The Anchor Brewery, now (1971) administrative headquarters of the Courage Group, had been, under various names and ownerships, an established feature of Southwark for several centuries before Mr. David Barclay and Mr. John Perkins acquired possession. Like Courage and Noakes, they took over a concern which characteristically had changed hands through the years but which had deep roots in the Borough’s brewing tradition which had mingled with literary history since the time of Chaucer. Indeed, a bronze tablet let into a wall in Park Street (unveiled by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree in 1909) records the fact that the present brewery occupies the site of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
It was a few years after the first Globe with its thatched roof was burnt down that James Monger, a “Citizen and Cloth-worker of London” started a brewhouse on a site adjoining the rebuilt playhouse. It continued under the proprietorship of the Mongers until 1665.
By the time the next owner, Josiah, sometimes called James Child, appears, Shakespeare’s playhouse had already vanished but the Hope Theatre was still opening its doors in Southwark.
There were also doors in that neighbourhood which were notoriously sinister, still commemorated in the name of Clink Street which adjoins the present brewery buildings. “Clink” became a synonym for all prisons everywhere because of the reputation of the Clink Prison which Stow described as in- carcerating “such as should brabble, frey or break the Peace on the banke, or in the Brothell houses”, but which was also used for the imprisonment and execution of the victims of religious persecution under both Mary and Elizabeth.
An entry in the public records in April 1666 states: “The King to the Brewer’s Company, and recommends Josiah Child, merchant of London. who has done faithful service in supplying the navy with beer. and has bought a brewhouse in Southwark to brew for the household and navy, for admission as a free brother of the same company, for the same fee as the late Timothy Alsop the king’s brewer paid..."
Like John Courage at Horselvdown, Child fancied a nautical symbol because of his connection with shipping and during his ownership the brewhouse became known as the Anchor. He supplied the navy with masts, yards and bowsprits as well as stores and beer. His partner during this period, was a Bankside neighbour, John Shorter, who became Lord Mayor of London, and had John Bunyan - author of Pilgrim’s Progress - as his unofficial Chaplain.
King Charles granted two brewing licenses to the Anchor in 1690 and these, with their bulky seals, have been preserved. By the turn of the century the concern was prospering. The Cash Bulletin for the years 1693 to 1702 shows sums varying from £40 to £100 a week paid to the Excise Authorities. A significant entry in the wages list was the name of Edmund Halsey who, at that time was drawing 20/-d a week. Halsey’s was one of the most spectacular success stories in brewing. He was the son of a St. Albans miller who had come to seek his fortune in London after quarrelling with his father. He started at Southwark as a brewhouse labourer and thence rose to be Chief Clerk. No doubt, Josiah Child, much preoccupied with his shipping interests, regarded the brewery as just a useful diversification and was glad of the services of young Edmund Halsey to take the routine work off his hands.
In less than two years after his first appearance as a wage-earner, young Edmund had not only been taken into partnership but had married one of his master’s daughters. From 1693 onwards he took over the business and ran it very efficiently. Regular sums of £100 a week, large amounts in those days, were paid to Excise Duty. In May 1695 both he and Child drew £400 each out of the business as distribution of profits. Edmund was a complete professional. Apart from his managerial salary he drew a further weekly sum as brewer. He was also wise to fringe benefits; his “rideing horse at the Livery Stables” was chargeable to the brewery.
Less than ten years after his first modest appearance at £1 a week in the firm’s accounts, he was lending £1,000 to the King. As he prospered during the reign of William and Mary his expenditure, all carefully recorded, ranged from the shrewd to the lavish. In 1700, for instance, he lent small sums to Thomas Winnett and Richard Clarke - a marginal note explains that these were Excise Officers. He paid large sums for new coppers and buildings for the brewhouse and no doubt these included the extension of the business over the site of Shakespeare’s playhouse. Significantly, in 1702 his personal expenditure included such items as “Man’s livery, new sadle and bridle, wine for Hunt, long wigs and short wigs, shoes, shirts and books and schooling for Tho. Halsey”.
