Thursday, March 05, 2009

Came Upon A Child Of God

The question of the day is : "was there one child or two?". Let me start at the beginning, and the beginning is the Anchor Brewery which until 25 years ago occupied a prime site on Bankside in Southwark, London. The brewery was built in the early seventeenth century on part of the grounds previously occupied by the famous Globe Theatre of Shakespearean fame. When the brewery was eventually demolished in the early 1980s, part of the land that became available was used for the construction of a modern reproduction of the original Globe, and this has become one of the most famous sites of modern London.
It is the brewery rather than the theatre that I am interested in. A plaque set into the wall on Park Street provides a list of brewers starting with the Monger family in 1616 and running through until the acquisition of the brewery by the Courage Group in the 1950s. The brewer I am particularly interested in is Henry Thrale (who controlled the brewery in the mid eighteenth century) but in order to understand what he took over you need to understand the previous brewers. Which takes me to Josiah Child (1670-1693).
There is plenty of documentation to show that the brewery fell under the control of someone called Child in the 1660s and remained in his ownership until the 1690s when it was acquired by Edmund Halsey. But if you dig deeper than that, the agreement fades away in front of your eyes like the head on a pint of Courage Directors. In some places Child is referred to as James Child, in other places Josiah Child. Some people have Child taking over the Anchor Brewery in 1666, others in 1670. Some record his death taking place in 1693, some in 1699. Most people fudge the issue : John Pudney in his splendid 1971 history of the Courage Group talks about "Josiah, sometimes known as James, Child", whilst Alfred Barnard (the font of all knowledge on the history of British brewing) decided to skip over that particular episode in the history of the Anchor Brewery in his sonorous four volume work of 1889. 
There certainly was a Josiah Child - his life is well documented and his portrait has survived down the ages. He was born in 1630, and made a name for himself - and probably a fortune for himself - by being a firm supporter of Cromwell during the Republic. In 1655 he became Deputy of the Navy Treasury in Portsmouth and in 1658 he became the Mayor of Portsmouth, important positions given the importance of the Navy in seventeenth century Britain. He also became the MP for the seat of Petersfield in 1859. Following the restoration in 1660 he was removed from his official positions and banned from any dealings with the Navy by the new King Charles II. Nevertheless, if we are to believe the history books, by 1666 he had bought the Brewery at Bankside, Southwark, from the Mongers, obtained a contract to supply the Navy with beer (cleverly changing the name to the Anchor Brewery to reflect the nautical connections) and been recommended by the King for membership of the Company of Brewers. At the same time it appears that he had become a leading economist of the day, writing in 1668 alone two important books - "Brief Observations Concerning Trade and the Interest of Money", and "A New Discourse of Trade". Later he became a major stockholder in the East India Company and in the 1680s he became Governor of the Company. He was created 1st Baronet Child of Wanstead in 1678 and eventually died in 1699.  
The problem with this particular version of history is threefold. First, the owner of the Anchor Brewery is usually referred to as James Child rather than Josiah Child. Secondly, James Child of the Anchor Brewery is said to have died in 1696 and not 1699. And third, the next owner of the brewery - Edmund Halsey - rather cleverly acquired it by both being a decent head brewer and by marrying Child's daughter. Whilst Josiah Child is recorded as having two daughters who survived childhood, both married into the nobility and certainly not to a working brewer.
I am not sure that I have either the time or the inclination to untangle the strands and discover how many Child brewers there were. But there again, what else is retirement for? Did you know that you can download  "Brief Observations Concerning Trade and the Interest of Money" as a copyright free PDF file.  Excuse me while I go off and read it.

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