Pre-history of beer in England

In the year 1238 King Henry III granted trading-rights to Lübeck and despite hostilities from the already established wine merchants from Cologne an official ‘Kontor’ of the Hans was founded in 1266. One of the trading goods was the new hopped beer that came initially from Bremen (1), but hopped beer was soon made in other seaports as well. Outside London there were trading posts like in Ipswich, Yarmouth, Hull, York, Newcastle, Lynn and Boston.

British traders organized under the name ‘Merchants adventurers’ and they also had their agreements and disputes with the Hans (2). The name ‘adventurers’ was rightly chosen, for it must have been turbulent times at the end of the middle ages. Trade began to increase, new cities were founded and population grew. Beer was a new trading good, for ales had been unsuited as a merchandise.

London around 1300 with Austin Friars and St. Katherine before the Docks.

London around 1380 had about 30.000 inhabitants and there were some 1000 ale breweries. Ale was hardly durable at all and therefore only little could be made of it at a time. In comparison; in the Low Countries hoppenbeer was made from around 1320 onwards. In England it would take many centuries to start using hops in beer. The new beer was accepted first in the military and onboard ships where durability was of key importance.

With the guilds it had been quite normal for someone to go and find a new master and start at a higher level of craftsmanship or start an own business. Over time and with a growing population breweries increased in scale and this would also cause brewers to look for other places to find employ. Detailed knowledge of the brewing process could spread naturally this way.

Guilds: Dyers, Brewers, Leather-sellers, Pewterers

Beer versus ale
During the reign of king Henry VI there had been rumors beer was poisonous, it was better to stick to the old trusted ale. This was one of the first signs that the British themselves were starting to drink beer. Food safety was of great importance and ‘searchers’ were assigned to watch over the brewers. These brewers were mostly native ale brewers and only a few ‘Dutch’ brewers that made hopped beer. These ‘Dutch’ came from the continent ranging from the northern ‘German’ seaports to Flanders.

During the reign of Queen Elisabeth beer gained increased acceptance next to ale (3). Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) had been of a different league and hop had then been ‘a protestant weed’. Protestant fugitives formed a new group of inhabitants in England and in London they would meet in the Austin Friars Church.

In Shakespearian times beer became a fashionable drink

English beer
The large group of aliens in England were the first makers and drinkers of beer. Next to that the beer was exported and it had a good reputation in Amsterdam. On the continent beer brewing was done with more oats and ‘English beer’ had its own special character. At certain places on the continent one also started to make English beer (4).

In 1550 traditional ale brewers and brewers of hopped beer joined in the Brewers Company. The brewers of ale outnumbered the beer brewers and all kinds of discriminatory measures were passed (5). It is not hard to imagine it was not always very pleasant during their meetings and the word ‘scum’ must have originated somewhere in these times.

Andrew Boorde (1490 - 1549) bere is a naturall drynke for a Dutche man (6).

One could become ‘Poorter of Amsterdam’ by donating a small amount of money but in London matters were not that easy and brewers would acquire citizenship only very slowly if at all. The rise of hopped beer could not be stopped and eventually beer brewing became a fully native affair in the course of the 17th century. Brewer William Ellis mentions the questionable reputation of the ‘vegetable’ hop that has been raised only ‘of late’ in 1737 (The London and Country Brewer (7).

All kinds of remains still point to the ‘Dutch’ origin of English beer, including the word ‘beer’ itself. Underneath are some of them brought together including something truly remarkable; brewery ‘Roode Leeuw up Sinte Catarijn’ later became the well known Red Lion brewery on the very same spot at St. Kathrine Docks (a). Some of the mystery around Porter is still associated with this brewery.

Frederik Ruis

Bronnen tot de geschiedenis van den handel met Engeland, Schotland en Ierland
Dr. H.J. Smit
Tweede deel, Tweede stuk


On request of skipper Lucas Gerrydtsz. of Haarlem Steffen Cornelysz., merchant of Haarlem, en Antonys Bruwart, merchant of Brussel attest, before notary and wittnesses, they withheld the claimant eight barrels of beer, which they received too short of master Breedberry, brewer in London in England up Saint Katharine in the Red Lion around Candlemas of late; Pieter Gerrydtss. van Uitgeest and Louw Pauwelsz. van Akersloot, sailors, who oversaw the loading of the beer in question declare, that claimant, their skipper, to London in Englandt recieved no more than hunderd six and seventy barrels around Candlemas of late, however the brewer and his clerk the claimant, charged their skipper, hunderd four and eighty barrels, which is not so. 1574 March 22.]


BH 1572 3

BH 1572 2

BH 1572
Beere howse at de Roode Leeuw up Sint Catrijn (right of The Towre).

The above Braun and Hoogenberg map (1572) shows a 'Beere howse' on the very spot the Roode Leeuw is mentioned in the 1574 paper above. People are not named after their nationality but are 'poorter', like 'poorter to Enkhuizen'. The Red Lion would later become an important porter brewery with special huge vats for aging the beer.
In the 16th century, the area outside the Hospital consisted of many narrow streets, crammed with residents, largely composed of foreigners – mostly Flemish and Dutch or persons of foreign extraction. They carried on their trades near, yet outside, the City from which they were excluded, being aliens. Here on the quayside the ships from Holland landed their goods and took on board cargoes for their homeward voyage. John Stow, writing in 1605, remarks that ‘the brewers remain to the friendly water of the Thames.’


