by Stephen Hine, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 13 (2004)
When travelling around the Hogarth Roundabout one sees a tower of purple brick with the words Lamb Brewery at its top. Many assume this is part of the Fuller, Smith and Turner brewery next door, but a closer look at the tower reveals that it also says Sich & Co, for it is, in fact the principal remaining structure of a brewery that at the height of its prosperity in the late 19th century rivalled its more famous neighbour. Closed since 1920 the history of Sich is little known. From the records that survive one can piece together only a tantalising glimpse of its story.
The origins of the brewery are unclear with both Sich and Fuller claiming that each began with the brewhouse at Bedford House, Chiswick Mall, that was making beer in the 17th century. The Sich family say that in the late 18th century a Sich married a daughter of Bedford House occupants, the Tookey family, and thereby effectively inherited the brewery which was to become Sich. However, it is also known that by 1701 Thomas Mawson operated a brewery at Bedford House. He sold it to the Thompson family who sold it to Fullers in 1816. Whilst the Fuller connections are better documented, there is still credence to the notion that the Sich family had a link to the Bedford House brewery.
What is known is that by 1790 John Sich purchased the Lamb Brewery from a group of people including the Thrale family who continued to operate a substantial brewery in Southwark. Later Sichs had Thrale in their names, indicating that the two families sealed their business dealings through marriage.
In 1809 John Sich, and his son John, and Henry Sich (whether brother or son of the elder John Sich is unclear) formed a partnership as ‘common brewers’. This meant they produced beer but did not retail it in public houses. A decade later that partnership was dissolved and replaced by one of John Sich Junior and Henry Sich. Each invested £4,000 in the new business of brewer, maltster and coal merchant, and each was permitted to take up to £20 a month profit from the business as well as an additional 5% per annum. The elaborate partnership document in the London Metropolitan Archives refers to their assets as including vats and tuns (brewing equipment), carriages, boats and barges. River craft would have been essential for the delivery of raw materials such as barley, hops and coal. Indeed it is perhaps not so surprising that Sich was also a coal merchant, given that it would have had to buy in a considerable amount to power the brewery. Coal and other goods would have been landed at the drawdock on Chiswick Mall.
This partnership was renewed for another 20 years in 1840. Records of 1867 show that a mortgage was taken out on the stables, brewery yard, dray shed, orchards and mill-house. With the death of Henry Sich in 1869 another partnership was set up valued at £14,174.17s.5d by William Thrale Sich, Francis Sich, and Arthur John Sich. In 1888 Alexander John Sich, wine merchant of the Adelphi, brother of William and Francis, joined the partnership.
Later that year Sich became a limited company, Sich & Co Ltd, as the expected expansion of the business required new capital. Owners of shares were still family members and included Willian Thrale Sich of Ealing, Francis, Arthur John and Alexander of Norfolk House, Chiswick Mall, John Henry son of William, Alfred, son of Francis and of Burlington Lane, and Henry Wyndham Sich of Bedford House and brother of Arthur. Alexander would be the last Sich brewer. Total capitilisation was £200,000.
The graves of some of these partners are in Chiswick Church and cemetery. Monuments in St Nicholas to Henry (died 1868) and his wife Anne (died 1884) refer to them as being benefactors of the Church, assisting in its 19th-century rebuilding. Volunteers clearing the cemetery in 2002 uncovered a gravestone to Francis Sich (died 1902) and his wife, also Anne (died 1924), and five of their children.
