an early age.
The younger was John Courage, the founder of the Brewery, as will now appear.
The family seems to have been well established in Aberdeen in the eighteenth century. Their names are to be found on tombstones in Aberdeen, Belhelvie, Colpnay and other neighbouring churchyards. The dates indicate that the men were shortlived, but that the women they married lived to a great age. Violent deaths were the notable fate of one branch of the family. A member of this branch was drowned in a well in Aberdeen, which is known as Courage’s Well. Others were drowned at sea, were blown up, or disappeared in foreign countries. This is not to say however that misfortune generally dogged the Courages. One, the uncle of the John Courage of whom we are about to speak, went to India, and though he failed to communicate his success to his relatives, he prospered in his new home, judging by his grandchildren’s manner of life when they visited England. Another, the descendant of one who ran away to sea in the eighteenth century, was found as Coutts’ correspondent at Corfu in the nineteenth century.
These early Courages appear to have been men and women of ability and character, and, like other persevering and vigorous families, were not afraid to follow their own predilections, and thus at times did things which bordered on the eccentric. One old lady among the Eighteenth century Courage women, when the Duke of Cumberland marched to Culloden, took a vow not to change her clothes until he returned.
We now come to John Courage, with whom the real history of the brewery family begins. He was, as we have said, the son of Archibald Courage. There seems to be a little uncertainty as to the commencement of his career, for one account says he was apprenticed to a merchant and studied at Aberdeen, another that at one time he held an office—as Bursar, probably at Aberdeen College, whence in later years he took his coat of arms, but it is clear that while still a young man he adopted the prevalent habit of the land of his family’s domicile, and came south to seek his fortunes. First however he married a Scottish girl, Harriot Stewart, said to have been both clever and pretty; she was also a member of a moneyed family, and inherited several portions.
It was in or about the year 1780 that John Courage came from Aberdeen to London. He came as agent for the Carron Ships Glasgow Wharf (now the Carron and Continental Wharf) and it was doubtless in the course of his riverside activities that he conceived the idea of brewing beer in the same neighbourhood. His project was not the setting up of an entirely new brewery, but the acquisition of one of the “berehouses” which had in an earlier generation belonged to Vassal Webling, the Flemish emigré brewer—the house depicted in the Hatfield picture.
John carried out his project in 1787; and there is still in the possession of the Courage family the counterpart of a cheque for the purchase money, dated the 20th December 1787, for a sum of £615.13.11, drawn by John Courage “in full and everything with and for the Brewhouse.” The cheque not being in the form to which we are accustomed today does not bear the name of the payee, but there is in existence also an earlier document, an invoice of 1765, wherein the then owners of the business, John and Hagger Ellis, rendered an account from Horsly Down Old Stairs, to Robert Ledger, for 45 firkins of beer at 2/6 each. It is most probable that it was from these persons that John Courage bought the brewery which had been established on the land belonging to the old Knights Hospitallers’ House.
It is not clear what was happening to the brewing business at the time of the transfer, but more than a year elapsed from the date of purchase before the entry in the original brewing book of the firm which announced that John Courage from Aberdeen first brewed at the Anchor Brewhouse, Horselydown, 51 barrels of beer, on the 4th January, 1789. We can only presume that he gave it the name of The Anchor Brewhouse owing to his previous connection with ships and shipping in the Carron Line, and chose it as an emblem of security for this new venture in his business career.
John Courage the first did not live long to develop his new business. He must have had a stout heart in the metaphorical, but not in the physical sense, for in the excitement following an Election in 1793, being an ardent Reformer, he died suddenly - a man in the prime of life, as is plain from an oil painting which still adorns the Directors’ room (see above) at the Brewery bearing the inscription— “Picture of Mr. Courage, Brewer of Shad Thames and Agent for Carron Ships at Glasgow Wharf, father of John Courage of Shad Thames and Dulwich, a descendant of a noble Huguenot family.”
He left behind him, besides his widow, an only son, John, aged 3, and three daughters, Ann, Elizabeth, and Harriet.
John Courage's widow, Harriot Courage, carried on the newly acquired business, for only a few years, for she died in 1797. The business and the care of the children then fell into the hands of Mr. John Donaldson, the managing clerk. John Courage the son had been intended for the Church, and it had been proposed to give the girls a specially good education. These plans failed. It was natural in the circumstances that the clerical career of the only son should be abandoned, but it was not necessary for the guardian to ignore the other instructions of the parents, as he appears to have done. His conduct was the more invidious because on Mrs. Courage’s death he became a partner, taking a third of the gross profits, which was afterwards enlarged to a half, as well as a half of the capital. The firm thenceforward, until about 1851, was known as Courage and Donaldson. The Post Office Directory of 1800 notes the firm as ”Courage and Donaldson, Brewers, Horslydowne - Old-stairs,” and there still exists a key stone over the entrance to the Brewery in Crown Court, facing The Tap House, with the inscription “C. & D. 1847“— a last memento of the old partnership.
