The Cobden Bridge Brewery

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The Cobden Bridge Brewery

by Geoff Dye

W. H. Complin & Co

The Cobden Bridge Brewery, Bitterne, Southampton The Complin family had brewed at the Holybourne Brewery in Alton, Hampshire since the early 18th Century and had built up a portfolio of houses in the surrounding area. The small brewery was set up to supply local pubs and the family trade and was approximately one mile from Alton on the North side of the road leading eastwards towards Guildford and on to London. The whole area was then and up until the 1970s a large hop growing area.

With the coming of the railways in the 1860s trade expanded to Aldershot, Farnham and other parts of North Hampshire. The railway station at Alton being only a mile away. It is thought that the Complin’s involvement in the Southampton area began with a desire to expand further afield and to enable the owners son Walter Henry Complin to establish his own brewery separate from his father's.

Since 1869 Complin’s had leased properties in the Southampton area after the 1860s as the Alton area was already devoid of any true free outlets, due to the rush to tie houses in the area by Crowleys and Halls, both in Alton and The Farnham United Breweries nearby.

In the Southampton area, when a brewery previously run by a Mr Wright Bass (formerly of Sheffield) and Samuel Mason and trading as Bass and Company became available, they leased it from Isaac Cowley Lambert and Edward Thomas Norris. The brewery was known as The Old Shirley brewery and was situated on the Romsey Road in the suburb of Shirley.

The lease was transferred to Walter Henry Complin and Walter John Complin of the Holybourne brewery on the 22nd October 1886.The Lambert and Norris partnership had relocated to Arundel West Sussex where their Eagle brewery in Tarrant Street was later taken over by Friary, Holroyd and Healy of Guildford in 1910 with 81 houses and finally ending up within Allied Breweries’ empire.

The owner of the Holybourne brewery, Walter John Complin was by this time in his mid 60s and his two sons John Fowler Complin and Henry Complin wished to pursue separate brewery careers. So on the 3rd November 1888 it was decided to split the two operations.

The Shirley brewery went to Walter Henry Complin and the Holybourne brewery was to carry on with Walter John Complin assisted by his other son John Fowler Complin. At the time of the split there was some five freehold houses and some 20 leasehold ones plus unlicensed properties. After the splitting of the two operations it was found that a new brewery was required in the Southampton area and Walter Henry Complin although only 24 years of age had plans for a new modern brewery on another site. The plans were for a 20 qtr plant chiefly of English oak and copper being supplied by Llewellins and James of Bristol. The new brewery was to be brick built with ornate ironwork finishing off the tower. Stables, office and an off licence were to be provided.

On the 29th August 1889 a one acre triangular piece of land with a road access of 15 feet was purchased, this was on the East bank of the River Itchen in Bitterne Southampton and was purchased for £350 from The National Liberal Land Company Limited of Charing Cross in London and The Gresham Life Assurance Society as joint owners. This was formerly part of The Bitterne Park Estate which had been sold to them at an auction on the 14th October 1886.

Walter Henry Complin at this time lived at Abbotsbury house in St Denys just across the river from the site. Work progressed quickly and by the 10th March 1890 his address was shown as The Cobden Brewery, although he still lived at Abbotsbury House. At this time the building of the new brewery was financed by a mortgage on most of the licensed properties to the value of £25,633 from The National Liberal Land Company. Further mortgages took place to secure more capital and on the 10th March 1890 Walter John and Walter Henry jointly mortgaged property to Mary Elizabeth Imerson of Lymington, Hampshire to secure £900. Mary was later to become Walter Henry’s wife.

When Walter Henry’s father, Walter John died on the 8th September 1890 in Holybourne it took a while for the executors of the will Fanny (Walter John’s wife) and George Languish of Wyck Binsted, a friend living in a village close by surrounded by hop gardens, to sort out the Holybourne house and brewery finances. As part of the will £7135 loaned to Walter Henry by his father was released. Two days later Miss Imerson’s loan was transferred to just Walter’s name. Two days later Walter and his brother John Fowler mortgaged to Wigans Cosier of 15 Southward Street (hop merchants) London for £2,500 a batch of houses and the brewery buildings. The houses were The Waterloo, White Lion, Good Intent , Osborne House, Yew Tree, York Inn, Anglesea Tavern and the Royal Standard, all in the Southampton area. On the same day another agreement was made with Timothy Hannor of Sherborne Lodge Cumner Road Sutton for £3,000, later released on the 2nd June 1896. On the 2nd July 1892 a further £700 was secured from Frederick Deare of 19A Coleman Street, London and James Marshall Upfill of 114A Chancery Lane London. Only the brewery, plant and fully owned houses were included, (Yew Tree and York Inn). but by the 6th February 1893 this debt was discharged. Again on the 2nd June 1893 The National Land Corporation and Gresham Life Assurance Society made a further advance of £749 and was prepared to loan up to £1,500. This loan was again released on 18th September 1894. Still more loans were taken out another mortgage on 22nd May 1896 for £7,500 from Allan Field of 12 Queen Street Cheapside, London a solicitor. The properties included the brewery insured for £4,850, The York Inn, Yew Tree, Good Intent, Waterloo and White Lion all insured for £500 each. The Royal Standard £800 and the Yacht Tavern and cottage for £1,000 insurance. All these properties were now freehold plus The Osborne House insured for £400 but was leasehold. The remainder of the houses had monthly tenants.

