Walmer Brewery 1816-1978
Although no firm evidence appears to
exist, it is widely believed that Upper Walmer was home to
a brewery from Tudor times and possibly earlier. It certainly
seems that there was already a small brewery on the Dover
Road just south of the old Walmer Village and that in 1816
this was acquired by Edmund Thompson who then operated it
as Thompson & Sons. In 1867 John Matthews bought the business
and greatly expanded and modernised it, although he retained
the Thompson Brewery name.
The maltings, bottling plants, brew
house, stables and blacksmith's eventually covered a very
large area in the village and were an important local employer.
Further houses were bought in Dover Road for use as offices
and to house staff, and a long terrace of brick cottages was
built in Belmont to house more workers.
During the 1950s, the brewery became
part of the Charrington's company and its role reduced to
a bottling and distribution plant. It eventually closed in
1972 and was demolished in 1978 to make way for a housing
development at Downlands. The old bell once housed in the
belfry at the brewery was re-sited at the Thompson Bell, the
last remaining public house in the village.
|The Walmer Brewery
as it was originally built, before the extensions erected
by Mr Edmund Thompson in 1826. The main brewhouse and
ancillary buildings could still be identified after this
|| Thompson &
Son's Walmer Brewery probably as seen from an attic window
of The Old House which once stood opposite. Left to right
are the cask washing, maltings, brew house, bottling department
and the stables. (photo courtesy: Win Barrow)
Thompson's Walmer Brewery
It is said that the funds that enabled Edmund
Thompson to acquire and develop the brewery at Walmer in 1816
were from a family fortune derived from the dubious exploits
of Captain Richard Thompson attacking a Spanish galleon and
holding the crew prisoner for a substantial ransom.
Unfortunately, the early records of Thompson
& Sons were lost in an office fire in 1820, so much of
the early history of the brewery must be speculation, as stated
by the authors of The Deal and Walmer Illustrated Guide
published in 1897. They wrote:
"Although there is no evidence
of this brewery having been in existence prior to the date
mentioned, we cannot but think that Walmer must have boasted
a similar establishment, on a smaller scale, at some anterior
period, and that Mr Thompson's more important organisation
was designed to replace and enlarge upon the latter.
"The brewery buildings cover
a large area of ground in the picturesque village of Upper
Walmer. They are approached from the main Dover Road by means
of a wide gateway, with public and private offices on the
left; and the entire range of premises, mostly of quite modern
construction, has been admirably planned throughout; strict
cleanliness and good order being distinctly observable features
in each spacious department. Plant and appliance, too, even
to the smallest minor details are of the latest improved kinds,
and necessarily equal to an extremely large regular turn-out.
In fact, the firm's well known trade mark, the South Foreland
Lighthouse, on either bottled or draught ales or stout, may
always be looked upon as a distinct guarantee of purity and
As with the other East Kent breweries at
that time, Thompson & Sons had a distinctive range of
ales and stout. The authors of the Illustrated Guide
sang their praises:
"The A.K.S. Bitter Ale will
be found a particularly well flavoured tonic ale for general
use; whilst the A.K. cheaper ale, and the celebrated India
Pale Ale are both of excellent quality, clear and bright to
the last. The latter as well as Pale Ale, Light Dinner Ale,
Stout and Cooper are also obtainable in fine condition in
screw topped bottles. The other productions of the Walmer
Brewery consist of X, XX and XXX Ales of varying strengths,
Double Stout and Porter; whilst the firm also bottle large
quantities of Bass's Ales in the best possible condition."'
With the acquisition of the brewery in 1867
by Mr John Matthews (formerly the senior partner in Matthews
and Canning of The Anchor Brewery in Chelsea, London) the
operation expanded and he had new maltings built. By 1897
the brewery was under the management of Mr Arthur J. and Mr
William P. Matthews who had succeeded John Matthews.
Two years later Thompson & Sons had
acquired the only other similar establishments in the area,
that of Messrs Hills of Deal and Great Mongeham. Hill's brewing
operations were transferred to Walmer and their "tied"
public houses taken over and added to the Thompson's chain.
The drawing reproduced in the Deal & Walmer Guide
shows the old brewery with its tall chimney to the right
and stables and dray shed in front. The 'maltings' appear
in the centre, with a covered way between the bottling
department, company offices and oast houses on the left.
There's some artistic licence with the buildings increased
in size according to their importance and any people,
horses or vehicles diminished in scale.
This photograph captures the same site (as shown on in
the sketch on the left) from almost the same position.
The date is unknown.
Thompson & Son's brewery workers circa 1890, showing
that then employees would have been exclusively male prior
to World War One.
Road, Upper Walmer, showing Thompson's Brewery on the
left, the garden wall of The Old House on the right and
other properties occupied by employees of the firm. (photo
courtesy: Win Barrow)
The Brewery in World War One
When the First World war broke out Army
mules were housed in the former brewery stables. It is said
they would regularly escape and go trotting off down the road
until rounded up. The stables had been erected for the heavy
'draught' horses used to pull the delivery carts known as
However, in 1912 Thompson & Sons acquired
a Sentinel steam wagon for deliveries to their outlying 'tied
houses' and, when horses were requisitioned by the Army in
1916, they acquired another similar vehicle. These were replaced
post-war - possibly about 1930/31 - with motor lorries and
the proprietor of a local garage in Station Road was quickly
recruited to teach the "steam drivers" how to handle
their new vehicles.
