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The Lost Breweries Of Whitechapel

March 6, 2020
by the gentle author

Within living memory, Whitechapel was home to the Albion and the Blue Anchor Brewery, two of the largest breweries in the country, premises for Watney Mann and Charringtons respectively. Photographer Philip Cunningham‘s grandfather worked at The Albion brewery and it became his melancholy duty to record both breweries in the eighties at the point of their demise. (Accompanying text also by Philip Cunningham.)

The Albion Brewery in the nineteenth century

My grandfather was a train driver until the day he was discovered to be colour blind, when he was sacked on the spot. He then became a drayman and – apart from two world wars – spent the rest of his working life at the Albion Brewery in Whitechapel. He was one of the first draymen to drive a motorised vehicle, a skill which saved his life in WWI.

The brewery started trading in 1808 and although by 1819 it was under the control of Blake & Mann, by 1826 it was in the exclusive ownership of James Mann. In 1846, Crossman and Paulin became partners to form Mann, Crossman & Paulin Ltd. The brewery was re-built in 1863, becoming the most advanced brewery of that time, producing 250,000 barrels a year.

Stables were built on the east side of Cambridge Heath Rd with a nosebag room containing in excess of one hundred and fifty nosebags, each filled by a metal tube from the store above. The former Whitechapel workhouse in Whitechapel Rd was used for the bottling plant, but when this proved to be too small it was moved to a site on Raven Row, two hundred yards south.

In 1958, the company merged with Watney Combe & Reid to become Watney Mann Ltd. In 1978, a spokesperson for Grand Metropolitan the corporate owner who acquired Watney declared, ‘The bottling plant has a very strong future as a distribution and bottling centre for the GLC area and parts of Southern England.’ Yet the plant was closed in 1980 with a loss of two hundred jobs after the building was declared unsafe and too costly to repair. Keg filling transferred to Mortlake, the bottling plant became a distribution centre and the brewery was shut down in 1979. The buildings on the Whitechapel Rd were converted to flats and the rest of the site is now occupied by Sainsbury’s.

Gates of the Blue Anchor Brewery

In 1757, John Charrington moved his brewing business from Bethnal Green to the Mile End Rd. This was the Blue Anchor Brewery, and John Charrington’s brother Harry lived next to the brewery in Malplaquet House from about 1790 until his death in 1833.

The brewery was built on Charrington Park, extending for sixteen acres behind the malt stores. Some land was sold off for building and a section was given to St. Peter’s Church, while the remainder was used for cooperages and for stables housing one hundred horses and a blacksmith’s forge. There were also coppersmiths, tinsmiths, gasfitters, millwrights, hoopers, engineers, and carpenters with a timber store and saw pit. The hop store was a spacious darkened chamber one hundred feet long, filled from floor to ceiling with hops, and the odour was overpowering.

The Blue Anchor brewery became the second largest in London producing 20,252 barrels of beer a year. In the nineteenth century, steam engines were installed which ran until 1927, when they were replaced by electric power. During the Second World War, half the lorry fleet was commandeered for the army.

Yet in 1967, the company merged with Bass to become Charrington Bass and later Bass Ltd – the largest brewing company in the country. The last brew at Charringtons was in 1975 and distribution was then moved to Canning Town. A new administration block was built at a cost of three and a half million, only to be demolished for a retail park.

Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham

You may also like to take a look at

Philip Cunningham’s London Docks

A Walk with Philip Cunningham

Philip Cunningham’s East End Portraits

More of Philip Cunningham’s Portraits

Yet More Philip Cunningham Portraits

Philip Cunningham at Mile End Place

 

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Julia Harrison permalink
    March 6, 2020

    Seeing the Young’s brewery shire horses in Putney High Street was always a splendid sight.

  2. Paul Wavell Ridgway permalink
    March 6, 2020

    I like the nose-bag filler story.
    Seeing the two waggons each with ten casks drawn by two dray horses gives some idea of the huge weights pulled by these animals, maybe more than two tons.

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 6, 2020

    Sad that these breweries are no longer with us…

    My grandfather was head brewer at the Black Eagle brewery in Westerham and we had to walk through the brewery yard to get to his magical garden, and so whenever I smell that distinctive malty smell it immediately takes me back to my childhood and the many happy times spent with our doting grandparents.

    Unfortunately the brewery was taken over by a bigger company and was reduced to becoming just a bottling plant (a familiar story!) until it was eventually closed down.

