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Crown and Anchor Brewery Luton

 The Crown and Anchor Brewery in 1849 [X95/247]
The Crown and Anchor Brewery in 1849 [X95/247]

When the words Luton and industry are mentioned people normally think of hats or Vauxhall Motors. However, until the latter part of the 20th century brewing was also a very important industry in the town although now defunct. There have been four large breweries in the town over the years: Burr's Brewery in Park Street, the Crown and Anchor Brewery in New Bedford Road, the Phoenix Brewery in Park Street West and the Whitbread Brewery in Oakley Road.

The Crown and Anchor Brewery lay on the corner of New Bedford Road and Bridge Street, a site which, today, lies under a modern leisure complex. In 1843 the 2nd Marquis of Bute sold the Crown and Anchor public house to Luton builder John Gray [X95/246]. Included in the sale was Gray's own house, next to the Crown and Anchor "recently erected", thirty five poles of ground near the Red Cow public house, "being a corner of a close of pasture called Lancrofts or Longcrofts bounded west by the new road from Luton to Barton-le-Clay" (the latter road being, of course, New Bedford Road), and a meadow "lately part of common land called Great Moor adjoining Lancrofts to the east and containing two roods, twelve poles and bounded by the road from Luton to Horsepool Bridges to the south, the River Lea to the north-west and the new road from Luton to Barton-le-Clay to the west. The whole parcel of land and buildings cost Gray £700. A year later the Marquis sold another one and a half poles to Gray adjoining Horse Pool Bridges and running along the River Lea for fifteen feet and then forty six feet north-east, adjoining the land Gray bought in 1843 [X95/246]. Gray mortgaged the land in 1847 for £2,000 [X95/246], presumably to raise money to build the brewery on it, though the deed does not state this. A further mortgage on 1st May 1848 noted "a messuage, beerhouse, malthouse and other buildings lately erected by John Gray" on part of the land [X95/246] as well as "vats, coppers, coolers, mash tubs and other brewery plant of John Gray in his brewhouse". This means the Crown and Anchor brewery was built in the year between 1847 and 1848.

 The site layout plan of the Crown and Anchor Brewery in 1849 [X95/247]
The site layout plan of the Crown and Anchor Brewery in 1849 [X95/247]

On 28th February 1849 Gray put the brewery up for auction at Garraway's Coffee House in London. The sale particulars include a site layout plan as well as elevations of the counting house, gates, Crown and Anchor Inn, brewer's house and, most importantly, the brewery itself [see X95/247 above].

 The brewer's house at the Crown and Anchor Brewery in 1849 [X95/247]
The brewer's house at the Crown and Anchor Brewery in 1849 [X95/247]

The brewery was purchased by Thomas and Robert Sworder [X95/291/4] for £3,500 [X95/291/59], the conveyance being made on 31st December that year [X95/301]. Their father had died in 1846 when they were still comparatively young and left them a considerable sum of money, some of which Thomas invested in the Cennen Tower Estate at Llandeilo in Wales, which later turned out to have been considerably over-priced [X95/291/1]. Thomas Sworder was, at the time, studying to be a solicitor in the firm of his uncle, also Thomas Sworder, of Hertford. His family, notably his brother John and sister Caroline, soon began to press him for money owed to them from their father's estate, which reduced his finances such that he needed the financial support of his uncle Thomas. He was also forced to concentrate on being a brewer rather than a solicitor. For the next forty eight years Thomas Sworder's business affairs are a Byzantine web of dealings and mortgages which it is now impossible, from surviving evidence to fully understand.

