Before Sainsbury's was developed there were two archaeological trial trenches
dug on the east side of the site. A large wooden drain was revealed, parallel
with Collingwood Street and cut through natural brickearth. This was thought
to have been a section of the Common Sewer (or Black Ditch) which flowed from
Shoreditch through Spitalfields and Stepney to Limehouse. The wooden floor of
the drain survived and the backfill (when it went out of use) contained
pottery, which included hand-decorated moccha wares (tableware and chamber
pots), Staffordshire slip kitchen wares, 'classically styled' black basalt
tablewares, Chinese-influenced transfer-printed tableware, functional
stoneware bottles (including many blacking bottles) and one piece of imported
Chinese porcelain. Also recovered was a William IV mug which dates the deposit
to later than his accession, 1830. The date of the construction of the drain
The natural brickearth survived to 10.1m OD (ie about 33ft below sea level) and had been dug out in a series of small square quarry pits which avoided the drain, indicating that they were dug after the drain was constructed.
This supermarket was a comparatively modest realization of part of much grander but failed shopping-mall schemes of the 1970s and 80s. The Albion Brewery’s extensive basements were partly infilled during the 1980s. Rear parts of the brewery were entirely cleared for replacement by the large supermarket in 1993–4, for J. Sainsbury plc with D. Y. Davies Associates as architects. The supermarket lies behind a large southerly car park and is, typically, a vast single-storey steel-frame shed, stock-brick clad and rising to two storeys to the north for offices under segmentally vaulted Perspex canopies. From 2010, when the construction of Crossrail’s tunnel at Whitechapel commenced, the southern part of the car park was given up to be a major construction site, with concrete silos along Brady Street and a ventilation shaft at the east end of the new Whitechapel Station platform nearer Cambridge Heath Road. The erection of a temporary three-storey car park to the north permitted continued vehicular access to the supermarket.1
Anticipating the completion of Crossrail in 2018, Sainsbury’s proposed complete redevelopment of its site in 2014–15. The project, called Whitechapel Square, was designed by UNIT Architects Ltd. It intended a dense complex of mansion blocks and townhouses including a 33-storey tower on the south-east part of the car-park site, its design ‘drawing on the typology of the campanile, referencing Whitechapel’s historic bell foundry, whilst its glazed terracotta piers echo the materiality of the Whitechapel Gallery’. English Heritage (Historic England) and others opposed such a tall building in this location and Tower Hamlets Council rejected the scheme in 2017.3
The Albion Yard site was traversed from north to south by the Black Ditch, a watercourse that flowed from Shoreditch through Stepney. It probably incorporated a homestead (toft) by 1665 when western parts and the ditch were used for plague burials. In 1671 a large property, a three-acre holding with a house on Dog Row (Cambridge Heath Road), was leased to Henry Meacock, a Mile End blacksmith, for 99 years. By 1703 this had been laid out in rectilinear fashion as a market garden or nursery occupied by Walter Simkins. Separately, the Whitechapel Road frontage had been fully built up.
Part of this roadside development was a row of eight almshouses on what later became the Albion Brewery’s frontage, a site that had been leased by Stepney Manor for 500 years in 1673. John Pemel, a draper, left £1200 to the Drapers’ Company on trust in 1681 for almshouses in Stepney. Property was bought elsewhere in 1694 and by 1698 Pemel’s almshouses stood on the roadside waste immediately outside Whitechapel parish on the west side of the ditch, which had been cleaned up. The four almshouses to the west were for freemen of the Drapers’ Company, the four to the east for widows of Stepney mariners. What came to be known as Drapers’ Almshouses was a single-storey brick range set behind a forecourt with a pedimented centrepiece over a through-passage. The property was sold in 1862–3 to Mann Crossman and Paulin for the Albion Brewery which had grown up behind. The almshouses were replaced by a new group at another Drapers’ establishment in Bow, only for all those almshouses to move to Tottenham in 1870. Around the corner on Dog Row, Captain Robert Fisher had founded a group of five almshouses in 1711. These were soon acquired by Trinity House which had its own Trinity Hospital almshouses close by on Mile End Road. Fisher’s group was replaced by 1850.1
East of the almshouses there was more early development. A turnpike gate was directly south of the Dog Row corner from the early eighteenth century. Towards the end of the century a single tollhouse in the middle of the road was replaced by twin tollhouses on either side. The ‘Cambridge Road Toll Bar’ or ‘Mile End Gate’ was renewed in 1843 and removed in1866. Further west, the parish boundary was marked by posts in the road. The first years of the nineteenth century saw numerous rows of small houses built to the north on Lisbon Street, Darling Row, Collingwood Street, Foster Street, Wellington Street and Bath Street. The Duke of Cambridge public house stood on the corner of the main junction at what became 345 Whitechapel Road through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.2
Drapers’ Company Archives, O1–11; O16–20: Joel Gascoyne, map of the hamlet of Bethnal Green, 1703: London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), E/PHI/62–63: Richard Horwood's map of London etc, 1813: Victoria County History Middlesex, vol. 11: Stepney, Bethnal Green, 1998, pp. 83–6,101–3 ↩
Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, L/THL/D/2/30/171: The National Archives, IR58/84062/5830: Post Office Directories: LMA, P93/MRY1/090; Collage 35140; SC/PZ/ST/01/59: VCH, pp.9, 101–103 ↩
From back-land beginnings in 1807 the Albion Brewery grew within a century to occupy a large frontage and to cover a site extending back to Darling Row and Merceron Street across almost five acres. Under Mann, Crossman & Paulin, it was one of London’s largest breweries, its dray horses a feature of the locality until the 1960s. After amalgamations the brewery closed in 1979. In the early 1990s front buildings were retained and replaced for a block of flats named Albion Yard, also incorporating the Albion Health Centre. The rest of the site was redeveloped for a Sainsbury’s supermarket.
