The history of breweries in Brighton

The rise of commercial breweries in Brighton escalated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Brighton’s earliest brewers also included William Chapman, Robert Hillick and James Buckle, Elizabeth Lucas, and Richard Whichols [sic]. By the late 19th century, as well as boasting hundreds of pubs and beer houses, Brighton had more than 10 sizeable breweries. These, and other large, national breweries, had already begun buying up large numbers of pubs which then became ‘tied houses’ — i.e. the pubs could only sell the brewer’s own beer. This contentious practice of ‘tied houses’ continues today.

Albion Brewery, Albion St: acquired by the Phoenix Brewery in 1892, it was used only as a store from 1924 and then as a builder’s yard until demolished in the 1970s. The site is now occupied by the Elim Church. The adjacent Stable public house is named from the brewery’s stable that stood opposite.

Amber Ale/Longhurst Brewery, Preston Circus: established by Henry Longhurst. Brighton Corporation paid £25,000 in 1901 to acquire its Preston Circus site for its tramways. Brighton Fire Station HQ (1901) and the Duke of York’s cinema (1910) were subsequently built there. The brewery premises boasted a very large clock tower and a domed roof. The malting was incorporated into the Duke of York’s and may still be seen behind the present fire station.

Anchor Brewery, 57 Waterloo St: started in the 1830s by Ebenezer Robins. Anchor beers included the ‘Bottled Half and Half’ — a mixture of ale and porter [sic], a family table ale, East Indian pale ale and Brighton stout. Tamplin’s bought the Anchor Brewery in 1928.

Bristol Steam Brewery (later the Kemp Town Brewery): started by in the 1839 by coal merchant William Hallett, it was bought by the Abbey family in 1889. Its beers included the bottled Brighton Lager Ale, which was claimed to be good for the digestion. The brewery’s fermenting vessels were made of rare New Zealand kauri pine, which may have given the beer its unique flavour.

Black Lion Brewery, Black Lion St: Brighton’s oldest brewery, the Black Lion was established in 1545 by Flemish Protestant Deryck (originally Dirick) Carver. The original brewery building was three old tenements with dormer windows and roof made of Horsham stone. Carver was martyred for his faith at Lewes in July 1555 — burned at the stake in a beer barrel. The Black Lion name lasted considerably longer than its founder. One of its many owners was William Chapman, ‘brewer to his majesty’ and a leading member of the Brighton Hunt Committee. He died in 1823 but the brewery continued as Chapmans, under the management of Benjamin Davis, with pubs including the Hand In Hand and Noah’s Ark. Brewing ceased in 1901, when the buildings were sold to the Rock Brewery, who used them for stores. Fremlin Brothers bought the premises in 1914 and used them as a bottling store until 1968, when the buildings were sold at auction and mostly demolished.

Cannon Brewery, Russell St: established by John Barnett in 1821. He and wife Eliza had been brewing their own beer for some time, which John would peddle around town at 3d a pint. The brewery eventually built up into a chain of some 50 pubs, including The City of London, The Liverpool Arms, The Cranbourne Arms and the Montpelier Arms. When John died in 1871, Eliza sold the business and its pubs to the brewing brothers, John and Frederick Kidd. The brewery buildings survived until May 1969, when they were demolished as part of the Churchill Square development.

Kemp Town Brewery, Seymour St: founded by William Hallett as the Bristol Brewery in about the 1840s, it was later taken over by the Abbey family and became the Kemp Town Brewery in 1933. Abbey’s was a business blighted by several catastrophes: in March 1900, labourer John Hope choked to death on carbonic acid gas after — despite repeated warnings — climbing into a fermenting vessel to retrieve some equipment that had dropped in there. Then, in 1907, Abbey’s Eastern Road malting house was gutted by a fire which started when the kiln overheated. It destroyed six months’ worth of malt. Henry Abbey was once Mayor of Brighton and an alderman. His son, William, took over as chairman of the brewery, as did his eldest son, John in 1943, when it had become the Kemp Town brewery. He was also appointed High Sheriff of Sussex in 1945. After serving during World War I, John turned his attentions to collecting antiquarian books, especially those produced by private printing presses, eventually becoming England’s most extensive rare book collector. The company was taken over by Charringtons in 1954 and the final beer was brewed and bottled in April 1964. The site was bought by Brighton College in 1967 and turned into its Maltings block. The rest of the buildings were sold in 1970 for the Seymour Square development.

Raven Brewery, 35 Vine St: set up in 1979 by pub owner, Vincent O’Rourke; the company was producing 150 barrels a day at its peak, with most of the beer sold at the Coachmakers Arms in Trafalgar St, which Raven owned. The company fizzled out during the 1980s.

