Page Updated:- Sunday, 07 March, 2021.


Beer Retailers




BY Libby Cohen.

Before modern methods of farming were available it was difficult to make a living off the soil in Shipbourne as it was barely nutritious enough to grow arable crops such as wheat and oats. However, pockets of different soil did allow cob nuts, cherries, apples and hops to be grown.

Hops were a crop that suited small farmers as labour was mainly concentrated in picking when the whole family and itinerant workers could be employed for the task. The bines were cut down and the flowers - cones - picked off. In the 19th century most of the local farms, no matter how small, had oast houses to dry their harvested hops, as the flowers had to be dried on the day they were picked.

The original oast kilns of the 1800's were square - as can still be seen at Higlers on Back Lane – but subsequently round kilns were built. Heat from a fire beneath the roundel rose to dry the flowers.

The cowl on the top of the roof rotated allowing moisture to escape and air to circulate in the roundel. The dried hops were then cooled, pressed and packed in sacks ready to be sold to the brewery.

Vast quantities of hops were needed by the breweries to fulfil the demand for their beer. Hops were used because, in addition to giving the beer a distinctive bitter taste, they also acted as a mild antiseptic, inhibiting growth of bacteria that soured it.

In 1830 Parliament passed The Beer Act permitting 'the general sale of beer and cyder by retail in England'. Although most farms grew hops not all of them wanted to brew beer for sale. However, those farming families who did could now apply for a licence (costing 2 guineas per annum) to brew beer and sell it from their own home.

Those who had apple orchards could also make and sell cider. The "Kentish Rifleman" – a licensed beerhouse since 1718 originally known as the "Red Lion" then the "Yeoman" – now had fresh competition.

Although some farmers found that brewing their own beer was a useful way of supplementing their income it was not an easy option.

Gallons of water had to be boiled in a copper, added to which were hops and malt; these were then mashed (steeped) in a large wooden tub. In a clean copper the strained wort (sugar-rich liquid produced from the malt) was then boiled and more hops added. Finally, the wort was cooled, yeast added along with more hops and a handful of flour, then left to ferment.

Beer could be made in March or October. However, local farmers possibly made lightly hopped ale, followed by small beer, as these could be drunk as soon as they cleared. The demand for beer was extensive as most men would drink several pints a day. To quote Cobbett , "Any beer is better than water."

Higlers Farm brewed and sold beer during the 19th and 20th century when workers on the local estates took their penny beer money to collect their portion. When the "Bull Inn" was being re-built in the 1880's – to be called "New Inn," now the "Chaser" – Brookers Cottage, part of Brookers Farm, was used as a beerhouse in its stead.

In 1891 William Bowyer was a beer retailer at Woodcocks Cider House. However, business must have dropped off because by 1901 he was also a coal merchant. Nevertheless, brewing must have been in his blood because he moved on to become the manager at the "New Inn" and, in 1911, the Haines family took up residence and
renamed the cider house the "Woodcock" public house.

Beerhouses simply sold beer and cider as it was only inns – such as the "New Inn" or the "Artichoke Inn" – that were permitted under licence to sell spirits or wine. All the same, it was important that there was a local beerhouse to visit after a hard and thirsty day's work particularly as it meant less far to stagger home at night.


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