    The good news is that there has been revival of craft brewing in the area, and Westerham ales are being brewed to the same recipe and being much enjoyed once again – phew!

    It would be interesting to have a companion piece to today’s blog about the many artisan breweries which are now flourishing in the East End. Thank goodness the taste for real ale is alive and well…

  4. John Venes permalink
    March 6, 2020

    And Truman’s in Brick Lane.

  5. March 6, 2020

    Very sad losses, even to a non-drinker!

  6. March 6, 2020

    Wonderful pictures, such a shame buildings of such quality are not repurposed. I truly hope Fullers keep brewing on their current site now that the company has been sold.
    Beer is far more than just a name. Where is is brewed is vitally important to its authenticity, otherwise it is simply a name. The water is only one part of what makes a beer unique. Tradition and history play a big part in making my choice when buying a pint. The sale of Young’s was an absolute tragedy. Beer was brewed on that site since the 1500’s, the brewery was doing well. Now it is just a pub co and the beer brewed far from London. Young’s pubs were somewhere very special, now they mean nothing. So very sad. John Young held out for so long against takeover when many of the big names gave up. His passing paved the way for the family to ditch brewing.
    I grew up with the same stories being told, of the once proud family breweries selling up for a quick profit when the sons or daughters weren’t interested in the heritage. My Dad edited CAMRA’s first Good Beer Guide and I was taught at an early age to appreciate the wonders of our brewing heritage. The ones that survive, Hook Norton, Harveys, Adnams etc. need supporting as much as the often superb micro breweries.

  7. paul loften permalink
    March 6, 2020

    I recall the brewery at Raven Row where I used to visit my grandmother there as a child. There was a huge chimney on the corner of Whitechapel Road with large white letters running downwards. I recall it as being TRUMANS but I could be wrong . I think it was demolished around 1958. I remember seeing the excavations and the demolition, the dust, and the nuisance that it caused to the local residents. The houses were 18th century tiny one-floor dwellings with outside toilets. The post office purchased the site and it became a depot for their vans so the nuisance became even worse with a constant flow of traffic entering the main gate situated in Raven Row. My father used to play in the same street behind the London Hospital and he told me that a deaf and dumb egg chandler lived in the basement of the house next door and the boys, when they tired of playing football in the street, used to gather and peer into his window and watch him with wonder, in his room full of eggs, hold the egg up to the light to see if it was good or bad. It was done with great speed so it was a sight worth seeing

  8. Peter Holford permalink
    March 6, 2020

    I fear Fuller’s will be the next to disappear in spite of various reassurances. Asahi have bought everything to do with the brewery while Fuller’s have decided to be a pub company. It is very reminiscent of Young’s. The Chiswick site is a very valuable piece of real estate and to a company like Asahi it is just another asset on the balance sheet. The brand of Fullers won’t disappear – Young’s still exists as a brand but is brewed in Bedfordshire. On a visit to King’s Cross I noticed Asahi has quickly got it’s branding all over the big Fuller’s pub, the Parcel Yard, in the station.

    This is part of my heritage being trashed – I grew up in Putney with the Young’s dray horses a part of my childhood memory, and went to school in Hammersmith almost next door to Fuller’s.

    You can’t help thinking that the French, with their concern for le terroir and provenance would not let their cultural heritage be vandalised by the pursuit of short term profit.

  9. March 6, 2020

    Great photos Philip…..those sights and smells are very much a part of my childhood in the East End. Some of my cousins worked at Truman’s Brewery and I have fond memories of the tales they told about their times there.

  10. Ian Silverton permalink
    March 6, 2020

    Good story GA, loved the bits about Charington Brewery Whitechapel, my job as a small boy was to clear the mess from the two Drays that delivered the beer weekly to my Dads Pub in Bethnal Green left behind, in Warner Place directly outside the posh Saloon Bar as it was called then, Pi s and Sh t galore but that was part of our life then, Mrs Salmon our next door neighbor always wanted the hoarse Manure for her garden i.e. A back yard always gave me 6 pence a bucket hand delivered to her door👌

  11. Sue Seeley permalink
    March 10, 2020

    My 3 generations of my family worked at Albion brewer for close to one hundred years. Great Grandfather, Grandfather, 2 uncles and Dad . Can remember Dad taking me to see the stables in the early 60’s as they still kept horses then for shows.

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