The Courage family continuity was at Its most tenuous at the outset when John Courage died suddenly in 1793. His widow Harriot was left with a young family in which the only boy, John, was but three years old. At the time of his birth it had been the pious ambition of the Courages that this boy should be brought up to enter the church, while his three sisters were to be given an education befitting them for the new status in society into which their family had moved. But before the father’s death the business was already thriving so well that it had been decided that little John should enter it in due course, after mingling perhaps with Sons of other brewers whose entry into their family business was already recognised at that time to be by way of a good public school and university.
The Courage family at this time still lived on the brewery premises and the business was sufficiently small for Harriot to be familiar with the day-to-day management. Although it was many years before there was much talk of the emancipation of women the brewing industry, unlike most others, was never unamenable to female management. So Harriot took over as a matter of course and settled down to run the affairs of Horselydown with the help of her managing clerk John Donaldson until such time as her son should be ready to take over after receiving the education to which he was entitled.
For a few years Harriot Courage carried on, but in 1797 she died. There was no member of the Courage family to step into the management so John Donaldson took over. He was charged with the care of the young children and became a partner in the business, taking a third of the gross profits which was afterwards enlarged to half, as well as a half of the capital. Already in 1800 the firm was described as Courage and Donaldson, Brewers, in the Post Office Directory, and it carried that title until 1851. There still exists in the brewery at Horselydown a key stone over an entrance inscribed “C. & D. 1847”.
It was said that Donaldson was not over enthusiastic in his promotion of the children’s education. But under his management the brewery flourished and the children were well looked after financially, money from the partnership being placed to the stock account of the Courage family. The young John Courage grew up under the shadow of the Napoleonic threat but within an industry which, unaffected by foreign affairs, was prospering through the application of new methods to traditional uses. By 1800 steam engines had been installed by Boulton & Watt in sixteen breweries, mainly in London. Industrial changes were also showing in the tideway which flowed by Horselydown. Steam was replacing sail. The coal barges multiplied. The cross-river wherries were being displaced by the Hackney cabs over the bridges. The stream itself was being polluted. Salmonhad long since ceased to come up from the sea. The fishing of whitebait to be consumed in the riverside taverns was doomed. Belching chimneys decorated the crowded Southwark skyline. The more prosperous citizens were leaving Southwark to commute from the healthier climates of Camberwell and Dulwich.
The education of John the Second was not prolonged. He entered the brewery at the age of 14 on an initial salary of £60 a year, which in those times was handsome. He became a partner on attaining his majority in 1811. His sisters Ann, Elizabeth and Harriet meanwhile were each credited with £2,000.
The partnership between John Donaldson and the young John Courage continued for some twenty five years. That it was prosperous is indicated by the fact that the nominal estate was valued at £151,215 after writing off losses and appreciation when John Donaldson retired in 1836. In less than fifty years the value of the business had increased two hundredfold and the buildings at Horselydown had multiplied. John the Second married into brewing. His wife, Susan, was the daughter of a Norfolk brewer, Sidney Hawes, and she gave him ten children. The Courages did not live in Southwark but set up their first home in De Crespigny Terrace, Camberwell, later moving to Dulwich.
There was another generation of Donaldsons in the business. On John Donaldson’s retirement his interests were taken over by his son, Thomas, who took 5/l2ths of the profits leaving 7/l2ths for John Courage. Five years later a second Donaldson son, Robert, was taken into partnership but this evidently proved unsatisfactory for he retired after only five years. In 1848 Thomas Donaldson died intestate and for a few years his widow carried his share of the business. In 1851 the Donald- sons’ participation ended. By agreement John Courage took £84,511 and Mrs. Donaldson £70,591 of the capital. By the age of sixty-one, after forty years experience of the business, John the Second became the sole ruler at Horselydown. Though the partnership had shown good returns, its ending came as a relief. G.N. Hardinge, Managing Director of Courages Brewery 1897-1927 wrote that John Courage “had been yoked as a partner solely through his own kindness to his father’s employee, to a family whose members had done exceedingly well for themselves at his expense.” John the Second who lived until 1854 was the real consolidator of the business. When the first John Courage made his initial brew of 50 barrels his property consisted of the small brewhouse and its foreshore. During his short reign and his son’s long one, the physical boundaries spread both east and west along the foreshore. This was the period when the brewing industry discovered the high value of waterborne transport. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, roads were generally scandalous, and transport within the cities slow and congested. Though steam was coming into industry and shipping, the railroads did not open up until the middle of the century. It is significant therefore, that John the Second acquired Liddards and Hartley’s Wharves to the west and Burgess’s and Keen’s Wharves to the east. Much property was being acquired inland along Horselydown Lane, but the river frontage was all important and this extended to the west over the site of the approaches to Tower Bridge. The Corporation of London bought some of this property when the bridge was built in the eighteen-eighties.
