The Brewing Industry

29-30 April 2006

For centuries the indifferent purity of water in both urban and rural areas was largely overcome by the consumption of beer, and indeed in the early Victorian period schoolboys were recommended a pint of really good beer for breakfast. The universal importance of beer gave rise to a large number of breweries, some of which counted no more than a handful of workers, with some supporting husband and wife teams in which she brewed and he sold the nectar, trying to keep order in the beer shop at the front.

Large breweries existed in other towns, aided by the tied house system which gave a captive market, but it was not until the arrival of the railway that it became possible to penetrate markets in other towns, and for some breweries to become very large indeed. Even though the population grew, and demand therefore increased, the number of breweries declined in the second half of the nineteenth century as the economies of scale were reaped and aggressive brewers bought out weaker competitors. While there might have been regional variations in style, the architecture of breweries followed J M Richard’s ‘functional tradition’, giving rise to distinctive, and defining buildings. Since the inter-war period new breweries have lost their traditional characteristics, becoming vast indeterminate buildings like so many others housing manufacturing, and a good many older structures have been demolished.

Once to be found everywhere, like corn mills, bakeries and brickworks, breweries have become a rarer species, and industrial archaeologists have become active in recording them. Maltings too – both the independent and integrated variety – have similarly reduced in number, as have those of another associated activity, the public house. Speakers at the Weekend looked at all these aspects of the broadly defined brewing industry, while a number of detailed studies were introduced in members’ contributions.


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