Anchor Brewery

The Anchor Tavern on Bankside and Anchor Terrace on Southwark Bridge Road are two reminders we have today of the Anchor Brewery, at one time the largest and most famous of London breweries. Its grounds extended from Southwark Bridge to about halfway along the river towards London Bridge, and southwards to what is now Southwark Street. An example of Victorian industrialisation and expansion, in 1748 it produced nearly 56,000 barrels of beer, by 1875 nearly ten times that amount.

Southwark ale was famous even in medieval times as the Miller, in Chaucers Canterbury Tales, describes how he is dronke with the ale of Southwark. In the 16th century, refugees from the low countries, escaping religious and political persecution, settled in Southwark and many established themselves as brewers. They improved upon the quality of the British ale by the addition of hops which produced beer and set up breweries near to the river convenient for the supply of water and transport. In 1530, to ensure a free supply of water from the Thames, 9 brewers joined together to take a lease on St Mary Overie Dock from the Priory of St Mary Overie and the Bishop of Winchester. The purity of the Thames in those days was


reflected by the abundance of such fish as whitebait, eels and salmon. Early Bankside breweries included Crosses Red Lion Brewery, Nicholsons and John Smyth who had premises in Montague close, and the Vine which was close to Bank End.

In 1616, James Monger founded a brewery on a site that abutted on to Deadmans Place, next to the still-flourishing Globe Theatre. James Monger died in 1657 and left the brewery to his son James Monger Junior who sold it to Josiah Child. Josiah Child was a member of the Grocers Company and by conducting the Art and Mistery of Brewing he was in breach of the Livery Companies protectionist regulations for the practise of brewing was only allowed by members of the Company of Brewers. It was a serious offence, and Child had to transfer to the Company of Brewers. Edmund Halsey managed the brewery for Child and became a partner in 1694, possibly as part of a dowry arrangement as he married Childs daughter Ann shortly afterwards. Halsey and his wife Ann inherited the brewery when Child died in 1696 and the brewery was very successful under his ownership and began its expansion by buying up a least one other brewery in the vicinity.

Halseys nephew Ralph Thrale came to work at his uncles brewery and, after Halseys death, bought the brewery some time before 1731 from Halseys daughter and son-in-law. Ralph Thrale continued to expand the brewery and bought a plot at Bank End where he built a waterworks to supply the brewery. However, instead of ploughing profits back into the brewery, Ralph Thrale had a lavish lifestyle and at the time of his death in 1758 the assets of the brewery had declined. His son Henry inherited and despite an affluent background was ambitious to become the greatest brewer in London. He married Hester Lynch Salusbury in 1763. Educated and intellectual, she came from an impoverished branch of an aristocratic family, and had little choice but to lose her independence and marry well. Hester and Henry were not well matched and there was little love within the marriage.

The Thrales lived in a mansion on Deadmans Place overlooking the brewery but also had a villa in Streatham, that was then viewed as a country retreat. Mrs Thrale held Thursday salons in Streatham and her wit and vivacity attracted eminent visitors including Boswell, Goldsmith, David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr Johnson. Both Henry and Hester Thrale became very close to Dr Johnson who was given his own room, both in their mansion at Bankside and in Streatham, where he wrote many of his works. He found great stability and nurturing through his friendship with the Thrales, together with stimulating conversations with Mrs Thrale. Dr Johnson and her other visitors in turn provided Mrs Thrale with the intellectual challenge that was missing in her husband.

Henry Thrale proceeded to further his ambitions for the brewery. He bought the site where the Globe had once stood, and, in the other direction, the site where the present Anchor Tavern stands. (A tavern named The Castle had once stood on this site; Stow writing at the end of the 16th Century listed the Castle as one of the Bankside stews.) Henry Thrales expansion was not always founded on good business sense, and some of his schemes were rash, for example, he invested a lot of money into a chemist who attempted to brew a beer without malt or hops.

In 1772 the brewery was in financial difficulty and Dr Johhnson wrote this year will undoubtedly be a year of struggle and difficulty. Much of the credit for the brewery surviving the crisis went to manager John Perkins. He had left his native Durham to make his fortune and had great business ability. Hester too during these difficult years got stuck in, and using a combination of charm and a tenacious sales technique that would be applauded today, obtained orders from former customers who had gone elsewhere; Cardess of the Blue Posts [had] applied to Huckss people who have sent him in beer. I called on him today however, and by dint of unwearied solicitation (for I kept him at the coachside a full half hour) I got his order for six butts more. The brewery received much custom from the local gaols as the beer helped the prisoners while away the tedium and Hester wrote how she was obliged yesterday to go and court a dirty Gaoler. By 1776, the crisis had passed and Dr Johnson prophesised that as we go on we shall double our business."

Henry Thrale died in 1781, and as there was no surviving male heir, the brewery sought a buyer. Dr Johnson was one of the executors and famously wrote that the executors were not there to sell a parcel of boilers and vats but the potentiality of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. His personal hopes of marrying the widowed Mrs Thrale were denied when she married an Italian musician, Gabriel Piozzi, in 1884. This time it was a marriage based on love and now she had the freedom to become a writer herself as she no longer felt her own intellect was swallowed up by Johnsons.

The brewery found a buyer for 135,000 in Robert Barclay, a city merchant, who had the backing of his uncle David Barclay, a prominent member of the banking family. Robert Barclay was shrewd enough to offer a partnership to brewery manager John Perkins who was assisted by the former Mrs Thrale in raising the capital necessary to buy into the company.