The son, whom we may call John the Second, entered the brewery in 1804 as a boy of fourteen, and his initial salary was £60 a year. On attaining his majority in 1811 he became a partner. Money from the partnership was placed to the stock account of the Courage family to be afterwards dealt with. The sisters, Ann, Elizabeth and Harriet were each credited with £2,000.
John the Second married Susan, the daughter of a Norfolk Brewer, Sidney Hawes of Coltishall, in 1823; and it is also of interest to note that she was the niece of the famous Greek scholar, Professor Porson of Cambridge. This family of Hawes was an old one, its arms having been granted to its then representative on the field of Crecy.
The Courages lived at De Crespigny Terrace, Camberwell. There were ten children of the marriage, Elizabeth, Anne, John (who died in infancy), John, Robert, Edward, Alfred, William, Frank, and Henry. The second named John - John the Third in the firm's record - was born on January 25th 1829. John Courage the Second carried on the business until his death on March 8th, 1854. During that long period many changes had taken place in the firm. In 1836 John Donaldson retired. The estate was then settled up, and after writing off losses and depreciation, etc., there remained a nominal estate of £151,215, which was equally divided between John Donaldson and John Courage. Under this arrangement Donaldson received instead of a third share in the profits, as provided in the partnership arrangement of 1811, a half of the profits made since 1811, and a half of the capital belonging to the Courage family in 1811. John Donaldson’s place in the business was transferred to his son Thomas, who took 5/12ths of the profits, leaving 7/12ths for John Courage. Each partner was also given 5 per cent. interest on his capital. In 1841 Robert Donaldson was taken into the partnership, being allotted a third of Thomas’s share of the profits, but he retired after five years (the same year in which John Donaldson died). This arrangement had however been varied in 1844, when John Courage’s share of profits was reduced to 6/12ths, Thomas Donaldson’s made 4/12ths, and Robert Donaldson’s 2/12ths. When Robert retired Thomas succeeded to his share, and the partnership, in equal shares between him and John Courage, was renewed for five years from 1846. Thomas died intestate in 1848, and his widow took his share, until, with the expiration of the five years period in 1851, the partnership between the two families came to an end, John Courage taking £84,551 and Mrs. Donaldson £70,591 of the capital, and the business again reverted into purely Courage ownership. John Courage the Second was now 61 years of age, and for 40 of those years he had been yoked as a partner solely through his own kindness to his father’s employé, to a family whose members had done exceedingly well for themselves at his expense.
A new partnership, inside the Courage family, began in 1852, when John Courage the Second took into partnership his sons John and Robert, each son being credited with £500 of capital and being allotted 1/8th of the profits.
In 1854 John Courage the Second, the real builder of the business, died intestate. The Sons carried on, and in 1856 admitted into the partnership their brother Edward. The shares were divided into fourteenths, of which John the Third took 6, Robert 5, and Edward 3. This John’s reign however was not a long one. Having, like his father, represented the firm at Brewers Hall he was made Renter Warden in 1857, Middle Warden in 1858, and Upper Warden in 1859; and it was during this period that the following inscription was made, and still exists, over the entrance on the doorway of Brewers’ Hall.
“Repaired 1860. Charles Buxton, M.P. Master, John Courage, Esq. Algernon Perkins, Esq., James Watney, Jnr. Esq., Wardens".
John Courage was due for election as Master in October 1860, but ill-health compelled retirement; and in 1861 he died. His brothers (and executors) continued the partnership, as to 4/7ths Robert’s share, and 3/7ths Edward’s.
Thus the firm remained for 5 years, until in 1866, Henry Courage was admitted, and a new division was made into twenty-eighths, to Robert 13, to Edward 10 and to Henry 5 - increased in 1871 to 6 by a gift from Robert.
It is of interest to note that, in 1869, the three partners arranged to finance another brother, Alfred Courage, in the Malt business; so that with their help a partnership known as Tomkins & Courage, Malt Factors, was formed, and practically all the malts supplied to the Brewery have been purchased from them. This old family connection is still maintained (1932).
The next and last change in that partnership was made in 1882, with the admission of Robert’s son, Robert Michell Courage, who took one of his father’s 28 shares. Robert Michell however died in 1887; Robert his father died on the 31st December, 1893.
The history of Courage’s Brewery is the history of the business life of members of the Courage family, but it would be ingratitude to the memory of devoted servants of the House to pass over the work of two men - father and son - John Watt senior and John Watt junior, in building up the Brewery fortunes. John Watt senior entered the firm’s service in 1814, and remained in it 54 years until his retirement in 1865, during which time his career was distinguished alike by trustworthiness and ability. A portrait of him hanging on the brewery office walls indicates that he was a fine scholarly old gentleman, a worthy lieutenant of the great John Courage whom he served. John Watt junior entered the firm’s employment in 1847, and succeeded his father when he retired. His name appears on the 1889 prospectus as the Company’s original secretary.
On the 28th of April, 1888, the firm, as a firm, came to an end, having existed as a private business for just over a century - 101 years and 4 months to be exact; for on that day Courage and Co. were registered as a limited company. That event marks a new era of the business, and it will be outlined in a subsequent chapter.