Wednesday, 13 February 2008



These notes on the history of Reigate's brewing industry do not boast to be in any way complete. They do, however, contain most of the information known so far, and serve only to lay down in a clear and concise manner, under one cover, guidelines for those who wish to delve further into this absorbing aspect of local history.

Men have brewed alcoholic beverages from time immemorial, so there must have been inns in existence in Reigate for centuries. Certainly thirsty pilgrims on their way to St. Thomas a Becket's shrine left the Pilgrims’ Way to descend into the town and settle the dust in their throats.

Owing to the scarcity of pre-16th century local records it is impossible to determine the size and extent of the brewing industry. Some of Reigate's inns have indeed a long life-span, and may well date back to mediaeval times. The Swan certainly has records as far back as 1452, in which year the election of the Prior of Reigate Priory took place [1]. Mention is also made of the Red Rose in the Compotus Rolls for 1446 [2]. The Red Cross is also purported to be of some antiquity, as too is the Bull's Head Inn.

It is also interesting to note that in the plan drawn up for Bryant's Survey [3], there appears an interesting feature on the south side of the High Street, immediately to the north of what was then termed " Mr. Barnes' field." The site lay between properties no. 206 & 204 on the plan, and takes the form of a large courtyard entirely closed-in to the east, south, and western aspects by other buildings. Although it must be stressed that this is purely conjecture by the author, it looks as though this could have been the site of a mediaeval galleried inn not unlike the George at Southwark.

In 1570 there were in Surrey 77 inns, 369 alehouses, and 8 taverns. The court rolls draw a distinction between innkeeper and alehouse keeper. Whilst the former provided food and lodging as well as drink, the latter, who was also frequently referred to as common tippler, dealt solely with liquor [4].

The original ale made prior to the 16th century was home-brewed from malted grain and yeast. Beer made with the addition of hops was imported from the Continent. This distinction was maintained throughout mediaeval England, for in 1440, ale was described as "Cervisia " in Promptorium Parvulorum [5], and is further qualified by the note "et hic nota bene quod est potus Anglorum". Beer, on the other hand, was defined as "Cervisia hummulina ", hopped with "sede for beyre ". The hopping of beer was severely discouraged by the authorities, the resultant beverage being described in 1437 as a "stew farmed by the foes of Flanders " . One hundred years later, Andrew Boorde in his book A Dyetary of Helth wrote of beer having been much used in England to the detriment of many English men [6].

This prejudice against hopped beer must have been widespread, for in 1531 Henry VIII, in some guidelines for the reform of abuses within the Royal household, advised the brewer not to put any hops or brimstone into the ale. Indeed, hops were not extensively used until the 16th century; furthermore, they were positively discouraged. After this time, hopped beer took the place of ale as the common drink and the terms beer and ale became interchangeable [7]. Hops began increasingly to be grown throughout the Holmesdale valley and continued to be a valuable crop until the beginning of this century, when together with the demise of the brewing industry, the area of their cultivation shrank and now exists in Surrey only around Farnham [8].

The survey of 1623 speaks of hop grounds at Hooley and Santon, and hop gardens occur in the field names of the 18th century. Even in the town, there were oast houses with back gardens being put over to the cultivation of hops.

In 1615 it was recorded that Allen Venne was commanded to remove his "Oste" from under the house of his neighbour, Thomas Cole, to whom it caused annoyance [9]. A word of caution should be given here, for the term Oste used also to be applied to kilns for drying barley for malt, although it would make sense that the new ingredient, hops, would have been often dried in the earlier years of their introduction in malting kilns rather than in specially built kilns.

During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, Reigate appears to have been lavishly supplied with inns and taverns. By 1607, there were 8 inns and about 14 licensed alehouses [10]. Between 1785 & 1825, there were on average 15 inns in the parish.

