And now we arrive at the turn of the 19thCentury and the nucleus of what was to be one of the largest breweries in Surrey, Mellersh and Neale. Thomas Neale, was born in 1771 and preferred brewing to malting which had been the family trade. He came from an old Reigate family and established the Reigate Brewery in Church Street in 1801. There are several references to his family scattered around Reigate all working in one way of another with the malting industry. The property on Church Street that later became the brewery was acquired sometime during the reign of King Charles the First by Thomas’s forebears. It had been identified as the Old Wheel Tea-Rooms which were demolished in 1973. The building was scheduled as a Grade 3 property of historic interest in 1947 It had a tiled roof and modern windows above. It consisted of two storeys, with four windows. Inside on the first floor was fixed an old pulley wheel about four feet in diameter which was formerly used to hoist the sacks of grain up from the street. Although it has been gone nearly 50 years, some people in Reigate still mourn the demolition of the Old Wheel restaurant. The Old Wheel, which opened as a tea room on Church Street in 1920, closed in 1970 when its owner passed away. Despite a campaign by the Reigate Society to save it, it was pulled down in 1973 and a parade of shops now stands in its place. The façade, however, was recreated in the new development.
As a young lad, Thomas was apprenticed to his father and studied malting. Another young apprentice was William Lee. Thomas and William became close friends and later partners. By the time Thomas inherited the property in 1801 he was already concentrating on the art of brewing. This change of course was because Excise Duty on malt was constantly on the increase making it less easy to sell. Duty increased from 6d to 4/6d per bushel within a century. There was an outcry against this tax which was felt mostly by the poorer classes as the rich often brewed their own ale and this subsequently led to its repeal in 1830.
As business grew Thomas entered into partnership with William Lee and an inventory of the business in 1806 suggests a good sized brewery.
Thomas found no lack of competition. Besides Henry Crunden in Bell Street, he traded keenly in direct opposition to Thomas Cooper who had a brewery in the High Street. Thomas Cooper had amassed a small fortune with his brewing interests. Not only did he have a brewery in Reigate but one also in Leatherhead and 55 Inns scattered throughout Surrey. In 1805 Thomas Cooper died and his estate was put up for sale. Thomas Neale was quick to see the advantage of acquiring an already established business and simultaneously removing serious competition. Therefore in 1806 when the lease came up for sale Thomas made a bid and secured the High street Brewery. By September 1806 Thomas had moved in and was making beer on a site that would continue to do so until 1938 when his great great grandsons were running the business.
Thomas Neale now owned two breweries in Reigate. They were run as one concern with William Lee managing the Church Street brewery.
With the new brewery Thomas Neale acquired his first major public houses. Among the freeholds that he took over were the Marquis of Granby at Redhill and the Half Moon at Charlwood. Leaseholds included the Plough and Harrow at Charlwood; The Red Cross, Reigate; The Crown Reigate;The Buckland Tap, Lingfield;The French Horn, Lingfield; The Greyhound, Lingfield; and the Kings Head, Nutfield. Copyhold inns included the White Lion, The Angel and the Black Horse all in Reigate, and the Fox, Merstham.
In 1828 William Lee withdrew from the business and the partnership was dissolved. With his partner’s withdrawal of capital, Thomas Neale struggled to keep two breweries going. He therefore sold off the Church Street brewery to maltster Edward Larmer, who reconverted the property to maltings.
In 1802 Thomas Neale married and in the following year his first son Thomas junior was born. Thomas Neale the elder also conducted business as a coal merchant and banker. Both practices were common amongst brewers. The extra trade of coaling kept the vehicles busy when they were not needed for beer deliveries, and banking afforded a ready cash flow to fund the brewing business. Unfortunately the banking venture failed in 1850 and the worry of this contributed to Thomas Neale the elder’s death.
In 1843, Thomas Neale the elder sold the brewery to his two sons, Thomas the younger and William. The sale didn’t include the public houses which were sold later to the sons in 1849.
