200 Years of Brewing at Wateringbury

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200 YEARS OF BREWING AT WATERINGBURY by the late Geoffrey King

The history of the Phoenix Brewery, at Wateringbury, covers two centuries. For its size it is one of the busiest in the country. Sadly it was closed in 1984 and has since been demolished. All that remains in the weathervane atop the local hotel and the name of the new housing estate.

It was in 1778 that John Moore, a periwig maker, in his will left various legacies and directed that the land on which the Phoenix Brewery now stands should be sold to the best purchaser.

The land was then described as “all that messuage or tenement and yards or backside bounding the lands of St Ledger Clodd, gentleman, and the King's Highway . . .” A certain Mr Crow, described as a collar-maker, was John Moore’s executor, and he purchased the land. Later one of the members of Crow's family built on the site a brewery which was called Wardens Hill Brewery. Under his management it prospered and expanded.

Early in the 19th century he approached Edmund and William Pontifex to install steam power and they agreed to do so “with all expedition as may be”, provided they were given a first charge on the brewery as security for the work, a condition which Crow accepted.

After the work was completed, Crow seems to have suffered financial problems for when the brothers Pontifex asked for payment it was not forthcoming.

They then sought to determine the matter by means of their security but they found that Crow's financial arrangements had become hopelessly involved. The parties then started a law suit, which dragged on from year to year until in 1836 the brothers satisfied their debt by taking possession of the brewery, the Crow family severing their connection with the business.

Messrs Pontifex remained the freeholders of the brewery until 1861 but by 1843 Charles Leney had acquired a 21 years' lease. The Leneys were associated with the Bull Inn at Wrotham, a posting house where, it is considered probable, the Pontifex brothers would have stopped on their way to Wateringbury.

Attached to the Bull was a small brewhouse where it is thought that the Leneys had gained their brewing experience. In l861 Frederick Leney bought the freehold from the Pontifex brothers and renamed it the Phoenix Brewery. Why the name of this fabled Egyptian bird was chosen is not known for certain, but it is considered probable that at some time earlier the brewery was burnt down and, like the Phoenix, rose again from the ashes. This event may even have led to Crow's financial difficulties.

In 1895 a company known as Frederick Leney & Sons was formed to continue brewing at Wateringbury, but by the end of the First World War the direct family connection with the brewery was ending. In 1927 Whitbread & Co. purchased all the ordinary shares of the company and took control of the business, which continued to trade as Leneys until 1961, when the licensed outlets were sold to Fremlins of Maidstone, Whitbread retaining the Phoenix Brewery.

Fremlins joined the Whitbread organisation in 1967 and the day-to-day running of the Wateringbury brewery was then integrated with their Maidstone headquarters.

For nearly 150 years the Phoenix Brewery was famous for its Wateringbury ales. From 1961 Wateringbury brewed, among other ales, Export Pale Ale for the Belgian market, which was transported in road tankers for bottling in that country, Whitbread Final Selection, Mackeson Stout, English Ale, Export Brewmaster and Whitbread Gold Label. Export Pale Ale production ceased in June 1977 and it is now brewed under licence at Merchtemm in Belgium.