Unfortunately no accounts survive for Sich & Co Ltd so we have no idea of its profitability, and any such accounts would have revealed little of its production or products. The area of Old Chiswick expanded considerably in the 19th century, helping to create a large market for Sich beers. Even the poorest drank some form of beer because water was impure and, as home brewing had been replaced by the likes of Sich and Fuller’s commercial production, they would have consumed their products. The fisherman’s cottages of the run down Sluts Hole district by the river were being cleared and new industries such as ship-building, waterworks etc provided a ready supply of drinkers. Owning public houses in other emerging industrial centres in Hammersmith and Brentford gave Sich access to a working class clientele often involved in heavy work. Consumption of beer by such workers was generally high in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Yet Sich was not to survive while its neighbour, Fuller, Smith and Turner, continues to thrive to the present day. We can only speculate as to why Sich did not. Part of the reason may be due to changes in the brewing industry. Laws that had been tight in previous decades had become lax between the 1830s and 1870s but were then tightened again with more controls on who could sell beers. Laws of 1869 and 1872 required all licensees to be registered. Further laws of 1902 and 1904 required licensees to submit proper planning applications. Sich would have benefited from some of these regulations since it had the financial and scale of production efficiency to supply pubs it could afford to purchase and tenant.
However, in conjunction with these changes, the long-standing London System of tenanting pubs was changing. Brewers could now lend to tenants, renting property to them at 5% interest per annum. Landlords were allowed to switch easily between brewers The great recession of the 1880s and 1890s hit publicans hard and many watered down their beer, causing some brewers to threaten to stop the loans. At the same time the large industrialised breweries of Burton-on-Trent, using the railways to bring their products south, increased the competition. London brewers responded by merging to create efficiency and floating on the stock market to raise capital to buy more pubs. Sich certainly appears to have expanded its estate at this time and it did re-capitalise as a limited company, but whether it suffered to the same extent as some other London brewers we cannot say for certain.
During the First World War brewing supplies were harder to obtain and Sich responded by forming a purchasing alliance with Fullers, Isleworth Brewery and the Victoria Brewery, Windsor. During and after the war licensing hours were drastically reduced, and other restrictions were introduced. Some of the heaviest industry in the Chiswick area was closing or moving elsewhere, removing part of Sich’s clientele. All these and other factors could have contributed in unknown proportions to the decision of the Sich family to sell the business. Many brewers shut in this period of consolidation, with owners taking what profit they could from selling up.
The sale of Sich & Co Ltd to the Isleworth Brewery was agreed in 1919 and completed in 1920. Isleworth purchased the right to the Sich name (they did not use it), all machinery, cash and property including 40 pubs, Bedford House, other cottages, shops and even the Manor of Sutton Court. All debts and contracts were taken on and one Sich, George, was made a director of Isleworth. Other family members got shares in the purchasing company and the Sich directors were paid compensation. Documents survive showing that Isleworth Brewery promised to pay existing pensioners and employees pensions and/or annuities of sums varying from £50 to £150 a year.
In 1922 Isleworth was bought by Watney, Coombe, Reid, later Watney, Mann, Truman, later part of Grand Metropolitan and then the current Diageo – but brewing is now limited to Guinness and none is conducted at Isleworth. Brewing at the Lambe Brewery in Chiswick ceased in 1920. Fullers bought the brewery site in 1922 as they wanted space to expand their warehouse capacity. This transaction has led some to conclude mistakenly that Fullers was the purchaser of Sich. Fullers sold the brewery site and other buildings to the Standard Yeast Company in the 1920s (at the same time they sold Bedford House which they had also bought from Isleworth Brewery for £1200!). When Standard Yeast left in the 1952 the buildings were converted into offices, and adjoining properties are now used by tool makers.
The brewing process
The extant ex-brewery building dates from 1901 and the only known picture of the earlier building is an 1876 print entitled The entrance to Chiswick which shows smoking chimneys on the Sich site but no clear representation of the brewery itself. It is likely that in the 19th century it was a low building with each stage of the brewing process undertaken side by side, with a combination of steam power and manual labour used to transfer the ingredients and emerging product from malting to boiling to fermenting to barrelling. This was a basic process little changed over hundreds of years.
Although originally maltsters (processors of barley for brewing) it is likely that by the mid 19th century the malt came from elsewhere, quite possibly Strand-on-the-Green where a number of maltsers operated. As we noted above the draw-dock would have been used to unload cargoes such as coal, malt and hops, carts being laden with supplies from the mooring Thames barges. Water probably came from a borehole on the site – Fullers have a record of there being five or six boreholes extant in the 1920s, one on the Sich site. Hops would have come from Kent, and been bought through the Hop Exchange in Bermondsey. Barrels would have been made on site and the finished product delivered by horse-drawn dray (though Fullers had steam wagons in the early 1900s), and in earlier times the river may have been used to deliver beer to Sich’s many riverside pubs.