The wharves in those days were busy with the intake of malt, coal, timber and forage for the horses. Ales were loaded off into barges for movement on the Thames and for transfer to ships plying to Lowestoft, Dundee and Leith. Soon there were consignments of stout for the Continent. The river played such an important part in the working of the brewery that the firm retained its own lightermen and barges. For the partners on their frequent journeys across to the City of London there was the firm’s skiff called “The Brothers”. Before the building of Tower Bridge most of those who had business with the firm, including of course the Excise Officers, came and went by water. For those who cherish romantic memories of the busy Thames tideway such as that painted by Canaletto and Turner, and familiar to Shakespeare and Dickens, it is somewhat sad that the traffic of the great brewery has turned its back on the waterfront. In common with other great riverside breweries throughout the British Isles, the Courage Group now relies upon road and rail transport even for consignments destined to be shipped overseas.
The fact that the breweries had been so often sited on the banks of rivers has nourished the popular fiction that beer, ale and stout owe their special qualities to the rivers beside which they had been brewed. Undoubtedly the early brewers of Southwark drew on the Thames for their water supply but as the industry developed, depending always on waterways for transport, nearly every great brewery possessed its own wells. John the Second sunk a well in the brewhouse which yielded more than enough water for his needs, and supplied the demands of many of his neighbours. Similar old wells with abundant supplies are to be found in the other main breweries of the Courage Group, at Bankside, Reading and Bristol. Peter Mathias, writing specifically on the subject of porter brewing, refers to “the myth that porter derived its quality from the inimitable Thames water used to make it.” His remarks applied equally to other products of breweries: “From the first, writers pointed out that most porter breweries drew their liquor from wells or the New River rather than the Thames, but the tenacity of the belief was proof against such factual refutations. In Ireland, a similar myth about the Liffey water has survived logical rebuttal down to our own day. Its charm is that of the real folk-myth, which gives an irrational explanation to a true perception, and its significance for later times, similarly is the admission of inferiority through an incorrect but wishful thought. The myth reflected the envy and frustration of provincial brewers prevented by their smaller scale of production and lesser skill, from achieving the increments in quality given by large- scale porter brewing.”
The significance of the water supply had been seen by the first John Courage when he purchased the property which includes the wells which had originally served the knights of St. John. That John the Second had done much to improve them is indicated by Alfred Barnard’s account of a visit to the brewery in 1889: “Beneath the stone-paved floor is the artesian well, so celebrated in Horselydown, and a great boon to the families in the locality, who have free access to it in the summer time. The water of this well is noted for its purity and coldness, hence the place is literally besieged in June, July and August. It is sunk to a total depth of 450 feet from the surface, and the first 100 feet is lined with cylinders 7 feet in diameter; after that the bore pipes on the Thames side, which are sunk to the depth of 350 feet, are of a 9-inch bore; but on the land side they are only sunk to the depth of 250 feet, and 18 inches in diameter. It yields 200 barrels per hour of the most splendid water for brewing or domestic purposes to be obtained in the south of London.”
John the Second achieved not only consolidation of the business but also of the dynasty which bears his name. A year after the Donaldson partnership had dissolved, he took into partnership his two older sons, John and Robert, each being credited with £500 of capital and allocated 1/8th of the profits. Thus, in 1852 the business became wholly a family concern. Two years later John the Second died intestate and John the Third began a brief reign, with his brothers Robert and Edward as partners. After his death another, Henry, was admitted into the partnership in 1869. A younger brother, Alfred, was financed to set up in a malt business which, as Tomkins & Courage, became closely associated with the brewery. In 1882 there was a final change in the partnership when Robert’s son entered into it; then in April 1888 the Courage family partnership, having existed for just over a century, came to an end with the formation of the limited company Courage & Co.
In that same year as it happened, Alfred Barnard, writing his account of “Noted Breweries” which was published in four volumes, visited Horselydown and we have his picture of the concern as it became a limited company in the heyday of Victorian prosperity. He was received by John Watt who was typical of the trusted managerial staff of the period. He was then Company Secretary having entered the firm’s employment in 1847. His father, who had joined the firm in 1814, had been the right-hand man of John the Second, so the Watts between them - while never achieving the status of partners - had played a very significant part in the building of the enterprise.
