Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Brewery of Barclay, Perkins and Co.

There's one dead handy thing about the size and renown of Barclay Perkins: it got written about a lot. In fact it was considered one of the wonders of London for much of the 19th century and a must-visit destination for the serious traveller.

First is runs through a brief history of the brewery:

"To the Brewery of Barclay, Perkins and Co., in Park-street, Sonthwark, has, however, attached a greater celebrity, from its great extent. It may be inspected by a letter of introduction to the proprietors; and a great number of the foreigners of distinction who visit the metropolis avail themselves of such permission. The Brewery and its appurtenances occupy about twelve acres of ground, immediately adjoining Bankside, and extending from the land-arches of Southwark Bridge nearly half of tire distance to those of London Bridge. Within the Brewery walls is said to be included the site of the famous Globe Theatre, "which Shakspeare has bound so closely up with his own history. In an account of the neighbourhood, dated 1795, it is stated that "the passage which led to the Globe Tavern, of which the playhouse formed a part, was, till within these few years, known by the name of Globe-alley, and upon its site now stands a large store house for Porter." We are inclined to regard this evidence merely as traditional. However, the last Globe Theatre was taken down about the time of the Commonwealth; and so late as 1720, Maid-lane (now called New Park-street), of which Globe-alley was an offshoot, was a long, straggling place, with ditches on each side, the passage to the houses being over little bridges with little garden-plots before them (Strype's Stow).


Early in the last century there was a Brewery here, comparatively very small; it then belonged to a Mr. Halsey, who, on retiring from it with a large fortune, sold it to the elder Mr. Thrale; he became Sheriff of Surrey and M.P. for Southwark, and died in 1758. About this time the produce of the Brewery was 30,000 barrels a year. Mr. Thrale's son succeeded him, and found the Brewery so profitable and secure an income, that, although educated to other tastes and habits, he did not part with it; yet the Brewery, through Thrale's unfortunate speculation elsewhere, was at one time, according to Mrs. Thrale, 130,000l. in debt, besides borrowed money; but in nine years every shilling was paid. Thrale was the warm friend of Dr. Johnson, who, from 1765 to the brewer's death, lived partly in a house near the Brewery, and at his villa at Streatham. Before the fire at the Brewery, in 1832, a room was pointed out, near the entrance gateway, which the Doctor used as a study. In 1781 Mr. Thrale died, and his executors, of whom Johnson was one, sold the Brewery to David Barclay, junior, then the head of the banking firm of Barclay and Co., for the sum of 135,000l. " We are not here," said Johnson, on the day of the sale, "to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice." While on his tour to the Hebrides, Johnson mentioned that Thrale paid 20,000l a year to the revenue, and that he had four vats, each of which held 1600 barrels, above 1000 hogsheads. David Barclay placed in the brewing firm his nephrew from America, Robert Barclay, who became of Bury Hill; and Mr. Perkins, who had been in Mr. Thrale's establishment - hence the firm of "Barclay and Perkins." Robert Barclay was succeeded by his son, Charles Barclay, who sat in Parliament for Southwark; and by his sons and grandsons. Forty years since, the Brewery was of great extent; in 1832 a great portion of the old premises was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt, mostly of iron, stone, arid brick. The premises extend from New Park-street, southward, through Park-street, both sides of which are the Brewery buildings, connected by a light suspension bridge; to the right is the vast brewhouse and principal entrance. There are extensive ranges of malt-houses extending northward, with a wharf to Bankside. From the roof of nearly the middle of the premises may be had a bird's-eye view of the whole.
"Curiosities of London" by John Timbs, 1867, page 60.
30,000 barrels was a pretty decent output for a brewery in the mid-18th century. There were few breweries anywhere in the world outside London that were of a similar size.

To put those sums of money into context, the total tax income in 1760 was just £15,572,971*, making the £135,000 paid for the brewery the equivalent of a little under 1% of total government tax income. Or., in layman's terms, a shitload.

The Barclays who got involved with the brewery were the same family that founded Barclay's bank. As devout Quakers, I'm sure they would have been horrified by the things the bank named after them got up to in recent years.

Now here's a description of the brewery itself:
"The water used for brewing is pumped up by a steam-engine through a large iron main, which passes under the malt warehouses, and leads to the "liquor-backs," two cast-iron cisterns, on columns, reaching an elevation of some 40 feet. By this means the establishment may be supplied with water for brewing to the extent of a hundred thousand gallons daily. There is on the premises an Artesian well 367 feet deep; but its water, on account of its low temperature, is principally used for cooling the beer in hot weather.

The machinery is worked throughout the Brewery by steam. The furnace-shaft is 19 feet below the surface, and 110 feet above; and, by its great height, denotes the situation of this gigantic establishment among the forest of Southwark chimneys.

The malt is deposited in enormous bins, each of the height or depth of an ordinary three-storied house. The rats are kept in check by a standing army of cats, who are regularly fed and maintained.

The malt is conveyed to be ground in tin buckets upon an endless leather band (" Jacob's Ladder"); and thus carried to the height of 60 or 70 feet, in the middle of the Great Brewhouse, built entirely of iron and brick, and lighted by eight large and lofty windows."
"Curiosities of London" by John Timbs, 1867, pages 60 - 61.
The big Porter brewers had been some of the first businesses in London to install steam engines in the late 18th century. At the time, there were few other brewers of a size large enough to make steam power worthwhile.

100,000 gallons may sound a lot, but that's only 2,778 barrels. It was probably only barely adequate for their needs. In 1867, Barclay Perkins brewed 423,444 barrels**. Assuming around 300 brewing days a year, that works out to about 1,400 barrels a day. But more water is used in brewing than the amount of beer produced. If I remember correctly, a quarter of malt absorbs around a barrel of water, which would add another 350 barrels a day to their brewing water requirements. There were also single brews of as much as 1,400 barrels in the 1850's***.

London brewers had two main sources of brewing water: their own wells and the New River. I assume that the water from the artesian well was used in the attemperators. The colder the better, for this purpose. Attemperators are one of the great forgotten innovations in brewing. They allowed not just year-round brewing, but also total control of fermentation temperatures. The latter must have meant a big improvement in the quality and consistency of the finished beer.


There's too much in this article to go through it all in one post. More to follow in a day or two.




* "A Practical Treatise on Malting and Brewing" by William Ford, 1862, page 277.
** "The British Brewing Industry, 1830-1980" T. R. Gourvish & R.G. Wilson, pages 610-611.
*** Barclay Perkins brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number ACC/2305/1/542.

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