“From the towns all inns have been driven; from the villages most… Change your hearts, or you will lose your inns, and you will deserve to have lost them. But when you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves - for you will have lost the last of England.”
Hilaire Belloc, the preface to ‘The Four Men’ 1912
The street names are probably a giveaway - Shirehorse Way, Clydesdale Close, Malting Way, Draysman Way… but just off St John’s Road that links Old Isleworth and Hounslow there once stood a brewery that supplied beer to pubs from Hammersmith to Teddington and beyond.
In his book of local history “And So Make A City Here” published in 1948, G. E Bate comments… “Most people in South West Middlesex are acquainted with, or at least have heard of the Isleworth Brewery and Isleworth Ales.” He goes on to say… “Domestic brewing remained as common as domestic baking until the end of the 18th century, but from that time tea and coffee drinking lessened the necessity for home brewing and commercial brewing became more and more common. This change …was one of the factors in the early development of Isleworth Brewery.”
Isleworth Brewery stood on the site of an old brass and copper mill called Brazil Mill, dating from the 1590’s. During the 1600’s the mill first fell into disrepair and then reopened as a flour mill and it was to the south of this site that the first brewery was established around 1726. A surviving ledger for 1796-1810 records that the brewery was supplying ale, porter, hock and other liquors to innkeepers in Isleworth, Hounslow, Ealing, Heston, Brentford and other places in south west Middlesex and north Surrey. (There is no mention of St Margarets in the ledger because St Margarets didn’t exist then.) There were also direct sales to such aristocrats as the Duke of Northumberland, the Duke of Marlborough, the Earl of Jersey and members of Regency society living in Twickenham. The ledger also shows large quantities of ale were sold to the dairy maids at Osterley Park and other agricultural labourers.
In 1800 William Farnell, a local businessman, bought the brewery for £1,145. With roads becoming better and more people were travelling a growing number of coaching inns were opening up to serve them. It was a favourable time for the brewing industry. Over the next thirty years the Farnells took control of a large number of licensed houses, enlarged the Brewery and built new malthouses and cottages for their staff. The Farnells also contributed large sums of money to charity, and helped finance the building of Saint John’s Church in Isleworth.
In the early 1800’s Hounslow, with stabling for 1000 horses, was an important coaching hub. About 500 coaches stopped each day in the town to change horses and refresh their passengers. A lot of beer was drunk and a lot of it came from Isleworth Brewery…
“They jogged on all day, and stopped so often – now to refresh, now to change their team of horses, now to exchange or bring away a set of harness, now on one point of business, and now upon another, connected with the coaching on that line of road – that it was midnight when they reached Hounslow.”
CHARLES DICKENS Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44)
In 1854, William Watson, a relation by marriage, entered into partnership with the Farnells and in 1865 the brewery became known as “Farnell and Watson’s.” In 1886 it changed its name again to the Isleworth Brewery Company Limited. In 1923 the brewery was taken over by Watney Combe Reid & Co. and in 1952 stopped brewing and became a bottling store. It finally closed its doors in the early 1990’s. Now it has gone forever. Even that heady smell of malt and yeast that once hung in the Isleworth air and attracted beer drinkers from all over the region has disappeared. All that remains are the names - Shirehorse Way, Clydesdale Close, Malting Way and Draysman Way.
Before we get too depressed I do have some good news. Our own local brewery - Twickenham Fine Ales founded in October 2004 - is expanding, with more plant, more outlets, more choice of beers and more output. The current production figure is between 250 and 300 firkins a week.
Q. What’s a firkin, dad? A. 9 gallons, son!
Q. What’s a gallon? A. That’s eight pints.
Q. What’s a pint, dad? A. It’s what your granny soaks her teeth in!
– from Martyn Day