Mortlake Brewery



According to the manor court rolls, commercial brewing in Mortlake began during the eighteenth century. The rolls for 1765 mention two small breweries adjacent to each other, but in separate ownership, occupying about two acres. They were on either side of the back lane (Thames Street), a cartway leading to the Town Dock. On the north or river side was the smaller of the two owned by James Weather stone, an inn-keeper and maltster. On the south side was the larger belonging to William Richmond, a short cut to it being via a narrow alley running down from the High Street, known as Brewhouse Lane. From Thames Street another narrow way named Pembroke Alley ran north towards the river. By 1780 Richmond's brewery had been taken over by John Prior, owner of two local inns and a makings at Strand on the Green.

Mortlake Brewery from Thames Bank

In 1807 Weatherstone and an associate named Halford extended his premises northwards to the river by acquiring land with a riverside frontage of 104ft, described as being "an excellent situation for a brewery, maltings or any other building requiring river transport". With this acquisition went Mortlake's last chance of a purely residential riverside.

Weatherstone and Halford took over Prior's business in 1811, and the two small breweries became one. The business passed through various hands until 1852, when the land was sold to 32-year-old Charles John Phillips, who was funded by his father, a coal and corn merchant. A partnership between Phillips and 21-year-old James Wigan, shortly bought out the whole business. At that time the brewery was half way down the list of London breweries for output, using around 5,000 quarters of malt per annum as against Barclay's 108,000 quarters.

The next ten years were spent buying up property on adjacent sites - Phillips also bought two local inns, the Ship and the Bull. Prosperity came to the firm via lucrative government contracts for supplying beer to the British army in India (India Pale Ale), and possibly to troops in the Crimean War. By then the brewery was the largest employer of labour in the district, but lack of space was becoming a problem and a drawback was that Thames Street, ran through the heart of it: the street was the only public cartway to the river, with cottages and businesses on either side. The problem was overcome in 1865 by Phillips' acquisition of the freehold of all the land on the riverside for 2,350, and he then proceeded to close off the smaller rights of way to the towpath. The closure of Pembroke Alley prior to the purchase of the freehold met with little resistance, but the initial attempts to close Thames Street and Brewhouse Lane were met by loud public protests. A prolonged and bitter battle between the brewers and the people of Mortlake ended in victory for the brewers. Phillips' promise to widen Bull's Alley into a cartway (and to contribute 200 to the parish poor fund) swayed Mortlake Vestry in his favour and the closure went ahead.

Mortlake Brewery Sign

In 1865, a tithe barn, a docking house, a shop with stable, a slaughterhouse, lofts and a blacksmith's workshop were bought jointly by the partners and demolished. The new brewery included a long, high brick wall fronting Mortlake High Street on which the initials P & W were carved into stone roundels beside the legend 'Mortlake Brewery, 1869'. They can be seen on the same wall today.

The Phillips and Wigan partnership ended in 1877. Phillips remained as the sole owner and Wigan bought Hawkes' Brewery at Bishops Stortford, though he continued to live in Mortlake. With Wigan gone, Phillips' sons joined what was now the family business and when their father retired in 1889 they sold out to Watneys, staying on as directors. A takeover by Watneys in 1898 resulted in the firm becoming Watney, Combe, Reid and Co. Charles Phillips died in 1901.

Since the turn of the 20th century the brewery developed westward. In 1903 an eight-storey maltings was erected by the riverside on the eastern corner of Ship Lane.

During the 1960s Watneys maintained its role as the leading local employer with 1,400 on the payroll. Further expansion westward in the early 1970s took the brewery west of Ship Lane destroying several small alleyways, streets and a paddock in the process. Expansion did not mean more jobs - use of modern technology brought a steady decline in the workforce, so that by 1986 the total number was 400, including management and office personnel.

In 1995 Anheuser Busch, the American based brewng giant, took a lease on the old Watneys Mortlake brewery which has been producing Budweiser there ever since.