Wednesday, June 23, 2010

He Marched Them Up To The Top Of The Hill And Gave Them A Pint Of Beer

As I was saying yesterday, we spent the first couple of days of our holiday staying in the small Dorset village of Ansty. Until 1900, the small village was the home of the Hall and Woodhouse Brewery but, whilst the brewery buildings still exist, the brewing now takes place at their Blandford Forum brewery a few miles to the north. The interesting question is - how could such a small rural village become the location of such a large and thriving brewery?. For answers to such questions we must turn to the magisterial nineteenth century work by Alfred Barnard, "The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland"

Illustration of the Ansty Brewery from Barnard's "Noted Breweries" Vol 3
Charles Hall was a farmer who - like so many at the time - also brewed a little beer for his family, farmworkers, and neighbouring villagers. It would appear that he was a talented brewer because the brewery built up both a reputation and a small but loyal customer base. And so the story would have continued - and the brewery would have eventually faded into obscurity - if it had not been for the intervention of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1801 Napoleon had massed his armies at Boulogne in preparation for an invasion of Britain. The British had forces camped in anticipation along the south coast : one of the largest camps being at Bincombe Down, just north of Weymouth. Whilst waiting for the expected invasion, the British redcoats were ceaselessly drilled : it was up Bincombe Hill that the Duke of York exercised his troops by marching them repeatedly up the hill and down again.

The Grand Old Duke Of York, He Had 10,000 Men
All this relentless exercise was, of course, thirsty work, and the genius of Charles Hall was to spot what these days would be called an entrepreneurial opportunity. He managed to get the contract to supply the army camp with beer and what with all that marching and the Duke of York's 10,000 men, the rest - as they say - is history.  The expected invasion never took place, the Red Coats eventually went home, the brewery saw some lean years and eventually merged with another local brewery to form the company, Hall and Woodhouse. In 1900 the old Ansty brewery was closed and the buildings converted to other uses. Today they provide a variety of houses, flats and a Village Hall, a fitting legacy to Charles Wells, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Grand Old Duke of York. Cheers!

The Ansty Brewery buildings today


  1. Alan, those former brewery buildings could have been plucked straight from the site of the St Austell Brewery, where I worked for nine years, whilst studying (as a mature student) for my BA (Hons). Maybe a westcountry coincidence?

    Great post. I really enjoyed it, having something of a vested interest.

    See St Austell Brewery

  2. very interesting history and handsome buildings!

  3. I used to sing this song with my kids with they were little. They would have loved the additional "and gave them a pint of beer" lyrics!

  4. Heh, heh! I wondered where that song came from. We used to sing it in Boy Scouts.

    The grand old Duke of York
    He had 10,000 men,
    He marched them up the hill
    And he marched them down again.

    And when you're up, you're up
    And when you're down. you're down
    And when you're only half-way up
    You're neither up nor down.

    It's always good to learn that something I grew up with has an association with good beer!

  5. Lovely little piece of history that I doubt you'll find in books. Now besides the song I have an image of a bunch of drunken red coats lolling at the bottom of the hill! Cheers :)

  6. An Army Might march on its stomach but it needs beer to fight!

  7. a toast back to you for yer fine stories of the breweries...i'll sing to that..smiles.


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...