Brewers and Breweries in Gosport
Gosport Papers series. No.5.
Local Historian Philip Eley has finally published his new book in this series.
A ‘must have’ for all those who are interested in Gosport’s history, particularly those who enjoy the locally brewed real ales.
Ale and beer appear in the surviving records of what is now the Borough of Gosport from the fourteenth century onwards, although it is not until 1628 that a brewer is mentioned. Until then brewing would have been mainly on a domestic scale, for consumption either in the home or at a public house, but it was around this time that the ‘common brewer’ emerged, selling beer wholesale to retail outlets, which he may or may not have himself owned.
The expansion of Portsmouth Naval Dockyard not only boosted the local economy but also encouraged the development of large-scale breweries selling beer for use in the Navy’s ships. Only the richest brewers could compete in the market but fraud put an end to their business, the Admiralty buying Gosport’s Weevil Brewery to supply direct.
Although this was by far the largest brewery in the town there was scope for entrepreneurs, some concentrating on the malt which Weevil needed in great quantities, others investing in ‘tied houses’ in which to sell their beer. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the middle of the French Wars, Gosport was at the height of its prosperity, teeming with soldiers, sailors and merchants, supporting a number of medium-sized breweries.
The brewers themselves became pillars of local society, serving as local Paving Trustees, and involved in charitable work. The post-Napoleonic-War depression put an end to the growth of the older breweries but, ironically saw the inception of the two longest-lived breweries — Biden’s and Blake’s — both remaining in their respective families for over a century. National legislation favoured the medium and large sized breweries and only those who also owned pubs stood much of a chance of survival.
Once most local pubs were owned by one or other brewer the only way breweries could grow was to buy up their rivals. Along with improvements in transport this led to the emergence of regional breweries and by the end of the 1930s the last of Gosport’s breweries had closed, most of the beer sold in Gosport’s pubs being brewed in Portsmouth.
The histories of Gosport’s breweries, large and small, are here revealed using local records, wills, inventories, newspapers and company minute books. There is also a brief look at the ‘new-wave’ of breweries which emerged around the turn of the 21st century.
Thirty years of research has resulted in this infomative publication which can be obtained from the Gosport Tourist Information Centre at Gosport Ferry or from the author (see illustration above).