The tower we see today was designed by leading brewery architect William Bradford (1845-1919). Bradford built many breweries of a similar design to this, including those of Isleworth Brewery, the Royal Brewery, Brentford and 60 others. Most shared the Queen Anne Revival style of the Chiswick building, with dormer windows, fancy ironwork and other decorative features. Sich’s was a 60 quarter brewery which describes its capacity. This is defined by the size of the mash tuns in quarters of malt. Each 336lb quarter of malt produced four 36 gallon barrels of beer – one quarter producing nearly 150 gallons of beer.
Capacity was calculated assuming a five day working week of 50 weeks a year. Therefore each quarter capacity permits up to 1,000 barrels a year, putting Sich’s total capacity at 60,000 barrels (Fullers currently produce 120,000 barrels so this was a substantial capacity even though actual production rates are not known).
It was built as a tower brewery since this is the most efficient way to produce using natural gravity. The only existing brewery utilising this method of production today (and using largely the same equipment, including steam engines as Sich would have done) is the Bradford-built Hook Norton Brewery in Oxfordshire. The author acknowledges its help in understanding early 20th century brewing. At the top of the tower is a water tank which held pure water (or liquor as it is known in brewing), which was pumped from the borehole by steam engine. This tank still survives and has now been converted into a meeting room known as the Tank Room!
A malt store was below the tank room and here it was ground to grist, before being dropped down into the mash tuns on the next level. The liquor was also transferred to the malt tuns to be heated, the enzymes in the starch turning it into fermentable sugars. The next level down contained the coppers into which the wort – the liquor from the mash tuns – was boiled and hops added for flavouring and as a preservative. On the ground floor were the hop-backs used to clarify the wort. The wort was then pumped back up to the top floor where heat exchangers cooled it, before being dropped down into fermenters on the floor below, adjacent to the mash tuns. Yeast was added here to turn the sugar to alcohol. After a week the resulting ‘green’ beer was pumped down one floor to the conditioning tanks. All this equipment was heavy and the cast iron columns used to support the floors are still visible.
Normally after conditioning the beer would have been racked into barrels on the ground floor. At Sich’s the beer was pumped through pipes under Church Street to the cellar of what is now a house called The Guardship but which was originally Sich’s brewery stores. Hops and other goods were likely to have been stored on the upper floor (a crane and pulley for lifting goods is still visible). In the cellar barrels of beer were stored where the beer aged or conditioned for up to one month before delivery. Bottled beer would also have been stored here, although there are no records of there being a bottling plant. Recent estate agent pictures of the property still show the vaults in the lower floor of the house (valued now at £1.5 million).
It is thought the storage area extended north under the houses on Church Street nearly as far as Pages Yard. The houses in this tiny alley, some dating from the 18th century were tied to the brewery and lived in by some of its employees. The 1919 sale document refers to there being three tenements. In the course of his research the author met the great-great-grand-daughter of a Sich drayman who lived here from the 1860s.
There are few details on what beers Sich brewed. An advert in The Richmond and Twickenham Times of 8 July, 1903 promoted its three bitters, two stouts, one porter and three milds. Porter would have been the beer of choice in the late 19th century. This replaced Entire, a mixture of brown ale, pale ale and old ale. Bitter became popular later as drinkers lost their trust in beers that were dark, querying their contents as they were sometimes watered down or adulterated. The vast majority of production would have been of what is now called real or cask-conditioned ale – lager was very rare. Some of the beers would have been bottled and generally sold in or from pubs. Alcohol strength would have been greater than now, on average 5% to 6% though this decreased in the first world war to 4 – 4.5%.