At the time of their purchase of the Crown and Anchor Thomas was also negotiating with Benjamin Bennett of Dunstable to buy his brewery business [X95/291/8]. Sworder noted: "Mr. Medland [a Dunstable solicitor] will most likely have Bennett's House if we take it and so look after the Dunstable private house trade a little. Bennett scarcely has any as the people cannot drink his swill" [X95/291/11]. He bought the business in September 1849 for £10,000 noting that it had "crippled us a little" [X95/291/23]. In the same letter he decries Luton: "What a horrible dirty place this is, worse than Hertford. Our Brewery Yard is almost like a ploughed field". Still, by April 1850 his business was, temporarily, looking up as he noted in a letter to his uncle [X95/291/29]: "We are now getting quite a name for Beer now. A man came to order a Barrel today in consequence of its being so good. He swore he would never drink any more of Burr's if he knew it". In 1851 Sworder bought land fronting New Bedford Road adjoining the brewery from Luton straw hat manufacturer John Everitt for £200 to extend the brewery site [X95/308].

Thomas Sworder's brother Robert was, unfortunately, profligate with his money and became seriously involved in betting on horse racing and owning race horses. Sworder noted, in a letter to his uncle in 1853 [X95/291/70]: "For my own part I cannot say but that I have confidence in Robert but if he continues to mix himself up with racing society there is no telling what might happen to him". Robert was sent to Dowlais to manage the brewery he had bought there, which Thomas eventually had to take off his hands [X95/322/2]. William Medland wrote to Thomas Sworder senior in 1858 [X95/291/188]: "Pray impress upon him [Robert] the necessity of his keeping out of the society that frequents the "George". I shudder at the idea myself as I well know his past conduct even now makes Tom's credit shaky and I am sadly afraid he will if he returns get to his old friends again. You do not know the parties of course, I do, which makes me answer yours by return. I'm sure I have no ill feeling towards Robert on the contrary or I should wish him to return to Luton so concerned am I that if he does it will be a sad day's work."

By 1855 the business was not doing so well, as shown in a letter of 6th March 1855 by Sworder to his uncle in which he set out the sales of beer in barrels for the previous five years [X95/291/76]: "In 1853 our business was about 6,000 Barrels but last year if fell off rather more than 1,000. This falling off was no doubt occasioned by the badness of trade all thro' last year & the high price of provisions".

"I have taken out the totals of Barrels sent out for the following years"

1850 - 3,807
1851 - 4,755
1852 - 5,503
1853 - 6,227
1854 - 5,099 

"Had trade, I mean the Straw trade, been as good last year as the previous year no doubt the beer trade would have gone on increasing in about the same ratio as it had done from 1850 to 1853. The Railway proposed to be made from Dunstable thro Luton to Digswell will be a vast improvement to this neighbourhood, it is calculated that we shall have £8,000 a year in coals alone. It will also increase the trade of the Town in various ways".

"I wish I could find out that we made £3,000 last year; £1,600 is nearer the mark but considering the high price of Malt & hops it was not so bad as 1,600 quarters of malt at 14s per quarter (the difference in price between 53 & 1854) would come to £1,120 & a proportionate quantity of hops at only 1/- per lb advance would amount to £560 these two sums added to £1,600 would amount to £3,280. The above sums deducted from last year's prices of malt & hops would be too much, I have no doubt, taking an average of, say, ten years. If we have lower prices next year and a brisk trade the present high prices will have a beneficial tendancy [sic] rather than otherwise, for those who can stand it, as there will not be so many in the trade & consequently not so much pushing & lowering the prices".

Sworder bought Burrs' brewery in Park Street in 1858, with the financial assistance of his uncle. The bulk of the money, £35,000, was agreed as a loan from Burr's estate through his executors as a mortgage, which gave an income to Burr's widow. Sworder then made some ill-advised speculation in malt which wasted a considerable sum of money. He had taken out a loan of £5,000 with his wife's family, the Vyses, hat makers in the town and in 1862 they brought an action against him in the Court of Exchequer [X95/293]. All these financial woes were capped by the huge problem of servicing the £35,000 mortgage taken out in order to buy Burr's business and Sworder was on the point of bankruptcy. It did not help matters that Sworder had a competitor in Luton, John William Green, who bought the Phoenix Brewery in Park Street West in 1869.