In 1854, after Thomas the elder’s death four years earlier, the two sons decided to invite a family friend, Frederick Mellersh to be partner in the business. Frederick had been an advisor to family during the difficult financial banking crisis and the period of Thomas the elders failing health.
In the same year Thomas the younger retired from the business due to ill health and he died on the 25th April 1854. To his wife Charlotte Maltida he left £100 and his goods and chattels. The remainder was to be kept in a trust for his son Sisson Watts Neale. This provision for his son was made so that when he came of age he was to be made a partner in the brewery.
When Frederick Mellersh joined the company in 1854, the trading name of the business was altered from Neale and Sons to Neale and Mellersh. Then, in 1865 when Sisson Watts Neale joined the firm, the name changed again to Neale, Mellersh and Neale. When William Neale retired in 1883 the name of the company altered once more to Mellersh and Neale. This then remained unchanged until the company floated on the stock market in 1899 when the suffix ‘Limited’ was added.
Sisson became an active partner in the undertaking and during the ensuing half a century greatly enlarged the firm. By his retirement in 1919 the business had acquired 91 public houses in Surrey and Sussex. Sisson lived at Browne’s Lodge, on the north side of West Street. He married in 1866 and had 10 children, three of whom later joined him in the business. He was also extremely patriotic, joining the Territorial Army early on in life, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by the time of his death.
In 1898, three of Sisson’s sons Robert, James and Reginald joined the business.
By the turn of the century the brewery had begun to modernise its plant. Before 1901 all water used in the brewery came from two chalk wells about a mile away, halfway up Reigate Hill. One stood in Brokes Road, the other in Raglan Road. The water was piped down the hill and under the level crossing at Reigate Station. By 1900 it was clear that the wells were not capable of supplying enough water for the brewery, so the local water company was asked to supply water of regular analytical content. The water company could not do this since its supply was drawn from many different wells along the chalk escarpment.
Against the water company’s advice the brewery sank its own well behind the post office in Bell Street. The water company considered that the water would be bad, but after boring to a depth of 250 feet, water was found which MR John Heron, FIC, FCS, reported ‘ may be regarded as water of first class purity, and as such may be safely used for drinking and other domestic purposes. ‘
The well produced 4000 gallons per hour and was so efficient that during the Second World War the water company connected it to the mains as a precaution against its own supplies being bombed out. This well remained in use until 1963 for the production of mineral waters.
In 1900 the caves on the east side of Tunnel Road were rented by the brewery for £18 per year. They were capable of holding in store many thousands of barrels, giving the firm a great advantage over their competitors as the beer was able to mature well before being sent out to customers. The atmosphere kept a constant temperature ideal for the storage of beer. Mellersh and Neale ceased renting these caves in 1914.
During the First World War the caves were requisitioned by the War Office to store munitions. It is suggested that if they had detonated the explosion would have removed the top of the castle mound and flattened most of the town centre. The Tunnel Road was sealed off at this time and guards posted at both ends.
Today, the caves can be visited on open days organised by the local caving society. They are well worth a visit.
Until the late 1920’s the brewery was powered mainly by steam. Coal for this purpose was drawn in from Reigate station where Mellersh and Neale Ltd,had their own coal wharf.
With the exception of a new chimney shaft and other minor modifications, carried out in the 1867 refurbishment, the brewery remained much as it was in Thomas Neale’s time.
By 1903 it was found that the existing brewery and tun room were not large enough for the firm’s expanding trade. A new brewery tower was built to designs employing the gravity principle.
At this time, the freehold was owned by Lady Somerset, widow of Lord Henry Somerset, who resided at the Priory.
Ironically, she was a staunch teetotaller and an active temperance worker. Owning as she did a greater portion of the town, she was fastidious about the aesthetic appearance of any new buildings. She took a practical interest in her Reigate properties, and when the tower was constructed, it was her wish that the style of the Georgian period should be maintained. The tower was built according to her instructions and a pagoda roof was placed on top. In 1935 a large chunk of masonry narrowly missed an employee when it fell from the roof, and examination revealed the weight of the pagoda was slowly cracking the roof. As a result the pagoda was removed and a parapet erected in its place.