No price lists for the beer survive but they would have been similar to those of Fullers. Advertisements from them in approximately the 1890s quoted prices of 36s for one 36 gallon barrel of bitter to 40s for mild, 45s for bitter pale ale, 54s for stout and 70s for strong old ale. A retail price list for the 1920s has mild at 1s 3d per pint, bitter 1s 4d and bottled beers at 11d each. This marks a large increase over the 1890s due primarily to a steep increase in duty during and after World War 1. Publicans wanting to call the brewery to order beer dialled GPO 401.
Sich owned many public houses during its life-time. Over 40 are mentioned in the 1919 sale document but others had been owned in earlier years, some shut and others sold. Records are incomplete (there are no surviving licensing records for Chiswick) however it is likely Sich owned over 70 pubs in its 130 year existence.
Many still exist but the author has only noted four that retain any indication that they were once Sich pubs. The Barley Mow, Chiswick High Road has a very faded painted sign on its east facing wall saying ‘The Barley Mow – Sich’s Entire’, a reference to the main beer sold. The sign appears to be black writing on a white background but other original colours may have faded. The George in Hammersmith still retains the outline of the words ‘Sich & Co Chiswick Ales’ above an arch midway up the front wall of the pub facing Hammersmith Broadway station. This building dates from 1911 replacing a much older inn that Sich rebuilt when the roadway was widened. A letter written by Alexander Sich to the Kensington Licensing District survives which outlines this arrangement.
The Crab Tree in Fulham by the river has a painting that was made on to the plaster, showing the pub as a tiny rustic place before its replacement by a Victorian style hotel with verandahs and gas lighting (these fittings also survive). This painting was done for Sich after it converted the pub. Previously known as the Jolly Gardeners its clientele was originally the workers in nearby orchards and maltings, and later those working in heavier industry.
Finally, at the Waterman’s Arms, Brentford, on the eastern boundary wall of its garden there is a boundary stone inscribed with the words ‘this is the property of J & H Sich’. There is no date but as their exclusive partnership existed only between 1809 and 1819 the stone must date from that period although the current pub was designed by renowned local pub architect Thomas Henry Nowell Parr in around 1900.
Other Sich pubs included the Lamb Tap and Burlington Arms, Church Street, Chiswick which were shut in 1910 and 1922 respectively, the Prince of Wales in Chiswick High Road (now a Ladbrokes’ outlet but with the Prince of Wales feathers, installed by Isleworth Brewery, still visible) and the Bull’s Head on Strand on the Green which retains the original upright sign bracket but is otherwise much altered. In Hammersmith the Black Lion and the Ship were Sich pubs (the latter is pictured in Sich livery on its website). The Hampshire Hog on King Street was bought in 1842 for £600 and included its own brewery and mailings. Five other pubs were owned in Hammersmith but these have long since gone: The Six Bells, Queen Street is now the Hammersmith Apollo, the White Bear, Chaise and Horses, Maltman and Shovel are now shops whilst the Rising Sun on Cardross Street is now a private house.
In Brentford surviving pubs that were once Sich owned are the Magpie and Crown (rebuilt after Sich sold it) and the Northumberland Arms by the Bridge, whilst the Barleycorn and Lamb both shut in 1908. The Bell in Hounslow and the Rose and Crown, London Road, Isleworth were also Sich pubs, as was the long closed Kings Arms in Kew. Others were located across Middlesex and as far afield as East Ham, Wandsworth and even Grays in Essex where the family had a home.
So the next time you visit a pub that was once a Sich house close your eyes a moment and imagine what it must have been like 100 years ago to be drinking the product of a proud Chiswick institution.
London Metropolitan Archive, Campaign for Real Ale, Hook Norton Brewery, Hounslow Archives, Carolyn Hammond at Chiswick Library, Hammersmith & Fulham archives, Alison Sich, Sir Anthony Fuller, Angela Prior and local history books.
Stephen Hine is a resident of Chiswick with a keen interest in local history and industrial archaeology.
Note: this article was added to the web-site in 2016 by which time the tower brewery had been converted into housing and the Barley Mow had been renamed The Lamb Brewery