The Weller Brewery

There have been a number of articles written about the Weller Brewery at Amersham and this page is a collection of some of them.

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An extract from;

"Amersham; an English Market Town"

(unpublished), Nicholas Salmon 1991.


Prior to the mid-eighteenth Century brewing was largely a household occupation, with individual families, farmers and publicans brewing primarily for their own private consumption. Monastic foundations also brewed beer and it has been suggested that the first large-scale brewing enterprise was undertaken by monks affiliated to St. Mary's Church. According to T. A. Goss writing in the 1930s, "Tradition has handed down that the Brewery building, with the Old Malt House, in the Broadway, were used by the monks from about 1425 onwards for the making of malt from which the beer was brewed" (A History of Amersham, by T. A. Goss, (unpublished, c.1935), p.24). Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support the existence of such a brewery, or, for that matter, a monastic foundation, and it is probable that most of the town's beer was brewed by Brewing Victuallers of which 48,421 were recorded nationwide in 1750 (The Transformation of England, by Peter Mathias, (Methuen, 1979), p.231).

The first authentic reference to the Amersham Brewery occurs in an entry for the 17 April 1735 in the Court Baron Rolls for the Manor of Amersham Rectory. In this entry Sir William Drake is recorded as having been fined 5s for having illegally erected a brewhouse "on ye Lord's waste over ye River" from St. Mary's Church. The site of this illegal brewery was on that of the present building, and the brewhouse was probably nothing more than the reconstruction of an existing sixteenth-century building - possibly the Malt Mill recorded in 1504 - already in existence on the site. This is partly confirmed by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments report on the building undertaken in 1912 (Royal Commission on historical Monuments: Buckinghamshire, Volume I, (HMSO, 1912), p.3). In this report a number of sixteenth century features are identified which could easily have been adapted from an earlier building. These included an early brick chimney stack at the south end, and the remains of some interesting arched panels on the joists in both the east and west sides. In addition an early sixteenth century stone fireplace with moulded jambs and four-centred arch in a square head with traceried spandrels located On the first floor also looked as though it might have been incorporated from an earlier structure.


The exact date at which the Weller family took possession of the premises is uncertain. What clues that do exist suggest a date in the early 1770s, perhaps indeed 1771 as suggested by the 1929 auction catalogue (Auction Catalogue, (1929), p.2). What we do know is that the founder, Mr. William Weller, married his wife, Ann House, in High Wycombe on 10 July 1758. Two years later he is described as a "maltster" in High Wycombe. The next clue is rather more obscure. In the late 1890’s a letter appeared in the Bucks Herald signed by 'G. W.' stating that the brewery records showed that the earliest delivery of beer had been made to the ‘Fleur di Lis’, at Winchmore Hill in 1762. This confirms that by this time the Wellers had branched out into brewing proper, but fails to confirm whether the business was still located in High Wycombe, or had in fact moved to Amersham.

William Weller(1727)
(There has been a suggestion that this is actually William Weller 1797-1858. Clarification is still being sought)

The first authentic reference to the Wellers in Amersham occurs on 22 December 1775 when William Weller is recorded as having purchased a storehouse - situated to the north of the church and behind the brewery - from John Lawrence (Conveyance, 23 March 1909). At this time the brewery itself was leased from the Hunt family who had presumably purchased it from the Drakes at some point in the 1760’s. As the first few years of the 1770’s were a period of bad harvests in which brewers were competing for malt at inflated prices which they were unable to pass on to publicans, it would be reasonable to assume that the Wellers delay in expanding the business had its origins in a short-term financial crisis. This seems to have been relieved by 1775, for not only did William Weller buy the aforementioned stockhouse from John Lawrence. but also his first two tied properties; the Saracen’s Head on 23 November and the Old Griffin, Mop End on 23 December.

The problem with being a brewer in a small town such as Amersham during the late eighteenth-century was that the market was limited and expansion reliant on the availability of Capital. For this reason the development of the brewery during the latter quarter of the eighteenth century was painfully slow and at the mercy of even the smallest fluctuations in the market. A further modest expansion was undertaken by William Weller during the early 1780’s. On 30 January 1783 he purchased the Griffin Malthouse (later renamed No.1 Malthouse) which was also situated behind the Churchyard and the next year the Fleur de Lis at Winchmore Hill from John Slade. However, only two other tied properties where added to the brewery during the remainder of his lifetime: the Merlin's Cave at Chalfont St. Giles in 1789 and the Rose and Crown - in the same town - in 1791 (Conveyance, 23 March 1909).

