Above: The large Ram pub in Wandsworth High Street, photographed when it was still in use. It is presently closed but it is expected to reopen after the development of the whole site is completed.
As the enormous site is under renovation and development – with houses, office units, shops and restaurants – it is an appropriate time to tell the story of one of London’s famous breweries.
Records show that the Ram pub, on the corner of today’s Wandsworth High Street and Ram Street, was in existence around 1550. In the early days, pubs were not supplied with beer by large breweries, as they are today. Nearly every pub then used to brew its own beer. It would seem that the site of the pub was ideal because within only a hundred yards of the building flows the River Wandle. The clear stream would have provided an endless source of water for brewing. The earliest mention of brewing at the Ram was in 1576. After several mentions of brewing at the pub, in the 1600s and 1700s, we know that the Ram was purchased by Charles Allen Young and Anthony Fothergill Bainbridge in 1831. Ownership remained with the Young family until 2006. Young’s claimed that the Ram Brewery was the oldest British brewery in continuous operation.
Above: Part of the brewery (facing onto Wandsworth High Street) beside Wandle Bridge (in the shadows on the left). The Ram pub is on the far right.
The last Chairman of Young & Co was John Young – the great-great-grandson of the founder. The premises became the main brewery for Young’s beers in London. On 23 May 2006, the company issued a press release announcing that the Ram Brewery was to close and brewing was to be moved to the Eagle Brewery in Bedford, then owned by Charles Wells. Chairman John Young died on 17 September 2006, just a few days before the closure of the brewery, whilst the final brew was being run at the Ram brewery Wandsworth. Beer from the last brew was served at his funeral on 29 September 2006.
From what was probably a large yard and outhouses next to the original pub, the premises were expanded west to the River Wandle and north to Armoury Way. The extensive site had many buildings that are being preserved for future use when the development has been completed.
The brewery in Wandsworth supplied Young’s public houses in London and the area to the south-west, which still numbered over 200. It also sold to many other pubs and supermarkets. Beer was also exported to many European countries, Canada, the United States and Japan. The company produced three regular beers and a series of seasonal and occasional cask ales, keg lagers, and several filtered and pasteurised bottled beers. Young’s also produced several beers for InBev, such as Courage Best and Mackeson Stout.
Young & Co is still based in Wandsworth. Until June 2007 it was based at offices at the Ram Brewery but it later moved into its new head office, around the corner from the former brewery site.
At the time of its closure in 2006, the brewery was a mix of ancient and ultra-modern plant, including a steam engine which had been installed in 1835 and had been in regular use until the 1980s. The Ram Brewery officially closed at the end of the business day on Monday, 25 September 2006.
A number of animals were resident in the brewery, including a ram, a number of geese and about a dozen working draught horses – mainly shire horses. Until the closure of the brewery, the horses and drays were still used for local deliveries of beer to locations within a mile or two of the brewery.
The new owner of the site, property company Minerva plc, has hired one of the former Young’s brewers, John Hatch, as the site manager. One of his jobs is to keep brewing going on the site via a ‘nano-brewery’ set up in the old Young’s laboratory. Hatch’s new Ram Brewery brews at least once a week in order to maintain the ‘oldest British brewery’ claim.
Above: The weathervane, with the ram emblem, continues to gleam in the sun while development work continues on the site.
Redevelopment of the site was announced in July 2013 – providing new residential and commercial properties alongside shops, bars, restaurants and public open spaces. Some of the historic buildings on the site will be retained and restored. They will house a new micro-brewery and a museum of brewing history, in which the coppers and beam engine will be displayed. Nearby, the banks of the River Wandle, on the western side of the site, will also be opened up for public access.
In passing, it should be mentioned that all the well-known breweries in London – like Courage, Truman and many others – have all closed down. Apart from small local breweries, which continue to flourish, none of the original large breweries is operational in London any more. They have all relocated to large sites well outside London.
Comment – Know Your London Images
In addition to the blogs that you read three times each week on this Website, there is another Website which carries some images of London that are of particular interest – selected from my large collection, taken over many years. Images are added from time to time – not as regularly as the blogs on this Website. If you would like to take a look, the link is . . .
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