Giles Watkins, Brewer
The earliest known brewer in Amersham is Giles Watkins, who was born in Amersham in 1579. His sister Elizabeth married William Child of Amersham, yeoman, in 1599, and his son, another Giles Watkins, was baptised at St. Mary’s in 1600. If we are to believe the re-cut date on the arch supporting that part of the brewery which stands over the River Misbourne, Watkins would have been building on this site in 1634. He was certainly one of the wealthiest men in Amersham in 1626, when he was assessed at £4 10s 8d for the lay subsidy.
Watkins and Child
Giles Watkins of Amersham, brewer, died in 1636. His executors, his son John and his brother-in-law, William Child of Amersham, yeoman, had to dispose of an heirloom, described in his will as the “drawing table over the brewhouse which was Robert Juckes”. John Watkins may well have taken his uncle into partnership. In 1637, William Child, brewer, gave a mortgage on a large house on the south of the High Street, whose outhouses included malthouses, maltlofts, barns, stables and granaries. (8) Mary wife of John Watkins, brewer, was buried at St. Mary’s in 1639 and Giles, son of John Watkins, was buried there in 1643. John Watkins himself may have died during the interregnum when the parish registers were not properly kept. The brewery was probably carried on by the Child family who also owned the Crown Inn and other valuable property in the town.
In 1679, William Ball of Amersham, brewer, leased three fields near Cherry Lane from William Drake. At this time, other members of the Ball family held the lease of the Bury Farm and William Ball’s sister had married James Child. William Ball had other partners or tenants at the brewery, for John Perrott of Amersham, brewer, is mentioned in the Quarter Sessions records in 1693 and Richard Whitlock, gentleman, paid tax for the brewhouse in 1695. The brewery must have supplied most of Amersham’s inns. William Ball himself owned the Swan Inn, his brother in-law James Child owned the Crown, and John Perrott leased the White Hart from William Drake. Richard Whitlock owned the Red Lion, which stood to the east of the Crown and ceased to be an inn about 1720. Richard Whitlock is cast as the villain in a letter of 1698, written by the Curate of Amersham to Thomas Smith of Beaconsfield, the Drake family solicitor. The Curate informs him that Mr Whitlock, the brewer, who was owed £6 rent by John Dummerton, of the Red Lion Inn, had seized all Dummerton’s goods and left his wife and six children to starve in an empty house, “to get possession of the house, to gain a vote”. Smith arranged for the debt to be paid and the receipt for £6, plus £8 costs, is dated 14 April 1699. (9)
William Ball had certainly given up running the brewery before his death in 1700. In his will he left to his wife, Mary, a ‘messuage or tenement and brewhouse with the appurtenances wherein Richard Tipping now dwelleth situate and being in Amersham in the said County of Bucks and the use and occupation of the copper brewing vessels and utensils of or belonging to the said brewhouse’. He also left her the house next to the brewery (later known as Rumsey’s), with 11 acres of land near Back Lane, including the Barn Close and Watkins Pightle.
Richard Tipping and John Lawrence
The brewery continued to be operated by Richard Tipping, who was described as a “common brewer” when accused at the Quarter Sessions in 1701 of supplying beer to an unlicensed beerseller, Isaac Carter. When Richard Tipping died in 1728, the lease of the brewery was taken over by John Lawrence. Lawrence is variously described in contemporary documents as a brewer, or as a gentlemen. The brewery owner, Mary Ball, died in 1730, and under the terms of William Ball’s will, the brewery descended to his niece, Elizabeth Simpson. She was the daughter of William Simpson of Dunton, in north Buckinghamshire. A potential inheritance as valuable as Amersham’s brewery had enabled her to marry Alexander Wallace, a wealthy London linen draper. The subsequent descent of the brewery is well documented in the court rolls of Amersham Rectory. At the court of 1761, it was reported that “Alexander Wallace, who held freely …. one messuage or tenement wherein Mr Lawrence now dwells …. is dead ….. Elizabeth wife of George Mackrell is his only daughter”. (10)
Weller & Co.
