by Neil Chippendale, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 14 (2005)
Brentford’s Royal Brewery was famous not only for the high quality of its products but also because it had the unique distinction of being the only brewery in the country to be named by a king of England. The brewery stood at nos 21-27 Brentford High Street, where Waterman’s Park is today.
The brewery’s origins go back to at least 1735 when a Francis Harvest was known to be brewing on the site. By 1774 the brewery was owned by a Thomas Stump. John Newton purchased the site in 1801 and sold it in 1817 to Messrs Thompson of Chiswick. In 1825 it was sold again and run by John Hazard.
Hazard was probably already a partner in the firm of Messrs Booth and Co of Clerkenwell, distillers (Booth’s gin is still a household name) which now owned the brewery. By 1828 the brewery had been renamed the Red Lion Brewery and the premises rebuilt.
The then chairman of Booth and Co was Felix Booth who, in 1817, had purchased the distillery on the north side of Brentford High Street and, in 1819, further property in Brentford. Booth was elected a sheriff of London and Middlesex and was the first Chairman of the Brentford Gas Company.
Christened by a king
Felix Booth also contributed £17,000 towards the 1829 expedition for the discovery of the North West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans by the Arctic explorer, Captain James Ross. Ross credited Felix Booth in the names of some of the new lands he discovered, eg ‘the Boothia peninsula’ and ‘the Gulf of Boothia’. Ross wrote that he had named these areas ‘…after my worthy friend Felix Booth Esq, the truly patriotic citizen of London, who in the most disinterested manner, enabled me to equip the expedition in a superior style’.
For aiding the expedition Booth was granted a baronetcy by King William IV, who expressed a wish, following a visit to the brewery, for its title to be altered to the ‘Royal Brewery’ and conferred the brewery’s right to use and display the Royal Coat of Arms (these were later transferred to the Anchor Brewery in Southwark). According to a letter in the National Archives William IV christened the brewery himself by breaking a bottle of wine on the wall of the counting house.
Bought by Ballard
Felix Booth died in 1850 and by 1852 the brewery had passed to Carrington & Whitehurst. By 1861 it was owned by Gibbon & Croxford with Richard Gibbon as Chairman.
In 1879 an advertisement in The Times gave preliminary notification of the sale of the brewery. The advertisement stated the modern brewery was a going concern and had a residence on site with stabling and a river frontage that afforded excellent water carriage. It also stated that the company operated 40 tied pubs and beer houses in and around Brentford (these included the White Horse and the George and Dragon). The brewery also had valuable building land at Teddington, Hounslow and Ealing. In 1880 it was bought by Montague Ballard, a Maidstone hop grower and the brewery was incorporated as a limited company in August 1890. This was achieved with a rights issue to the value of £200,000. Profits in the company continued to grow through the 1880s from £17,000 in 1887 to £24,000 in 1890.
Soon after purchasing the company Montague Ballard became involved in a long running court case with a local landlord, a Mr Tomlinson. Tomlinson was the owner of a group of five terrace houses with shopfronts between Pottery and Distillery Roads. Ballard accused Tomlinson of polluting the water the brewery used for brewing and so harming his business. In court it was proved that the water flowing from the cesspits on Tomlinson’s properties came from the same source as the Royal Brewery’s water and from approximately the same depth, 300 feet. The case was heard in 1882 and judgement was passed down in March 1883. The Court found in favour of Mr Tomlinson even though the pollution was identified as coming from Tomlinson’s well. Ballard appealed. The appeal was heard in August 1883 and Ballard lost again although he did get permission to clean out the sewage in Tomlinson’s well and to block up the wall to prevent further seepage. This case raised many important issues regarding water quality in London as it set a legal precedent by allowing the pollution of London’s underground water by companies and individuals.
By the early years of the 20th century the Royal Brewery was reporting a continuous growth in profits. This was, according to the chairman, because the company ‘sent out really good pure beer’. A description of the brewery, contained in a profile of Brentford firms in about 1905, describes it thus: ‘the brewery together with its bottling stores has a prominent frontage to High Street, Brentford, extending down to the river, where there is a landing wharf available for loading and unloading goods and materials conveyed by water to and from the premises….’