By the 18th century commercial brewers dominated the market, with home-brewing very much on the decline. Simultaneously, distillers developed the gin trade which appealed to the poorer classes because gin was both cheaper (than beer) and quicker in its effects.

Up to 1828, alehouses were controlled through a system of Recognisances taken by the Justices, and these were registered by the Clerk of the Peace, the registers still surviving among the Court of Quarter Sessions. Such Recognisances for Reigate are housed at the Surrey Record Office, Kingston [11].

By and large, the matching of victuallers' names to the particular premises from which they traded can sometimes be laborious, and at times uncertain. Assistance is given by Bryant's Survey, for in this document a list of tenants who polled during the years 1698, 1701, 1710, 1713, 1716, & 1722, is appended below each inn. It can be seen that it was not until the 18th century that a clearer picture began to emerge.

Between 1828 and 1830 licences to keep alehouses were granted by the Justices at Petty Sessions. Anyone who was granted a licence from the Justices then had to apply for an Excise licence.

In 1830 duty on beer was abolished and any householder assessed for the Poor Rate could obtain a licence from the Excise for two guineas. This allowed him to sell beer, thus bypassing the Magistrates and relaxing the regulations concerning the licencing of houses, in an effort to stamp out the "gin-palaces" and their evil influence on the poorer classes, and to make available an alcoholic beverage of a more wholesome nature. Records from this period exist at the Customs and Excise Library, Museum and Records, Mark Lane, London.

This resulted in 24,000 licences being granted in the first year nationally. Although some of these licences were taken out by respectable householders and served a useful purpose in their neighbourhoods, the vast majority were taken out by the unscrupulous, offering poor facilities and sub-standard beer in order to make a quick profit. No control was exercised over the clientele and many of these "Tom & Jerry shops" degenerated into unruliness. The Government's aims to reduce the amount of gin drinking also failed.

After 4 years of inactivity, the Government finally attempted to rectify the situation by reviewing the licence fees to 3 guineas for consumption on the premises and to 1 guinea for consumption off the premises. A certificate of good conduct from 6 ratepayers was a condition for the granting of any licence.

From 1869, control passed back again to the Justices in Petty Sessions, and detailed returns were kept annually. (Unfortunately many have not survived from this early period although the Surrey Archaeological Society has a copy of one such return dated February 1892). Around this time there were, in Reigate, no less than 35 public houses and beershops. Many of these were ephemeral, and their proprietors were referred to as, just simply, beer-retailers, and as a rule had another trade to conduct. Consequently, we find trades being carried on such as farmers, coopers, grocers, blacksmiths, carriers, carpenters, wheelwrights, maltsters, and of course, brewers; these were of such a nature that the "innkeeper" could contain both trades under one roof.

All this had changed by the last decade of the 19th century, and the keeping of a public house had settled down to a single and dedicated calling. National figures reveal a swing from the predominance of publican ownership of the 1860's, to 95% of all public houses being in brewery ownership by the late 1890's in a network of "tied-house" systems.

To gain an understanding as to why there came about such a fundamental change one has to look at both the political and social background over the 30 year stretch between 1869 and 1899. Nationally, the breweries were already in decline, (the 1869 figure of 34,000 had dropped by a staggering three-quarters to 8,000 by 1896) the decrease being mainly attributed to the disappearance of so many of the retail or publican breweries and the absorption of a large number of concerns by the large joint-stock companies. This decline was also affected by the steady reduction in the number of public houses.

Upturns in the market such as the vast share issues of 1886 onwards when the Tories were in power were very few, the general trend being downward - particularly during the years of Liberal government, 1892 to 1895. The vast majority of licences in 1896 belonged to those businesses which brewed less than 1000 barrels of beer per annum (approx. 7,000 ), and the return of the Tories in that year saw a panic rise in the prices of licensed houses. The prices of raw materials were also rising, and this factor, compounded with the fundamental failure of the smaller brewer to foresee the advantage of freeholding over lease holding, exacerbated the situation.

