Sprake Brothers

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2004

Sprake Brothers, Star Brewery, Chale, Isle of Wight

Founded by Robert Sprake 1833.

Acquired by Brickwoods Ltd in 1928 with 6 tied houses.

Ceased brewing in April 1934. The brewery became a Brickwood's pub, the Star Inn, but this closed in about the 1980s.


A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHALE BREWERY 1833-1934 by Phil Wills

Robert Sprake, the founder of the Chale Brewery, was the son of Samuel Sprake and Mary Miller who were married at Newchurch on the 15th of September 1783. Robert was born and baptised in Chale during 1787. He was a fisherman, probably a smuggler and, perhaps, a builder. In 1822 The Guardian Insurance Company issued a fire policy insuring the Property of Robert Sprake of Chale for £100. Although the policy does not name the property, as it was found among brewery records, it appears fairly certain Robert bought (or perhaps built) a cottage on the site during 1822. This was the cottage that became known as Corner Cottage and, at a later date, The Star Inn.

When he purchased the land on which Corner Cottage stood, he formed a partnership with a Mr Stephen Lake who had bought adjacent land and for a time they traded as market gardeners.

The 1841 census shows there were two cottages on the site, Mr Lake being recorded as living in Bound (or Boundary) Stone Cottage. The boundary line between Chale and Shorwell runs through the road at this point, at one time marked by a stone, no doubt giving the cottage its name. The cottage is specifically named in census returns up to 1861 with Stephen Lake living there when he was aged 73, probably helping to set up and work in the brewery following the failure of the market garden business. It could be that the cottage was a single storey stone building with the upper floor added later when it was converted into the brew-house, the upper section being mainly of brick.

Robert's first licence is dated the 20th October 1833, thus giving some form of legality to previous brewing and distribution of liquor (from smuggling) around the vicinity. He and his wife Elizabeth (Williams) had three children, Julia Elizabeth, Charles Robert and Edward Samuel. On Roberts death in 1865, Charles Robert became the licensee. He was married to another Elizabeth (Cotton). They had four children Charles William, Oscar Edward, Alice Agnes and Robert Henry.

It was during this period, 1873, that a tragedy occurred which eventually caused part of the family to leave the brewing business. On the 15th of June 1873, Charles William with Alfred Spanner and Charles Chick, sailed their boat to Freshwater with mackerel. On the return journey there was a problem while hoisting the sails. Alfred Spanner climbed onto the mast to correct it, so upsetting the boat. Spanner and Chick were saved but Charles William drowned, his body eventually being found on Compton beach.

Charles William had three children, James William, Edith Nora and Percival Samuel. James William died when only 18 years old and the census of 1891 records Percival as a general labourer at the brewery. The daughter was married twice, once to a man named Corfe and later to one named Pragnell, the former before she was 21. When Charles Robert died in 1882, his wife Elizabeth became manageress assisted by her sons Oscar Edward and Robert Henry, Oscar holding the licence. Robert Henry had married Charlotte Sprake, the daughter of James and Harriet Sprake and, sometime after his death in 1900, a partnership was formed between Oscar Edward Sprake, Charlotte Sprake and Alice Agnes (now Cheek), Oscar still holding the licence. The company now known as Sprake's Brewery. Percival, whose father Charles William would have been next in line of succession if still alive was now left out in the cold and departed to fields anew, commencing a carrier business that existed until the 1960s.

On the 23rd of February 1916 the partners agreed to take into the partnership Robert James Sprake, son of Charlotte, and that he should pay to Oscar, Charlotte and Alice the sum of œ50, so purchasing one fourth equal share in the business, Oscar and Robert having active control and management, while Charlotte and Alice being required to assist actively in the business.

During 1920, Charlotte decided to retire and conveyed her share to her sons Charles Oscar and Thomas Henry. Finally, after the death of Alice Agnes in 1925 and Oscar Edward in 1926, Oscar's nephews Robert James Sprake, Charles Oscar Sprake and Thomas Henry Sprake became partners, Robert James holding the licence. The firm now became known as Sprake Brothers and so remained until purchased by Brickwoods during 1928.

The original brewery and Star Inn consisted of a four roomed cottage, (Corner Cottage) with a single storey lean-to section running the full length of the north side and so forming the public bar. Adjoining this was a two storey building which, I believe, was the Bound or Boundary Stone Cottage of Stephen Lake, later becoming the brew-house and used as such until 1922 when a fine new brick one was added on the south side of the site. This was built on the western end of Corner Cottage, already extended, probably when the lean-to section was added. All brewing now moved to this new building with its equipment supplied by Adlam of Bristol.

Cask beers only were supplied until 1924 when a bottling plant was added to the south side of the new brew-house with a row of bottle washing equipment installed beneath a lean-to roof beside it. The disposal of water from this presented problems never successfully overcome. The old vertical steam boiler used for scalding casks was moved from the east end of Corner Cottage and re-installed beside the bottling plant to also supply hot water for washing the bottles.