Lady Somerset died in 1921 and the whole of Reigate came up for auction. The freehold of the brewery was acquired for £5000. The brewery also acquired the freeholds of the Bulls Head and the Red Cross. The brewery tried to secure the Market Stores and caves but unfortunately it fell under the hammer to the Reigate Corporation for £4800.
The picture before you is from a publicity photo opportunity dated 1933 and shows what would appear to be the entire Mellesh and Neale fleet lined up in Brewery Yard, in front of the brewery tower complete with the pagoda roof before it was removed.
To place yourselves with in the painting, look for the truck in the distance coming down the alleyway below the chimney. That is where you are standing. The Town Hall clock tower is to the right and the brewery tower would be approximately in the middle of the supermarket car park.
June 1938 marked the end of an era for Mellersh and Neale when the last brew was put through by Archibald Graham Neale, great great grandson of the brewery’s founder Thomas Neale.
Takeovers are considered normal business in the brewing industry and in 1938 Mellersh and Neale merged with Meux Brewery Company. Meux had made an earlier offer which was rejected so a new offer was made that the Directors accepted. In addition Meux offered a position on their board of directors to James Wilfrid Neale and the position of Second brewer to Meux to Eustace John Fortescue Pulling, the head brewer at Reigate on the same salary to which he was accustomed.
The brewery site continued for some time as a depot for Meux, the beer coming by train from London and being distributed from Reigate.
The brewery offices, which stood on the High Street, were burnt down in 1942 during the war but not by enemy action. The offices had been derelict some time before this but when war broke out, Meux moved their own offices out of London, clear of the bombing, and occupied those at Reigate. However, one day an employee thought he could smell burning somewhere and sounded the alarm. Both the fire brigade and insurance company attended, searched the premises and went away again having found nothing. Within a week the place went up in smoke and was gutted. Apparently a faulty hearth stone in a fireplace that had not been used for many years caused hot ashes to fall through onto a wooden beam which then smouldered for some time before setting light to the building.
At the time of the fire, the fire-watch was on duty in the Town Hall opposite and was completely unaware of the situation. It took the diligence of a policeman patrolling the top of Park Hill half a mile to raise the alarm. The offices were completely incinerated and Meux lost the bulk of their records.
The offices that Meux had vacated in London survived the war completely unscathed, suffering only blast shattered windows.
Although the brewing of beer ceased after the 1938 take-over, Mellersh and Neale survived as a mineral water factory, being a subsidiary of Meux.
After the war the depot was closed down and sold. The gutted offices were demolished to make way for shops and the tower was sold to Messrs Northovers, the undertakers, as a furniture depository. The old yeast store on the ground floor was used as a coffin workshop.
The mineral water factory which had been erected in 1936 continued to produce minerals until 1961 when it was acquired by Cantrell and Cochraine Ltd. In 1963 the business was closed down and the site purchased by Reane Investments, a property development company who wished to build an estate on the site. In the end, after 25 years of dereliction the final remains of the Mellersh and Neale site were cleared away in 1988 to make way for a Safeways supermarket with adjoining car park.
A huge debt of thanks and gratitude must go to the historian Richard Symonds who dedicated much of his time to document the history of brewing in Reigate in his book ‘A brewing Heritage, The story of brewing in Reigate and Redhill from 2001.His extensive research has been the basis of these narrations and his continual support for this project has been invaluable to the artist Adam Green.
To the left of you on the mural frame you should see one final QR code. Please click on this and listen to a song reportedly sung by Mellersh and Neale employees whilst on Charabanc outings and bean feasts. The tune has been wonderfully recreated by The Cohorts Folk Band.
Please enjoy and thank you for listening to the tale of brewing in Reigate.