The larger companies took advantage of the prevailing cheapness of money to raise fresh capital (Debenture Stock), issued at a low rate of interest, in order to buy up additional pubs. Unlike the smaller brewers, they had the foresight to buy houses instead of taking them on lease, realising that as leases fell in, business would diminish, causing a gap which had to be replenished by Freehold houses. This trend was reflected by the figures of the early 1890's when the brewers owned about one quarter of the public houses and many of the publican owned houses which were not paying, were being sold every few years at inflated prices. This state of affairs could not last long, and when the prices collapsed, the major creditors, the breweries, collected many pubs as discharge for debt at less value than the interest rate they had been receiving for the loans.

Thus it can be seen, that by the last decade not only had the majority of pubs changed hands from publican ownership into brewery ownership, but the breweries were also expanding their trade and opening up fresh pubs of their own. Locally, for example, returns for 1892 showed an increase of pubs and beershops to 75, there being 11 fully-licensed houses and 3 beershops in the Borough, and 31 fully-licensed and 30 beershops in the Foreign. This decade saw the full flower of the industry.

It may also be noted that a steady reaction to the abuse of drink had been growing since the disastrous reforms of 1830. Although the transition of ownership of inns from publican to brewery had the beneficial side effect of making landlords restrain unruliness and drink abuse among patrons, the social morality of the middle classes sought further restraints, or even total abstinence, from those very patrons themselves. Out of this grew the Temperance Movement. The National Temperance Society was formed in 1843, and the London Temperance League in 1851. Twenty years later saw the establishment of the National Union for suppression of Intemperance by means of " few houses, shorter hours, and better provisions ". The combined effects of the temperance movement, public opinion, and tighter control from the courts led to a gradual progression towards the practices of the trade as we know them today.

Euphoria amongst the big breweries was soon to end, for as night follows day, then depression follows boom. A glimmer of things to come was hinted upon in the Brewers Guardian report of 1897, wherein although a prosperous year had been declared thanks to the low price of brewing materials, a warning note was offered about the steadily increasing prices of pubs - since to retain the trade of a house it was necessary to become the owner.

By 1900 there were 6,000 breweries and the new century had commenced on a bad footing with the Boer War, trade depression, heavy taxation, high prices for raw materials, falling beer-production, and government restrictions affecting trade. Statistics for 1904 showed a national output of 700,000 barrels below that of the previous year. Factors causing this was short-lived but crippling. Hops had risen to almost famine prices and the hop-growers tended to pool their remaining supplies with the object of obtaining higher prices still. Sugar prices were driven upwards by pressure of taxation, and maize was dearer owing to the partial failure of the crop. Barley malt, although cheaper, was of indifferent quality that year and gave rise to trouble in the brew house. To cap all this, the heavy war taxes continued with no apparent sign of remission within the foreseeable future. The country was in the grip of depression, money was tight, and this led to a dropping-off in consumer demand - yet one further check to the brewers' profitability.

It came as no surprise therefore that many breweries were in difficulty, often writing down thousands of pounds of their ordinary shares, and others falling into the hands of receivership. The number of breweries in 1904 stood at 5,353, a drop of 194 since the previous year.

The biggest blow, however, was the passing of new legislation which was to sweep away old freedoms. The introduction of the Licencing Act 1904 had the effect of altering in many ways the procedure of granting and renewing licences. Up to now, the Justices had the power to refuse licences on the grounds that they were no longer necessary for the needs of the neighbourhood. The right of refusing a licence on this particular point was vested for the future in Quarter Sessions, the offices of the Justices being simply to submit a list of licences which they consider to be superfluous, the ultimate fate of such licences resting with the higher tribunal. A compensation fund was set up whereby a sum was payable to the injured party if such a licence was extinguished. The Brewster Sessions following the introduction of this Act were brisk in their refusal of many licences.