Rock Brewery — originally known as Griffiths — 61 St James St: started in 1809, with malthouses in Hereford Street and Warwick Street. George Griffith, son of the original owner, was a much-loved benefactor of Brighton, whose philanthropic pomps and works included the redecoration of the Banqueting Room in Royal Pavilion. In February 1849, Griffith was found dead in the road, shot through the heart at point-blank range, about four miles from Henfield on his way back from collecting cash from Horsham. The murder weapon turned out to be one of two pistols Griffith carried with him. Robbery was believed to be the motive for the unsolved killing. In 1900, the Rock Brewery bought the College Brewery in Montague Place and, a year later, the Black Lion Brewery. The Portsmouth and Brighton United Breweries bought a large share of the business in 1927. By 1953, the Rock Brewery had produced its last beer and the company was wound up in 1960. The main building was demolished in 1978, and the site is now occupied by Lavender House and St Mary’s Church House.

Smithers/North St Brewery: founded in 1851 by Henry Smithers. His son, Edward Smithers, served as chairman of the Brighton Brewers’ Society. Smithers eventually acquired the West St Brewery, Portslade Brewery, Bedford and North St breweries. Its Western Road premises were demolished in 1923 to make way for the Imperial Arcade, but the brewery continued trading from premises in Regent Hill until it was acquired by Tamplins in 1929.

Tamplins/Phoenix Brewery: at its peak, Tamplins owned 200 Brighton pubs and was producing nearly 5 million gallons of beer a year. Between 1892 and 1929, it bought the Albion, Cannon, Brighton, Anchor (Robins), Smithers and West St breweries. Tamplins itself was bought by Watney Mann in 1953 and closed in 1973.

The brewery was founded by Richard Tamplin in 1820 but, after a fire destroyed its original site at Southwick, he opened the Phoenix Brewery in 1821 between Albion St and Southover St. His son Henry took over on his father’s death in 1849, who was succeeded by his son William in 1867. By the late 1880s, Tamplins had over 80 pubs. This number almost doubled when Charles Catt, a partner in Vallance & Catt, owner of the Ship St Brewery since 1850, sold his 74 pubs to Tamplins in 1899 and joined their board (the brewing side of Vallance and Catt was taken over by Henry and Percy In Willett and run as the West St Brewery until this in turn was taken over by Smithers in 1919). The company continued to prosper throughout the early part of the 20th century: beer sales rose from £361,013 in 1925 to £397,572 in 1927, and bottled beer sales, from 83,065 in 1925 to 120,324 in 1927. But, 1932, its fortunes had taken a slight, but discernible, downswing. Costs were increasing: the maintenance of horses, carriages and motors plus the company had to spend more on advertising. A number of Tamplins pubs, including the Flying Scud, The Bath Arms and The Fisherman At Home were also consistently making a loss. After swallowing up most of its brewing competitors, Tamplins itself was bought by Watney Mann in 1953. By the time of its closure some 20 years later, when the last brew was made, it employed 450 people by time of closure that year. The brewery was demolished in 1980 but the Phoenix name lives on: in July 1996, the derelict brewery site was developed for 95 new homes for 300 people, comprising houses for families, wheelchair accessible housing and flats for single people. The £7.8 million development, led by Chichester Diocesan Housing Association, received funding from the Housing Corporation and the council and was completed in December 1997.

West St Brewery: Grover’s West St Brewery, established in 1767 by Isaac Grover, was the first in Brighton to use steam power. Taken over by Vallance and Son in 1895, it became Vallance & Catt brewery. Standing behind the King’s Head near the south-western corner of West Street, it was taken over by Smithers in 1913, but was closed by Tamplins in 1929 and demolished in 1933.

Dark Star Brewery: named after a Grateful Dead song, began as a micro-brewery in the cellar of the Evening Star in Surrey St in 1994. Its current beers include Over The Moon, Spiced Vice (made with coriander), Espresso Stout, Meltdown (made with Chinese stem ginger) and Natural Blonde, made with organic malt. Its other exotic brews have included Delhi Beli, garlic-flavoured beer and tandoori beer — surely one of the most blatant attempts ever made by a brewer to curry favour with its customers.

Kemp Town Brewery, Hand in Hand, 33 Upper St James St: believed to be England’s smallest brewery, started by Bev and Brenda Robbins in December 1988 and produced its first brew in November 1989. The idea came — as many of the best ideas do — from a beery evening enjoyed at (where else?) The Great British Beer Festival in Leeds. Kemp Town’s three regular beers are Kemptown Bitter, Ye Olde Trout and Dragons Blood, but other brews have included Crewsaver, Celebrated Staggering Ale and Staggering in the Dark. When the Tour de France came to Brighton, Kemp Town commemorated it with a special beer, On Yer Bike. Their winter beer, Old Grumpy ABV is available from December.

