Brewing Stories is a project set up and run by educational charity digital:works.
This project is an oral history of the people who worked in the three main Thames side breweries in West London. These breweries were major employers - their smoke and smells dominating this part of London for hundreds of years.
The three breweries are the Griffin Brewery (Fuller's) in Chiswick, the Ram Brewery (Young's) in Wandsworth and the Stag Brewery (Watney's) in Mortlake. They employed hundreds of people, many for their whole working lives, with generations working for the same brewery or moving employment between the three. All are essentially factories along the River Thames. The three were competing businesses and together they dominated this stretch of river running from Wandsworth to Mortlake.
All three have long histories and are among the 190 breweries that were located in London by the 19th century. Sixty years ago Watney's Stag Brewery was the largest employer in Mortlake. It is thought to have begun brewing beer as a monastery in 1487 and brewed beer for soldiers in the Crimean War. It was sold to a property investment company in 2016. Similarly, the Ram brewery was a major employer with a history going back to 1533. This closed in 2007. The Griffin Brewery remains and is now the oldest brewery in London and currently employs 350 people.
The project is an oral history of the living memory of workers going back to the 1940s and up to the present.
People have told us about the different jobs they did at the breweries - the draymen (delivery men who used horse and carts), and master brewers, working the mashers, the women in the accounts, the coopers, stable hands and packers. The barges of barley and hops that would arrive along the river from Kent. Many of those we met spoke of their fathers and grandfathers working for the breweries. They spoke about the wonderful atmosphere of the breweries, the relationships between workers, and also with the owners. These were historically family business with Fuller's (The Griffin) still family run. There is also the whole process of making the beer, the milling, the mashing and boiling and lautering, all crucial parts of the process overseen by the master brewer who, increasingly, had input from modern developments in chemistry. Connected to this there was the bottling process, the coopers making barrels, the kegs, and all the paraphernalia that make up the production process and the range of skilled people involved.
So this project focuses on the memories of these older workers and their experiences working in the breweries.
Working with historians, three local archives and digital-works staff, this project trained volunteers in research skills, oral history interviewing and recording skills.
The project recorded 33 in-depth oral history interviews with older workers who worked at the breweries.
These full interviews are being given to the three local archives we are working with at Wandsworth, Chiswick and Richmond as well as Bishopsgate Institute and the TUC archive.
The interviews have been edited to make a documentary film to be shown at various screenings and broadcast on television.
This project website houses all of the full interviews, the film and covers the progress of the project.
digital:works has been running oral history projects across London working with communities to explore the history of work and workers in the capital. Projects so far include printers on Fleet Street, bus workers, underground workers, black cab drivers, jewellers in Hatton Garden, tailors in Saville Row, the Thames Lightermen, Thames boatyards and more. Other projects explore the history of Battersea, North Kensington, Southall, Eel Pie Island, as well as some of London’s indoor and street markets. If you would like to see any of these wonderful films and find out more about digital:works please visit: