Plan of Church Street Brewery, taken from Bryant's Survey 1786.

Plan of Church Street Brewery, taken from Bryant's Survey 1786.
It was here that Neale & Lee traded in partnership.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008



However, the leading name amongst brewers in Reigate was Mellersh & Neale. It was at the turn of the 19th century that the nucleus of what was to be one of the largest concerns in Surrey began to grow. Young Thomas Neale, the founder, born 1771, preferred brewing to his family trade - malting - and he established the Reigate Brewery in Church Street in 1801. He stemmed from an old Reigate family and Bryant's Survey gave several references to members of his family widely dispersed around Reigate, all of whom were connected in one way or another with the industry. The earliest of these references was to " a messuage, formerly the Ship Inn and Ship Field, leased by Richard Devon, esq., in 1739 to Thomas Neale, innholder for 21 years ".

The second reference was to " a messuage, abutting north on the ditch of the ancient castle of Reigate ".

However, the third and most important reference was that of " a malt house, granary, etc. " occupied by Thomas Neale in 1785 as successor to his father, John, who died in 1760 [1]. John Neale was the grandfather of the founder of the brewery and his forebears had acquired the maltings from Nicholas Cooke sometime during the reign of King Charles the First.

The property had been identified as The Old Wheel Tea-rooms, demolished in 1973. The building was scheduled as a Grade III property of historic interest in 1947 and described as " one building, timber framed with modern shop fronts on the ground floor, two shops of which one had painted tiles above, and the third of painted brick with a tile-hung gable ". The property 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 [2].

As a lad, Thomas Neale was apprenticed to his father and studied malting. Also as apprentice, was another young man, William Lee [3]. They became close friends during the period of their apprenticeship, and later, partners. By the time Thomas Neale inherited the property in 1801, he was already concentrating on the art of brewing. This change of course was because Excise Duty, which was first levied in England during his grandfather's time, was constantly on the increase making malt less easy to sell. Duty increased from 6d to 4/6d per bushel within a century. The outcry against the injustice of this tax which was felt mostly by the poorer classes (the rich often brewing their own ale) led to its ultimate repeal in 1830 [4].

It is worth mentioning at this point that Excise Duty was levied on malt only and maltsters often paid this duty in arrears, entering into a bond as security for the duty owed. This system was not to change until 1880. The records of such Maltster Bonds survive for the period of 1839 - 1872, and these are held at the Public Records Office, Kew.

As business grew, Thomas Neale entered into a partnership with William Lee, and in l806 the partners drew up an inventory and valuation of the stock and utensils at the brewery. This inventory gives a good idea of its size, the total value being assessed at £1,420.8s.8d., no mean sum in those days. Trade must already be of some size, for among the stock listed, we find "twelve butts, twenty two puncheons, nine hogsheads, fourteen half-hogsheads, ninety two barrels, ninety three kilderkins, and ninety firkins " not to mention the ability to deliver to his customers, for in the stable, alongside various carts, are " a grey draught gelding and a bay mare ".

Thomas Neale 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 was an important figure and had amassed a small fortune with his brewing interests. Not only did he have a brewery in Reigate, but one in Leatherhead and 55 inns scattered throughout Surrey. Mr Cooper died in 1805 and his executors put his estates up for sale. The Leatherhead brewery was sold off by public auction and the estate disseminated among various speculators. The new owner of the brewery must have suffered a setback for the concern was re-auctioned in 1811 ( more of which in a later chapter). It is interesting to note, however, that brewing in the two towns was destined to be reunited just over a century later [5].

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.

In the auction catalogue it was described as "a brewery consisting of a substantial brick dwelling house fronting the market place, large brew house, cooperage, store houses, stables for 18 horses, capital piggeries, and every convenience for carrying on the brewery. Annual rent £25. Also attached is a malt house fitted up in the most compleat style, with a coke oven, cisterns, barley and malt rooms, held for an unexpired term of 51 years from Michaelmas 1805 at a yearly rent of 5/8d ".

By September 1806, Thomas Neale had moved in and was making a beer that Reigate was to enjoy for some 130 years, until 1938 when his great great grandsons were running the business.

As the reader will recall, 1806 was the year that Thomas Neale had contracted a partnership with William Lee, so as soon as Thomas had moved into the new brewery, he took stock and had an inventory and valuation taken as he had done with the Church Street brewery. Total value came to £2,179.3s.2d.

Thomas Neale now owned two breweries, doubling up on his output. With this new brewery, he acquired his first major public houses. Among the freeholds, he took over the Marquis of Granby at Redhill, and the Half Moon at Charlwood. Leaseholds included the Plough & Harrow, Charlwood; The Red Cross, Reigate; The Crown, Reigate; The Buckland Tap, Lingfield; The French Horn, Lingfield; The Star, 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.

From 1806 until 1828, the two breweries were run as one concern, but with Thomas Neale managing the High Street brewery and William Lee managing the Church Street brewery. These facts are confirmed in a manuscript history of Reigate which was supposed to have been written by Dr. William Ridgeway (1741-1830), the son of Thomas Ridgeway a stay-maker, whose shop stood at the corner of High Street and Bell Street [6]. Ridgeway's descriptions were written sometime between 111 and 1820. To quote the most famous modern historian of Reigate, Dr. Wilfred Hooper:-
"The work commences with lengthy historical extracts taken, without acknowledgement, from Aubrey, Salmon, and other sources, followed by copies of inscriptions in the Parish church and churchyard, an itinerary or directory of the town, and copies of reports on the Parish charities. The manuscripts are interspersed with critical notes based upon personal recollections and it is to these and the itinerary that the work owes its value in spite of the writer's jejune and ungrammatical style.”