In 1893 Walter and Mary Imeson’s son was born in Southampton and named Gray Complin, but all was not well at the brewery for on 11th August 1896 Walter found it necessary to take on another partner and an agreement was made between him and James William Penton of Bow Road, Wateringbury, Kent a brewer. This partnership did not last long as on the 4th July 1898 they both decided to sell the brewery. The reasons could have been financial due to the large amount of borrowing or perhaps a disagreement with his partner. Advertisements at the time showed they produced quite a number of different beers with at least one bottled in a very attractive label showing their brewery logo, the Bitterne. The new purchasers were Fuller Smith and Turner brewers of Chiswick in London. This was unusual as their main trading area was West London, however with railway links and stations nearby beer could be sent easily. It is much regret that little is known of the period after takeover but certainly bottling took place after the takeover as bottles embossed with Fullers Cobden Bridge Brewery have been found. It is likely that the brewing ceased soon after the takeover and beer transferred by rail from Chiswick with the brewery becoming a depot for delivery and bottling. However some references mention 1914 as the date when brewing ceased, when staff were called up to serve in the Great War.

Fuller’s plans were to develop the houses and trade. On 31st August 1898 Fullers lodged a proposal to develop the brewery tap off licence at the gates of the brewery to include three bedrooms upstairs and a sitting room downstairs with a public bar, private bar, jug and bottle, coffee room, kitchen, larder and coal room. Thomas J Jukes a builder of Park House, Freemantle, Southampton was to build the extensions but nothing ever came of it.

The title of the land commenced with an agreement of mortgage on 18th May 1899 between George Pargiter Fuller, John Michael Fuller, William Fleetwood Fuller, Frank Smith, Henry Fleetwood Fuller, Robert Lewis Turner and Henry Martin Turner the mortgage being for £13,000 at 5% per year or 4% on punctual payment. Included were 10 freehold pubs, two freehold cottages and one leasehold pub.

An early entry in one of Fullers ledgers for August 1904 has the following but there is no other mention of railway connections either before or after. It was reported that an agreement had been entered into between Fuller Smith and Turner and London and South Western Railway Company in which the company would undertake to pull down an existing shed and pay the cost of removing a crane (£12). They would also pay to lay a railway siding at a cost of £26 and would take the sole risk of accidents on the whole of the siding. The agreement is for 10 years subject to six months notice on both sides. Fullers agreed to pay £3 3/-, the cost of the agreement and half the cost of the upkeep of the road on the East side of the premises. The exact location of the siding is not known but likely to have been beside the Station Hotel.

There was an incident when the draymen at both Chiswick and the stores (Bitterne) complained of their long hours. The complaint being that drivers were having to report at 5 am to groom their horses but loaders did not report until 6 am. It was decided that the drivers should no longer be required as groom men and general men would be paid to carry out the work. Both caskmen and drivers therefore report at 6am in summer and 7 am in winter.

The First World War brought restrictions on transport of non essential materials and a shortage of men. This resulted in beer supplies coming from other local Southampton breweries. Small brewers had to restrict their operations just to local areas. At the end of the war costs had increased considerably so on the 20th April 1920 Fullers approached Courage brewers of London and Alton via accountants Collins Tootell and Company to sell the brewery and the country houses. The asking price was £45,000 and the trade was described as 6,000 barrels per year, plus 7,000 gallons of wines and spirits. Courage replied with an offer of £34,000 but did not want the brewery or plant. (interesting it was still described as a brewery and plant). Fullers insisted on £38,000 but on the 21st June 1920 £34,000 was agreed with £20,000 on completion and £14,000 deposit.

At this time Mr Large was Fullers Manager of The Station Hotel, Bitterne Park and he was instructed to show the Courage people around the houses and a verbal promise was made to him to stay on as a manager for Courage. An agreement was made on the 23rd July 1920 for the casks, £5 10/- for barrels , £2 10/- for kilderkins up to 160 in total.

All the kilderkins were post war whilst only half the barrels were. Agreement was given by Courage for Fullers to be allowed to use the pub’s yard for empties not purchased being stored prior to being returned by rail to Chiswick. Valuation of the fixed trade utensils took place on the 16th November 1920. Completion took place on 1st January 1921. All the Southampton houses were now supplied by Courage Alton brewery some 40 miles away. The Cobden Bridge Brewery itself was auctioned on Friday 21st January 1921 at the Dolphin Hotel High Street Southampton. It was described in the sale catalogue as having 6,400 feet floor space with vacant possession and rights to construct a road to a wharf 70 feet by 30 feet on the East Bank of the River Itchen (never exercised). The purchaser was a firm of removers and storers Curtiss and Company of Gunwharf Road, Portsmouth who secured the lot for £3,800. Curtiss used the site as a furniture store for a time and later as contractor’s premises until August 1984 when the site was demolished and sheltered accommodation housing was built so ending some 100 years of history. Today a visitor would not know of the brewery’s existence as all traces have gone. The last remaining part was the Bitterne Park Tap Off Licence, a private residence after the brewery was demolished.

In an area close by in the Itchen river bottles can still be found showing the name Fullers or Complins.

A few of the public houses still exist but that is all. I have also researched the Holybourne brewery which will follow at a later time.