The brewery’s origins are tied to the longer-lived Blind Beggar public house immediately to its east, and, it seems, to that pub’s rebuilding by James Green and William Green, speculative builders from Brick Lane who were otherwise active building small houses on lands to the north. In 1807 Richard Ivory, a brewer and ‘dealer in wine and spirituous liquors’ who had occupied the pub and a small brewhouse to its rear since at least 1786, launched a call for subscribers to join him in setting up the Albion Brewery. He took a lease of two acres of open land to the rear of the Drapers’ Almshouses on the west side of the line of the watercourse known as the Black Ditch, and by 1809 there was a compact new brewhouse standing behind a tun room for the brewing of porter, said to be capable of producing 10,000 barrels a year. This was a speculation, and with access restricted to a narrow passage on the west side of the Blind Beggar, it proved difficult to find a taker for a new 60-year lease. John Hoffman stepped into the breach and ran the brewery up to 1818 when he fell bankrupt. His creditors sold the brewery in 1819 to Philip Betts Blake and James Mann, of the Strandbridge Brewery, Narrow Wall, Lambeth. Mann moved to the site and Blake, the senior partner, retired in 1825.1
In 1846 Mann’s son, also James, entered into partnership with Robert Crossman, a Berwick-upon-Tweed brewer, who brought in Thomas Paulin. Mann was himself soon succeeded by his son – Thomas Mann (d.1887), and then grandson, Thomas James Mann (1848–97). The partnership prospered, production rising to 133,000 barrels a year. Long-term tenure of the site was secured from Ivory’s descendants in 1859 and the Drapers’ Almshouses in front were acquired in 1862–3 and then cleared. This enabled a rebuilding programme that was completed in 1868. Oversight has been attributed to E. N. Clifton. Part of this was the front offices range of 1863–4 that survives to the east of the entrance courtyard. That open space was retained in front of the brewhouse, which was rebuilt, repowered, refitted and raised in 1866; only vaults from the building of 1808 were retained. On the west side of the forecourt there was henceforward a three-bay four-storey head-brewer’s house facing Whitechapel Road, latterly replaced in pastiche form (No. 331). Behind this there was now an extensive range of fermenting vats and sugar stores with a rooftop tank. There was still an open yard to the rear with a well to the north, 181ft (55.2m) deep and iron lined for its upper 15ft (4.6m) at a diameter of 8ft (2.4m). Production rose to 220,000 barrels a year.2
As public taste shifted from porter to mild ale, the brewers adapted, opening a sister brewery in Burton upon Trent in 1875, and shifting from vertical storage in vats to horizontal storage in barrels laid out at basement and raised-ground level in fireproof ale stores on an iron-framed grid on a western part of the yard. Robert Spence, the firm’s engineer and architect, was responsible for design. A new and larger artesian well was formed in 1878–9 immediately behind the brewhouse, 190ft (58m) deep and 9ft (2.7m) in diameter with a borehole drilled 410ft (125m) down – this was recorded before being filled during recent Crossrail works. Acquisition of a former floorcloth factory at 329 Whitechapel Road in 1882 permitted Spence to extend the ale stores and vaults in 1886–8, with John Mowlem & Co. as contractors. Spacious stabling had been erected on the east side of Cambridge Heath Road in 1885 and a bottling-store complex was built on the south side of Whitechapel Road on Raven Row in 1889. The brewery had 360 employees and an annual output in excess of 250,000 barrels.3
It had been learned that London water was good enough for ales. From 1894 to 1900 the Albion Brewery was upgraded yet further as one of England’s largest breweries, and the Burton brewery was sold. Spence supervised works through the 1890s. A new boiler house near Brady Street was supplemented by a 135ft (41m) chimney, and, with the introduction of bottled brown ale, the stores and vaults were again extended westwards to Brady Street, retaining an open yard with a trabeated colonnade to the street. This phase also evidently included works of embellishment to the brewhouse façade. The brewery was extended northwards across Bath Street in 1901–2, from Brady Street to Foster Street (obliterating the south end of Pereira Street), for cask-washing premises and, north-east, a tall new engine house and chimney, work overseen by William Bradford & Sons, architects and brewers’ consulting engineers, with Holland & Hannen as builders. Triple metal-framed and barrel-vaulted cask- washing sheds ran east–west above more vaults, presenting to Brady Street with pedimentally gabled brick elevations. Other additions included a fermenting house of 1902 (by Bradford & Sons) and a grains drying house of 1914 (William Stewart, architect), both on the south side of Lisbon Street (Darling Row).4