A site layout plan of the Crown and Anchor Brewery in the second half of the 19th century [X95/248] - to see a larger version please click on the image

Then, on 1st October 1862 Sworder came to an agreement with William Anstee of Chalton, James John Cook of Bramingham near Luton, farmer and Benjamin Bennett the younger of Dunstable, straw hat manufacture (son of the man from whom he had bought Dunstable Brewery in 1849). In the 1860s a document [X95/305] was drawn up called: "Statement of case regarding potential partnership for Thomas Sworder of Luton". It described the arrangement with Anstee, Cook and Bennett as being that twenty two public houses, previously part of Burr's and Bennett's breweries, valued at £24,400 were let on ten year leases from Michaelmas 1862 to them at a 5% rent on the whole sum of £24,400 (giving a £1,220 per annum income for Sworder). In addition, Anstee, Cook and Bennett also held four of Burr's and Bennett's houses valued at £5,650 on yearly rents totalling 5% or £282/10/-.This meant that the property still left in Sworder's hands amounted to only £6,750 and comprised Bennett's old brewery and the Crown Inn, Dunstable together valued at £7,500, but the old brewery had, since 1862, been dismantled and was not worth so much. In addition Sworder had handed to Anstee, Cook and Bennett his own Bedford Road Brewery, the Crown and Anchor and the Bute Arms (which had, together, cost Sworder £7,200 but which were let on lease at £350 per annum for 10 years from Michaelmas 1862). Anstee, Cook and Bennett were also tenants of Sworder for fifteen of the public houses tied to the Crown and Anchor brewery. Anstee, Cook and Bennett thus held 49 public houses from Sworder, besides the Bedford Road brewery. All this property was run by Anstee, Cook and Bennett for their own profit whilst paying rent to Sworder.

Then, on 16th December 1871, a bomb shell exploded under Sworder's feet when Frederick Burr's executors called in all their principal and interest (£37,350) on Burr's Brewery by 24th June 1872 and they threatened to sell all the property mortgaged to them if the mortgage and all interest was not paid [X95/307]. A large amount of Sworder's uncle was included, as a further security and he, thus, stood to lose it. The arrangement with Anstee, Cook and Bennett was due to end in 1872 and so it was imperative that Sworder raised the money to pay off Burr's executors and made arrangements to carry on the business. Then, two days later, Anstee, Cook and Bennett gave notice to Sworder that they were winding up the agreement in six months and proposed to sell it [X95/292/319].

Thomas Sworder and staff at the Crown and Anchor Brewery [WB/S4/5/CAB1]
Thomas Sworder and staff at the Crown and Anchor Brewery [WB/S4/5/CAB1]

It is frustrating but the correspondence and legal documents in the Sworder collection [X95] do not reveal exactly how he avoided this mess and carried on trading but a recital in a deed of 1897 [X95/322/28] states that the younger Sworder agreed to convey the business to his uncle which suggests that he bailed him out and reached an agreement with Burr's executors. At the time the older man had brought a Chancery action against his nephew, probably to force him to act as, from correspondence, he seems to have been content to leave Burr's executors unpaid which, by that stage, was no longer an option.

The older Thomas Sworder died in 1875 and his son, Thomas Joseph Sworder, succeeded him. In 1878 Thomas Sworder mortgaged his business to William Anstee and Benjamin Bennett, to whom he owed a total of £23,500 [X95/322/11]. In 1879 Sworder paid his cousin Thomas Joseph £45,700, money he largely still owed Frederick Burr's executors [X95/322]. Thomas Sworder paid off his mortgage to Bennett and Anstee in 1889 [X95/322/11] and immediately borrowed a further £14,000 from Anstee [X95/322/20] which was not paid off until 1897 [X95/322/33].

