'Too much Southwark Ale'
- Brewing and the hop industry
Southwark has been famous for its inns and brewers since medieval times.
Chaucer's Miller, in The Canterbury Tales says:
If the words get muddled in my tale,
Just put it down to too much Southwark ale.
The area was ideal for brewing, as there was a plentiful water supply from the tide streams that fed the Thames, a large, cheap labour-force, Hops coming in by road from Kent (where they are still grown) and many other necessary industries established in the area such as cooperages (where barrels were made) and glasshouses (where bottles were manufactured).
The local leather industry supplied the raw materials for bridles and saddles for the dray horses. The Industry employed draymen, who delivered the beer in noisy, un-sprung carts drawn by huge 'dray' horses, malt-porters who carried in the sacks of malt and the 'bottling girls'. Other important allied trades were those of hop factoring and malt and hop selling.
The Barclay Perkins brewery which occupied a large site between Park Street and Anchor Terrace was once the largest in London and had had a long history even by Victorian times. It originated in 1710 as a supplier of beer to the army and later was owned by Mr and Mrs. Ralph Thrale, friends of the great Dr. Johnson. Before the brewery closed down in the 1980s you could smell the hops as you walked by the river. Click here for reminiscences of Park Street.
'Of the great brewhouse itself.The dimensions of the room are so vast, the brewing utensils reach to such a height, and the pumps, pipes, rods, and other apparatus are so thickly arranged on every side.In the first place the reader must imagine a room nearly equalling Westminster Hall in magnitude, built entirely of iron and brick.'.
Days in the Factories (1843).
The author goes on to describe vats big enough to dip a house in, and a curious old burial ground ('Dead Man's Place') that the brewery had encroached upon, where some of the 'old hands' who had worked in the brewery were buried. The brewery had fine stables for 200 dray horses, and a steam driven machine to crush the horse feed. The vet, who lived on the premises, had an on-site laboratory and there was even room for a harness-maker's and blacksmith's shop.
In the 1840s the river Thames was becoming seriously polluted because 'water closets', which drained into the sewers, were becoming increasingly popular in wealthier areas. However, little was known about the 'mode of communication' of many diseases, and so we should not be surprised to read that.The water used for brewing is that of the river Thames, pumped up by means of a steam-engine through a large iron main.'. Beer made with Thames water was, of course, safer to drink than the untreated water itself because of the high temperatures used during brewing.