BHS walking tour of Oxford, organised by Mick Connors and led by Liz Woolley, with a visit to The Queen’s College hosted by Robin Hobbs, 21 July 2018
A report by Peter Dyer
The group met our guide Liz Woolley at Oxford station, or rather non-station, as there weren’t any trains running. Liz is a local historian (see her website) and expert on the social and industrial history of Oxford, from the St Scholastica’s Day riots in 1355 (when the townsmen killed 63 students after an argument over the quality of the beer in the Swindlestock tavern) to the noise of the clogs of the women employed by Morrell's Brewery Ltd during the Great War. We walked along Becket Street – site of Hanley & Co. Ltd's maltings, past the former Chequers, along St Thomas Street. St Thomas’s parish, where most of Oxford’s breweries were located, was one of the roughest parts of the city.
Morrell's Brewery Ltd was the last brewery of any size in the city of Oxford. It closed in 1996. The gate and façade of the brewery still exist, but all behind is new apartments – apart from the brewery chimney. The Marlborough Arms next to the brewery is also no more. We saw the almshouses founded by brewer Edward Tawney on Fisher Row, the malthouse across Quaking Bridge in Tidmarsh Lane, opposite St George’s Tower, and the former hospital for Morrell's Brewery Ltd horses (apparently once also visited by elephants from a nearby circus). The Morrell's Brewery Ltd waterwheel on the back stream can just be seen.
We walked along the Castle Mill Stream to the site of Hall's Oxford Brewery Ltd, Swan Brewery. Nothing remains of the brewery, but a malthouse (now converted into dwellings) is still there. Hall's Oxford Brewery Ltd were taken over by Allsopps in 1926. In the 1970s half the city’s pubs were ex-Hall’s houses tied to Allied Breweries. Allied revived the Hall’s name in the early 1980s (Halls Harvest Bitter), and several pubs or ex-pubs still have ceramic plaques from that period showing the Hall's Oxford Brewery Ltd name and hare badge.
We walked up Paradise Street and through the newly rebuilt Westgate shopping centre to St Ebbe’s Street. Hanley & Co. Ltd, City Brewery stretched from Queen Street to Pembroke Street, with the main entrance to its yard off St Ebbe’s Street. There is a full description by Alfred Barnard, who visited it in about 1890. Some of the buildings, whose architect was Harry Drinkwater, are extant as part of Modern Art Oxford (established as MOMA Oxford in 1965) on Pembroke Street, next to the fine Royal Blenheim pub. Hanley & Co. Ltd sold out to Hall's Oxford Brewery Ltd in the 1890s.
The brewing sites (Weavings/Taylors) on Park End Street have been redeveloped; the last to disappear was the former Allied Breweries depot on the corner of Hollybush Row.
We continued our walk across St Aldates, along Blue Boar Street, past the Bear with its collection of ties, past Merton College and up Logic Lane and across the High to the Queen’s College. Robin Hobbs met us in the college library. He showed us the brewhouse, now used as a carpenter’s shop, and then gave us a presentation on its history, with material from the exhibition he had curated in 2017 (‘Liquid Legacies: Beer and Brewing at The Queen’s College’).
The Queen's College Brewery was the last Oxford college to brew. It stopped in 1939, when the warped and damaged brewing vessels were no longer fit for use. Louis Gunter, later for many years head brewer at Morrells, brewed the last brew of Chancellor’s Ale. It is said that the managing director of Guinness, whose son was an undergraduate at Queen’s at the time, offered to pay for them to be repaired, but nothing came of this.
It was famous for Chancellor’s Ale, an absurdly strong brew only served on special occasions, in very limited quantities, although Alfred Barnard’s description (two wine glasses make a man intoxicated, and it can be set alight like brandy) may be slightly exaggerated. It was described in the Brewers Journal in 1927, and an American brewer has attempted to recreate it (see Brewery History no 132). The ordinary beer was College Ale. Barnard also visited All Souls College, whose brewhouse probably ceased operations in the 1890s.