IT IS NOW time to revert to the business itself - to the industry which the successive generations of Courages developed on the banks of the Thames at Horselydown. Structurally that undertaking may be observed today as an imposing mass of buildings covering some 4 acres contiguous to the Surrey end of the Tower Bridge. They are grouped about a small and most curiously named thoroughfare - Shad Thames. Antiquarians have not settled whether this name arose out of the fact that the fish called shad were at one time prolific in the water near this spot, the most likely explanation, or whether “Shad Thames” is a corruption or abbreviation of St. John at Thames, as the street runs through the ancient Liberty of St. John. In any case this is the little riverside highway which is now flanked by the brewery, offices, stabling, cellars, cooperage stores, etc., which make up the Anchor Brewery, Horselydown The present buildings are not old, for a fire on May 5th 1891, started by a spark in the malt mills, and causing an explosion and conflagration of the flammable malt dust, destroyed the brewhouse, after raging for several days, notwithstanding the efforts of the famous Captain Shaw and his London Fire Brigade and its engines, aided by tugs and floats on the river. This prevented brewing for some three or four weeks, and Messrs. Barclay, Perkins & Co. supplied the Company with all London Beers to the extent of about £40,000 - the Pale Ale trade not being affected, The fire necessitated the rebuilding of the brewhouse. At other times other alterations and extensions have been made for the equipment of one of London’s most modern and well appointed breweries. It is interesting to note that on the day the fire broke, out the beer in process of being brewed was Mild Ale XX, of a gravity of 22 lbs., or 1060°, sold to the houses at 33/- per barrel (less 5%) and retailed to the public at 2d. a pint - 4d. a quart; hence its name Fourpenny. The duty on this beer was about 7/- per Barrel, as it was over standard gravity. The duty on the same beer today (1932) would be about £6. Another result of the fire was the re-arrangement of the various lease-hold properties held from the Abdy family, by the surrender and regrant for 99 years of an inclusive lease at a ground rent of £1,900. The re-building of the waterside premises with deep concrete foundations, sunk well below the bed of the river, was carried out according to plans of Messrs. Inskip and Mackenzie, by Mr. W. Watson, the builder, at a cost of £15,524. It included a new malt tower and chimney shaft, bearing the date 1895; and in this reconstructed brewery were installed duplicate coppers, hop-backs and new mash-tuns, making up a 250-quarter plant, at a cost of £27,000, less £15,000 received from Insurance. This opportunity was taken to install a steam cooperage for making and cleansing the firm’s casks, which was erected by Messrs. Ransome, of Chelsea. As has been shewn in the previous chapter, the business began on a much smaller scale. The output of John and Hagger Ellis from their eighteenth century premises in the converted mill house of the Knights Hospitallers must have been a very “small industry,” if the first brew of their successor, John Courage, consisted of but 50 barrels. The premises upon which this output was made comprised for some years only this small brewhouse and its foreshore, which are all that is contained in the original lease from the Abdy family. But under the enterprise of the first two Courages, the business soon began to grow; Liddards and Hartley’s Wharves, on the west of the Brewhouse, Burgess’ Wharf on the east, were absorbed into the Brewery. Then Keen’s Wharf, and further, outside the Abdy property, two large plots of freehold land were acquired. The one printed yellow, on the accompanying map was the firm’s freehold and was sold, before the Company was formed, to the Corporation of London under the Tower Bridge Act 1885. Thus the whole of the southern approach of that great edifice was acquired from the Courages.
Map of Anchor Brewery site dated 1872
Those early times were the days of waterborne traffic. At Courage’s wharves were discharged malt and coal and forage for the horses, and from them Courages’ Ales were shipped in barges, for loading on ships for Lowestoft, Dundee, Leith, etc. These were acquiring a more than local reputation, the shipments including large consignments of stout to Hamburg and other Continental ports. So important was this department of the Brewery’s transport that the firm had its own lightermen, as well as barges and a skiff - ” The Brothers “ - in which the partners and others journeyed across the river to and from the north side. Clerks and excise officers used the same mode of transport for their visits to the Brewery, for London Bridge was some distance away, and the Tower Bridge, which was to add to the Brewery’s convenience of access, as well as to its site value, was still in the future. It is not surprising that the fame of Courage’s beers spread. Southwark had long been noted for the purity of the Borough’s waters, and it only needed enterprise to turn that fame into an effective demand. It was probably the keen business sense of the first John Courage which prompted him to exploit the celebrity of the water by purchasing the Knight’s house brewery, just as it was the enterprise of the second John Courage which led him to make the most of the neighbourhood’s natural advantages. The well in the brewhouse was sunk to a depth of 450 feet, and yielded 200 barrels an hour of water of such quality and coldness that neighbours besieged it in the summer months, and the brewers produced with it beers which could hold their own with any. These beers however were limited in range. The quality of the water was admirable for the specifically London beers, such as mild ale and stout, but it lacked the mineral ingredients needed for good pale ale. Hence, in order to supply the large demand for bitter beers, the Courages contracted in 1872 with Messrs. Flower and Son, of Stratford-on-Avon, brewers of a fine bitter beer, to supply them with pale ale for distribution among their customers. This arrangement continued until 1886. Then it occurred to Robert Michell Courage, the youngest partner, while he calculated the economic waste in heavy railway freights from Stratford, and the double cartage of the beer across London, from the railway to the brewery and out again, that a better arrangement might be made. The contract was transferred to Messrs. Fremlins Bros. of Maidstone, for Maidstone is on the Medway, and the Medway flows into the Thames, and Fremlins could ship the beer from their brewery in barges for conveyance direct to Courage’s wharf at Shad Thames. Thus the lower reaches of the Thames gained an added picturesqueness as tall-masted brown-sailed barges sailed with their precious freight—some 32,000 barrels of it a year—from the Medway to the Pool of London. Later, economic considerations prompted yet another method of handling the pale ale question. Fremlin’s ale was of excellent quality; but why should not Courages acquire a Brewery of their own, to brew their own bitter beers in some place where the water was adapted to the brewing of such ale? The directors after much search and enquiry eventually bought Messrs. G. & E. Hall’s brewery at Alton, in Hampshire in 1903. These ales were already well known in London; and there, 42 miles from London, are brewed today Courage’s Alton Pale Ales. The adoption of this course was similar in policy to the possession by other London brewers of breweries at Burton, which is further from London than Alton. Hall’s was an old established concern, having been bought by Mr. Henry Hall from Mr. John Hawkins in 1841. An item of some historical interest in connection with it is that Mr. Hawkins’ manager, James Newman Frost, was a relative of Cardinal Newman, and the Cardinal often resided in what is now the Brewers’ house. The Alton brewery was of respectable size when Courages acquired it; it had 64 freehold and 13 leasehold public houses, and its local trade reached 20,000 barrels a year. The premises were rebuilt according to Messrs. James Bradford and Son’s plans, and now challenge acceptance as a model brewery. It is certainly a valuable asset to the Company. When the acquisition was made Major M. R. F. Courage went to Alton as local director, taking the late Mr. B. W. Peile from London as manager, Mr. H. Cooper remaining as brewer; his retention was justified in the increased production, which under the new management soon reached an output of 50,000 barrels a year. The present headbrewer is Mr. Cooper’s son, Mr. W. M. Cooper.
G. & E. Hall’s brewery at Alton, in Hampshire, acquired in 1903.