RacingComittie.jpg (21139 bytes)When William Weller died in 1802, the brewery was left jointly to his sons John (1759-1843) and William [2] (1764-1843). The two brothers came into their inheritance at a Crucial moment. Nationally the years 1797 and 1801 had been bad for the brewing industry (The Transformation of England, by Peter Mathias, (Methuen, 1979), p.231), and the relatively small size of the Amersham, business must have made it precarious financially. Although there is no direst evidence of the level of production at the Church Street Brewery at this time, it is interesting to note from the surviving documentation relating to charitable donations that the Wellers were still not considered sufficiently well established to figure prominently in subscription lists. As the family had not yet diversified into parallel business activities such as farming, all their capital must have been bound up in the brewery with the result that investment potential was severely curtailed.

Nevertheless, there is evidence that the two brothers bought extra capital into the enterprise - possibly through advantageous marriages - for they immediately embarked on an extensive expansion programme that was to be sustained throughout the nineteenth century. One of the main problems encountered by local brewers such as the Wellers was how to extend their market. During the eighteenth century we can be certain that the majority of the brewery’s sales were derived from purchases made by individuals and local publicans. However John and William[2] apparently realised that by extending the tied-property they would be able to increase production without recourse to middlemen. It is significant that within a few months of their fathers death they had almost doubled the tied estate by purchasing the ‘Chequers’, Amersham; the ‘Red Lion’ (previously the ‘Red Sun’), Coleshill; the ‘Queen’s Head’, Whielden Lane, Amersham; and the ‘Red Lion’, Penn (Conveyance, 23 March 1909).

Attention was next turned to extending the brewery premises. On 29 December 1810 they purchased little Pondwicks and various cottages from John Sergeant to serve as drayman’s accommodation, and two years later, on 12 January 1812, purchased the plot of land opposite the brewery from the reverend Jon Drake. The latter piece of land was used to build the stables and carpenters shop still to be seen lining the cobbled yard opposite the main brewery. Six years later John and William[2] finally entered into negotiations with George Hunt to purchase the Church Street Brewery outright. Agreement was finally reached on 28 November 1818, on which date the brewery and all it’s outbuildings came into their sole possession. On the same day they also purchased Barn Meadow (the present recreation ground). This development was completed when the new maltings, complete with water wheel, were built in Barn Meadow and the brewery completely refaced with brick (Reflections of Amersham, by Jean Archer, (undated), p.24).

Following the second redevelopment of the brewery a second impressive phase of tied-property acquisition was entered into. This began in 1819 with the purchase of the Shoulder of Mutton, Monks Risborough, followed by; the Pheasant, Chalfont St. Peter (1822); the White Lion, Great Missenden (1822), the Wheatsheaf, Oakley (1823); the Blue Ball Ashridge (1824); the Cricketers, Harefield, Middlesex (1824); the Red Lion, Chenies; (1830); the Green Man, Aylesbury (1832); the Leather Bottle, Wendover (1832); the Barley Corn, Bledlow (1836); the Plume of Feathers, Aylesbury (1837); the Red Lion, Amersham (1837); the Eagle, Amersham (1838); the Windmil, Chipperfield (1841); the Squirrel, Penn Street (1841) and the Wheatsheaf, Amersham (1842). In 1838 the Wellers also diversified their business interest for the first time when they purchased Woodside farm, Amersham Common (Conveyance, 23 March 1909).

Both John and William [2] Weller died in 1834, and the brewery passed jointly to John’s son Edward (1791-1850) and William [2]’s son William [3] (1797-1859). There is evidence that the two cousins had been involved in the business prior to this date as they were both actively involved in the purchase of the ‘Wheatsheaf’ in 1842. This probably explains the continued expansion of the business into the tied trade market. Between 1845 and 1859 the various pieces of land which comprised the White Lion, Buckland Common, were acquired and the following public houses purchased prior to Edward’s death in 1850; the Four Horse Shoes, Stokenchurch (1845); the Royal Oak, Wallington, Oxfordshire (1848), the Red Lion, Amersham Common (1848) and the Boot And Slipper, Amersham (1849). The house that served for many years as the town’s police station was also purchased by the Wellers from Thomas Squire on 25 March 1850 (Conveyance, 23 March 1909).

