Friday 23 November 2012

Brown ale and boarded windows

The Little Crown pub in Rotherhithe has been closed for years, but still sports this rather nice tiled sign. It's not just a reminder of happier drinking times inside, but also a relic of London's brewing history. 

The brewery was on Whitechapel Road - its 1880s building survives, with the name still curving over the gateway. Known as the Albion brewery, it had been founded in 1808 by the landlord of the nearby Blind Beggar pub. John Mann and Philip Blake bought the lease in 1818; after Blake's retirement, the brewery was run by Mann alone until 1846. The name then changed to recognise his new partners, Robert Crossman and Thomas Paulin. 

When Burton ales became fashionable, the company opened a brewery in Burton on Trent - before realising that London water would also work and returning all production to the capital in 1896. They even added a bottling plant - and as one of the largest brewers in the country, they became a public company in 1901. Mann's Brown Ale was created by head brewer Thomas Wells Thorpe in 1902 and became their most popular product by the mid-twentieth century. It was the first beer of this sweeter style; other beer companies would follow, especially when brown ale became popular in the 1920s. 

In 1958, Mann merged with Watney's to form Watney Mann, before being bought by Grand Metropolitan in 1972; the Albion brewery closed in 1979. The Mann's name lives on, however, with Marston's (who, coincidentally, had bought the lease to Mann's Burton brewery over a century ago) still brewing brown ale to its original recipe. 

Our sign, then, evokes a major London brewer, firmly rooted in the East of the city. It dates from before 1958, reminding us of a time when the now-closed pub with its boarded windows was still a living part of the community. 

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