How Brighton’s pubs have changed over the years

The origins of Brighton lie in a small Saxon settlement known as Beorhthelm’s Tun, which translates as the Farm of Beorhthelm. Its centre was on a ridge once known as the Knab, now called Brighton Place and site of the Druids Head pub. The people would have brewed their own ale, sweet, unhopped, flavoured with herbs and spices and consumed in simple alehouses. A division between farming and fishing communities had occurred by at least the Norman Conquest, but in medieval times the latter had developed into a significant industry. After a charter was granted by Edward II in 1313 to what was by then called Brighthelmstone, or one of the many variants of that spelling, buyers and sellers plied their wares at fairs and markets and the town began to prosper. A large area called the Hempshares was set aside for the fishermen to grow the hemp from which their ropes and twine were made. In 1580 there were 400 able mariners who outnumbered the land men by nearly four to one. By 1829 there were still 300 fishermen. The old inns were then concentrated around gaps from the beach and in the neighbourhood of the old fish market. Many were used almost exclusively by fishermen. Indeed, it was their custom to gather at the Greyhound (now the Fishbowl) near the bottom of East Street to auction their daily catch.

The Greyhound had previously gone by the nautical name of the Anchor. It is the city’s only surviving pub that can claim a documented link back to the 1600s, which in Brighton is as old as it gets. Other existing pubs have stated an earlier date of establishment: the Cricketers, the Seven Stars and the Druids Head have all at some point made a case for the 1500s. The evidence for all these claims is circumstantial at best and must in any case refer to previous houses on the site. That the medieval town, largely of wood and thatch construction, was torched by French raiders in 1514 is less in dispute than the extent to which it was destroyed. Many foreshore dwellings were also lost to two great storms of the early 1700s and by constant coastal erosion, by which time the population had fallen by a third. Whatever the causes, architectural historians are firm in their judgement that Brighton does not have domestic or commercial buildings with fabric surviving from the sixteenth century or earlier. What is retained from the medieval period is the grid layout of the old town, with the coast bounded by West Street, North Street and East Street. The pubs in the area now known as The Lanes, were mostly licensed by the late 1700s, by which time the town had a new-found prosperity.

In 1800 the town had forty-one inns – one for every thirty houses and 178 residents. By 1831, the number of inns had more than doubled to eighty-nine but the population had increased over five-and-a-half fold to 40,634. Brighton, as it was officially known from 1810, had been transformed from a fishing community in decline to a pleasure ground for the famous and the fashionable. One attraction was seawater, or rather the growing belief in its supposed health-giving properties. In 1750 Dr Richard Russell, of nearby Lewes, published his Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands. It was originally in Latin and obviously aimed at learned society. Seawater bathhouses, Awsiter’s, Brill’s and Mahomed’s, soon sprang up in the town. Although long since demolished, their presence lives on in the names of two pubs in The Lanes: the Pump House and the Bath Arms. Another reason for the turnabout in the town’s fortunes was the Royal patronage of the Prince of Wales, later King George IV. Enormously popular in Brighton, ‘Prinny’ brought with him the libertine culture of excessiveness that characterises the city to this very day. It became necessary to both accommodate and amuse the influx of visitors and the Georgian inns fulfilled this function admirably. One of the largest hostelries was the Old Ship, still standing on the seafront and which gave its name to Ship Street. It then had seventy beds, stabling for 100 horses, plus a coffee room and wine vaults.

By 1851 Brighton had 65,569 residents and over 200 licensed premises. The town had become less attractive to fashionable society and lost its Royal patronage in 1845. What fundamentally changed its character was the coming of the railway, with the symbolic arrival of the first train from London on 21 September 1841. In the decade before the opening of the line, the population of the town increased by 15 per cent; the increase the decade after was 41 per cent. This growth consisted of a new, more democratic set of social classes – professionals, clerks, artisans, servants, shopkeepers and the second- or third-class day tripper. The railway was also directly responsible for new purpose-built hotels just outside the terminus, the Railway (now the Grand Central) and the Prince Albert. It equally encouraged a proliferation of plebeian pubs, many of which originated as basic beer retailers licensed under the 1830 Wellington Act. Trafalgar Street once had eleven pubs plus three unnamed beerhouses. The railway also bought a halt to the days of the old coaching inns, although some, notably the Royal Oak in St James’s Street, survived as hotels. In March 1892 Brighton had 572 hotels, public houses and beerhouses for a population of 115,400. The greatest concentration was in the poorer areas: Edward Street had twenty-six pubs. Yet the number had peaked and continuous contraction was to follow.

