Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton’s Brewery

May-June, 1943




By W. T. Smith

The Brewery of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co., Ltd., in Spitalfields, is the oldest in the Metropolis and historical records afford evidence that it was in existence at the date of the Great Fire of London, 1666—the year in which it is believed that Old Brewers’ Hall was destroyed by fire.

The Brewery was erected by Thomas Bucknall, upon land belonging to Sir William Wheeler, Bt., known at that time as Loisworth Field, Spittlehope, and consisted of six messuages and one brew-house which properties came into the possession of Joseph Truman about 1694: he carried on the business most successfully until his decease.

Benjamin Truman was executor to Joseph Truman and acted in that capacity until 1722, when he became a partner in the Brewery with Joseph Truman, junior, Alud Denne, and others, who had joined Joseph Truman senior in 1716.  Benjamin Truman, who owned two-thirds of the business, was a man of note, and of him, Coleman, in his Manners and Customs of London in the Eighteenth Century, relates an interesting anecdote:

“When the Duchess of Brunswick was born in 1737, the Prince of Wales ordered four loads of faggots and a number of tar barrels to be burnt before Carlton House to celebrate the event, and directed the Brewer to his Household to place four barrels of beer near it for the use of those who chose to partake of the beverage, which certain individuals had no sooner done than they pronounced the liquor of inferior quality. This declaration caused a revolt; the mob threw the beer into each other’s faces and the barrels into the fire.  The Prince had the good nature to order a second bonfire on the succeeding night and procured four barrels of beer from Truman, with which the populace was pleased and satisfied.”

This event appears to have been important in the business history of the firm, and Benjamin Truman’s shrewdness was rewarded by such increase in business that soon it ranked among the largest breweries in London.

On the accession of George III, Benjamin Truman received the honour of knighthood in recognition of his patriotism and public services.  Sir Benjamin died on 16th March, 1780, in his 81st year; his name, however, appears prominently before the public to-day in the form of one of the Company’s best labels.

Sampson Hanbury, who entered the firm in 1780 (later joined by his brother Osgood), was a keen sportsman, being Master of the Puckeridge Hounds for 35 years, and a good business man.

In 1820, Osgood Hanbury was succeeded by his son Robert, and when Thomas Fowell Buxton withdrew from active management of the firm, owing to pressure of parliamentary duties, sole control of the business passed into the hands of Robert Hanbury.  He it was who instituted the Ale Department, whereas previously only Porter and Stout had been brewed. This example was quickly followed by other London brewers.

We now come to the third name in the partnership, that of Buxton; which, apart from its association with this brewery, has, in connection with the abolition of slavery, become famous throughout the world, as it was due to this strenuous crusade, carried on for ten years, that slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire.

Thomas Fowell Buxton became a partner in 1807 and for seven years so devoted himself to the welfare of the brewery that his senior partners, recognising his energy and force of mind, placed in his hands the responsible task of remodelling the whole system of management.  Vigorously, and not without a certain amount of that opposition sometimes experienced when more modern methods are introduced, he pursued his difficult task, and, success finally crowned his efforts.

Early recognising that many of the employees were uneducated, he provided a schoolmaster for the means of teaching, and told them, “this day six weeks I shall discharge every man who cannot read and write.”  When the examination was held it was found that there was no need to discharge a single employee.

In 1818, Mr. Buxton was elected to Parliament where he devoted his time to the amendment of different forms of judicial punishment, and it was not long before he made his mark in the House as a philanthropist and legislator.

In 1841, a baronetcy was conferred upon him by Lord John Russell, on behalf of the young Queen Victoria.  After this, he endeavoured to restore his health by foreign travel, but strength gradually gave out and he died in 1845 in his 59th year.  A monument to his memory was placed in Westminster Abbey, the sum of £1,500 being raised for this purpose, towards which the Prince Consort gave £50, and many thousands of liberated slaves in Africa and West Indian Colonies subscribed, in pence, the sum of £450.  The plaster cast from which the figure was made is now at the Brewery.

Lord Brougham and other members of the Cabinet, including the Lord Chancellor, Lord Grey, the Duke of Richmond, Marquis of Cleveland, the Lords Shaftesbury, Sefton, Howick, Durham, Duncannon, and others, visited the brewery in June, 1831, and afterwards dined there with the Partners, professedly on beefsteaks cooked on the copper hearths.