The Crown and Anchor Brewery [photograph in Wardown Museum collection]
The Crown and Anchor Brewery [photograph in Wardown Museum collection]

In 1897 Thomas Sworder put the business up for sale by auction and it was bought by his competitor, John William Green. By that time the business included [X95/313] the Crown and Anchor Brewery itself (described as including brewhouse, cellarage, two spirit stores, a private house, brewery offices, wine cellars and a stonemason's yard and totalling 4,000 square yards) as well as a mineral water factory in nearby Inkerman Street and the Burr's old brewery, now a maltings, in Park Street, brewery stables in Gordon Street and the Luton Wine Company in castle Street as well as fifty seven licensed premises. Of these thirty six were in Luton as follows:

  • The Antelope, Albert Road;
  • The Albion, 17 New Bedford Road;
  • The Bedford Arms Hotel, Stuart Street;
  • The Bell Commercial Hotel, 36 George Street;
  • The Blacksmiths Arms, on the corner of Park Street and Park Street West;
  • The Bricklayers Arms, High Town Road;
  • The Bridge Hotel, Bute Street;
  • The Bull, on the corner of Cumberland Street and Park Street;
  • The Chequers, on the corner of Park Street and Chequer Street;
  • The ClarenceHotel, Upper George Street;
  • The Cock, Park Street;
  • The Cock and Magpie, 11 Hastings Street;
  • The Cross Keys, 40 George Street;
  • The Crown and Anchor, on the corner of New Bedford Road and Bridge Street;
  • The Foresters Arms, on the corner of Windsor Street and Chapel Street;
  • The Fox, Dunstable Road;
  • The Freeholder, on the corner of York Street and High Town Road;
  • The Globe, on the corner of Langley Road and Union Street;
  • The Griffin, Chapel Street;
  • The Harrow, 85 Hitchin Road;
  • The Inkerman Arms, 52 Inkerman Street;
  • The King Harry, 59 Hitchin Road;
  • The Melson Arms, on the corner of Church Street and John Street;
  • The Old English Gentleman, Hitchin Road;
  • The Rabbit on the corner of Old Bedford Road and North Street;
  • The Robin Hood, on the corner of Albert Road and New Town Street;
  • The Royal Oak, 65 Windsor Street;
  • The Royal Oak, Leagrave;
  • The Royal Oak, Round Green;
  • The Royal Standard, on the corner of Hastings Street and Dumfries Street;
  • The Volunteer Canteen, Peel Street;
  • The Wellington Arms, on the corner of Wellington Street and Stuart Street;
  • The Wheatsheaf, Church Street;
  • The Wheel Plough, Park Street;
  • The Windmill, on the corner of Windmill Road and Gallows Road;
  • The Woolpack, Castle Street.

Those outside Luton were:

  • Barton-le-Clay: the Waggon and Horses;
  • Caddington: the Chequers;
  • Caddington: the Plough, Woodside;
  • Caddington:  the Rising Sun, Slip End;
  • Dunstable: the Borough Arms on the corner of Edward Street and Albion Road;
  • Dunstable: the Ewe and Lamb, West Street;
  • Dunstable: the Foresters Arms, Chapel Walk;
  • Dunstable: the George, Church Street;
  • Dunstable: the Royal Oak, Church Street;
  • Dunstable: the Saracens Head, High Street;
  • Dunstable: the White Horse, Church Street;
  • Flamstead [now Slip End]: the Half Moon, Pepperstock;
  • Houghton Regis [now Dunstable]: the Bull;
  • Houghton Regis: the Green Man, Chalk Hill
  • Houghton Regis [now Dunstable]: the Railway Hotel
  • Houghton Regis: the Spread Eagle;
  • Houghton Regis: the Unicorn;
  • Kensworth: the Old Red Lion;
  • Leighton Buzzard: the Railway Hotel;
  • Stanbridge: the Red Lion;
  • Toddington: the Red Lion

The firm also had leases on seven Luton houses: the Britannia, Burr Street; the Cricketers Arms, High Town Road; the Dew Drop, Upper George Street; the Dog, Castle Street; the Goat, Park Street; the Greyhound, Park Street West and the Red Lion Hotel, Castle Street, as well as three others - the Five Bells in Houghton Regis and two in Hitchin [Hertfordshire] the Radcliffe Arms in Walsworth Road and the Three Tuns in Tile House Street.

Following the brewery's sale to John William Green it closed as surplus to requirements in 1899. Green sold it to his relative by marriage, John Cumberland, who used the site as a cattle market.