COUN­TRY HOUSE BREW­ING

As a new ex­hi­bi­tion opens in York­shire, cu­ra­tor Rachel Con­roy ex­plores the role of beer and brew­ing in the 18th cen­tury

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Dr Rachel Con­roy is the cu­ra­tor of Tem­ple Newsam, which is now a mu­seum of fine and dec­o­ra­tive arts. ‘Beer! A His­tory of Brew­ing and Drink­ing at Tem­ple Newsam’ runs from 24 March un­til 28 Oc­to­ber 2018: bit. ly/ beer-at-tem­ple-newsam

Dur­ing the long 18th cen­tury beer – a brewed con­coc­tion of wa­ter, malt, hops and yeast – was the drink that the masses used to quench their thirst. The tip­ple was con­sumed by roy­alty, work­house in­hab­i­tants and ev­ery­one in be­tween. Beer was vi­tal at a time when poor san­i­ta­tion meant that the safety of drink­ing wa­ter was un­re­li­able. The brew­ing process in­volved boil­ing the wa­ter, so mak­ing it safe to drink. More­over beer was com­fort­ing, nu­tri­tious, calorific and formed a cen­tral part of the diet, es­pe­cially for the poor whose in­take of food could oth­er­wise be ex­tremely lim­ited.

In ad­di­tion the health ben­e­fits of beer were widely recog­nised and it was used to treat a range of ail­ments and dis­eases, in­clud­ing dropsy, stom­ach up­sets, jaun­dice and the King’s evil, a skin dis­ease caused by tu­ber­cu­lo­sis. Recipes for heal­ing pos­sets, taken in the bed­cham­ber and drunk from a spe­cial spouted ves­sel, of­ten used warmed milk cur­dled with ale or wine as a base to which eggs, su­gar and medic­i­nal spices could be added.

At Tem­ple Newsam, a coun­try house near Leeds that was the seat of the In­gram fam­ily, Ann Scar­burgh’s apothe­cary pre­scribed her “in­gre­di­ents for Six Gal­lons of Beer” in 1749 along­side a wide range of com­par­a­tively un­pleas­ant though more fa­mil­iar-sound­ing medic­i­nal fixes, in­clud­ing a bot­tle of gar­gle, stom­ach-purg­ing tinc­ture and pec­toral mix­ture.

Roasted malt was used for beer, giv­ing a dark colour and bit­ter taste, while dried malt tended to be used for ale, which pro­duced a drink lighter in colour and with a sweeter taste. Both bev­er­ages were avail­able in a wide range of va­ri­eties to suit ev­ery palate and

Beer was used to treat ail­ments and dis­eases, in­clud­ing dropsy, stom­ach up­sets and jaun­dice

con­sti­tu­tion. Small beer was an ev­ery­day re­fresh­ing brew, weak in al­co­hol and of­ten drunk by women and chil­dren, and with meals. In 1820 tests of small beer pub­lished in Friedrich Ac­cum’s A Trea­tise on the Art of

Brew­ing found strengths rang­ing be­tween just 0.75 per cent and 1.28 per cent al­co­hol by vol­ume. ‘ Two-penny’ or ‘am­ber’ was a cheap va­ri­ety in­fused with botan­i­cals. On oc­ca­sion it was drunk warm in the morn­ing and was then re­ferred to as ‘purl’. Strong va­ri­eties in­cluded hum­ming ale, so-called be­cause it made your head hum, and porter, which was in­tro­duced in about 1720. This was de­vel­oped to have a full, rounded flavour and was con­sid­ered hearty and nour­ish­ing for work­ing men – hence the name.

A birth­day brew

Stingo, an­other strong beer, was favoured for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. Within gen­try fam­i­lies it was for a time cus­tom­ary to brew a spe­cial batch of beer on the birth of the first son, which was later drunk to cel­e­brate his com­ing of age. At the 21st birth­day party of Sir Robert Wil­liams Vaughan, 3rd Baronet of Nan­nau in Wales, in 1824 most of the guests opted for home­brewed beer over im­ported wine. Some drank from a set of six lit­tle wooden cups carved in the form of acorns, with sparkling en­graved sil­ver mounts. The acorn shape re­flected the fact that they were made of wood from Ceubren yr El­lyll, an an­cient oak that was felled on the es­tate. How­ever, the cups’ rounded bot­toms also meant that the drink had to be im­bibed in one go.

His­tor­i­cally, brew­ing was con­sid­ered as part of the do­mes­tic econ­omy and was al­most ex­clu­sively the do­main of women. Many fe­male brew­ers, par­tic­u­larly those who were mar­ried, worked on a small scale and only when they needed to sup­ple­ment their in­come. How­ever, brew­ing be­came more com­mer­cial by the mid­dle of the 18th cen­tury, at which point it was far more com­monly un­der­taken by men.

