Thirsty Work

My efforts to find out more about the City Brewery (Lichfield) Co were rewarded this week when I came across the work of Alfred Barnard. Between 1889 and 1891, Mr Barnard toured more than 100 breweries recording his visits and research across four epic volumes known as ‘The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland.

Happily, Mr Barnard considered two of our breweries here in Lichfield to be noted – the aforementioned City Brewery Company, and the Trent Valley Brewery Company (which I shall cover in another post). Although by and large, both breweries have disappeared, we can still take a look at these buildings through Mr Barnard’s eyes (though sadly not his tastebuds).

And so to the City Brewery in 1891, seventeen years old and,

‘a stately block of red-brick buildings, five storeys high…..built on the Company’s own freehold land, facing the South Staffordshire Railway, from which a siding has been planned, and will shortly be constructed. Immediately at the back of the brew house there is a small harbour on the Birmingham Canal, together with a wharf and warehouse, so that the brewery possesses every convenience for land and water carriage’.

The malt house (which survives today) is about to be built to the right of the West Brewery Yard and on-site there is also:

– a well, 70 feet deep from where water is pumped up to a reservoir in the roof of the brew house.

– a washing out shed, where the casks are cleaned, next to a cooperage employing four men

–  a horse-chop room (just to clarify this was where food for the horses was prepared!)

– new model stables with six stalls, each with a Staffordshire blue-brick manger and across the yard, the head horse keeper’s house and old stables with eighteen stalls (plus a further three for travellers ‘nags’)

– a dray shed that accommodates twelve drays

–  the  brewery foreman’s house and other cottages for workers behind the cask washing department

–  a store for maturing old ales, a blacksmith’s shop and a carriage house on the wharf

–  general offices near the main entrance, just past the engine-room (with a horizontal engine of fifteen horse power and two Cornish steel boilers).

– a bottling department where ales and stouts are bottled for the firm’s public houses (there is a further bottling store at St Mary’s Chambers in the city).

– the manager’s house with an adjoining two storey building containing a counting-house, cashiers office, a manager’s office and a board-room.

Mr Barnard doesn’t record the names of those who live and work at the City Brewery, together with their families, but of course the census helps us with this (the one below is for 1891, the year of the visit).

As discussed in earlier posts, most of the brewery was lost to a fire in the early hours of an October morning in 1916. After burning for ten hours, all that was saved the malt house and the manager’s house and offices (I think this is on the left of the picture. Today it is divided into three houses). Seventy men lost their job, and possibly some of them lost their homes.

I’ve been thinking about the visual differences of the scene today, but of course the sounds and smells have also disappeared. Would there have been a malty aroma mingling in the air with the smoke from the chimneys, and the trains? The sound of horses hooves and the noise of the engine room? As for a taste of the City Brewery, all that’s left now are the empty bottles that turn up in collections across the world, and so we shall have to take Mr Barnard’s word for it that the East India Pale Ale was ‘pleasant to the taste, bright and invigorating, and well-flavoured with the hop’, that the bitter ale was ‘clean to the palate, of light-specific gravity, sparkling as champagne, and highly suitable for family use’, that the XXX old ales were the most suitable drink for a working man, and the stout, although heavy was wholesome and nutritious. Cheers, Mr Barnard!


This was Mr Barnard’s follow up to his earlier tour of every whisky distillery in the UK – 162 in all.

The remaining houses and offices together with the malt house can be seen from the Birmingham Rd, next to Magnet.

Huge hat tip to Steve Williams and his blog here as this is where I discovered that the four volumes were available on line.

I have only included a fraction of the information given by Mr Barnard. Anyone who wishes to read the accounts for themselves (there is a lot more detail on the brewing process for example), or to look at some of the other breweries included, can find it here on the Ask About Ireland website

12 thoughts on “Thirsty Work

  1. Pingback: Burning Questions | Lichfield Lore

  2. I wanted to be able to give you some small piece of information that I had found about arsenic poisoning in beer and the breweries tested and the results of that testing. Arsenic poisoning was very prevalent within Lichfield in 1900. There is the complete document and the resulting inquests on
    Lichfield City Brewery is listed and was found to be arsenic free, but The Lichfield Brewery was found to have significant amounts in their beer.
    Hope this info is useful in some way.