By the time of Edward’s death (when the brewery ceased to be a joint concern and fell into the sole ownership of William Weller [3]), it had become the most important industrial undertaking in the town. According to the 1851 census the brewery directly employed 45 men to brew beer and an additional 12 draymen to distribute it to the various tied properties. This made it the largest employer of labor after agriculture. Once the brewery had passed into his sole ownership, William [2] began to organise outings and entertainment for his employees. Each summer a brewery excursion was arranged. The first of these was to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and this was followed by others to the Crystal Palace, Earls Court, Windsor, Brighton, Eastbourne, Southampton, Southend and Margate (Bucks Herald, 7 September 1912, p.3). A dinner for each quarterly rent day was also arranged at the ‘Griffin’, as well as a Christmas meal for the employees of both the brewery and Woodside Farm.

However, the brewery did experience some local problems during the 1850s as a result of the passing of an extra duty on malt. It has been a tradition that the brewer should assume the responsibility for paying such duties but Mr. Weller apparently decided that it was time that the extra cost was passed onto the individual publicans. Circulars were sent to all his tenants and customers informing them that henceforth he expected them all to pay 2s per barrel towards the cost of the duty which would have added a penny to a pot of beer. The innkeepers immediately responded to this by holding a meeting at the Swan on 29 May 1854 at which between 70 and 120 landlords attended. Under the chairman of Mr. Day it was resolved "to continue the price of beer to the public as it had hitherto been and offering Mr. Weller 1s a barrel towards the increase in duty" (Bucks Herald, 3 June 1854, p.3). Faced with such a united opposition, Mr. Weller reluctantly accepted the compromise.

It is around this time that a second brewery was established in the town. Known as the Bury End or Morten Brewery this was situated on the south side of London Road almost opposite the ‘Chequers’. Details of this undertaking are scant but it appears to have been begun by Thomas Allen Morten in either the late 1830s or early 1840s. According to ‘Pigot and Co’s Directory for 1830, Morten began business as a corn dealer in the High Street before moving to London Road as a "corn dealer and brewer" sometime prior to 1842 (‘Pigot and Co’s Directory, (1830) p.70 and (1842) p.3). Hereafter the business must have expanded rapidly because the 1851 census records 22 men being in his employment. Thomas Morten probably died in the late 1850s at which time his son John Hailey Morten inherited the brewery. The 1881 census records the latter living on the brewery premises along with his wife Eliza and their 6 daughters. John Morten is last recorded in Kelley’s (Kelley’s Directory (1883) p.275 and (1887) p.313) in 1883 and is absent in 1887, a fact which suggests that the brewery closed on his death.

Meanwhile the Weller brewery continued its expansion despite the attentions of a growing temperance movement in the town. William Weller [3] died on 8 September 1859 having shortly before purchased Rumsey’s (now known as Badminton House) from Elisabeth Emma Rumsey on 27 April 1859. Under the terms of his will his estates were divided equally between his sons William [4] (1840-1908), Edward (1843-1890) and George (1844-1929). Once again the new generation of Wellers concentrated on extending the brewery’s tied estate. The Verney Arms, Great Marlow, was purchased in 1865, followed by the Magpies, Larkin’s Green, Coleshill (1871); the Bricklayer’s Arms, Bovingdon (1872), the Royal Oak, Cowley, Hillingdon, Middlesex (1875); the Pheasant, Hambledon (1875); the Red Lion, Burnham (1878); the King Edward VI, Berkhamsted (1879); the Red Lion, Kingshill (1883); Rose and Crown, Chorleywood (1889); the Jolly Farmers, Gold Hill, Chalfont St Peter (1890); and the Sir Charles Napier, Chinnor (1890). (Conveyance, 23 March 1909)

House opposite the Weller Brewery (2001)Edward Weller died in 1890 and his shares in the brewery were aquired by the other two brothers. Soon after, the remaining two brothers showed themselves conscious of the potential offered by the opening of the Metropolitan Railway extension on 1 September 1892 when they commissioned the building of the Station Hotel (renamed the Iron Horse by Benskin’s in 1963 (Bucks Examiner, 6 December 1963 p.1)). Built to the plans of Messrs. Vernon and Son of High Wycombe, this building was errected dirung the winter of 1893 (Bucks Herald, 30 September 1893, p.8). The building of the new hotel marked the end of the Black Horse as a pub, as it’s license was transferred to the new property (Bucks Herald, 24 March 1894, p.7). As the Station Hotel was the first public house to be built in the town for over one hundred years, a special party was held for the 30 or so workmen engaged on its construction at the Kings Arms on 14 October 1893 (Bucks Herald, 21 October 1893, p.7).