He was in fact sole proprietor of the brewery until 1701. Child had died in 1696 leaving his interest to his widow, and Halsey paid a substantial weekly sum to his mother-in-law until her death. During the first decade of the century he amassed great wealth. During the second decade he established his social position. In 1710 he stood for Parliament but was defeated. When his opponent died, however, he was returned “in his room” and as Member for Southwark. This was challenged. In January 1711 there was a petition to the House complaining that Halsey’s return had been achieved by bribery and other indirect practices and that it was due to the partiality of the High Bailiff. The House resolved “that Edmund Halsey is not duly elected” and also “ that the said Henry Martin, Esq. (the Bailiff) be for the said offence taken into custody of the Sergeant at Arms attending this House”. Later Halsey fought two successful elections and represented in Southwark on and off for about ten years. He followed the practice of other successful citizens of the Borough by acquiring agricultural land and a country seat. He was described in the parish records as “Lord ofthe Manor” at Stoke Poges where he was buried on his death in 1729. His will assigned not only the property in Southwark but farms at Orpington and Boughton Monchelsea and properties at Newington, Camberwell, Croydon and Mitcham. The boy Thomas, whose schooling was mentioned in the accounts in 1702, died young as did his brother James. His only daughter, Anne, was successfully married off into the peerage to Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham, friend of Alexander Pope, and creator of the great gardens at Stowe. When public affairs and his manifold interests were taking up much of his time, Halsey having no Sons to follow him, like Child before him brought a young man into the business. This was Ralph Thrale, a Hertfordshire nephew described as “a good-looking fellow and as industrious as he was comely”.
Ralph Thrale, died 1758
This nephew was kept in this place. Dr. Johnson, who later was intimately connected with the Thrales, wrote that this Ralph “worked at six shillings a week for twenty years in the great brewery which afterwards was his own”. In fact, Ralph Thrale did not acquire the Anchor Brewery by inheritance. He learnt the business and did very well but managed to put his uncle’s nose out of joint domestically. Edmund Halsey’s wife had died soon after Ralph’s arrival in Southwark. When Ralph took a wife his choice unfortunately fell upon the lady whom his uncle was contemplating as a second Mrs. Halsey. The uncle seems to have accepted the situation without complaint at the time but on his death there was no mention of Ralph in his Will. Lord and Lady Cobham inherited the brewery; failing issue of their marriage the property was to go to Ralph’s sister, Anna. Clearly, Ralph Thrale, who had managed the business so successfully, was the only man in a position to continue to run it, and it was agreed that he should pay for it by instalments. The purchase price was £30,000 (a hundred years previously it had changed hands for £400) and it took him eleven years to pay off the money. But if he had not inherited the property he possessed all and more of his uncle’s abilities as a brewer and as a public figure. He soon established himself as a man of wealth and influence. He became High Sheriff of Surrey and followed his uncle as M.P. for Southwark. He continued to live in the borough although he and his family frequented fashionable and political circles across the river. His daughter married Sir John Lades who was connected with Thomas Guy, the founder of the hospital. His son Henry went to Eton and Oxford and was encouraged by an allowance of £1,000 a year and Grand Tours in Europe to develop wide interests and liberal tastes. On Ralph Thrale’s death in 1758 Henry inherited what was described as “enormous” wealth and Thrale’s Brewery. Moreover, he had married one of the most talented, articulate and astonishing women of the century, Hester Salusbury; niece of Sir Thomas Salusbury of Offley, Hertfordshire, the village from which his father Ralph had emerged as a poor relation.
The marriage, the money, the upbringing, political ambitions, and a taste for culture might have combined to induce some men to abandon the brewing of beer in Southwark, however profitable, or to leave it to others. But Henry Thrale stuck to his brewing from the time of his inheritance in 1759 until his death in 1781. In spite of the fact that he was surrounded by the most brilliant company of his time with a wife determined to outshine them all, he followed his father as Sheriff of Surrey and Member for Southwark. He was a conscientious if indifferent brewer and a wildly imprudent man of business. Dr. Samuel Johnson, who became his close friend and sometimes adviser in 1764, and subsequently the dominant figure in Mrs. Thrale’s salons, said of him “although in affluent circumstances, he had good sense enough to carry on his father’s trade”. James Boswell extended the Doctor’s quotation: “I remember he once told me he would not quit it for an annuity of ten thousand a year; not, said he, that I get ten thousand a year by it, but it is an estate to my family”. At the time of that remark Thrale was brewing some 30,000 barrels of beer annually.
12. Henry Thrale, who owned the Anchor Brewery from 1759 to 1781 13. Mrs Hester Thrale, Hnery's wife and confidante of Dr. Samuel Johnson, until her re-marriage to Piozzi 14. Reynolds portrait of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who played a direct part in the policy and administration of the Anchor Brewery
Throughout their reign, Henry and Hester Thrale occupied a spacious house within the brewery at Southwark and there, in the course of time, Dr. Johnson had his own quarters and indeed did much of his work, using a chair which is still preserved. The Thrales had a country seat at Streatham which was much preferred to Southwark, but the obligation of maintaining a residence within the confines of the brewery was always observed. Mrs. Thrale, whose writings leave little unrevealed, made this point in recording with her usual candour, the nature of her marriage of convenience to Mr. Thrale (of whom she bore eleven children): “for as I never was a fond Wife, so I certainly never was a Jealous one; I soon saw that I was married from prudential Motives, as a passive, tho’ well born & educated Girl; who would be contented to dwell in the Borough, which other Women had refused to do; & my Husband, whose heart was set upon his Business, had it seems always insisted on..."
