King’s Brewhouse, Stepney

Above: Part of a map by Braun and Hogenberg, 1572.

The King’s Brewhouse, Stepney

For anyone seeking a visual impression of how Tudor London once looked, a good place to start is with the so-called ‘Agas Map’ which, from the places shown on it, can be dated to about 1561. A very similar map, although on a much smaller scale, was produced in 1572 by two men called Braun and Hogenberg. The strange fact about the two maps is that it is unlikely that either of the people who drew them ever actually visited London. The two maps are only known from existing paper copies.

In the 1970s, one copper plate of a much more detailed map was found. That map – known simply as the Copper Engraving – was produced about 1550. The date was established by looking at some of the buildings on the copper plate. The engraver is not known. Since the 1970s, two more copper plates from the same map have been discovered. The three copper plates are all that we know of this third map because, strangely, no paper copies are known to exist. Comparing the two paper maps against the Copper Engraving, it is easy to see that they were copied from it. The Copper Engraving is much more detailed than the paper maps and there are no additional details on the paper maps that are not shown on the Copper Engraving. It is generally assumed that the person who made the Copper Engraving either lived in London or came to London to make the plates from first-hand observation. The other two maps were made at later times by copying the Copper Engraving.

On the map by Braun and Hogenberg map, the words ‘Beere howse’ are shown near the right-hand border. The name does not appear on the Agas map. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent Copper Engraving for this part of the map. It is, therefore, only the Braun and Hogenberg map that has this name.

It can be seen that the small part of the map shows the Thames – with the Tower of London on the north bank and Tooley Street and Horselydown on the south. What is curious about the map is that beside each bank is the label ‘Beere howse’. Someone jokingly has said that, when the mapmaker had reached the eastern end of the land shown on the map, he probably enjoyed a pint of ale in a hostelry and added them to his map. However, there may well be more to the story than that trivial explanation.

Closer inspection of the map shown above will reveal that, on the north bank, to the east of the Tower of London is also shown the Hospital of St Katharine. Further east (right on the very edge of the map) is a small dock with a sailing ship moored there. The mapmaker draws our attention to the location with the words ‘Beere howse’. Much later in time, the St Katharine Docks were built on much of the land, occupying 24 acres, which means that the layout is very different from what we see on Braun and Hogenberg map.

Although it is not shown on the map, it is known that ‘The King’s Brewhouse’ stood very close to the Hospital. In the 16th century, the area outside the Hospital consisted of many narrow streets, crammed with residents, largely composed of foreigners – mostly Flemish and Dutch or persons of foreign extraction. They carried on their trades near, yet outside, the City from which they were excluded, being aliens. Here on the quayside the little ships from Holland landed their goods and took on board cargoes for their homeward voyage. Beer would have been one of the commodities to be shipped. John Stow, writing in 1605, remarks that ‘the brewers remain to the friendly water of the Thames.’

In the narrow circuitous Nightingale Lane leading from East Smithfield to the banks of the river stood one of these breweries. It is recorded that ‘This part of the public sustenance was subject to regulation as early as Henry VII who, in 1499, licensed John Merchant, a Fleming, to export 50 tuns of Ale called ‘Berre’ and in the same reign one Geoffrey Gate, probably a King’s officer spoiled [took possession of] the brew-houses at St Katharine’s twice, either for sending too much abroad or brewing it too weak for home consumption.’ There was a steady demand for this beer from foreign parts and even when there was a scarcity of corn, its exportation was permitted by Royal Licence. The King’s brewhouse on the east of St Katharine’s stood at a place which bore the name of the Hermitage, where a small chapel sometime stood for prayer for the preservation of the embankment or river wall. While we shall never know for certain, it is just possible that the mapmaker knew about the King’s Brewhouse and the label ‘Beere howse’ was added for that reason.

Above: The King’s Brewery is shown on John Rocque’s map of 1746.

The brewery remained until at least the 18th century because it is shown on John Rocque’s small-scale map of London for 1746. The site is not shown on the map but the label beside the banks of the Thames indicates that it stood nearby.

Above: A small part of the Ordnance Survey map for 1895. It shows the Tudor site of the King’s Brewhouse relative to the entrance-lock to the St Katharine Docks.

Interestingly, the site of the King’s Brewhouse is more precisely marked on the Ordnance Survey map for 1895. This indicates that this was an important building and not ‘just another of the many London brewhouses’. The approximate site of the King’s Brewhouse is just north of the junction of today’s Burr Close with St Katharine’s Way.

The Beer House, Horselydown

As for the other label above Horselydown, there is no known reason for its existence. Horselydown, which extended east from today’s Potter’s Fields to St Saviour’s Dock, was a tiny hamlet. Few people lived there (unlike the area just mentioned around the Hospital of St Katharine) and most of the land was open fields. In fact, the name Horselydown is believed to derive from horses grazing on the land. There are no recorded references to a brewery at this point on the Thames for Tudor times.

It is interesting to note that, in 1787, John Courage bought the Anchor Brewhouse which stood on part of Horselydown. Today, hardly anyone ever refers to the land as Horselydown. If asked, a local would probably tell you that is part of Bermondsey but they are more likely to say it is part of the London Borough of Southwark. Although the famous brewery building is still standing, it has been converted into luxury apartments.

See also: Courage Brewery – 11 July 2018 – SHOW_THE_WEBPAGE


This entry was posted in /Thames (c1), /Tow-Stepney. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to King’s Brewhouse, Stepney

  1. Max says:

    London – by Braun & Hogenberg (ca 1572-1624) Hi-res 6926 x 4904 size.


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