The results of this legislation and the figures concerning the extinguishments were recorded in a Parliamentary Blue-book, and such figures revealed the snowballing effect of refusals on the grounds of "no necessity" . Although these figures are on a national basis, they give some insight into the demise of the village beer shop.

In 1905, there were 194 refusals;
In 1906, there were 892 refusals;
In 1907, there were 1735 refusals;
In 1908, there were 1235 refusals;
In 1909, there were 1401 refusals.

As can be seen, the number of refusals tended to move in an extravagant upward direction, and levels of compensation consistently fell short of actual losses. Matters were slightly alleviated with the introduction of the Licencing Act of 1910, and greater care was taken to select for extinction the less valuable houses.

By 1911, matters had got out of hand. The central incident in 1910 had been of a financial nature, for the passing of the 1910 budget established the principle of high cost licence. The effects of the new system proved disastrous all round, severely retarding brewing prosperity and forcing closure upon many public houses which could not afford the increased taxation. Whilst the remainder of industry was expanding, brewery stocks and shares faced recession. It was not difficult to see that the blame lay squarely on the Government's shoulders, for heavy taxation was squeezing the life-blood out of the industry and accounted for brewery inactivity and the decline in the rate of ordinary dividend. The licensed property market was also under threat with Mr. Asquith's proposed revival of the highly unpopular punitive 1908 Licencing Bill.

It can be seen therefore, confidence in the industry was severely undermined and good men were driven out of the retail trade to be replaced by a poorer class of tenant.

There were, nevertheless, two gleams of light upon the horizon. People began drinking more beer ( figures for 1910 showed an increase in production by half a million barrels over the previous year); and some slight relief was given in the matter of new licence duties. Assessments were reduced in order to meet a new state of affairs, and one or two minor injustices were removed. However, the fundamental problem still had not been addressed, nor it appeared had the Government any intention of doing so. The Government, very aptly at the time having been referred to as the "sleeping partner" of the trade, was bent on appropriating the lion’s share of the profits. Not only was taxation oppressive, but the way it was assessed appeared to be vague and uncertain. The depression was keenly felt in all corners of the industry and many breweries had to savagely cut unproductive capital amounting to several million pounds. New methods had to be adopted by brewers in order to meet the threat of bankruptcy. They just simply could no longer raise the retail price of beer - that would be unacceptable - so the only other way around the problem was to amalgamate. In this course of action lay the twofold benefit of restricting competition and maintaining prices. Other benefits would lie in the reduction of manufacturing and distribution costs. The figures for 1910 of 4,398, represented a drop of 144 breweries on the previous year, the heaviest toll being among those most vulnerable - the publican brewers.

Clearly demonstrated then, both brewery amalgamation and absorption of the smaller publican brewer, and direct delicensing of pubs by the Justices, accounted for the rapid reduction in the number of premises throughout the country. The trend had come to stay. Reigate was fortunate in that it was lightly hit and in 1939 there were still one brewery and 67 licensed houses of all kinds.

One matter that has to be taken into consideration, however, is population to public house ratio. Viewed under this light, the situation was not so bright. For example, between 1885 and 1939, Reigate's population had grown by 100%. Between 1945 and 1965 it grew almost as much again, from 37,355 to 55,490 inhabitants. The number of pubs lost to the town between 1885 and 1939 numbered about 21, and since the war at least half a dozen more have been lost although a few new licences have been granted on new housing estates.

The author leaves these statistics to the reader's judgement as to whether Reigate has more public houses than it really requires. Reigate and Redhill now have less than 50.