From the time of her marriage at St. Anne’s Church, Soho, in 1763 till Henry’s death and the subsequent disposal of the brewery in 1781, Hester, while maintaining herself at the height of fashion was dutifully and from time to time deeply involved in the business at Southwark. Being a remarkably articulate writer and an observant, although often prejudiced reporter, she left records of a period of management which was unique in brewing history.
Samuel Johnson became acquainted with the Thrales soon after their marriage. He had a room set aside for him at Streatham as well as at Southwark, and the Thrale household became a second home in which he revelled in unwonted physical comfort and in which his melancholy was eased by the exuberant company of Hester. This remarkable intimacy was not confined to culture; the Doctor became closely and shrewdly connected with the affairs of the brewery.
Early in their acquaintance, according to Mrs. Thrale; “Doctor Samuel Johnson advised me to get a little Book, and write in it all the little Anecdotes which might come to my knowledge ...“. She was 35 years old and had been married thirteen years when Mr. Thrale gave her six handsome blank books bound in calf, each bearing on its cover a red label stamped in gold with the title ‘Thraliana’, and it is from the pages of these journals and from her own pungent footnotes that we witness much of the intimate life of the Southwark Brewery in those days.
The Thrales, for instance, in spite of their wealth and eminence in society, were not at all ashamed of Ralph Thrale’s humble background. On a visit to Hertfordshire they discovered an old aunt who told the story as it has been outlined in these pages but enlivened by Hester’s pen as she noted it all down in Thraliana. Her account characteristically winds up with her own introduction to her future husband: “... hers & her Brother’s Uncle was a Miller’s Boy at St. Albans, Edmund Halsey by Name; that he quarrel’d with his Master the Miller, & strolled to London. (with 4/6d only in his pocket), where he got into Child’s Brewhouse & worked at their Mill; till by Degrees he was advanced to places of higher Trust & honor in the Trade; that he had not been long prefer’d to the Comptinghouse where he was Clerk, before his Master’s only Child & Daughter cast her Eyes upon him, & in process of Time married him: that the Father resolving to make the best on’t, & finding him useful in the Business, took him as a Partner, & in time dying left him & his Wife the Brewhouse - their Inheritance. That Halsey now at the Head of a prosperous Trade began thinking of his poor Relations in the Country; more willingly perhaps as his Lady brought him no Children but a pair of Twins, the eldest of which dy’d. & the youngest was sought in Marriage for her very great Fortune by Ld Viscount Cobham who laid out Stowe Gardens - is celebrated by Mr. Pope &c. and who had by her no Children at all. Her Father therefore Mr. Halsey sent to Offley in Hertfordshire, not many miles from St. Albans, to know what Progeny his Sister had, who was married to one Ralph Thrale a Cottager in that Village of Offley; upon this Enquiry herself, (who told the Story) & her Brother - my Mr. Thrale’s Father — were discovered; She was left behind, but her Brother, whose name was Ralph too; was carried to Town to be made a Man of by his Uncle Edmund Halsey who did not however as I have heard treat him very kindly - tho’ he made a Will in his Favour which he afterwards cancelled too, because the poor young Fellow had married a Wench that Halsey wanted to have for his own Pleasure. Notwithstanding all this, and many more Acts of Tyranny - Ralph Thrale, by a Spirit of usefulness & Diligence; and making himself necessary to his Uncle, who found no other Relation he had, half so tractable; got into Lucrative Posts in the Brewhouse, & between borrowing & buying - after Old Halsey’s Death obtained Money to purchase, & soon found himself in Possession of the whole: he bought likewise an Estate in Surrey, another in Oxfordshire, provided for his Sister, who told the Story; - & was married to a rich Farmer old Ralph Smith of Saint Albans - and educated his Son & three Daughters quite in a high Style. - The Son he wisely connected with the Cobhams & their Relations - Greenvilles, Lytteltons, & Pitts to whom he lent Money & they lent Assistance of every kind. — so that My Mr. Thrale was bred up at Stowe & Stoke. and Oxford, and every genteel Place; had been abroad with Lord Westcote, whose Expenses of old Thrale chearfully paid I suppose; & who was thus a kind of Tutour to the young Man, who had not failed to profit by these Advantages & who was when he came down to Offley to see his Father’s Birthplace, a very handsome and well accomplished Gentleman. - My Mother soon said this was the Man for me to marry, the only man She said so of; my Uncle in his awkward way said he saw no young Fellow upon the plan of that young Fellow, that he was a real Sportsman, and such sort of Stuff; but I soon saw clearly they were both mad for the Match. "
Henry Thrale constantly worried over his business, but he gave himself very readily to every kind of diversion. He kept foxhounds, the extravagance of which was criticised by Johnson, and mistresses - the acceptance of which was regarded by Mrs. Thrale with great indulgence. He was involved with a waterworks at Southwark originally planned to supply the Anchor with fresh water but which got into difficulties. He and his wife paid frequent visits to the socially acceptable resorts of Bath, Tunbridge Wells and Brighton. At Streatham there was always lavish entertainment. At Southwark Thrale gave regular dinners on Thursdays. One of his guests has left a note of the Menu: “First course, soups at head and foot, removed by fish and a saddle of mutton: second course, a fowl they called Galena at head, and a capon larger than some of our Irish turkeys at foot: third course, four different sorts of ices, pineapple, grape, and raspberry: and a fourth. In each remove, there were, I think, fourteen dishes, the two first served in massy plate”. Then there was a special dinner at the Brewery in May 1773 attended by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Johnson, Goldsmith, Garrick and Burke. The table on this occasion was laid in one of the new brewing coppers and the principal dish was beefsteak dressed at the furnace.
