Fringe Box



A Peek Inside The Friary Brewery

Published on: 27 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 27 Feb, 2012

The Friary Brewery seen from Bridge Street.

by David Rose

One of my earliest memories of Guildford town centre is getting off the bus in Woodbridge Road and saying to my mum: ‘What’s that strange smell?’

‘That’s the Friary Brewery,’ she replied, as my nostrils were filled with the aroma of malted barley.

It would have been about 1965 and I was five years old. Little did I know then that, in years to come, the town’s history would fascinate me so such – and in particular the history of its breweries, pubs and inns.

Back in the 1960s the long tradition of brewing beer in Guildford was coming to an end; within a few years the Friary Meux Brewery would close and that pungent smell would disappear forever!

The history of the Friary Brewery is a long one – going back to about 1873, with no space right now to tell the full story. But here are some rarely seen images of it in its later years.

A few years ago I helped Guildford Museum stage an exhibition about brewing in Guildford. We appealed for information and pictures of the Friary Brewery and got a fantastic response from a number of people who had worked there. One of those was Ken Howse who was one of the actual brewers there in the 1950s and 60s.

Casks being filled.

He came to see me from his home in Essex with some lovely photographs, promotional brochures and a scrapbook filled with original beer bottle labels. A selection of his material was used in the exhibition at Guildford Museum. Some of that is included here, along with other fascinating images that we did not have room to display.

The site of the Friary Brewery is now the Friary shopping centre, bus station, and associated buildings between Onslow Street and Commercial Road.

Working backwards in its more recent history, the brewery buildings were demolished in 1973-74. The last brew took place in 1969.

In 1963, Friary Meux was taken over by Allied Breweries.

At that time, Friary Meux had 672 pubs and 150 wine shops (off licences) across the south of England.

The merger of Friary, Holroyd & Healy’s Brewery and Meux (of Nine Elms in London) created Friary Meux in 1956.

The Friary (Guildford), Holroyd (Byfleet) and Healy’s (Chertsey) Brewery had come into existence in 1890.

In its heyday, the brewery dominated that part of Guildford and was a major employer in the town.

From 1873, the wealthy Hoskins-Master family owned the Friary Brewery. They lived at Barrow Green House in Oxted, Surrey. Businessman Mohammed Al Fayed now owns that particular property.

Charles Hoskins-Master had a short-lived business partnership with a Guildford brewer by the name of Thomas Taunton, who had established the Friary Brewery in 1865. But it was not until Hoskins-Master had complete control did the brewery expand on the site in Guildford and increase its number of tied houses.

It must have been a sad day indeed when the last brew was produced at Friary Meux in Guildford back in 1969. Can you images the millions of gallons that must have been made there over the years?

Production then transferred to Romford in Essex.

Room where hops were stored.

Into the 1990s, and Allied Breweries continued the Friary Meux brand along with its associated pubs with a regional office in Godalming.

Allied sold out to Carlsberg-Tetley in 1997. It now seems that with all the changes that have taken place within the UK brewing industry in more recent times, the Friary Meux name has disappeared altogether.

Sad to say, I was never old enough to have tasted a pint of Friary brewed in Guildford.

However, back in the 80s, when I was in my twenties, my mates and I sampled our fair share of beer in numerous pubs in and around the Guildford area.

That was a time when the beer industry was controlled by just a few giant firms. It was not until the Monopolies and Mergers Commission’s ruling broke them up that a wider range of beers became available.

Bottling Friary ales.
Redox Room.
Some of the large vats in which the brew was produced.
Friary items from David Rose’s collection. The bottle of Audit Ale was given to me and is supposed to have been one of the last off the production line. Note the Pipkin seven-pint can and have a look at the next picture.
Pipkin cans being filled. Friary Meux was one of the first breweries in the UK to use these cans in a trial with The Metal Box Company who introduced them. They are probably better remembered as used for Watney’s Party Seven!
Tin tray from my collection that features the range of Friary Meux bottled ales.
And finally, a view of the brewery tower.

Back then, going out for a night on the tiles meant either consuming Friary Meux bitter, brewed in Romford, or Courage Best, that came from its brewery in Reading. (I avoided fizzy lager like it was the plague!).

Unfortunately, Friary Muex (always nicknamed ‘Friary Muck’) tasted somewhat soapy, and therefore a pint of Courage was usually preferred.

Today, I stick to Guinness – at least it now comes direct from the St James’ Gate Brewery in Dublin, but that’s another story.

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