1. Election of Prior of Reigate. Mention of Swan Inn. SC 445/i f185; Minet Library p.12. 5. 17-18; 1. M&B. 300; CYS Vol. 32. Registrum Thorne Wolsey, passim.
2. Compotus Roll 1446-7. Partial transcript in HP.
3. Bryant's Survey. SRO 445/1.
4. 1570 Alehouse Returns. PRO Acc. No. SP12. 177. 30.
5. Henry VIII. Promptom Parvulorum loc. cit. Stat 22 Hen VIII. Cap. 13. p245, note 1. ed. Camden Soc.
6. A Dyetary of Helth made in Mountpyllier, etc. (ed. Early English Text Soc. extra Vol. X., p256).
7. II VCH 381 - 387.
8. Hops in Surrey: Hall & Russell. Report of the Agriculture & Soils of Kent, Surrey, & Sussex. 29; II VCH 381 - 187.
9. Allen Venne was ordered to lay out the land which he had enroached out of the land of Thomas Cole within 30 days upon pain of forfeiting 20/- and in the following year, he being an obstinate man, was ordered to remove it under a penalty of 40/-. Ct. Rs; I M&B, 299; Hooper, W. p133.
10. 1607 Returns: British Library. Harleian MSS 6838 f40.
11. Victuallers Recognisances. SRO 5/ 10/ 2 - 4.


BA. Brewers Almanac. Abbreviation will be given in text or in biographical appendix, followed by year of publication. Formerly in possession of the author but now owned by the Brewery History Society.

BJ. Brewers Journal. Explanation as at BA above.

BTR . Brewing Trade Review. Explanation as at BA above.

Bryant's Survey. Manuscript list of Reigate Burgages compiled by William Bryant, attorney & agent to the Earl of Hardwicke, 1786. (SRO 445/1). The volume contains copies and notes of various documents relating to Reigate including "a particular of the Borough of Reigate....with the names of the former and present tenants and to whom the tene-ments now respectively belong." Accompanying the volume is a copy of the plan (SRO 445/3), "taken from actual Mensurations MDCCLXXXV." The original was made to accompany the 1786 Survey.

CB. Court Baron of Manor.

Ct.R(s). Court Roll(s) of the Manor of Reigate.

C.Y.S. Canterbury & York Society.

Friary Meux. Friary Meux records and deeds. Formerly housed as Godalming, but now in the Allied Breweries central archives, Bourne End.

FR Friedrich’s Gazeteer of Breweries of the British Isles including Eire, Published and distributed by the Brewer’s Society, 1982.

Hooper, guide. A Geological, Historical & Topographical description of the Borough of Reigate and surrounding district. Edited by T. R. Hooper, 1885.

Hooper, W. Reigate, its story through the ages, written by Wilfred Hooper, 1940.

HP. Hooper papers, now housed in Redhill public library.

K. Kelly's Directories for Surrey. Mostly housed in Croydon public library.

L. Labologists Society.

M. Moynahan, Peter. Verbal advice & written notes either supplied to me, or shared between us from the same primary sources, and which he has also made use of in his own book “Westerham Ales. A brief history of the Black Eagle brewery, Westerham. Published by the Brewery History Society 1991.

M. & B. Manning & Bray's History of Surrey, 3 vols. 1804-1814.

ML. Minet library.

Palgrave. (Sir) R. F. D. Palgrave's handbook to Reigate, 1860.

PD. Piggot's Directories of Surrey. Mostly housed in Croydon public library.

POD. Post Office Directories for the Home Counties. Housed in Croydon Public Library.

Psh Reg(s). Parish Register (s).

PRO. Public Records Office.

Ridgeway. William Ridgeway's MS history of Reigate, 1816. Two versions available:
(1) British Museum, Add. Mss. 34,237.
(2) Cranston library, Reigate, Cat. No. 2185.

S. Symonds, Richard. An earlier work “A Directory of Surrey Breweries & Mineral water Companies 1839-1938” published in 1982.

SAC Surrey Archaeological Collections.

SRO. Surrey Records Office, County Hall, Kingston upon Thames.

SRS. Publications of the Surrey Records Society.

VCH. Victoria County History of Surrey, 4 vols., 1902-1912.
VR. Victuallers Recognisances, 1785-1826. (SRO 5/10/2-4).