With the second John Watt as his guide, Alfred Barnard recorded these glimpses of the brewery at work. It covered nearly four acres: “The buildings on the south side of Shad Thames are devoted to the fermenting department, stores, cooperages, countinghouse, and offices, and, with the exception of the latter, are comprised in the oldest part of the property. The brewhouse proper is a noble and lofty building, erected on the banks of the Thames, with a landing beach along its front for unloading the malt-ladened barges. It forms a conspicuous object from the river, and is situated nearly opposite the Tower of London.” This of course was before Tower Bridge had been built.
There was no doubt about the use being made of Thames transport. “We ascended to the topmost floor of the building to see a delivery of malt elevated by a steam lift from the barges on the Thames, which is done very rapidly at the rate of 1,000 quarters per day.”
The fermenting process of the day, already sophisticated sent Barnard into flights of maritime fancy: "When the ale is cooled by the refrigerating process, it is conveyed through a large main across the street at a great elevation into the finishing refrigerators in the big tun-room, which commands all the fermenting vessels, both porter and ale. As we stepped down from the bridge, we found ourselves in a lofty room, 63 feet by 40 feet, open to the roof. Before us appeared on either side a row of lofty vessels, leaving a 6-foot gangway, through which we walked. Running along the front, and fixed to some of the vessels, is a gallery 6 feet from the ground to enable the tunmen to get at the tuns for gauging purposes. Bearing round to the left of No. 5 vessel, we passed into the No. 2 room, which is a continuation of the first, and of the same lofty height. It measures 80 feet by 70 feet, is lighted by a dozen tall windows, and some of the fermenting vessels are 50 feet high. At the back of the first floor there is another row of similar vessels, but they are square. To surprise us, our guide conducted us up an exceedingly narrow staircase, thus enabling us to take a peep into Nos. 6 and 7, which are old-fashioned and square. We thought these capacious; but we were to be more astonished, for he next led the way between some vessels, where we could hardly pass along, to a narrow gangway, and then passing up a slanting plank we arrived at the top of the two most notable vessels, Nos. 11 and 12, which opened their yawning gulfs of ale beneath our feet. On the surface of either of these seas of ale a lifeboat could float, so great is their size. Like the other fermenting vessels, they contain boat skimmers for removing the yeast from the surface to a slate yeast-back below, where it is stored for pitching purposes in the brewery.”
The brewery’s transport arrangements were already a matter of pride: “There is a stabling for seventy-nine horses and, besides these, several well-fitted and ventilated loose boxes. The splendid quadrupeds belonging to this firm are so well-known, that we need scarcely describe them. Mr. Lawson informed us that he purchased them chiefly in North Wales and Cheshire, and that he considers that breed of animals very clean, with plenty of bone, and healthy. Messrs. Courage’s horses generally run 16+ hands high, will draw two tons each, and cost on an average £80 a piece. Some of them took first prizes at the Olympia and Albert Palace Shows in 1887, and, in the year 1886, this firm took four first prizes at the Battersea Show..."
"There are thirty-five vans in use by the firm - twenty large and fifteen small - the former are three- horse ones and will load up twenty-five barrels, and the latter fifteen. This is the busiest brewery, for its size, in London; and on the day of our visit 1,600 barrels were carted away from the establishment.”
Finally, Barnard noted that twenty clerks were “constantly employed” in the offices, that the brewery employed two hundred men and that the output in the previous year had exceeded 300,000 barrels.
Barnard was in fact recording the finale of that Victorian scene. In May 1891 a spark in the malt mills caused an explosion which set light to the flammable malt dust. The brewhouse burned for several days, engaging the attention of one of London’s legendary firemen, Captain Eyre Massey Shaw who was not only a member of the Prince of Wales’s social circle but was celebrated in song in the lines in lolanthe, which ran:
Oh, Captain Shaw, Type of true love kept under! Could thy Brigade With cold cascade Quench my great love, I wonder?
His cold cascades delivered from the new steam fire-engines in the streets and from tugs and floats on the river failed to save the brewhouse which was a total loss.
The powers of recovery at that time, however, were resilient. Brewing at Horselydown ceased only for about four weeks. Characteristic of the friendly relationships between rival breweries was the arrangement immediately made with Messrs. Barclay and Perkins to supply all the London Beers required by Courages to fulfill their commitments. The sum for this supply came to about £40,000. It was the first large collaboration between the two concerns which 65 years later were to merge.