Our history

Entertaining Londoners since 1750

Whitbread’s giant

The Brewery occupies the site of the former Whitbread brewery in East London. In 1750 Samuel Whitbread, having bought property in the area, transplanted his operations to Chiswell Street from two smaller breweries in Old Street and Brick Lane.

Within a few years Whitbread’s brewery had become a vast operation, its sheer size making it an attraction worthy of royal visits. George III, Queen Charlotte, Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth the Queen Mother all visited the site.

Brewing on the site continued until 1976, the last tanker pulling out of the South Yard on April 13, bringing to an end a 225-year era.

Did you know…

Porter Tun’s roof: The Porter Tun room has a 170-foot king post timber roof, with an unsupported span of 65 feet giving an uninterrupted view across the room.

Beer to the ceiling: The vaults beneath the Porter Tun room were filled to the ceiling with porter (a dark beer that took a year to mature) after Whitbread had the idea of bulk storage without using casks. At first the liquid ran through the walls ‘as through a sieve’. It took advice from John Smeaton (The Smeaton Vaults), designer of the third Eddystone Lighthouse, and Josiah Wedgewood, to help make them water-tight. Or beer-tight.

Kings and Queens: The King George III and Queen Charlotte rooms were named after the royal visit to the brewery by George III and family in 1787. The largest once held the equivalent of 3,800 barrels of beer.

Strange deaths: The founder’s son, Samuel Whitbread II, cut his own throat ‘from ear to ear’ in 1815 amid anxieties about the decline of the brewery. John Martineau, who had effectively saved Whitbread by amalgamating the brewery with his own in 1812, was found dead in a yeast trough at Chiswell Street in 1834. The verdict was ‘Died by the visitation of God.’

Speaker’s wheels: For more than 100 years, the coach of the Speaker of the House of Commons was housed at the brewery, and was pulled by Whitbread shire horses. Originally built for William III in the late 17th Century, in the mid 19th Century the coach was passed on to Speaker Charles Shaw Lefevre, who had married into the Whitbread family. Made of oak and weighing almost three tons, it is the oldest of the great state coaches and emerges only on rare occasions.