    • Thank you very much indeed for sharing this – I will include it on a post of its own as it’s a very interesting (and I suspect not very well know bit) of Lichfield history. To think they were writing all off the side effects off as alcohol related and it was actually arsenic poisoning! Also, it’s a very timely too with a scandal over contaminated food in the last couple of weeks.


  3. This was a time when it was possible to obtain from the drug store any number
    of poisons over the counter,People were prescribed what we now consider as
    very dangerous substances for minor ailments.On the subject of breweries I
    have a Samuel Allsopp pint glass that date back to the 1920s or 1930s.


    • I know! In my research about the arsenic poisoning scandal, I’ve also come across several references to people buying it over the counter! I love brewery memorabilia. I saw a bottle for the city brewery on sale once and I didn’t buy it and I regret it!


  4. Hello there, hope you’re all well? I’m new to your pages/discussions, but I’ve been very interested in local history for years & years. I lived & grew up in Lichfield. I went to school at The Old Friary (1980/82) and as young lad played/explored as kids do ALL over Lichfield. For over 20 years I’ve found RAF Lichfield/Fradley a great interest and class myself as a bit of a ‘nerd’ when it comes to the airfield lol ! =) One story about the Lichfield Brewery that involved myself was, a few years back my Father In Law and I was carrying out building works at St John Street garage, when my FIL disappeared through the floor there and landed in a unknown part of the breweries cellar, luckily a pile of beer bottles (empty sadly) broke his fall along with the shelving that the bottles were stored on. That same day I can remember a few people arrived from somewhere ?? came, looked at the find and we were told to stop all building works. Anyhoo I’ll keep visiting your very interesting blog and hope to help out with whatever I can.. thanks again, SB =)


    • Hi Simon! Thanks for joining in. That’s a great story, I’m glad your father in law lived to tell the tale! Funnily enough I was over there myself today taking photographs for an upcoming post on the Lichfield Brewery. I also think what’s underneath the city could be interesting as well as what’s above….I don’t know if you saw the comments on the Angel Croft re. the Australian Airforce, but its an area I would like to explore, although I know absolutely nothing about airfields at present, so it will be a steep but I’m sure very interesting learning curve (and please feel free to point out any mistakes!). There are so many interesting things at the moment, I have a bit of a backlog, but I’ll get there eventually! Thanks again, Kate


      • Hey =) yes you’re piece on the Aussie airman was very interesting, but not uncommon as a large number of RAF Lichfield’s crews used Lichfields & the surrounding villages pubs. I have quite alot of info on that sort of thing, which I’ll sort out. Sadly Don Charlwood passed away last year, he’s the chap who donated the bench up at The Close, I have followed him through his tour of duty and have many treasued signed bits & pieces of his time at the OTU.
        I live just behind the Maltings, and am often found ‘mooching’ with my two Jack Russels along the old stretch of trainline/canal areas, and the Maltings are usually a stop off looking for the illusive glass bottle or two .. keep up the good work =)


  5. Pingback: A Storm Brewing | Lichfield Lore

  6. This is fantastic, we’ve bought the old managers house (the house at the front of the sketch) and I love finding out about the history of it.


    • Oh how lovely! It’s a great house, and I have some very fond memories of visiting my friend (the house around the back). I was delighted to find the brewery book, and I’m glad you’ve found it of interest 🙂 I really hope they manage to keep some of the features when they convert the maltings to apartments.


  7. My grandfather George Henry Lindsey (1875-1943) worked 30 years for the City Brewery, I believe as a waggoneer. Do you know if there is any information about employees available.
    Steve Lindsey


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