Most large coun­try houses op­er­ated their own brew­houses, usu­ally lo­cated at a con­ve­nient dis­tance from the main dwelling, as part of the do­mes­tic of­fices that might also in­clude the laun­dry, dairy and other use­ful

spa­ces. In 1765 John Mills’s A New and Com­plete Sys­tem of Prac­ti­cal Hus­bandry ad­vised that “the brew­house should be so si­t­u­ated as to face northerly, for shade and cool­ness. It should be as near as pos­si­ble to the cel­lar, to save the labour and ex­pence [sic] of car­riage… The floor should be paved with hard bricks, or stone, and raised in the mid­dle to give an easy dis­charge to the wa­ter, so as to keep the brew­house al­ways clean.” The brew­houses on coun­try-house es­tates sup­plied both staff and fam­ily with a ready sup­ply of small beer and stronger ales for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. Ser­vants re­ceived an al­lowance of beer along­side their meals as part of their wages. This was not only essen­tial for quench­ing thirst, but was con­sid­ered im­por­tant for their well­be­ing and con­tent­ment. In the fifth edi­tion of his book The Lon­don and Coun­try Brewer, pub­lished in 1744, Wil­liam Ellis wrote that “a cer­tain Noble­man…acted so gen­er­ously as to brew above thirty Hogsheads of po­tent Drink for his Hay-mak­ers and Har­vest Peo­ple, which so spirited them that ev­ery one thought him­self happy if he could work for such a Master, and vie who should do him the best ser­vice: An Ex­am­ple wor­thy of Im­i­ta­tion!” (You can down­load this book for free from the In­ter­net Ar­chive at bit.ly/ar­chive-brewer.)

But­ler Thomas Poole was in full agree­ment

Beer was of­ten in­trin­si­cally linked to pa­tri­o­tism, par­tic­u­larly com­pared with im­ported drinks such as wine or brandy

five decades later, writ­ing in his 1793 work

A Trea­tise on Strong Beer, Ale Etc that ev­ery gen­tle­man should “keep a good mug of beer at home, then we should pro­ceed through our sev­eral du­ties with a merry heart and chear­ful [sic] coun­te­nance, and pre­vent vice and im­moral­ity”. Pro­vid­ing ser­vants with a plen­ti­ful but mea­sured sup­ply of high-qual­ity beer, Poole ar­gued, made them hap­pier in their work and less likely to fre­quent lo­cal tav­erns, or drink to ex­cess.

Brew­ing took place for cen­turies at Tem­ple Newsam. Brew­ers were mostly paid by the brew, which was not un­usual for coun­try houses, al­though they were very oc­ca­sion­ally paid an an­nual salary or for sev­eral months’ work at once. The work was ir­reg­u­lar, be­cause not even the largest es­tates had enough de­mand to keep on a brewer full time, so they were usu­ally brought in ca­su­ally when sup­plies were needed. The rhythm of work was dic­tated partly by the sea­sons, with the cooler months be­tween Oc­to­ber and March thought to be the best months for ale pro­duc­tion, but also to sat­isfy a de­mand for par­tic­u­lar events or oc­ca­sions, for which very large quan­ti­ties of al­co­hol could be re­quired. To cel­e­brate the re­cov­ery of Ge­orge III in 1789, for ex­am­ple, Lady Ir­win of Tem­ple Newsam re­leased more than 1,366 gal­lons of ale from her cel­lars to be en­joyed by all on the es­tate, and spent over £110 roast­ing oxen.

A brewer’s work was ex­tremely phys­i­cally de­mand­ing, and not very well paid. It in­volved long hours, heavy lift­ing, manag­ing and han­dling large vol­umes of boil­ing liq­uid, cop­ing with ex­tremely strong and un­pleas­ant smells, and scald­ing and scrub­bing equip­ment that needed to be kept scrupu­lously clean to stop the pre­cious con­coc­tion from spoil­ing (of­ten de­scribed as be­com­ing ‘ropy’ or ‘foxy’). The brew­ing process it­self was a long one, re­quir­ing con­cen­tra­tion and close mon­i­tor­ing of the de­vel­op­ing brew, mean­ing one or two nights with very lit­tle rest or no sleep at all. The brewer’s room at Tem­ple Newsam, which joined onto the brew­house, was sparse with only a ‘long set­tle’ for sit­ting and nap­ping, and a range for cook­ing and keep­ing warm.