Between the World Wars
One recollection of life in Walmer during
the 1920s comes from Dick Game, whose father was then the
Head Brewer at Thompson's Brewery. He remembered that the
smell of beer pervaded the whole area and its tall chimney
was visible for miles. Employing seventy people, who in turn
supported the shops and local businesses, the brewery never
closed, although work stopped on the whistle. Dick's family
lived at King's Cottage on the Dover Road on the southern
edge of the village. Opposite the brewery were terraced houses,
the end one occupied by Major George Matthews and his wife
whilst the company secretary Mr Taylor and his wife and three
grown-up daughters lived next door. Dick Game recalled:
"As you went through the main
gates of the Brewery, on the right was the cask washing. Hot
water and steam, men in clogs and leather aprons washing our
Hogsheads (51½ gallons), Barrels (35 gallons), Kilderkins
(18 gallons), Firkins (9 gallons) and Pins (4½ gallons).
On the left was the office, a single storey building with
big windows, while behind that was the bottle store, where
the women worked and machines filled bottles with different
beers, and then labelled them."
The site's malt house was a long low building
with small shuttered windows where men with wooden shovels
turned the sprouting barley. As the single main employer in
the village, the owners of the brewery held strong influence
over the lives of their workers. For example when there was
a General Election the brewery was decorated with the local
Conservative Party orange and purple colours and it wasn't
a wise move to voice opposition and risk losing your job or
Brewery owners and brothers, William and
Arthur Matthews both lived near their brewery.
Mr and Mrs 'Willie' Matthews occupied the
Old House, facing the brewery on the Dover Road but later
demolished and now the Thompson Close estate. (Correction:
We have been advised that the Old House was located behind
the old brick wall in front of numbers 373 and 375 Dover Road,
just to the south of the entrance to St Margaret's Drive.)
Mr and Mrs Arthur Matthews and their daughter,
Miss Eileen Matthews, lived in The Shrubbery, also on the
Dover Road. A large house set in substantial grounds next
to the "Convent of the Visitation", it stood on
the site of an older property once occupied by Princess Amelia,
one of William IV's daughters. The Shrubbery house and the
Convent no longer exist, although the Shrubbery name is used
for a local housing estate and the fine Pugin designed Convent
Church remains a significant landmark on the Dover Road.
|The Old House,
the home of director Mr Willie Matthews, stood on the
opposite side of Dover Road to the Brewery. Demolished
in the 1960s, the site is now occupied by two modern houses
- nos 373 and 375 Dover Road. (photo courtesy: Mrs Maureen
In July 1973, a local newspaper reported that the Licensed
Victuallers National Homes had applied for outline planning
permission to build 36 flatlets for elderly people connected
with the licensed trade at the southern end of The Brewery
site, seen here in a photo probably taken around the
The Second World War
Its location on rising ground alongside the Dover Road, made
Walmer Brewery an important link in the defence of the village
against feared invasion in the summer of 1940. A 'Defile Flame
Trap' was installed behind the garden wall of the 'The Old
House' and in the brewery yard. This combination of tanks
of petrol and a pump allowed petrol to be sprayed onto the
road and set alight with a Molotov Cocktail. Apparently it
was tested - with mixed results, the flames not damaging the
roadway too much but setting alight a nearby garden hedge
which had to be quickly extinguished.
The brewery's prominent location also made it vulnerable
to attack by enemy fighter-bombers on raids across the Channel.
With constant air raid alerts interrupting production, such
premises had a 'roof spotter' positioned on the look out to
warn of any imminent attack. One of these was 16-year-old
Peter Finnis who recalled his look out post was on top of
an oast house where he and a colleague often remained on duty
from 8am to 6pm using a bell system to warn brewery staff
of approaching enemy planes and shelling.
After the war had ended the brewery resumed peace-time operations
once again. The former "Old House" home of Mr 'Willie'
Matthews had been vacated during the war, and was now taken
over as the brewery offices, apart from one wing retained
as worker accommodation.
The Charrington Era
In 1951 Thompson & Sons was taken over by the then owners
of the Mile End Brewery in London, as part of their expansion,
which also included the Kemp Town Brewery, Brighton. The Sussex
town gained priority and in 1953 Walmer was reduced to just
a bottling and storage plant for beer brewed elsewhere. The
offices at "The Old House" were moved back across
the road into the main building and the old beer cellar used
Upon the closure of the bottling department in 1964, the
buildings were retained as a storage facility for local deliveries,
until the parent firm itself was in turn taken over by Charringtons.
In January 1971 Charrington's announced that the Walmer Brewery
would close the next year and work transfer to a new depot
to be built at Faversham.
After standing empty for several years, while negotiations
were being undertaken to redevelop the site, the work of demolishing
the buildings and clearing the site finally started in 1978.
The dilapidated buildings of the old Walmer Brewery just
prior to their demolition in 1978. The notice on the gable
end of the old office block warns trespassers against
entering the site. (photo: David G Collyer)
Little remains of the original buildings as demolition
and site clearance proceeds.
The George and Dragon public house on the Dover Road at Upper
Walmer was renamed The Thompson Bell.
The Old House opposite the brewery was demolished and its
site now occupied by two modern houses, fronting on the Dover
Road and part of the Thompson Close housing development. A
former sports ground behind The Old House became a permanent
The site where the former offices, maltings, bottling plant
and the buildings around the stable yard once stood were redeveloped
to create the residental estates at Downlands Close, Kingsland
Gardens and Newlands Drive.
Walmer Design Statement
(Walmer Parish Council, 2006)
Articles on "The Walmer
Brewery 1816-1978" by David G. Collyer
The Illustrated Guide to Deal
& Walmer (1897)
by Mr Dick Game, Mrs Maureen Over, Mrs Win Barrow, Mr Roger
Saunders, Mr Peter Finnis and Mr Terry Williams.
of former Old House on the Dover Road by Mr Tony Adams (April
Dover Kent Archives website