John Lawrence of Amersham, brewer, died in 1764. In 1775, his son John Lawrence sold his interest in the brewery, along with the Saracens Head in Whielden Street and the Old Griffin at Mop End, to a High Wycombe maltster named William Weller. Weller insured the brewery with the Sun Fire Office in 1777. The contents of the brewery and the malthouse were valued at £200 each. The policy also covered the contents of a malthouse at High Wycombe valued at £400. (11) In 1783, William Weller bought the old malthouse on the north side of the Broadway from the executors of Nathaniel Wingfield. When William Weller died in 1802, the brewery was continued by his sons John Weller (1759-1843) and William Weller (1764-1843).
John and William Weller steadily increased the number of licensed premises belonging to the brewery. In 1802, they bought the Chequers at Bury End, the Queens Head in Whielden Street and the Red Lion at Coleshill. They bought two properties opposite the brewery in 1810 and 1812, where they built new cartsheds and stables. Their landlord, George Mackrell, had died in 1781, leaving the brewery to his wife Elizabeth. When she died in 1793, their daughter Elizabeth Ann Cooper inherited. She eventually sold the freehold to John and William Weller in 1818. Purchases of tied premises after this date covered a much wider area, with pubs as far away as Aylesbury and Harefield added to the chain. In 1829, John and William Weller built brand new malthouses in the meadows over the river from the High Street. It was here that a great fire in 1837 led to the destruction of about 1,500 quarters of malt and a loss to Weller & Co. of £5,000. Despite this setback, the brothers opened yet more pubs in Amersham; the Red Lion, High Street, in 1837; the Eagle, High Street, in 1838 and the Wheatsheaf, London Road, in 1842. John Weller lived in some style at The Firs, High street, now known as Piers Place. His brother William rented the house near the Crown Inn, which may still have had a malting at the rear. Both John and William Weller died in 1843, when the brewery was taken over by John’s son, Edward (1791-1850) and William’s son, William (1797-1859).
Edward and William Weller continued to add to the chain of tied premises with the purchase of the Red Lion at Amersham Common in 1848 and the Boot and Slipper, also on the Common, in 1849. Edward Weller lived at Swiss Villa, Turnham Green, Middlesex. He died there in August 1850, leaving the brewery in the sole ownership of William Weller. He was by now living at the house immediately north of the brewery, but in April 1859, he bought the neighbouring house which had belonged to James Rumsey, one of Amersham’s most respected doctors. William Weller died in September 1859, but his widow, Lydia, lived at Rumsey’s until her death in 1891.
The brewery passed to William Weller’s three sons, William, Edward and George. William Weller remained a partner until his death at Springfield House, Hughenden, in 1908. Edward Weller lived for some years at the White House, in Church Street. In 1872 he married the daughter of the Vicar of Chesham and moved to Blackwell Hall in Waterside, Chesham. He died at Brighton in 1890. It was George Weller (1844-1929), who became the managing partner in the brewery. He lived at The Plantation, Amersham Common, which he bought from Lord Chesham in 1885. He made several extensions and improvements to the house, and when a new school was built at Amersham Common in 1901, he turned the old schoolhouse on Raans Road into a lodge. The Wellers had purchased other agricultural land at Amersham Common, including Woodside Farm. Part of this farm was sold to the Metropolitan Railway in 1887 for the construction of their extension to Aylesbury. The remainder was sold in 1930 to the Metropolitan Railway Country Estates Ltd. George Weller was quick to exploit the opening of the railway in 1892 by building the Station Hotel, across the road from the station forecourt. This entailed the closure of an old beerhouse on Amersham Common called the Black Horse and the transfer of its licence to the new hotel in 1893.
In 1900, George Weller made his son, Gerrard Masterman Heath Weller (1873-1947), a junior partner in the brewery. The arrangement did not work out, and on the death of William Weller in 1908, George Weller bought up all the shares and continued the business on his own, with his son, Gerrard, as manager and brewer. Gerrard Weller, who lived at Rumsey’s, had decided not to continue the business even before his father died in 1929. The brewery was accordingly put up for auction in September 1929, when Benskins of Watford were the highest bidders, securing the brewery and 133 tied houses for £360,000. Production was moved from Amersham and the brewery premises sold to J.M. Long. In October 1929, George Weller died, aged 84. The Plantation was sold and eventually demolished for redevelopment in 1976.