Exciting times. Hunting for more information about those four Tudor brew houses at Portsmouth introduced a few posts ago, I came across a number of documents* including this dramatic report from Lord Howard to Lord Wolsey, 6 June 1513:
The premises heard, I took horse and rode hither to tell my lord of Winchester and Lord Lizle, and will forthwith return to the ships. I look hourly for news from Brytayne, where I have three ships. Cannot yet certify the time of my departure, for “there is slow lading of beer at Portismouth”…
At that moment, Henry has only been monarch for four years. Wolsey is two years short of becoming Cardinal but is Henry VIII’s first minister. Howard appears to be quite arguably second. So, there is a lot of political power getting into the question of beer being brought onboard ships. From 1512 to 1514, England is at war with (who else?) France. It was part of the broader anti-Venetian War of the Holy League which, as leagues go, must have been right up there. I will let you run down that rabbit hole on your own time.
I take “Brytayne” to be Brittany. Ships are being prepared to hit the open sea. In fact, the very next day a note is recorded to the effect that:
“Victuals delivered, for 6 weeks beginning” 7 June 5 Hen. VIII., to the Trinity Sovereign and 18 other ships; giving for each the purser’s name, the number of men and the quantity of beer delivered by Richard Palshid.
And again we read on the 8th of June another note to Wolsey this time sent by “Fox” who I take to be Richard Foxe at the latter end of his career as a key advisory to the monarch:
…to-morrow to Portesmowthe to see how the brewhouses go forward. Because much victual goes to the army out of Thamys and also from hence and out of the west country, order should be taken for its distribution to each ship: and the Admiral should be written to to despatch the victuallers hither again with empty vessel or else they cannot be served with beer, as Dawtrey will certify. Without wafters “there is good likelihood that they shall be take up by the way.” Much old piped beef is left here by Edward Ratclif which is like to be lost. You should command Ratclif to come hither and do the best that can be done with it.
Interesting stuff.** Provisioning is being directed no only to Portsmouth but also out of the Thames as well as the West Country… Bristol? “Wafters” might be similar to barges or bulk goods ships. And it is from Portsmouth that wafters with empty vessels must be brought to load with beer. Because Portsmouth has the brew houses.
Lord Howard reports the situation to the entire Privy Council as of 8 June in this way:
Lading of beer alone delays his departure; for there are but two cranes and the crayers can only come in and out to them at full sea. On consultation with Wm. Pawne and Palshide, suggests the use of lighters as in the Thames. Two or three of the greatest in Thames should be towed hither by crayers, “and with making them higher with a strake of board we doubt not they shall come safe hither.” The brewhouses here are the goodliest he ever saw, and already brew 100 tun a day. As there is no place to store it but the streets, where hot weather would destroy it, he has commanded Wm. Pawne to have great trenches digged and covered with boards, turf and sedges. The beer which came for Lord Lisle has been assayed by Howard, the Treasurer and the Clerk Comptroller and mostly sent back to London; for Heron’s servants, who deliver it, say that the brewers are bound to take back “unable stuff.” I know not what the King pays, but “much of it is as small as penny ale and as sour as a crab. I doubt not your Lordships will see the brewers punished.”
Two cranes? Who set up this situation with all the beer and not haulage ships and two cranes for loading? Oh, likely Henry VIII. Never mind.
Still, there is the key fact I wanted to establish related to the four brew houses. One hundred tun a day. So much it is stored in the streets. You will recall that I was not able to put my hand on the cited secondary source “Eley 1988” for the statement that they brewed “500 barrels per day in 1515.” This is even better. Not only does the 1513 figure apparently corroborate Eley’s 1515 one, it is a primary source – or at least a trusted recital of one – AND according to my calculations is bigger, a tun being more like 5.83*** UK beer barrels. Which makes the production level 116,600 barrels a year based on a modern 200 working day year of fifty work weeks five days each. If it was 52 weeks of six days, that becomes 181, 896 barrels a year.
If that is the case, then this four brew house brewery infrastructure was four to six times the size of Thrale’s brewery when he acquired it in 1758. The entire beer brewing production of the United States in 1810 was 182,690 barrels. The production of the four brew houses of Portsmouth is a bit mind boggling given how it seems to be both (i) a trustworthy stat and (ii) from hundreds of years before any facility at that scale had been at least brought to my attention. Neato.
More to come I am sure.
*This one set of documents is to be referenced for the quoted bits in this post where no other reference is given.
**Note to self: definitely take a pass on the piped beef whenever in Portsmouth.
***See comment from Martyn about my crummy use of decimal points.