In the middle of a row of shops on Hither Green Lane is a single-storey building, which seems oddly out of place in the two/three storey late Victorian properties – it has created some advertising space which remains filled by a painted ‘ghost sign’ which, at its very latest was painted in 1909 – more on that later. The single-storey building may have originally been the same size as the rest of the terrace, the building was destroyed in a fire in 1894 (1).
The sign has clearly gone through at least two incarnations, painted over the top of each other, and have unevenly weathered, it appears to read – ‘Fox & Sons’. Below that is ‘…nborough’, then ‘Ales Stout’ and finally ‘In bottle and cask’. There looks to be ‘wine’ in the midst too.
It is quite common for ‘ghost signs’ to relate to the business on the side of the building that it was painted on – Running Past has covered several including John Campion & Sons in Catford, a bakers in Sandhurst Road, Catford, a now hidden one at Lee Green and perhaps my favourite Wallace Prings Chemists in Bromley.
Fox & Sons were brewers from Green Street Green in Farnborough, now on the edge of Bromley. In the period up until the end of World War 1, and probably much longer, 210 Hither Green Lane seems to have been one of a pair of butchers shops on Hither Green Lane run by Joseph Hurdidge. Hurdidge was born in Old Ford in 1865 and seems to have taken over the (presumably) tenancy of the 132 Hither Green Lane around 1890 and probably expanded to 210 when the shops were developed a little later. Hurdidge certainly remained in the trade and remained in the Lewisham area for the rest of his life – in the 1939 Register he was still working but widowed and living at 78 Eltham Road, Lee, where he died in 1952.
There were a couple of off licences on Hither Green Lane – one just to the north of Harvard Road, run for years by a Robert Mott and one adjacent to Woodlands Street run by Florence Jackson. Neither was mentioned in the sign though, although they may have sold bottled Fox and Co beer. More likely though is that there was a very short-lived off licence in the single story building next door – there is a photo of it but it didn’t seem to last long enough to make local directories.
Like most modern advertising billboards, it seems to have been a more general sign which the Brewery probably repeated in many locations – there is a postcard of a still serving pub from around 1906, the British Queen in Locksbottom, with an identical advertisement on the building side.
So what of the brewery? John Fox (born around 1787 in Buckinghamshire) had moved to Green Street Green in 1818 to run Oak Farm. He brewed a little for himself and his employees but decided to set up a proper brewery on the site in the 1830s. The business was taken over by his son Thomas (born 1819) who was still running the brewery (pictured below) with his sons in the 1881 census, but died in 1886. The third generation, Thomas (born 1852) and Walter St John Fox (born 1855), took full control after their father’s death.
By the mid 1860s they had three main beers – BB Bitter, which they sold at £2 a barrel, XL Pale Ale at £2.25, and East India Pale Ale for £2.50 cash price. All had been “carefully brewed from malt of the finest quality and they are hopped with the best Kent growths.” They delivered to most of the then rural suburbs of south east London – including Lee and Lewisham every Thursday. By 1891 the Oak Brewery was attempting to mimic the Burton Pale Ales and treated the water with gypsum, quarried by the River Trent to try to do this.
By 1909 they had expanded their range of beer – the best known was Farnborough Ale (FA) – which they described as ‘bright, sparking and nutritious.’ They had almost 40 tied public houses and employed 110 workers in brewing, distribution as well as associated trades such as barrel making and a blacksmith. The brewery was the centre of village life in Green Street Green, with around 30 tied cottages.
Early in the 20th century, the brothers may have been in some financial problems – they were certainly re-mortgaging some of the ‘tied houses’ in 1906. The partnership was dissolved in 1907 and they decided to retire, putting the brewery put up for sale including its ‘tied houses.’ (2 – see cutting below).
It was not a good time to sell – values in the brewing industry were falling sharply (3), the 1904 Licensing Act gave magistrates more powers to refuse licences, particularly if there were a number of pubs in the area, although the value of the smaller number licences was expected to increase (4).
The Oak Brewery was bought in June 1907 for £89,000 (5); but the new owners clearly struggled and there was a second auction in April 1908 (6), but with a ‘reserve’ of £60,000 it failed to attract any interest. It was split into smaller lots in June 1909 (7 – see below) with other breweries buying up the tied houses. As brewing stopped in July 1909, presumably there was a separate sale of the buildings which were put to a variety of other uses after 1909 including military uses in the First World War and a later a plastic factory. The buildings were demolished for housing in the 1960s.
- The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 10, 1894; pg. 10; Issue 34443.
- The Times (London, England), Saturday, May 18, 1907; pg. 20; Issue 38336.
- The Times (London, England), Saturday, Dec 28, 1907; pg. 13; Issue 38528.
- The Times (London, England), Saturday, Jun 19, 1909; pg. 15; Issue 38990.
Census and related information comes from Find My Past
Kelly’s Directory data is from the Collection at Leicester University
Wow such interesting history!
Thanks. Really interesting. I love local history and you always have an interesting angle.
Interesting post. There is a similar ‘ghost sign’ on the wall of The Lamb and Flag PH in Leeds. The only thing is the pub is not yet two years old and was previously office/commercial premises. The sign is purely fictitious and serves only to fool the general public into believing the premises have a brewing and pubby tradition. It works rather well though and the whole pub is a stunning example of how to create a sense of a history through clever modern design. There are lots of these genuine signs across Leeds – look up on gable end at top of Headingley Lane at junction of Cardigan Road when walking to Headingley cricket/rugby ground.
I suspect there are quite a few fake ghost signs around, there is one about 3 or 4 miles away from me in Telegraph Hill for a fictional bakers – sadly it was painted over quite a well preserved sign for real bakers when the building was converted into flats.
There are still loads around though, with links to long gone businesses and trades – it sounds as though Leeds has a good smattering of them.
They generally aren’t listed so they don’t have much protection and in a generation or so, I suspect that most of them will have faded beyond recognition, unless they emerge from behind their more modern counterparts.
Thanks for visiting.
Maybe we all should be compiling a photographic record of these signs?
There is someone who is doing that, maybe contact Sam @ http://www.ghostsigns.co.uk/ with your Leeds signs
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Hi Paul, I’ve been puzzling over this one, and an alternative theory is that the Fox & Sons brand continued after 1909 under different ownership. From 1920 there is John Lovibond, wine and spirit merchant, on the premises, and the ‘agent for’ line at the top of the sign would fit with them selling Fox & Sons beers. The ‘brand’ as opposed to the pubs was bought by Golding & Co, but it’s not clear what they did with it after that: http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=Golding_%26_Co
As always, a fascinating read. Sam
Thanks for that; I must admit it is one that I’ve been thinking about during lockdown as I pass it a couple of times a week on runs. I was wondering in terms of whether I had missed something and it is on my list of things to check once archives are open again via Kelly’s Directories (along with the Holdaway and Sandhurst market signs). Assuming that the branding was taken over, the final incarnation of the sign could then be after 1908 even though Farnborough appears.
I’m going to publish something on it next week, but I think the clue might be in the mews that looks to have once extended from what is now 51 Springrice Road, around to the building that you have destroyed by fire and which looks to be in-fill. If you do satellite view in google you’ll see what I mean. I feel like this might unlock it, and help to pin it to before 1909 which is the most logical explanation if the brand didn’t continue for some time after its 1909 sale.
Paul, hot off the press, I think you’ll like this: https://www.patreon.com/posts/sly-fox-sons-on-48502751
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