The nineteen-thirties opened for the brewers under a cloud of huge and increasing unemployment and an emergency budget raising the taxation of beer; it closed with the Second World War and a string of new restrictions. Nevertheless the management of the Courage enterprise through the difficult years following the First World War had established it in such a position of strength that the policy of further expansion was possible and indeed desirable. The Company might have been deterred from this by the 1931 taxation described by Mr. Hardinge as “killing the consumption of the national beverage”.
Fortunately. as it turned out, the expansion had taken place the year before. In 1930 Courages acquired Noakes Brewery, a concern with a pattern somewhat similar to their own, having interests on the south bank of the Thames and also in the home counties west of London which, at that time, were in the throes of a massive residential and industrial expansion.
The Noakes business can be traced back to one of the ancient beer-houses which flourished when there were still fairs at Horselydown. For some two hundred years there was a brewery known as the Black Eagle in Crucifix Lane, the earliest record of any proprietor being a certain Clarke. An eighteenth century drawing depicts an eagle standing on a barrel engraved with the words: “Clarke’s pure Bermondsey Ale. From malt and hops. Brewhouse, White’s grounds, Bermondsey.”
Those who lived and brewed in Bermondsey in those days still enjoyed kinship with the country. Adjoining the Black Eagle Brewery were the kennels of the Old Surrey Foxhounds described as the most ancient pack in Surrey. In 1750 it is recorded that their Master was Mr. Gobsall who was succeeded by Mr. Dudin, who moved the kennels from Bermondsey to Godstone toward the end of the eighteenth century. Green coats and beaver hats were the costume of the hunt and in those days it is recorded that they did not draw after 1 o’clock “so that the City men might be on ‘Change by four”. It was no doubt these City men who provided material for the writings of Surtees who, in his young days was studying law in London, hunted with the Surrey packs; and experience which led to the creation of Jorrocks. When the hunt moved the brewery took over the property and made use of the stables and kennels for these were still in existence in 1896, when the brewery was rebuilt.
After Clarke the next proprietor at the beginning of the nineteenth century was John Cox. There is an engraving advertising “Cox’s Fine Double Strong Ale” dated 1837. A more general claim to fame for this brewer is that he is said to have originated the Cox’s Orange Pippin. Maybe this was after he disappeared from the Southwark scene in 1848 when the brewery was sold to Messrs. Day, Payne & Co. The purchase price was £14,755 which included the freehold, plant, some nineteen houses together with book debts, rents and loans owing to the concern. The name Noakes first appeared in 1852 when Robert Day took as a partner Wickham Noakes. Thereafter the brewery was known for many years as Day, Noakes & Co., until it became a limited company in the eighteen- nineties.
Like Courages, the Noakes business had spread to the west of London. William Noakes, son or grandson of Wickham, had learned his brewing in the Nevile Reid Brewery at Windsor, and as chairman of his own concern he acquired the Windsor business in 1918 and also the Royal Brewery at Windsor in 1920. The latter was owned by the Canning family and possessed twenty houses. On the original site of the Noakes Brewery at Windsor under the shadow of the castle walls was erected the Lutyens memorial to George V.
In late 1937 Courages also acquired the Kidd Brewery at Dartford, Kent, thus spreading their interests to the east of London.
With the approach of the Second World War the Courage pattern of business had been rationalised on an industrial basis with the brewing at Horselydown and Alton and a depot at Windsor. The important industrial change which had taken place in the years between the wars was the movement of beer from barrel to bottle. By 1939 30 per cent of all beer consumed was sold in bottles. During this period the price of draught beer remained steady at about 4d for mild and 7d a pint for bitter in a public bar — in spite of rising costs of labour, transport and materials. Socially there had been a significant change in attitudes toward drinking and in drinking behaviour. Many pubs had been rebuilt, not always alas in the best of taste, to accommodate a wider range of customers who took their refreshment more comfortably and less furtively. To meet the population explosion around Greater London, many new pubs were also built.
During the years preceding the outbreak of the war and during the war itself it was recognised that beer was not a frivolous luxury but one of the essential ingredients in morale. The brewers worked in harmony with each other and with the Government. Unlike the Germans who, in March 1943, stopped the production of beer completely, the brewers of this country managed to maintain a flow, although many of them were in vulnerable positions. Courages at Horselydown, for instance, only lost two days of production. They also managed to increase the scope of their business by the acquisition of Hodgsons Kingston Brewery in 1943.
The overall war picture has been well recorded by H. A. Monckton of Messrs. Flower & Sons in his book A History of English Ale & Beer:- “The wartime and post-war Governments looked upon the supply of beer as a moral armament, and they made every effort to see that the people did not go without. Because of the unavoidable shortages of sugar and malting barley it was necessary to reduce the strength of beer considerably: far better to have sufficient quantity of beer at less strength. Even so, there were inevitable beer shortages, which meant that most licensed houses were restricted in the number of hours they had beer on sale. Once the weekly beer ration was exhausted the licensee was obliged to close his doors. However, the Brewers’ Society ‘Beer for Troops Committee’ saw to it that serviceman had reasonable supplies. Beer in bottle, because of paper shortage left breweries without labels, and the only distinguishing feature between one beer and another was the colour of the metal closure. In the case of screw-stoppered bottles the distinction between one beer and another was by a small descriptive paper ‘top strap’.
“For some five years alter the War, the trade continued in the grip of severe restrictions which included a prohibition upon the repair of damaged breweries and the rebuilding of demolished public houses. Quite obviously the requirements of the licensed trade could not take priority over the rebuilding of war-damaged private houses, or factories upon whose output the country depended for its economic survival. Gradually these restrictions were loosened and beer duty also fell a little from its high level of 1949.”
When the German bombardment began, the ancient Boroughs of Southwark and Bermondsey were well in the target area, and the Horselydown brewhouse next to Tower Bridge was well in the centre of the target. In spite of the fact that the residential population of Southwark had been declining between the wars and war-evacuation had taken place, nearly a thousand people were killed by enemy bombardment. The brewery itself was hit. The roof of the brewhouse was completely stripped and the river wall was shattered. But the Victorian builders had done their job well and the old structure held the waters of the Thames.
Before the bombs fell the buildings at Horselydown, dating from the fire of 1891, were due for reconstruction. Owing to the post-war building restrictions the new brewhouse was not completed until 1954. In the following year two neighbours, who for some 200 years had been friendly rivals - sometimes in the tradition of the trade helping each other out in times of trouble - merged their interests. Courages joined forces with Barclay Perkins of the famous Anchor Brewery just up river above London Bridge. Generations of individuals from these two concerns have known each other well. The first John Perkins, for instance, must have been familar with John Courage the first and recognised a forthright man and a force to be reckoned with. In the history of Southwark and London brewing, the interests of these two great concerns had always mingled. From 1955 they coincided to become a potent force.
Something of the forthrightness of the first John Courage lingers on in his own handwriting now framed in Southwark Bridge Road: “You are too contemptable (for a man) to be offended with. But you deserve no pity for you ought to do us better. I know its beneath me to use (from) you a quotation. But as it does not suit Shad Thames I return it from whence it came being more suitable to the original. You may be affronted and be Damn’d you Carnot”.