Robert Pryor joined the Brewery in 1816, his chief duty being the direction of brewing operations after purchase of materials, and in 1838 he introduced his nephew Arthur Pryor. In 1841, Arthur Pryor married the daughter of Mr. Tompkyns Dew, of Whitney Court, Herefordshire, by whom he had a family of eight children, and one of the sons, Arthur Vickris Pryor, was a resident partner at the Brewery.

The picture gallery in the Resident Partner’s house in Brick Lane, was at one time of considerable distinction.  Some of the pictures, however, left the Company’s possession on the retirement of certain of the Partners, but the best portrait—Gainsborough’s “Sir Benjamin Truman,” still remains, and is one of many links with the past of which Trumans are proud.  This outstanding example of Gainsborough’s was loaned to Sir Philip Sassoon for exhibition in 1937, and was also sent for exhibition in Paris: it has been acclaimed as Gainsborough’s best portrait.  We hope soon to see the day when it may again emerge from its present security storage to grace our Board Room.

On 9th November, in the year 1841, supper was given to the employees to celebrate the erection of an extensive range of new vats.  Tables were spread in the shadow of the vats, which were brilliantly illuminated and decorated by festoons of variegated lamps and flags.

During supper, news came of the birth of a Royal Prince, whereupon, the daughter of the Head of the Counting House christened one of the largest vats, after ship’s fashion, “The Prince of Wales.”  Twenty-five years later, when the late King Edward visited the Brewery, the Senior Partner had the honour of drawing him a glass of stout from this vessel.

In 1873, Truman’s acquired their brewery at Burton-on-Trent for the purpose of supplying Burton-brewed ales; this placed them in the position of London brewers able to brew their Pale Ales in Burton and their Mild Ales and Stouts in London.

In 1889, it was decided to turn the partnership into a limited liability company, and since this time the business has developed greatly, the Company having acquired depots and houses in many parts of the Kingdom.

Breweries have been absorbed within recent years, viz., Messrs. Mitchell & Aldous, of Kilburn, adding to the Company’s properties, Swansea United Breweries, and Messrs. Russell’s (Gravesend) Brewery with their houses in Kent and Essex.

Vast improvements have been made in the breweries—in fact important sections of the London brewery have been re-built within the last 14 years, and the latest types of brewing and bottling plant have been installed.

Edward North Buxton served as Chairman of the Company from 1897 to 1911.  He was a grandson of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, and in addition to excellent work at the Brewery will always be remembered for his part in preserving Epping, Hainault and Hatfield Forests for the use of the public.  He was a man of great energy, being member of the L.C.C. Board of Education, Member of Parliament, Member of Essex County Council, Chairman of Quarter Sessions, Chairman of Commons and Footpaths Association, and a pioneer in the preservation of the wild life of the Empire.  He died in 1924 at the age of 84.

John MacKenzie Hanbury was Chairman of the Company from 1911 until the time of his death in 1923, and like his predecessors was an ardent worker at the Brewery, a keen sportsman and big game hunter.

The firm has for many decades associated itself most closely with the Institute of Brewing and the late Mr. John M. Hanbury was President of the Federated Institutes in 1901-2: Mr. H. F. Buxton, one of the present managing directors, has been Vice-President for many years.  Mr. James Stenhouse, as head brewer, was President 1932-4, and is, of course, well known to members of the Institute as one of its most energetic and devoted supporters.  Some 30 members of the firm are members of the Institute.

Facts and figures relating to the breweries of olden times make interesting reading, amongst them, the chronicles of Alfred Barnard, and John Slater, one time Beadle and Cask Inspector of Brewers’ Hall.

Barnard relates that in 1886, his examination of old books and documents in the Muniment Chamber of Truman’s Brewery revealed many ledgers, stored away for more than a century, kept in cipher at about 1730, and he quotes the figure of 607,000 barrels as one year’s output of ale and porter about 1871.

Slater records our barrelage of 32,000 in 1782, and 313,000 in 1836 in which year apparently 90,000 qrs. of malt were mashed.

Accounts show that in 1853, malt mashed amounted to the pleasing figure of 141,000 qrs., and if the gravity and palate of those gyles may be imagined, surely they were the days when truly it could be said: “A quart of ale is a dish for a king.”

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