Malt was obtained from a malt-house situated at the lower end of South Street in Newport and, during 1919, Sprakes bought this from a Mr Harry Heal who later ran Guy's Corn Shop in Pyle Street, Newport. He had been running the malt-house for some years, supplying the Chale Brewery and so, when he wished to sell, Sprakes obtained it to ensure a ready supply of malt.

The barley for this purpose was purchased from Island farms by Charles Oscar Sprake who was licensee of the Malt and Hops public house in Orchard Street, Newport, where there was storage for malt. He now took control of this part of the business.

It was from this store that my father would collect the malt, I believe once a fortnight. It would be loaded onto one of the Model "T" Fords, some of it for Burt's Brewery at Ventnor and some for Hoar's Brewery at Shanklin. I recall once visiting the malt-house in South Street. I was a very young lad and was much impressed by a huge fire burning just inside the entrance door. I was told this was to toast the barley. I also remember on the first floor was a long wooden trough in which the barley was soaked before being dried by the heat of the fire. At the rear of the building was a large rat proof room in which the grain was stored. The malt-house was closed when Brickwoods bought the company in 1928.

Brewing commenced on Mondays, the fire being lit either late on the Sunday evening or very early on the Monday morning. Tom Sprake was in charge of the brewing with Frank Morris as his able assistant. Brewing took place all day with the glorious smell drifting down to our cottage a hundred yards or so below in Town Lane. Sometime, perhaps in the evening, the excise officer would come to check the gravity of the brew. Next day the grains, that is the mash of malt, would be dumped outside beneath a large fig tree where it would be collected, still steaming, by a couple of farmers in their model T's for feeding to their pigs. Sometime before brewing ceased in 1934 I believe a certain amount of malt extract was used, supplied in two gallon tins, no doubt because the malt-house was already closed.

Delivery of the products was by a couple of one ton Fords and a small ten hundredweight one, operating throughout the Twenties and into the Thirties until the sale of the brewery. The one tonners were government surplus from the 1914/18 war and had been purchased and driven down to the Island from Slough by Robert and William Sprake. William was the youngest son of Charlotte Sprake but took no active part in the brewery. For a time he owned and operated a Ford charabang, "The Chale Favourite" between Chale and Ventnor but ceased trading once the Vectis Bus Company took over the route. He was landlord of the Horse and Groom at Ningwood for a while before moving to the mainland.

Throughout the Twenties and Thirties all the power required for both lighting and running the equipment was supplied by three small Petter engines, but the sacks of malt were hoisted to the top floor of the brew-house by means of a hand winch situated in the yard below. One Petter engine was installed in the brew-house, one in the bottling shed and the third in an out-building powering the generator for lighting the premises.

The late Twenties and well into the Thirties were no doubt the glory years of The Star inn and Brewery. The products had become widely known on the Island and its public houses and hotel bars were well patronised. Sprakes at that time owned the Horse and Groom at Ningwood, the Sun Inn at Wellow, the Malt and Hops and the John Lamb in Newport, the Bonchurch Inn and supplied the Blackgang Tap and Hotel, the Albion Hotel at Freshwater and number of clubs and off-licences. Summer evenings saw the roads around The Star crowded with motor cars from all over the Island, while the bar overflowed out onto the concrete yard, the customers sitting on empty casks and cases. Sometimes that noble company "Ye Froth Blowers" would arrive in fine style all merry bright, the bonnet of their char-a-banc decorated with a large cardboard cut-out of a tankard of ale surmounted by a great cloud of cotton wool representing the froth.

The Chale Brewery, or "Up the Corner" as it was known locally, no doubt from the original name of the Corner Cottage as The Star was first known, gave good employment to a number of men during the Twenties and Thirties when most of the country suffered great unemployment problems. Among these were Bert Gosden, Oscar Nicholson, Ernie Flux, Fred Cleal, Hugh Barton, Frank Morris, my father Percy Wills and my great hero of those days, Jack Miller. Bert was in charge of the boiler and bottle plant, Oscar, Ernie and Hugh did the bottling and various other jobs that cropped up daily. Frank assisted Tom Sprake with the brewing and generally looked after the cask side of the business while Fred Cleal and my father did the delivering. My father also doing the coopering during the mornings. Also during the Twenties, an old dog was on the staff and used to go around drinking all the drainings of beer it could find until it dropped down too drunk to move. He can be seen in the photograph of the original brewhouse.