Small wonder that from time to time there were financial crises. 1772 was a particularly bad year. It began serenely enough for Mrs. Thrale: “I was grown fond of my Poultry my Dairy &c. & had now no other Desire than that of sitting down safely & quietly at Streatham to which of late I had rather begun to attach myself". There were clouds, however. First, because her mother seemed to be dying of cancer, then because of the behaviour of Mr. Thrale. Her account of this includes one of her immortal footnotes, here added to the text in brackets:- “Mr. Thrale had for some Time appeared pensive and gloomy - when I asked the Cause, he told me it was something relative to his Business: I grew more inquisitive & he told me that it was the bad Hops he had bought the year before which had spoyl’d all his Beer: I would have laughed at this, but found the Business too serious, and indeed he lost all Sleep & Appetite so fast that it alarmed me; (I was big with Child — as I almost always am. Mrs. Thrale.), the more, as Fordyce had lately broke, & cast a Cloud somehow over all the Commercial World. Nesbitt too had I heard been somewhat singed, & I concluded tho’ I said nothing - that our Misfortune was of the same kind, however, bad Beer might be the Pretence to Me. well but said I methinks if the Beer is really bad, you should send for Jackson to cook it; he turned from me upon these Words in an Agony I could not then comprehend, but recovered himself so far as to bid me say nothing to my Mother, or to any living Soul of what he had told me. One whole Week I passed therefore in silent Sorrow & Amazement, at the End of which he told us all himself - I mean my Mother & Dr. Johnson, & begged for Counsel & Comfort. We gave him what Counsel & Comfort we could; My Mother said She had 2 or 3 Thousand Pounds at his Service - it was her all, but She could live on her Annuity, which if Things came to the worst we should share with her. If Sir Thos would but dye She said, as he had no Sons; we should be sure of the Welch Estate, & there was hopes of the Hertfordshire one. Johnson drove me to Town; insisted on my talking to the Clerks authoritatively, & knowing how & why this Calamity had fallen on us: my Mothers Delicacy was blunted about the Trade, and when I came to examine into Things, what was my Astonishment to hear that the Enemy & the Adversary was that wicked Haman! Jackson had perswaded my Master to buy the bad Hops, Jackson had taught him to brew without Malt; Jackson had made him build a Copper to boyl Timber in, at an immense Expense, & all the Timber boil’d in it was rotten. Jackson had his Confidence so completly that none of his own Clerks durst speak to him, they therefore resolved to depart. I now tried first to conciliate the necessary People about the Brewhouse, who declared they would not live with Mr. Thrale, but they would do anything for me; only says They Madam get rid of that Fiend! he will entirely ruin your whole Family else. I did so, and we soon began to understand each other. Money was raised, the Beer was mended, our whole Conduct in the management of our Trade was changed, and we grew prosperous, and loved each other. - Women have a manifest Advantage over Men in the doing Business; everything smooths down before them, & to be a Female is commonly sufficient to be successful, if She has a little spirit & a little common Sense.”
Dr. Johnson, of course, was in the thick of things. He urged economies foreseeing “a year of struggle and difficulty.” Though he was in no way financially involved, he by this time identified himself so completely with the Thrales’ interests that he wrote “the first consequence of our late trouble ought to be an endeavour to brew at a cheaper cost ... unless this can be done, nothing can help us.” During this crisis the business was in debt to the tune of about £130,000 but by reorganisation, and improved management this deficit was completely cleared in the course of the following nine years.