Die Hanse und ihr Bier
Christine von Blanckenburg

Von der bekannten Hansischen Bierexportstädten mag es also allein im sächsischen Bremen, das schon zur Karolingerzeit gegründet worden war, anfangs Grutbier gegeben haben. Spätestens seit der zweiten Hälfte des 13. Jahrhunderts, wurde aber auch dort mit Hopfen gebraut. Aus dieser Zeit stammen nämlich die ersten Nachrichten über Bremer Bier als Fernhandelsgut, und die Ausfuhr zur See ist nicht denkbar, ohne dass dem Sud Hopfen zugegeben wurde

[Of the known Hanseatic beer exporting cities only in the saxon Bremen, that was founded in Karoligian times, there would have been Grutbier (unhopped beer) at first. Latest second half of the 13th century, hopped beer would be brewed over there. Out of these times sources of Bremen beer as an international trading good originate, and this would be impossible without hops in the brewing process]


A Discourse of the Empire
Printed by F.L. for Charles Webb,
at the Boreshead in S. Pauls Church-yard
(Google eBoek)

wherby the society of English Merchants adventurers were pronoun'd a Monopoly
Hansiatique Merchants shold be allowd to trade into England upon the same conditions and payments
provided that the English Merchants might have the same privileges



Immigrants and industries of London, 1400-1750
Liên Luu
Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

(Liên Luu writes extensively about the pre-history of beer in England)

For nearly two centuries, hopped beer was regarded as an alien drink, or more precisely a Dutch drink, shunned by English drinkers, and its production was undertaken largely by aliens.

Dutch brewers brought the art of beer brewing to England in the early fifteenth century from Holland, but beer took a long time to gain popularity among English drinkers. Indeed, in the mid-sixteenth century, more than one-and-a-half centuries after its introduction in England, beer was still regarded as a Dutch drink





Bronnen tot de geschiedenis van Middelburg in den landsheerlijken tijd

Derde Deel
Dr. W.S. Unger

1536 October 21.
stercke dobbel bier, hebbende de smake van Ingels bier

[Law and counsil of Middelburg grant Pieter Jans son, brewer, he may brew strong double beer, with the taste of English beer]



A survey of the cities of London and Westminster, borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent.
Being an improvement of Mr. Stow's, and other surveys, by adding whatever alterations have happened in the said cities, &c. to the present year.
(Google eBoek)
John Stow, John Mottley
Printed for T. Read,

and there being now in these Days of Queen Elizabeth, many Strangers and Denizen Brewers, as well as English, the Company set a Penny upon every Barrel of Beer brewed by a Stranger, and an Half-penny upon every Barrel brewed by an Englishman


Introduction of Knowledge
Andrew Boorde (1490 – 1549)
Published for the early English text society,

Of ale.
Of bere.
it is a naturall drynke for a Dutche man.



A Learned Oration before a Civill Assembly of ALE-Drinkers,
Between Paddington and Hogsdon,
The 30. of February last, Anno Milli-mo Quillimo Trillimo,
By John Taylor.
Printed in the yeare,

Beere, is a Dutch Boorish Liquor, a thing not knowne in England, till of late dayes an Alien to our Nation, till such time as Hops and Heresies came amongst us, it is a fawsy intruder into this Land, and is sold by usurpation; for the houses that doe sell Beere onely, are nicknamed Ale-houses; marke beloved, an Ale-house is never called a Beere-house, but a Beere-house would have but small custome, if it did not falsly carry the name of an Ale-house; also it is common to say a Stand of Ale, it is not onely a Stand, but it will make a man understand, or stand under; but Beere is often called a Hogshead, which all rational men doe know is but a swinish expression.


The London and Country Brewer
(Google eBoek)
William Ellis (brewer.)
J. & J. Fox,

The Nature and Use of the Hop.

This Vegetable has suffer'd its Degradation, and raised its Reputation the most of any other. It formerly being thought an unwholsome Ingredient, and till of late a great breeder of the Stone in the Bladder, but now that falacious Notion is obviated by Dr. Quincy and others, who have proved that Malt Drink much tictur'd by the Hop, is less prone to do that Mischief

hop-london country brewer -1737


Bronnen tot de geschiedenis van den handel met Engeland, Schotland en Ierland
Dr. H.J. Smit
Tweede dee, Tweede stuk

Public Record Office, Londen

Richard Greye, searcher te Londen

[Because all these amounts of beer would be shipped beyond the seas without the payment of subsidy the Court rules the beer confiscated.]



The plague in London:
1563 (24% of the London population dies)

Between 1347 and 1351 about one third of world population dies. Well into the 17th century the disease returns regularly. 10 - 20% death-rate on a city population is normal.

During the outbreak of 1592-93, the Crown ordered the complete closure of all theatres in London. Shakespeare, then working with Lord Strange’s Men at the Rose theatre, would have been in the midst of a run of his Henry VI history plays (Bradbrook, 65), and likely financially devastated by the edict.



Venus and Adonis

May say, the plague is banish'd by thy breath.



Bronnen tot de geschiedenis van den handel met Engeland, Schotland en Ierland

Stadsarchief Antwerpen:
in de brouwerijen respectievelijk de Hertshooren en de Siepe (1555)

[in the breweries respective called the Hertshooren and the Siepe]


Gemeentearchief Dordrecht:
Thijs, brouwer in de Drie Conigen (1585)

[Thijs, brewer in the Drie Coningen' (Three Kings brewery 1585)]


Algemeen Rijksarchief Den Haag:
den brouwer tot Lonnen, genaempt Pekelharinck (1551)

[the brewer in London, called Pekelharinck' (salted herring 1551)]



Public Record Office

Hop imports

collectors of customs en subsidies in Boston
Willelmus Lumbard, alienigena - 25 bushels of hops




Queene Mary I 1553 - 1558



Queene Elizabeth I 1558 - 1603



William Shakespeare (baptised) 1564 - 1616



Public Record Office, Londen

Hop die met een schip uit Gouda was aangevoerd

Hops out of Gouda (the Netherlands)