The itinerary lists four brewers in Reigate. In his perambulation up Church Street from the church, Ridgeway writes: " is 3 small houses, a Mr. Holroyd's two houses. Next a Mr. Lees, brewer, next a Mr. Glover's, attorney….”

Further along the street, he continues: - "next a Mr. Budgen, grocer, a Mr. Yerworth, distiller….” (presumably gin).

In the High Street, the itinerary progresses along the south side towards Bell Street:- ".... and two or three small houses and Mr. Steele, doctor, and Mr. King's, doctor, and Mr. Neale, brewer and maltster. Next a Mr. Dann's, grocer, formerly the Crown Inn….”

Finally, reference to a brewer is found in Bell Street, on the West side: - " ....a Mr. Knight's, and a Mr. Crunden's brewhouse, and Mr. Mazdon, butcher….”

In 1828, William Lee withdrew from the business, and his partnership with Thomas Neale was dissolved. We may deduce this date to be correct by reference to various documents and directories of the time. Whereas evidence of the partnership is given in Piggot's Home Counties Directory for 1822/23 under the entry of Neale & Lee [7], it must certainly have been dissolved by 1832, in which year's directory, Piggot lists Thomas Neale & Son [8]. Furthermore, there exists an endorsement at the end of a deed of conveyance dated 25th March 1817 concerning the Blue Anchor, Worth. This endorsement is dated 31st January 1828 and conveys or assigns the property from William Lee to Thomas Neale [9].

With his partner's withdrawal of capital, Thomas Neale found that he could not afford two breweries. He therefore sold off Lee's Church Street brewery to a maltster, Edward Larmer, who reconverted the property to a maltings. Larmer is still listed there in the 1861 directory.

Thomas Neale married in 1802, 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 among brewers. The extra trade of coaling kept the drays 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 contributed to Thomas Neale the elder's death.

It is interesting to note that Thomas Neale the younger had a passion for horse racing, and in partnership with other local businessmen took a leading part in the establishment and management of Reigate Horse Races. These races had a short existence between 1834 and 1838.

The racecourse was sited on Reigate Heath, the venture being viewed very much as the poor-man's Derby. The racing committee described the venture in their opening minutes in a kinder light, stating that the races were founded " to give some encouragement to the farmers of the neighbourhood over whom the Gentry and Sporting men of the county have been in the habit of hunting”.

According to Hooper, the meetings were for two days each year, each day to comprise four races. The meet of 1834 took place on 7th and 8th May, whilst that of l835 took place on the Wednesday and Thursday in the week after Epsom Races (viz. 10th & 11th June).

The committee, of whom Thomas Neale was chairman, resolved in 1835, " that the course be properly covered with turf to be laid down under the management and by the direction of Mr.Packer.” who, according to Hooper, acted as treasurer and who also, incidentally, kept the Swan Inn. It was also decided “that a proper temporary building be erected for weighing the Gentlemen riders and jockeys.”

The most important event of the first day was the Gold Cup of 100 guineas. The second day was set aside for the Farmers Plate, "for horses not thoroughbred, the property of farmers residing within the limits of the Surrey and Union Hunts.”

In 1836 it was thought necessary to enlarge the course and accordingly an approach was made to Lord Somers, Lord of the Manor, "to guarantee the free use of the ground for a certain number of years.” An appeal went out for donations, but although the work was carried out, the necessary backing was not forthcoming and a loss of £200 was recorded for 1837. Thomas Neale agreed to cover the amount that was necessary, with the proviso that the other committee members repaid him in proportion to their number.

The enterprise was doomed to failure despite Thomas Neale's cash injection; the main reason being that the farmers had lost interest in the races, their main grievance being the committee's ill-conceived decision to open the races up to thoroughbreds. The last races were held in May 1838, and the committee was disbanded [10].

In 1843, Thomas Neale the elder sold the brewery to his two sons, Thomas the younger and William. This sale did not include the public houses, and these were sold to the sons in about 1849.

In 1854, after Thomas the elder's death four years earlier, the two sons decided to invite a friend, Frederick Mellersh to be a partner in the business. Mellersh had been a family advisor during the difficult time before the bank's collapse and during the period of Thomas the elder's failing health.

That same year, Thomas the younger retired from the business also due to ill-health, and he died on the 25th April 1854. To his wife Charlotte Matilda, he left £100 and his goods and chattels, and the remainder in trust to Henry Chambers and George Watts 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.
1. Bryants Survey SRO 445 / 1. f 145 & 116.
2. Old Wheel Tearooms. Ministry of Town & Country Planning Provisional List of Buildings
of Architectural or Historic Interest. March 1930. sheet 1544 / 11 / a No 1 - 28.
3. Neale & Lee partnership. Neale Papers; Friary Meux.
4. McCulloch's Dictionary of Commerce, 1859, article "Malt".
5. An Act for confirming the Sales made under the direction of the Court of Chancery of Several Estates in the Counties of Surrey, Sussex, and Kent, divised by the Will of Thomas Cooper, deceased. 13th August 1807. 47 Georgii III Seff 2 Cap 122.
6. William Ridgeway, MSS "An old history of Reigate" 1816; BM Add. Mss. 34. 237; also Cranston Library Cat. No. 2185.
7. PD 1822 / 3 Croydon Library Acc. 29442. ref qs60 / 929.
8. PD 1832. Croydon Library Acc. 37086. ref qs60 / 929.
9. Blue Anchor, Worth. Papers & Deeds at Friary Meux.
10. Extracts from MS Minutes of the Committee 1835 - 9; Hooper, W. p187.
11. Reigate Public Library.

Plan of the High Street Brewery, taken from Bryant's Survey, 1786

Plan of the High Street Brewery, taken from Bryant's Survey, 1786
This is the property Thomas Neale bought in 1806