Some sections of Victorian society exhibited a strong moralistic streak that exhorted abstinence from the demon drink. Temperance organisations proved to be adept at political lobbying, with successive legislation being passed to curtail opening hours. Magistrates were also given more power to refuse the renewal of licenses and the number of pubs subsequently decreased. Faced with fewer outlets, the common brewers began securing their market share of tied houses by purchasing more of them to rebuild in majestic and opulent style. The additional capital required for such a venture was raised through flotation on the stock market. The bubble burst in 1899, but not before it gave rise to what has been called the golden age of pub building. This is how Tamplins, Brighton’s biggest brewery, came to make expensive alterations to many of its pubs in the late 1890s, particularly to those it purchased from the West Street Brewery following a further share issue. Individual proprietors also turned to local architects to redesign their pubs in sumptuous style, with majestic mahogany bars, cut and etched glass and sweeping island counters. The Seven Stars in Ship Street, the Lion in St James’s Street and the Quadrant in North Street Quadrant were all altered in such fashion in this final decade of the nineteenth century.

A phenomenon of the 1920s and 1930s was the improved public house, based on a philosophy of ‘fewer, bigger, better’. There was to be no return however to Victorian flamboyance: solid Brewers’ Tudor and elegant neo-Georgian were among the preferred styles. The latter was taken up by the Kemp Town Brewery, whereas the Portsmouth and Brighton United Breweries favoured the use of green faience tiling. Both these local breweries were evangelists for the improved public house. In this period they rebuilt or newly built sixty-nine and forty-nine pubs, respectively (27 per cent and 17 per cent of their tied-house stock). Four examples from each brewery are visited in this book. The movement for modernised pubs was motivated by a reformist zeal that was forward-looking and progressive. The intention was to do away with disreputable ‘drink-shops’ that had few amenities and no ancillary activities to discourage perpendicular drinking by a predominantly male clientele. The improved pub aimed to promote cultural respectability by appealing to a wider class base and creating a comfortable environment welcoming to women and families. A Ladies’ Parlour and a Children’s Room were, for instance, provided in the mock-Tudor King & Queen, Marlborough Place, rebuilt 1931–36 by Clayton & Black.

If the 1930s were reforming then the 1960s were futuristic. Under the banner of ‘slum clearance’, tower blocks replaced traditional terraces. Whole swathes of Brighton streets with their corner pubs were lost to the wrecking ball, particularly to the northeast from Edward Street and west of London Road. Others were demolished for the construction of the Churchill Square shopping centre. Existing pubs also underwent changes. In a relatively affluent society less concerned with traditional class distinctions, the internal compartmentalisation of pubs into separate Public, Private and Saloon Bars appeared increasingly anachronistic. Both the King & Queen and the Golden Fleece (now the Market Inn) had their three bars knocked into one at the end of the 1960s. The décor altered, too. The industry came to be dominated by a handful of big national brewers: the ‘choice’ in Brighton was mostly between Charrington, Courage, Watneys or Whitbread. These created a corporate, branded identity for all their pubs, eroding their individuality. At the same time, young people had both income and leisure time at their disposal and were targeted by brewery marketing executives who thought mild beer and matchwood interiors to be hopelessly outmoded. Lager, keg bitter, Campari and Babycham became the order of the day. Wall-to-wall-carpeted pubs with chromium, plastic and Formica fittings became the newfangled places to drink.

The past thirty years have seen something of a reversal of such trends. First, there is a concern with conservation and heritage. In 1999, several Brighton pubs of architectural significance received Grade-II building listing protection or had amendments made to their listings. During the same period, the Campaign for Real Ale has identified local pubs with heritage interiors of national and regional importance. In 2015, the city council placed fourteen Brighton pubs on its new Local List of Heritage Assets. Second, the importance of locality has been emphasised. This is linked to the resurgence of real ale and the astonishing growth of microbreweries. Brighton had lost all its old local breweries to a process of acquisition by the 1960s. The city now boasts four micros that have opened in the last four years. Third, the industry has been deregulated. If this has led to pubs being owned mostly by non-brewing companies, then most of these Pubcos, such as Drink In Brighton stock locally-brewed beers. The market is also highly segmented, with bars, licensed cafés and gastro pubs all catering for different type of customers with variegated tastes. In many cases these drinking places inhabit imposing and historic buildings once used for other purposes, such as chapels, banks and newspaper offices. Brighton has certainly retained its Regency raffishness but has adapted to suit the changed conditions of the twenty-first century.