Collier Brothers interview recorded by Dr Denis Smith

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The Essex Brewery, St James Street, Walthamstow : Fred Weares interviewed, recorded and transcribed by Dr Denis Smith

William Hawes established a brewery in St James Street, Walthamstow in 1859. It was taken over by the Essex Brewery Company, of which Hawes became a director, in 1872, and by Collier Brothers in 1874. The building was extended that year by the addition of a public house, the Essex Brewery Tap. In addition to providing employment and refreshment, the Brewery fulfilled other social needs. Women living near the Essex Brewery were allowed to fetch boiling water from the brewery on their washing days; this was apparently not an unusual custom.

The Essex Brewery was bought by Tollemache and Cobbold in 1922, to break into the London trade, a move strongly opposed by competitors. They already had breweries in Cambridge, and Ipswich, their headquarters. Fred Weares joined the Essex Brewery just after the Second World War, c1946, remaining until it closed in 1971. The interview was recorded in his fruit and vegetable shop, Boundary Road, Walthamstow, on 3 December 1974.

"Well, I worked there for twenty six years, and my father before me worked there for forty eight, - I'm not sure the length of my grandfather's time, but it was a fortnight after the brewery actually opened - always been engineers all the way through the family like, you know - followed on, one tradition after the other."

"... one had to maintain the plants, steam raising plant, bottling plant, brewing plant. - A rough guide on brewing, it was roughly right to the time of their closing they were still brewing what one would say on the old fashion way, except round about fourteen years ago [c1960] they introduced a redox system, where after the beer was brewed instead of going into hogsheads - stored that way, bottling from that, it was introduced into a tank system which was a brine-jacketed tanks, and obviously speeded the process up ..."

"The raw materials, taking hops as such, the brewers used to go down to the hop fields in the autumn to select their hops, which were purchased on site, stored into cold stores at Tottenham, and drawn off as required throughout their necessary needs. Their malt was done the same way ... they bought from the fields and then it went processed ... from barley into malt, and that was drawn on as required from the maltsters. "In its heyday the Brewery employed "... approximately roundabout the hundred and twenty - forty on transport, sixty would have worked in the bottling department, brewery only employed about six, which was a very small staff but that was all that was required, Engineering roughly covered about eight, which included some stokers, and then you had six personnel working in the cellars - which I haven't counted in, there was about fifteen office staff." "... now water in a brewery, which is a crime to use the word water, it's water while its underground but directly it reaches the surface it's then known as liquor - ... there was two artesian wells, one Baker's one Potter's - they got their name through the people who actually bored they wells. Both wells are bored to three hundred and eighty feet into the chalk - and just for a bit of information the water level actually was a hundred and twenty feet standing, and then when pumps were running it used to drop to the hundred and sixty foot level. They were pumped straight up to a storage tank at the top of the brewery ..."

"Now, to come onto the fact of steam, many years ago right back in the early twenties they used to generate their own electricity, which they supplied to Everett's bakers and quite a lot of shops in James Street. Then, time passing by, that was done away with, and from about 1948 we had ... two thirty foot Lancashire boilers installed, fitted with mechanical stokers. After so many years that was removed, we went back to hand firing. Then we switched over to chain grate stoking, which was back to mechanical again, and then ... just before we closed we went over on to oil firing."

"On the side of the building no doubt you see that we had a hoist ... where the lorries used to pull up for unloading their hops and malt - very old piece of machinery really - couldn't really tell you the date of it, it was a wire on a drum and the brake actually used to be a wooden brake on it (Plate 4). In my time it was driven by electric motors but, of course, going back many years ago it was steam driven, and ... the lorries used to just pull up underneath it and everything was pulled up such as malt and hops ... also their brewing sugar went up that way."

"On the brewing side they roughly used to brew about a hundred and fifty barrels a day, as the market trends required that quantity."

"They brewed more than one sort of beer; the beers they were brewing was a light Tolly, which the brewery was famous for, a light bitter, a brown ale, and a stout. The rough process of it - I'll give you a guide - once the malt was ground and up the top, so it was passed into a mash tun, this is where the malt and the liquor was added together, then run off into brewing coppers - the brewery had two 80 barrel brewing coppers, boiled approximately hour and a half, subject to whatever beer was being brewed that particular day, then run off into what they called a "hop back" where all the hops and that settled which caused a filter plate for them - run off into a fridge. From the fridge it would cool it down to roughly about a temperature of about seventy - then it would be known as beer - 'cos incidentally before it reaches the fridge its known as "sweet wort". Thereby it would ferment, yeast would be added in the fermenting vessels, there it would go through its process for a couple of days, the heads would be skimmed, and then the process, laying into the vats would continue for another seven days. After which it was drawn off, either as draught beer or passed on to redox tanks ... ready for bottling."

"You may wonder what conditions were like at work, and it was an old building, but it had atmosphere and "charm" - if one can use that word about it, because groups of families carrying on through the years, that sort of made a happy atmosphere there, and, I think, you know, its really missed by most people ... "'

Brewing at the Essex Brewery ceased after 112 years in December 1971, though it was used for bottling beer brought from Ipswich for a further two years. The brewery has been demolished.


Thanks are due to Mr Roger Colori, Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest for information about the history of the Essex Brewery.


  • Weale, J, London Exhibited. 1851. (A guide for visitors to the Great Exhibition)
  • Janes, H, The Red Barrel: a history of Watney Mann. London, Murray, 1963
  • Perrett, D, London and the steam engine; part 2: The engine builders. London's Industrial Archaeology, N 2 1980 pp24-37
  • Kelly's PO London Directory 1939, 1940
  • Kelly's PO London Directory 1971, 1974
  • Hanson, S D, History of Walthamstow Inns, and Allied Subjects. University of London thesis, 1973
  • Ibid.
  • Ibid.