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.