By Peter Hawkes

Beer is one of the oldest drinks humans have produced, dating back to at least the 5th millennium BC in Iraq, and was recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. It then spread throughout the world. It is the oldest recorded recipe.

Before the Industrial Revolution beer continued to be made and sold on a domestic scale, although by the seventh century it was also being produced and sold by European monasteries. During the Industrial Revolution, the production of beer moved to industrial manufacture, and domestic manufacture ceased to be significant by the end of the 19th century.

Beer is made by fermenting malt (sprouted barley), flavoured and preserved with hops. Before the 19th century and the establishment of Chesham’s two main breweries, How’s and T & J Nash’s, there were scores of public houses and beer shops in the town. Their landlords brewed their own beer on the premises. By 1900 Chesham had a population of around 9,000, and as many as 80 pubs. They sold beer, stout and porter* (no lager in those days), much of it made here in Chesham.

How’s Brewery was established at 80–82 Church Street in the early 19th century by Sarah How & Son. Water was obtained from a well within the property. The beer had a strong flavour attributed to the hardness of the water.

Barley for malting was sprouted and prepared at the How’s Brewery malt house, previously Darvell’s Steam Brewery, in Tap Yard, also known as the High Street Brewery. This had originally consisted of a maltings, cellarage, stores and large private dwelling house, with the Brewery Tap adjoining.

In those days beer was stored in wooden barrels of 4 and a half, 9, 18 and 36 gallons. It was not kept under pressure and, in summer, open barrels were wrapped in damp cloth in an attempt to keep the beer in good condition.

The brewery closed around 1900 and the buildings were taken over by my great grandfather Hugh Hawkes, a beer retailer and master baker, who operated here for over 50 years. When the buildings were sold in the 1960s the old brewing vat, complete with paddles, was uncovered.

By far the larger of the two Chesham breweries, T & J Nash’s Brewery was situated at the foot of White Hill (originally known as Hempstead Road). Many have recalled how the aroma of hops and barley drifted up the hill, over the railway sidings to the Whitehill School. An old barn on Whitehill was used for the making and storage of beer barrels.

A deep well supplied the spring water which gave a distinctive taste to the beer. It was sold in pint, half pint and quart bottles. The brewery owned eleven Chesham pubs in 1872. It was incorporated as Chesham Brewery Ltd in 1895 and took over How’s Brewery in 1899.

Chesham Brewery merged with Hopcraft & Norris Ltd of Brackley in the 1930s to become the Chesham & Brackley Brewery Company. Many varieties, from Pale Ale to Stout, were brewed. The brewery closed in 1957 and was demolished in the 1960s.

In addition to Chesham’s two traditional breweries, Ellen Wallington & Son sold non-alcoholic, home-brewed ginger beer and ‘pop’ in Victorian times. ‘Codd’ lemonade bottles with marble stoppers from Wallington’s are still occasionally unearthed around the town.

Other local breweries serving Chesham in the past were ABC of Aylesbury, Benskin’s of Watford, Bingham Cox of St Albans, Salter’s of Rickmansworth, Welch’s of Princes Risborough, Wheeler’s of Wycombe and Weller’s of Amersham.

You can find out more in the book Pubs & Inns of Chesham & Villages. Go to

The last of the 4Bs of Chesham: Baptists, will be looked at next time.

*Porter is a dark style of beer, similar to stout, developed from well-hopped beers made from brown malt. The name was first recorded in the 18th century, and is thought to come from its popularity as a drink with street and river porters, who carried goods for other people.

Amersham Brewery

A brewery has existed in Amersham since at least 1735, which was eventually acquired by the Weller family of High Wycombe. The history will be told in a future Nostalgia column.