Youth is a time for falling in love. Whilst middle age can be devoted to fame and fortune and old age to remembering where you left your false teeth: youth is the time to open your heart to passion. As a young man I fell in love with breweries. I realise that this may make me sound a little odd, but there is something about breweries – the sensuous curves of the mash tubs, the promise of pleasures to come, the light headed response to those special aromas. Whist my peers were lusting over whatever pop princess or film starlet was in fashion at the time, I was out taking photographs of breweries.
I was reminded of this youthful eccentricity only yesterday as I scanned some old negatives I shot in the 1970s which feature the old Albion Brewery on the Whitechapel Road in London. It was – and to a much lesser extent, still is – a magnificent building which displays much of the grandiosity of nineteenth century brewery architecture. This was a time when both brewers and breweries were getting bigger and anxious to display their commercial superiority (in sharp contrast, it must be said to today when brewing is returning to its small-scale roots). Some of the old Albion Brewery still exists – the fancy bits have been converted into desirable residences whilst the boring bits have been converted into a Sainsbury’s Supermarket.
To get a feel of the old brewery at the hight of its fame, when it was the commercial home of Mssrs Mann, Crossman and Paulin, you need to turn to that bible of brewerama – Alfred Barnard’s “The Noted Breweries Of Great Britain and Ireland (1889-91)”. Barnard devotes three chapters to the Albion Brewery – here is just a short extract:
“Breweries have certain peculiarities in their external appearance, whereby they are easily distinguishable from any other industries. They are mostly lofty buildings with tall chimney shafts and large windows, and from the ventilating louvres of the edifice there is generally issuing forth a cloud of steam from the boiling wort and hops, which fills the air with a most healthful and appetising odour. This establishment was no exception to the rule, and its buildings form a conspicuous object in the locality. It is situated in the Mile End Road, close to the old turn-pike gate, and covers nearly five acres of ground. In olden times the brewery was almost hidden from the public road, for where is now the noble entrance and spacious courtyard in front of the brewery, formerly stood a row of alms-houses, next to which was the counting house, brewery-tap and the “Blind Beggar” public house, the latter still in existence”
Barnard was well into his fifties when he wrote this, but still you can detect that youthful passion that we both obviously shared. Whilst it will be a long time before I will ever bring myself to mourn the standardised and anodyne output of those grand nineteenth century breweries, the buildings had a magnificence without equal in the world of today.