Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Victorian Beer Mail

Discovered this buried in the bottom of a drawer from the days when I collected (geek alert) stamps and from a time when I had a disposable income to spend on frivilous nonsense! Anyway, thought it would be a perfect diversion for this blog. It's a letter dated September 6th, Glasgow, Scotland 1849 and is addressed simply to a Mr John Jeffrey, Brewer, Edinburgh.

Here's an image of the letter inside. It appears to be an urgent request for beer.

Here's the transcript, as best as I can decipher :

Glasgow, September 5th 1849

Dear Sir,

Having neglected to order ale from Mr. Rutherford you would much oblige me by sending one half of $5.50* if you have it back. I will be much obliged as I am nearly out.

                                                                                       I am Sir,
                                                                                       Your humble servant,
                                                                                       William Smith
                                                                                       241 Gallowgate, Glasgow

 * Note - This is in British Pounds, not dollars of course.

On the back of the envelope it has Glasgow 5 Sept. 1849 and the names of John Rutherford (which is crossed out - I assume that means he was aware that the letter was being sent) and also Wm. Smith, the sender.

From internet research I was able to establish that a brewery did exist in Edinburgh that was owned by a John Jeffrey and Co. in 1837 (see below, from the Scottish Brewing Archive). I've also included the updated history of the brewery for those that may be interested. It appears to have lasted until the 1990's in one form or another.

A brewery was reputedly operating on Heriot Bridge, Grassmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland, from the early sixteenth century. By 1800 the brewery was owned by Baillie Gordon, trading as Gordon & Hume, and in about 1820 it was acquired by Buchan & Co. Thomas Stewart took over the brewery in about 1830, followed by John Jeffrey and his younger brother David in 1837, trading under the name of John Jeffrey & Co. The Grassmarket site soon became cramped and land was purchased in 1865 at Roseburn, on the western outskirts of Edinburgh, where new maltings, an ale store and a cooperage were built.

A new brewhouse was added to the Roseburn site in 1880 but brewing continued at the Heriot Brewery until 1900 when the site was sold to Heriot–Watt College for GBP 2,500. The firm was one of the pioneers of lager brewing in Scotland and had a large export trade and tied trade in Scotland and northern England, with deposits in Glasgow, Scotland, Newcastle–upon–Tyne, England and Manchester, England.

John Jeffrey & Co Ltd was registered in July 1934 as a private limited liability company to acquire the business. The company acquired Edinburgh United Breweries Ltd in 1935 and was converted into a public company in 1938. It supplied ale to James Calder Co Ltd, Alloa, Scotland, from 1951 and a new bottling plant was built at Sighthill, Edinburgh, in 1955.

In February 1960 the company merged with Hammonds United Breweries Ltd, Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, and Hope and Anchor Breweries Ltd, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, through Northern Breweries of Great Britain Ltd, York and London, England. United Breweries Ltd, as Northern Breweries of Great Britain Ltd was renamed, merged with Charrington United Breweries Ltd, London. Brewing continued at Heriot Brewery until its closure in the 1990s.

I was unable to find anything out about the sender of the letter, Wm. Smith, and it appears whatever pub existed at 241 Gallowgate is long gone. Hardly surprising, since the Gallowgate area of Glasgow had at one time 86 pubs in just over a 2 mile area, making it the most populous - or should that be pub-ulous - street in Glasgow. "Eric's Carpets" now resides at 239-241 Gallowgate. Apparently a pub must have existed at 241 Gallowgate at one time because in 1875 a listing of Gallowgate License Holders mentions one Archibald Mitchell with an address listed as 241 Gallowgate.

Much of this information was gleamed from this excellent website :

For a bit of historical background, Glasgow around that time was described as "possibly the filthiest and unhealthiest of all British towns" (and they had a lot of competition)! They had a cholera outbreak in 1849 and in 1850 it was reported that one half of all children born in Glasgow died before their 5th birthday. They also had a large influx of Irish peasants escaping the famine in Ireland at the time (1845-'52) that contributed to the overcrowding - it was said that Irish with money went to America, those with some money went to Liverpool and those with no money went to Glasgow. Queen Victoria visited the city in 1849 and was the first reigning monarch to do so since the 1600's. An estimated 400,000 people lined the streets along her route, which is quite impressive since the population of Scotland's biggest city was listed at 329,096 in 1851 (with over 18% Irish born).

That concludes today's history lesson, I hope you managed to stay awake....


1 comment:

  1. Makes me want to go drinking in Scotland again!