The profile also mentions an innovation made by the brewery: ‘…the firm can certainly claim in a recently introduced speciality that they are far ahead of most breweries, and in the production of the Royal Light Bitter Ale have placed on the market a unique novelty in the form of an absolutely non deposit beer. The process of manufacture may be described as an entirely new departure in the brewing industry, being practically an amalgamation of the American and German lager beer principles. This beer is specially brewed for supplying the family trade in bottles…’
In 1914 the company lost its Vice-Chairman, Charles Arthur Dingwell, who died in the sinking of the Lusitania. In 1916 the Chairman was complaining about the restrictions placed on brewers due to the First World War. This included a forced reduction in output. It was estimated that the company would have to reduce output by 15% based on the previous year’s barrelage. Ballard also complained about the increase in beer tax at a time when the company’s beer trade had declined by 26%.
After the war ended the company reported a return to record profits although, due to restrictions placed on the company during the war, the brewery’s estate was in need of maintenance as was the brewery. Ballard informed the City in 1919 that the company was faced with a ‘big expenditure on this account’. The brewery was said to be cramped and the plant was ‘inadequate’ for the company’s ‘present and future requirements’. At the company’s AGM Ballard raised the possibility of relocating to a new site and making a profit on the sale of the brewery site. He also informed the meeting that the company was already looking at possible sites, although none were mentioned.
By the next year the company had decided to remain on the original site as it had purchased an adjoining site with an additional frontage of 80 feet and a depth of 130 feet. This, according to the Chairman, would allow for the necessary expansion.
At the Annual General Meeting of 1921 Montague Ballard, in his address, informed the shareholders, again, that the brewery needed to expand and the only way this could be achieved was by relocating. The Chairman also informed the gathering that the company had tried to amalgamate with a neighbouring brewery, although he didn’t say which one. By this period all the lesser breweries in Brentford had closed or been taken over. This included the Beehive Brewery in Catherine Wheel Yard, which was taken over by Fullers in 1908. Ballard didn’t explain why the expansion plans for the present site had been shelved.
At the 1922 AGM Montague Ballard announced his retirement and the purchase of a large shareholding in The Royal Brewery (Brentford) Ltd by the brewers Style & Winch of Maidstone. This brought with it 102 pubs and off licences. Style & Winch was involved in the takeover of a number of breweries between 1905 and 1924.
Brewing on the site ceased almost immediately and the beer was supplied by Style & Winch under a formal agreement. The brewery was closed on 2 June 1923 and all the plant and machinery sold. Around 1926, the buildings were demolished and the site incorporated into the Brentford Gas Works, although the pubs still traded under the Royal Brewery name.
Although no longer brewing the company continued as a separate entity until 1953 when the brewer Barclay, Perkins & Co, which had taken over Style & Winch in 1929 and was the share holder in the Royal Brewery, took full control of the company.
The name was still in existence in 1957 when the Courage Brewery, which merged with Barclay, Perkins & Co Ltd in 1955, produced a Commemoration Ale under the Royal Brewery Brentford label. This commemorated the 1827 discovery of the North West Passage.
Today two pubs are known to have part of the company’s name etched into the building fabric. The Albany Arms in Brentford has RBC (Royal Brewery Company) above the corner entrance and the Jolly Maltster, off Fulham Broadway, has three panels with raised stone lettering which refer to the brewery.
The Royal Brewery, Brentford Ltd is still registered as a company but dormant. The name is owned by a company based in Staines, Middlesex.
The Times, Labologists Society website, Brewery History Society website, Brentford Past by Gillian Clegg
Neil Chippendale was Local Studies Librarian for the London Borough of Hounslow for 12 years. He moved to Australia six years ago and now works as Local Historian and Archivist for Hornsby Shire Council in New South Wales.