A pa­tri­otic drink

In the 18th cen­tury beer was of­ten in­trin­si­cally linked to pa­tri­o­tism, par­tic­u­larly when com­pared with ex­pen­sive im­ported drinks such as wine or brandy. The in­hab­i­tants of the back street de­picted in Wil­liam Hog­a­rth’s Beer Street of 1751 are healthy, happy and in­dus­tri­ous, and en­joy large tankards of foam­ing ale (see pages 66–67). A verse below the im­age im­plores the reader to “quaff Thy balmy juice with Glee, / And Wa­ter leave to France”.

The scene could not con­trast more sharply with the mis­ery af­flict­ing those cap­tured in its com­pan­ion im­age, Gin Lane. This as­so­ci­a­tion lin­gered as late as 1840, when beer drink­ing had been largely re­placed with tea, with an anony­mous com­menter say­ing that “there is no bev­er­age so whole­some and in­vig­o­rat­ing as beer… it may, in­deed, be justly con­sid­ered as our na­tional drink”.

The ubiq­uity of beer and its cen­tral role in 18th cen­tury so­cia­bil­ity, both in and away from the home, is re­flected in the rich­ness and di­ver­sity of ves­sels made for serv­ing and drink­ing it. In wealthy houses you might find fine hand­painted porce­lain or fash­ion­able cylin­dri­cal creamware mugs, gleam­ing sil­ver tankards, del­i­cate glasses en­graved with hops and even elab­o­rate drink­ing horns, of­ten mounted with pre­cious me­tals and stones. The theft of drink­ing ves­sels from pub­lic houses was rife, and land­lords were ac­tively dis­cour­aged from fur­nish­ing their premises

with ex­pen­sive ma­te­ri­als. At the tav­ern or ale­house, cus­tomers were pro­vided with ro­bust pewter or stoneware mugs, but also with ce­ramic frog mugs and puz­zle jugs that were used in drink­ing games.

The joy of the un­ex­pected

The games’ en­ter­tain­ment value re­lied on the el­e­ment of sur­prise, whereby you could glug down the dregs of your beer from an in­no­cent-look­ing mug to find an ugly ce­ramic frog at the bot­tom, or be squirted with ale from one of sev­eral spouts en­cir­cling the rim of your puz­zle jug.

Many mugs and jugs clearly pro­claimed the po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance of their owner through their dec­o­ra­tion, par­tic­u­larly those that used trans­fer prints from satir­i­cal sources re­spond­ing to cur­rent events. Mil­i­tary fig­ures were ex­tremely pop­u­lar sub­jects for the dec­o­ra­tion of ce­ram­ics, and these ves­sels vis­ually ex­pressed the drinker’s sup­port for a pub­lic fig­ure while they toasted or sang to their health and suc­cess, and that of the coun­try.

Fur­ther­more the heavy tax­a­tion on the brew­ing and sell­ing of beer – which raised over £3.3 mil­lion in 1775 – meant that drink­ing to the suc­cess of Bri­tish armies and navies dur­ing the 18th cen­tury made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to Bri­tain’s cof­fers.

Coun­try-house brew­ing de­clined rapidly dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, and vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared. The life-sav­ing im­prove­ments in wa­ter san­i­ta­tion, a rapid growth of in­dus­tri­alised city brew­eries and the rise and spread of tea drink­ing all played a part in the de­crease of pri­vate brew­ing and the shift­ing of beer from an all-day, ev­ery­day essen­tial bev­er­age, to one that tended to be re­served for social oc­ca­sions.

In 1800 ap­prox­i­mately half of the to­tal an­nual pro­duc­tion of beer could be at­trib­uted to do­mes­tic brew­houses, but by 1870 the pro­por­tion had shrunk dras­ti­cally to a mere 2.5 per cent. How­ever, there were a hand­ful of notable ex­cep­tions. Brew­ing con­tin­ued well into the 20th cen­tury at Hick­le­ton Hall near Don­caster. It also en­dured be­yond the Vic­to­rian pe­riod at the great houses of Lon­gleat in Wilt­shire and Lyme Park in Cheshire.

In 1800 about half of the to­tal an­nual pro­duc­tion of beer could be at­trib­uted to do­mes­tic brew­houses

This 1818 aquatint de­picts brew­ers car­ry­ing a bar­rel

Who Do You Think You Are? This schematic of a brew­house was pub­lished in a magazine in 1747 Pearl­ware puz­zle jug, Leeds Pot­tery, c1800

A real-world Queen Vic: cus­tomers and staff at a pub­lic house in Lon­don dur­ing the Vic­to­rian era

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