SEABROOKE & SONS: A FAMILY OF BREWERS


  by Terry Jeffreys
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In the latter half of the eighteenth century, Roger Seabrooke, a farmer from the hamlet of Seabrooke near Cheddington in Buckinghamshire, settled in Grays as the representative of the Duke of Newcastle. This Buckingham farmer quickly gained the respect of the local population and in 1770 he was elected to public office in the Manor of Grays Thurrock.

In those days, beer was a staple food and to ensure that only good beer was sold each town had to elect an Aleconner. These Aleconners had considerable power and were sworn in by the court to do their duty. The Aleconner had to test all the local ale and beer and any that did not reach his standard of quality had to be destroyed. Now Roger knew all about good beer; and the local people were not ignorant of the fact, so when the post of Aleconner fell vacant in 1774, he was unanimously elected into the vacancy. Little did he or they know that this was to prove to be the foundation of what became Gray's most famous industry. (1)

Roger Seabrooke died in August, 1791, respected by all, leaving a son, Thomas. (2) Thomas was a brickmaker and this was his main business until at least 1832. (3) Brickmaking was a very prosperous business during the early years of the nineteenth century. Many Government contracts were drawn up for the supply of bricks from the vast Grays brickfields. These bricks went mainly into the construction of army barracks and the Martello Towers around the Essex and Kent coasts. (4) Later bricks were forwarded to London in barges kept solely for that purpose. (5)

However, Thomas was gaining quite a reputation in an area that was to eclipse all his other businesses. He had learnt a great deal from his father about beer and brewing, and he knew the secret of making a most excellent beverage. He began brewing for his family and occasional guests and it was due to chance visitors that the reputation of Thomas Seabrooke's beer spread through the locality. Soon there was a public demand for a more generous and constant supply.

It is not definitely known when Thomas became a common brewer. He made a declaration to the Excise officers of George III on January 10th, 1800. In this declaration, he made it clear that he was a common brewer; that his brewhouse and utensils were adjoining his house in High Street, Grays, near the waterfront; and that his declaration that day rendered null and void all previous declarations of his on the subject of brewing. From this Excise re-entry, as this document is known, it is evident that James was a common brewer before 1800. To be on the safe side, Seabrookes themselves declared on their headed notepaper and bottle labels "Established 1799".

By 1819, the brewing side of the business had grown to such an extent that larger capacity was needed and a site was acquired in Bridge Road, Grays, which had previously been the premises of a prosperous soap-boiler, who had recently been laid to rest in Grays churchyard. During the conversion of the property into a brewery, an unusual discovery was made. A kind of dungeon, only accessible from the top, was found and on exploring it, a vast quantity of a soap ingredient, which was subject to heavy excise duty, was found. The soap-boiler had been well thought of in the town. In fact his gravestone among other things declared "This was an honest man." When the Grays public found out that the soapboiler was in fact a dishonest man, a local stonemason was commissioned to remove the offending line from the gravestone. (6)

In 1839 Grays was listed as having "a considerable brewery", for brewing had become Thomas' main business. He had taken his son into partnership under the name of Thomas & James Seabrooke, brewers, of the Grays Brewery. (7) However Thomas was now aged 71 and soon retired to leave his son in control. (8) James was an industrious man who was always trying to improve his business. Coal was the main fuel in those days but it was predominantly seaborne and James realised the value of speedy transport. He purchased schooners for the Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Grays service and these schooners quickly won a reputation for speed and seaworthiness. However one of the firm's schooners foundered on an outward run when she sprang a leak whilst carrying loam as ballast. The loam flowed into the pumps, choking them and the schooner sank.(9)

Around 1850, James briefly went into partnership with one Peter Blaker trading as wharfingers, coal, corn and salt merchants, keeping his brewing and malting business well apart. (10) However this partnership did not last long and then James carried on all his businesses alone. Thomas Seabrooke died in 1855. (11) When James's eldest son Charles reached the age of 21, in 1863, he was taken into partnership, (12) the firm now trading as Seabrooke & Son, brewers, maltsters, corn & coal merchants. (13) The number of employees had risen to 26 by 1877, when in the September of that year, they were all given a day's outing to commemorate the wedding of Charles Seabrooke. The employees caught an early train to Barking and thence they were conveyed by a four in hand from Mr. Reynolds', Romford, to the Alexandra Palace. (14) However things were not so rosy four years later when the partnership of Seabrooke & Son was dissolved due to debts by Charles, Thomas William and Jonathan Seabrooke. (15) A new company was formed under the style of Seabrooke & Sons. (16)

Due to the demand for Seabrookes beer, the company were eager to enlarge their brewery. Next to the brewery was the Congregational Church and Charles decided that it was in the way of his plans. He had many meetings with the Church committee but they always rejected his proposals.(17) In early 1884, the malthouse at the brewery caught fire due to overheating and extensive damage was caused.(18) Charles made a concerted effort to win over the Church committee. He offered them 1700 in money plus a piece of land in New Road, Grays for the building of a new Church. In addition, he agreed to pay all expenses in connection with the transfer, which were estimated to be about 200. He also offered to lend the committee a piece of land in addition to the land that he had already promised plus 20 to erect a temporary place in which to worship. Charles also said that the Church would be allowed to remove anything in the shape of fittings from the Church and schoolroom, all he wanted was the shell of the buildings. The committee thought that it would be wise to accept the offer and the whole of the Church members agreed. Charles stated that the Church building would not be required for about 18 months but he wanted to demolish the schoolroom immediately for he was negotiating with the Railway company with a view to a railway siding being run into the brewery. (19)  

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