Brewing continued until 1934 but was finally ended by Brickwoods Ltd who considered there would be no problem in foisting their own products onto Sprake's customers, and so came the end of the famous Chale Ales. The Star continued, but a fateful day came after Brickwoods were themselves taken over by Whitbread & Co. Ltd. The beginning of the end came with the renaming of it The Jolly Brewer. It now lost all sense of its history and its connections with the past. Outbuildings were destroyed, the gardens allowed to run wild and an untidy car park made. They finally closed it down for good. "No longer viable" were the words used. Today, after a number of years lying derelict and vandalised, a large block of a building has been erected on the site of the old bottling plant to provide a number of living apartments plus some in the brewhouse and cottage.

Author's Note #1

Since writing this history questions have been raised concerning the founder of the brewery. Documentary evidence of both founder and date appear to be lacking, 1833 appearing only on letter headings and bottle labels.

When first writing a short history I referred to two accounts, that appearing in the Isle of Wight County Press dated the 10th March, 1934, and another from a book "Inns and Ale from Bonchurch to Chale". Both gave the name of the founder as Charles Robert Sprake but differed regarding the number of generations. The County Press giving four and the book three.

When this account was read by the daughter of one of the three brothers last in control she insisted there were five generations as follows:-

  • Charles Robert
  • Robert Charles
  • Robert Oscar Edward
  • Robert Tom Charles

She added "I know my facts are correct because we still have the licenses and some wills and death certificates".

Before forwarding the history, it was re-written on this advice. However, somehow between writing and printing, the name Charles Robert became Charles Edward which is completely incorrect.

Intensive research by Mr Don Riley now appears to cast doubts as to the existence of the first Charles Robert as he can find no documentary evidence to substantiate it or of his connection with the brewery between 1833 and 1850. No evidence of where he was living in 1841 (Census year). No record of where or when he was baptised. No record of where and when died.

He then questions, "What became of Robert Sprake who was the son of Samuel Sprake?" We find he was baptised at Chale 7th January 1787. Mr Riley is of the opinion this Robert is the founder of the brewery.

An interesting theory advanced by Mr Derek Sprake is Charles Robert was the uncle of Robert Sprake (second in the line, not his father). He suggests he probably grew up with Charles Robert as his son as it appears his true father, Samuel, was a bit of a failure. Charles Robert was 72 and Robert 46 in 1833 and they probably founded the brewery together. Charles Robert was the senior and, no doubt, had the money to buy Corner Cottage which eventually became the Star Inn.

Charles Robert had been in partnership with a Mr Lake in a Market Garden business , but later left and turned his hand to brewing, probably using the inn to mask his smuggling activities and boost his income from fishing.

On the site at that time were two cottages, Corner Cottage and Bound or Boundary Stone Cottage, the latter getting its name from the fact the boundary between Chale and Shorwell lay at this point marked by a stone.

Mr Lake lived in Boundary Cottage and when he left it became the original brewhouse, in use as such until the building of the new one during 1922.

I believe at some time the two cottages were joined together by a single story lean-to section to form the public bar, and an extension built onto the western end of Corner Cottage to become the cask cellar. This can be verified by studying the buildings as they exist today.

Author's Note #2

Much of the above information has come to light following research work done by Derek Sprake on the census returns for Town Lane. He has even identified ladies on an old photograph of the other end of my old semi-detached cottage one of whom died during 1909. It was through the census he discovered where Lake (Charles Robert's partner lived), Bound or Boundary Stone Cottage. This set me to thinking the old original brewhouse must be this cottage and some recent photographs tend to bare this out, particularly one taken of the north end of the buildings where a join in the roof between that of Corner Cottage and the single story lean-to section which formed the bar can plainly be seen. Its a pity we couldn't have investigated this while the rebuilding work was in progress, I'm certain bricked up (or in this case, stoned up) doors and windows would have been found.

At the west end of the cottage, the position of the chimney gives the game away, showing the original end of the building before the extension forming the cask cellar was built on. As it has been suggested some of the Sprakes were builders they no doubt carried out the work themselves.

Regarding the ownership of the brewery, documents that have recently come to light reveal the following:-

After the death of Robert Chale's wife, Elizabeth, on 10th March 1890, a partnership was formed between Oscar Edward Sprake, Charlotte Sprake and Alice Agnes Cheek; trading under the style of Sprake's Brewery. On 23rd February, 1916, they agreed to take into the partnership Robert James Sprake, and that he should pay to Oscar, Charlotte and Alice the sum of £50. Thus purchasing one quarter equal share in the business. Oscar and Robert had active control and management, while Charlotte and Alice was required to assist actively in the business. During 1920, Charlotte decided to retire and conveyed her share to her sons, Charles Oscar and Thomas Henry. Finally, after the deaths of Oscar Edward Sprake and Alice Agnes Cheek, Oscar's nephews, Robert James Sprake, Charles Oscar Sprake and Thomas Henry Sprake became partners. The business then being known as Sprake Brothers until bought by Brickwoods Ltd during 1928.