In 1958 merger with Watney Combe Reid & Co. created Watney Mann, which was acquired by Grand Metropolitan in 1972. The properties on Whitechapel Road to the Brady Street corner had been acquired by the 1940s and Nos 325–331 (including the former head-brewer’s house, latterly used as offices and flats, and the floorcloth premises of the 1860s) were replaced in 1970 with a four- storey office block, dark brick and glass, plain and short-lived – it was demolished in 1994. A restructuring scheme led to closure of the brewery in 1979, its Whitechapel presence being reduced to administration and distribution. The west end of Darling Row was closed in 1980. The offices and ‘brewhouse’, or ‘entrance block’, had been listed in 1973 as ‘Early C19’.5
The offices (and stores) range of 1863–4 to the east of the courtyard was originally three storeys, stock-brick built with a plain and well-proportioned six-bay front with recessed sash windows. The fourth storey is an early twentieth-century addition. A Portland stone faced bay of 1899–1900 stands above a mosaic-paved entrance porch tucked behind a gate-keeper’s lodge on the east side of the courtyard. Back parts were reconfigured around the same time for a porter vat room and hop and malt stores. The well of 1879 was immediately behind. The front range’s ground-floor hall has been divided, but retains ceiling cornices depicting intertwined hops and barley. The Directors’ Dining Room was on the first floor.
The ‘brewhouse’ or fermenting house behind the courtyard is ‘liberally embellished in show-off Baroque style’.6 In fact the brewhouse proper was further north, the surviving building was adapted to house the Chief Brewer’s Office on the first floor, above an aedicular carriageway arch and below a clock centrepiece. There was also a laboratory and storage. The boldly sculpted St George and Dragon panel is the brewery’s trademark, a reference to the patron saint of Albion. The brewery’s war memorial is on the west side of the arch at the back of the courtyard.
These front buildings were converted to 48 flats in 1993–5, with a health centre on the ground floor of the former offices range (Nos 333–335). Peter Brooks Associates have been credited with these works, which were carried out for Columbia Estates Ltd (aka Albion Yard Estates Ltd), for whom John Hooley and Richard Noel O’Carroll were actively involved. A three-bay stock-brick building on the west side of the courtyard that houses a bank on its ground floor emulated the former brewer’s house in a not-quite replica form.7
London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), CLC/B192/F/001/MS11936/335/515459: The Times, 7 Oct 1807, p. 1; 16 April 1819, p. 2: Richard Horwood's maps of London, 1799 and 1813: Hurford James, Albion Brewery 1808–1958: The Story of Mann, Crossman & Paulin Ltd, 1958 ↩
Hackney Archives Department, M4596/1-2: Metropolitan Board of Works Minutes, 26 Jan and 16 Nov 1866, pp. 124,1425: Alfred Barnard, Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, 1890, pp. 369–395: James, op. cit: Brewers’ Journal, 15 Sept and 15 Dec 1897, pp. 658,880: Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, 2005, p. 431 ↩
LMA, District Surveyors Returns (DSR): Barnard, pp.380–1: https://learninglegacy.crossrail.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/C261-WHI- XSH10-Whitechapel-Albion-Brewery-Well-Standing-Building-Recording-Report.pdf: The Standard, 1 Aug 1882, p. 8: The Builder, 7 Aug 1886, p. 222 ↩
LMA, GLC/AR/BR/30/13318/01–2; DSR: Barnard, op. cit.: London County Council Minutes, 10 Oct 1899, p. 1313: Brewers’ Journal, 15 Oct 1902 and 15 Oct 1903, p. 574: James, op. cit,: London’s Industrial Archaeology, vol. 5, 1994, pp. 18–20: Historic England Archives, 1991 photographic record by Derek Kendall ↩
LMA, GLC/AR/BR/30/13318/02: Tower Hamlets planning applications online: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), pamphlets 022, ‘Shopping Centre at Whitechapel’, 1979: East London Advertiser, 29 Feb 1980: Historic England, listed buildings online ↩
Cherry, O'Brien and Pevsner, op. cit., p.431 ↩
THLHLA, Building Control file 18602: Cherry, O'Brien and Pevsner, op. cit., p.431 ↩