In 1784, the brewery obtained the first of two steam engines and it was at about this time it became known as the Anchor Brewery. By 1795 the brewerys market was truly international:

[The Brewery] exports annually very large quantities, so far extended are its commercial connections that Thrales Intire is well known, as a delicious beverage from the frozen regions of Russia to the burning sands of Bangal and Sumatra. The Empress of all Russia is indeed so partial to porter that she has ordered repeatedly by very large quantities for her own drinking and that of her Court [which] became known as Russian Imperial Stout.(Concanen and Morgan, 1795)

Before the introduction of Intire, customers in a tavern bought three brews from three different barrels which were mixed in the customers glass at time of purchase. Intire combined the three blends in the barrel before it was delivered.

Disaster struck in 1832 when a fire caused much devastation, not just to the brewery but also to the surrounding district. It spread 250 feet and 1,000 barrels of beer burst over the firemen. New buildings were quickly built and the brewery that covered six acres in 1814 covered 10 acres in 1835. Many streets disappeared as a result. One of these was Deadmans Place where there had previously been a non-conformist meeting house, almshouses and a burial ground, possibly even further back it had been used as a plague pit. As the size of the brewery increased, so too did the scale of brewing. In an issue dated 25 August 1847 the London Illustrated News wrote that when the brewery was owned by Henry Thrale it did not brew more than one-twelfth of what was brewed in 1847. When the journalist visited the brewhouse, he became aware of just how large scale the brewing is when looking upwards, whenever the steamy vapour permits, there may be seen at various heights, stages, platforms, and flights of stairs, all subsidiary to the cyclopean piles of brewing vessels, which reach from the ground to a great height.

A later visitor to the brewery in 1872 describes how the various buildings are bridged by light iron bridges that look slight as spider-webs from the pavements [the departments] follow in well considered sequence, the mashing, the boiling, the cooking, the fermenting, the cleansing, the barrel-fillings, the storing, the despatching with a sustaining aroma holding all in one atmosphere of which keeps the mind in an unbroken train of thought even when contemplating the stables where the famous horses are kept as daintily as in the Royal Mews.

There was stabling for about 200 horses who pulled the drays that delivered the barrels of beer. There was a house and laboratory for the vet not far from the stables and also accommodation for sick horses, a blacksmiths and workshops for harness makers. Horses were not the only animals called into service for the great brewery enterprise as there was also a colony of 45 cats that kept the numbers of mice and rats down.

Working in a brewery had both its perks and its side effects. William Rendle, writing in 1888, a former Medical Officer of Health for the St George the Martyr vestry, describes the draymen as follows:

The draymen and horses at Barclays were, and I suppose are, fine specimens of their kind; the horses were wonders in size and appearance. The draymen were in my time mostly regular soakers; some more, some less. I attended many of them, notably one gigantic man, for erysipelas*, and as it was needful I should know, so as to guide my treatment, how much he took daily, I asked him. Why, you see, sir, said he, that I am one of the oldest of the men who go with the drays, and so my journeys are the short ones. I get a little drink at each place (besides what we get at the brewery) beer and a drop of gin or what not. How much altogether? I asked. About three gallons of beer in the day perhaps, and a little gin now and then besides. I could scarcely see how he managed to take it all down, but that was what he said. My practical conclusion was, Well, to get you over the erysipelas you must go on much the same. He recovered. I must say the men, so far as the shell was concerned, were often as fine as the horses, but there was a dreamy muddled look about the eyes, and they had a shambling sort of walk. This was many years ago; I practised in Southwark nearly fifty years.

*a skin condition.

The brewery had become internationally famous and received many eminent visitors. These included the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), Napoleon III, Tchaikovsky, Bismarck, Garibaldi and Jenny Lind. One visit by Austrian General Haynau caused a diplomatic incident. When the General signed the visitors book the brewery workers recognised him as the man responsible for brutalities in Hungary and Italy and turned on him, angrily chasing him out of the brewery. He managed to take refuge in a tavern until he was rescued by the police.

The brewery's high connections did not put them above the law however. The Times of 1 June 1894 reports:

In 1955, Barclay Perkins merged with rival Courage and in 1962 the site on Bankside became a bottling factory. Courage demolished the buildings in 1981 and sold the site for housing. Before redevelopment, an archaeological excavation revealed extensiveRomanremains. Anchor Terrace, built in 1834 to house senior employees of the brewery and later used as offices is now apartments and Grade II listed which prevents any archaeological excavation of the site where the Globe Playhouseonce stood.

Anchor Plaque

Modern day plaque in Park Street


Henry Thrale. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

Mrs Thrale
anchor brewery 1829

Anchor Brewery 1829

Barclay Perkins2

Illustration by Gustave Dore from London: A Pilgrimage


Anchor Terrace

"At Southwark [Court], Messrs Barclay Perkins & Co, the well known brewers, were summoned for allowing black smoke to issue from one of their shafts. Evidence having been given by Inspector Grist, of St Saviour's Board of Works, a gentleman who repesented the defendants said they used the very best coal and had spent large sums of money on the construction of their furnaces. Mr Kennedy [magistrate] "I shall fine the firm 5. I cannot fine them less; it would be an insult to them." (Loud laughter.)"

Take Courage


B W Cockes and L W Cooke, Three Centuries: The History of our Ancient, Brewery Barclay, Perkins & Co (1951) London
Matthew Concanen and Aaron Morgan, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of St Saviours, Southwark(1795) Southwark
Sir Howard Roberts and Walter H. Godfrey (eds) 'Bankside',Survey of London: volume 22: (1950) London
Blanchard Jerrold and Gustave Dore, London: A Pilgrimage (1872) London
William Rendle,The Old Inns of Southwark and their Associations(1888) London
London Illustrated News 'A visit to Messrs. Barclay and Perkins Brewery' (25 August 1847)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: 'Hester Lynch Piozzi' and 'Henry Thrale'