Following the considerable capital outlay on the Station Hotel there was a brief delay before additions were made to the tied estate. In 1894 the Kings Arms, Amersham was purchased from Messrs. Salter and Co. Ltd., and this was followed rapidly by the Black Horse, High Wycombe (1896); the Bricklayers Arms, Marlow (1897); the Brickmould, Hedgerley (1898); the Earle Howe, Holmer Green (1898); the Queen’s Head, Little Marlow (1899); the Three Crowns, Monks Risborough (1900); the Prince of Wales, Coleham Green, Hillingdon (1900); the Farmers Arms, Abbots Langley (1900); the Swan, Tring (1900); the Railway Hotel, Beaconsfield (1902); the Van Inn, High Wycombe (1902); the White Lion, Quainton (1903) and the Waggon and Horses, Denham (1906) (Conveyance, 23 March 1909).

An amusing story is told about one of George and William’s attempts to improve the efficiency of the brewery itself. During the nineteenth century the clock on top of the Market Hall used to have three faces. One of these was on the north side of the tower and was clearly visible to people walking down Church Street. In the days when the average brewery worker had no means of telling the time except from public clocks, it was tempting for them to slip out of the brewery and surreptitiously sneak a glance at the Market Hall (South Bucks Free Press, 15 January 1937, p.9). This clock watching propensity became so annoying to the Wellers that they mentioned it to the Drakes who owned the hall. They agreed to remove the offending clock face and as yet it has never been replaced!

A number of changes in the management of the brewery occurred at the turn of the century. By an indenture dated 1 June 1900, William Weller [4], George Weller and Gerard Mastermann Heath Weller "agreed to become and remain partners in the trades and businesses of brewers, Maltsters and Farmers as there carried on by them at Amersham." (Indenture, 1 June 1900). However, this indenture of partnership also included a clause whereby George or William were to have the first choice of purchasing the others share in the event of either death. When William [4] died on 9 January 1908, George exercised this option, and on 13 February 1909 purchased William’s share from his widow, Louisa Charlotte Weller for £60,660 14s 5d. At the same time he dissolved the partnership by purchasing Gerard’s share in the business (the latter remaining as brewer and manager). Henceforth, the indenture runs, "the said George Weller is now solely entitle to the said trades and business of Brewers, Maltsters and Farmers."

Acomodation Opposite the Weller Brewery (2001)The latter conveyance also gives us a rare description of the Amersham Brewery at this time; "A Freehold Brewhouse with Coopers Shop, Countinghouse and other buildings thereto adjoining. And also the dwelling house and gardens of occupied by the late Mrs. Lydia Weller till her death in 1891 and now used partly as Brewery offices by Messrs. W. and G. Weller and partly by the said Gerard Mastermann Heath Weller. All which premises are situate in Church Street… These premises called Amersham Brewery are formally described as a Messuage and Garden in the occupation of Edward Weller the Cousin and the Brewhouse, Outhouses, Malthouses, Coopers Shop and other buildings thereto adjoining at Church End near the Back Lane, and were purchased other heriditaments by John Weller the Grandfather from George Hunt and another and were conveyed to him by an indenture dated the 28th November 1818." (Conveyance, 23 March 1909).

By the time that George Weller took over the sole ownership of the brewery he was already 65 years of age and from this point onwards the business entered a period of stagnation. Although after the first world war a number of motorised lorries were purchased to supplement the old drays, this was as far as the improvement went. In 1914 the brewery’s bottling factory was closed and henceforth the famous ‘Weller’s Entire’ was sent to outside contractors instead. George Weller himself ceased to take an active interest in the business after 1919 and its management fell entirely upon his son who no longer had an active financial interest in the undertaking. Nevertheless, things appeared to go on as before. The annual works outing to Swansea in two of the Amersham Bus Company’s charabanks passed off well in 1928 (Bucks Examiner, 13 July 1928, p.5) as did the Christmas party (since 1920 held at the new venue at the King’s Arms) in January 1929 (Bucks Examiner, 9 January 1920, p.3).

The Weller Brewery (2001)Against this background of normality it came as a considerable shock to the population of Amersham when George Weller announced in the summer of 1929 that he intended to sell the brewery and all it's tied property at auction as a single lot. The auction catalogue (1929, p.2) for this sale describes the brewery consisting of; "TOP FLOOR:- Malt Room, Gallery to Coopers. SECOND FLOOR:- No 1 Cooper Room. No 2 Cooper Room:- Mash Tun and Underback room. No. 3 Cellar with sample room. No. 6 Racking Cellar. Nos. 4, 5 and 7 Beer Cellars, No. 1 Bottling Room, No. 2 Bottling Room, Foreman’s Yard Brick built Boiler Chimney. OUTSIDE:- Large granite surfaced yard with entrance to church street, Range of Coopers Shops, Cask Washing Shed, Urinal and W.C. and Men’s Mess room with large loft over, Iron lean-to roof over Cask Store and Cask Washing Yard, Bottle Washing Yard partly roofed." (Auction Catalogue, (1929), p.3).

