Yesterday we went along the South Downs before going down into the Weald to catch a train back. Even though we had already passed last year through the large village of Hurstpierpoint, where I had seen a very faded sign, we wandered a bit around. As we did, I came within a short distance across two nice signs, including this colourful one on the side of the office building of the former Smithers' brewery.
The earliest mentions of Smithers go back to the late 1780s and early 1790s, in relation to a brewery in Preston, just north of Brighton. The business seems to have been already well-established by the 1820s, when Smithers controlled the Amber Ale Brewery in Preston (it was later sold to Longhurst and demolished in 1901) and the North Street Brewery in Brighton. Smithers continued to grow slowly during the second half of the nineteenth century and in 1906, upon merging with Ashby & Co of Brighton who owned the Bedford and Castle Breweries, it became a limited company. It was around this time that the small brewery in Hurstpierpoint was opened. In 1913 Smithers & Sons Ltd purchased all the ordinary shares of Vallance & Catt's West Street Brewery (established in the mid-eigthteenth century, it had been the first brewery in Brighton to use steam). Further expansion took place in 1919 when Smithers purchased the Portslade Brewery and some licenced houses from the Kemp Town Brewery in Brighton. Soon afterwards the Portslade brewery was rebuilt and extended in order to satisfy growing demand for Smithers' products. Upon completion of the work in November 1920, production ceased at the company's original Brighton site. The North Street Brewery was then sold off (the site was demolished in 1984). The Portslade Brewery was one of the most modern at the time, and the employees enjoyed housing in the new model dwellings, and benefited from a profit sharing scheme and a pension scheme. Everyday electric and steam vehicles could be seen bringing casks to the bottling plant in Regent Street, Brighton, and making deliveries to the company's licensed houses (a picture of these vehicles was published in issue 25, 1995, of the Sussex Industrial History, the journal of the Sussex Industrial Archeology Sociey).
However the good fortune of Smithers didn't last. A rise in beer duty and the economic crisis led to a decline of demand. Additionally, even if half of Britain's breweries had closed since 1914, there was still over-capacity. In 1929, in spite of the opposition of two of its directors, Smithers was taken over by Tamplin & Son, another brewer from Brighton. Tamplin immediately closed the West Street Brewery. In 1953 Tamplin's Brewery and 400 licensed houses were bought by Watney, Combe, Reid & Co of London. The name changed to Watney Mann (Southern Counties) in 1969, to Watney Southern Ltd in 1976, and to Phoenix Brewery Co. Ltd in 1982 (the Phoenix Brewery had been opened by Richard Tamplin in 1821. Brewing ceased in 1973 when it became a bottling plant and depot, with beer brought from the brewery in Mortlake, near London).
Unfortunately I haven't been able to find out what happened to the Hurstpierpoint site during all those years. In the early 2000s the site was bought and the buildings converted to housing. The first flats went on sale in 2005.
Ales & Stout
Judging by this sign, Smithers must also have been involved in the wine and spirits import or reselling business.
Another sign was painted over this one but it has almost completely disappeared. Fragments of a few letters still cover the lower parts of 'Smithers'. They seem to spell 'Distillery'.
Location: Manor Road, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex / Pictures taken on: 18/04/2010