There is an impressive, slightly faded Victorian building within Tesco’s car park in Lewisham; it looks rather out of place amidst the 21st century internal combustion engines and 1980s retail architecture. It is Eagle House which was the former office of H & V Nicholl’s Anchor Brewery and was built around 1870.
It seems that brewing on the site goes back to at least 1818. The first on-line reference is to a letter from a B Wood, possibly the founder of the brewery, to John Courage in September 1827. It is not totally clear from the on-line reference as to whether Courage had bought the brewery or whether Wood was just wanting to sell a tied pub that hadn’t been part of the deal. The John Courage referred to in 1827 would probably have been the son of the original brewer from Aberdeen. John Courage (senior) had bought an existing brewery in Horsleydown, Bermondsey in in 1787 but died in 1797 aged just 36. His son John was born in 1788 and became a partner in 1811.
If the Lewisham Brewery was taken over by Courage, the Anchor name may come from that era – the main Courage Bermondsey brewery had that name too – the 1827 document refers to it as Lewisham Brewery. Neither of these Anchor Breweries should be confused with the eponymous brewery on the South Bank, once partially owned by a tenant of Lee Manor House, Frederick Perkins. The location is shown on the Ordnance Survey map below surveyed in 1867.
It was bought by Harry & Vincent Nicholl, possibly as early as 1839 – according to the usually reliable Edith’s Streets, although other sources suggest the brothers’ purchase was in 1866. Both brothers were listed as early as the 1851 census as brewers, Harry as a “Brewer employing 11 Men.” There is nothing on-line suggesting connections with other breweries so maybe the earlier date is correct – certainly, as will be seen below, there were connections with Lewisham from around that era. They could of course been brewery managers who then became owners (as we saw with the Barclay Perkins brewery).
The Nicholl brothers were from the Chipping Barnet area, perhaps a century before suburbia encroached upon it. Harry was born in 1810, possibly a twin – there was a sister of the same age in the 1841 census. He was still living at home in 1841 – with Vincent and two sisters. It was a family of wealth – there were eight servants living at the family home – Greenhill Grove. This would no doubt have been the source of the wealth that enabled them to buy the brewery.
By 1851 Harry had moved to Beckenham and was living on his own (with three servants), a decade later he was still there but he married Emily in 1867 in a church on the Strand, she was from the then market town of Watford. By 1871 census showed them still in Beckenham and they had an 8 year old daughter plus two children from Emily’s previous marriage along with a trio of servants. A decade later, he was living at Morants Court in Chevening in Kent, this is a large country house – he seems to have rented rather than purchased it, but times were not hard – they had five servants living-in on census day. They may well have moved back towards London – he died in 1889 in Bromley – certainly his widow was living in Beckenham in 1891.
Vincent was born in 1814, like his brother he seems to have remained in and around Barnet until at least 1841. He married Lousia in Lewisham in 1843. With both the next two censuses he was away from home, in 1851 visiting a wine merchant in Lewisham, and in 1861 he was in a large boarding house in Brighton. It was probably a relatively upmarket hotel, the other clientele included a Navy Commander, a Norfolk vicar and a Barrister.
It appears that they had no surviving children Vincent and Louisa were listed in the 1871 as living in Reigate Foreign (originally outside the castle walls) with five servants – a compliment that had increased to seven a decade later. He died after the sale to Whitbread in 1902, still living in Reigate.
The brewery was sold to Whitbread in 1890, perhaps precipitated by Harry’s death the year before, for what seems like the incredibly large amount of £185,000. In employment terms it had grown considerably from the ’11 men’ in 1851 – the 1881 census put the workforce at 30. Whitbread’s motive for the purchase seems to have been to turn the plant into a bottling depot for their operations south of the Thames. Although they were also to take on Anchor’s tied trade that amounted to 24,000 barrels a year – it is known that they supplied Lewisham’s White Hart and Beckenham’s Greyhound, amongst many others.
The photo above is from just after WW2, it shows the bottling plant from the air – it is on the right hand side of the picture about half way up. As an aside, the prefabs next to Hollyhedge House are clear above the bottling plant on the edge of Blackheath (there is a photo from a different angle from an earlier post. To the left is the engineering firm Elliot Brothers (which the blog will probably return to).
The bottling plant continued in operation until the 1980s when it was sold to Tesco for the current supermarket. The bottles below may have been used at Lewisham during Whitbread’s ownership.
The Anchor name does live on close to the site, what was presumably the brewery tap is on the corner of Lewisham Road and Lewisham Hill (known for a while as Bridge House), while still open (March 2016), it looks a sad sight amidst the Lewisham town centre redevelopment road works.
The black and white photo is from the Britain from Above website which allows use of its photos for non-commercial blogs; bottle photos come from EBay.
The census and related information comes from Find My Past.