The sale also included the Brewery Offices in Rumsey’s, the stables and garages opposite, the maltings, Barn Meadow and 132 freehold licensed properties and 10 leasehold licensed properties. The latter were scattered over an area from Markate and Quainton in the north down to Burnham and Cranford in the south and included the brewery’s two most successful pubs, the Station Hotel and the Boot and Slipper. At the auction held on Wednesday 25 September 1929 at the London Auctions Market, 155 Queen Victoria Street by Mr. Sydney H. Motion in conjunction with Messrs. A. Horley and Son, it was the extensive tied estate that led to some very competitive bidding (Auction Catalogue, (1929), p.1). This bidding started at £200,000 and resolved itself into a contest between Benskin’s Brewery, Watford and Messrs. Hoares (London) Brewery (Bucks Examiner, 27 September 1929, p.12). Benskin’s were finally successful securing the business for the sum of £360,000 (South Bucks Free Press, 27 September 1929, p.2).

Although the Wellers made generous payments to all their past employees the sudden sale of the brewery aroused considerable bitterness in the town. It had been rumored that Benskin’s had intended to keep the brewery as a bottling plant but this was dispelled the following year when the old brewery and Rumsey’s were sold at another auction conducted by Messrs. Humbart and Flint to Mr. J. M. Long on 5 June 1930 (Bucks Examiner, 6 June 1930, p.8). It is possible that it was the ill-feeling engendered by the sale of the brewery that hastened the death of Mr. George Weller for he died at his home at The Plantation shortly after on 20 October 1929 at the age of 84 (Bucks Examiner, 25 October 1929, p.11). When the 87 acre Plantation estate (which had been purchased in 1885) was sold to the Metropolitan Railway Country Estates for £18,000 the following year it finally severed a link the Weller family had had with the town that had lasted for over 150 years.

Types of Beer

Pictures of Weller pubs sometimes show signs carrying the words "Wellers Entire". "Entire" was in fact a type of beer popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and otherwise known as "Porter" because of it’s popularity with the porters of the great London markets. It was strong and almost black in colour - probably equivalent to a modern stout such as Guinness.

On the evidence of Bill Dean who worked for Wellers for 16 years, the main products of the brewery in the 20th century were (in ascending order of strength) mild and bitter beers together with brown ale. All of these were lighter beers than "Entire" would have been though not necessarily weaker because brown sugar was used to improve flavour and alcohol content.

Wellers beer is spoken of with considerable veneration. Jim Gilbert whose father was a Weller drayman is quoted as saying that you couldn’t drink three pints of Weller’s bitter and still stand up. A lady who was a beneficiary of the free gallon per day allowed to all Weller employees raised ten children and was able to breast feed them all. She is quoted as attributing her success in this area to the quality of the beer.

A Quotation from Reginald Mason’s pamphlet

"Amersham, Buckinghamshire, 1895-1970"

"The large brewery where perfume is now manufactured was the largest employer of labour in Amersham. The courtyard was always full of empty hogsheads (54 gallons), barrels (36 galls), firkins (9 galls), kilderkins (18 galls) and casks of all sizes awaiting the cleansing process. Men working here, like the bottlers, wore iron shod clogs; they did not trouble to change when going home.

When coming to work in the early morning their metallic clatter on the cobbles told the time to late sleepers. The dray yard was opposite across Church Street. The horses were kept there also within the high and well built malt house in the Barn meadow. There is a water wheel to supply power at the Maltings and at the brewery when the Misbourne had enough water in it.

The brewery horses were the finest and heaviest that money could buy for they bad pulled heavy loads long distances like to Quainton, Markyate, and the Thames side houses. There was also the long haul almost due west to the Royal Oak at Wattlington. The draymen wore woollen tasselled hats like the maltsters. The coopers shop was over the river nearest the road and the office on the left of the entrance. This large business empire was established in 1771 – although William Weller and his family continued to live in Wycombe until 1775 – and when it was sold in 1929 no less than 142 licensed premises went up for sale with the brewery and the maltings; that was the end of the Wellers Entire on the pub signs."

Jac Weller
Princeton, New Jersey.
19 April 1982.

Information from William Arthur Dean; Wednesday 13 May 1982:

There were 12-14 draymen and about 30 draught horses stabled in the maltings and in Church Street opposite the brewery and south-west of the Flint House.

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