Shepherd Neame: 1698 revisited
Britain's oldest brewer gets a little older still
Claims and counterclaims as to which brewery boasts the longest history of continuous brewing in Britain have generally been settled in favour of Shepherd Neame, with its logo bearing the date of 1698. Now all that might change – but again in Sheps’ favour.
New research undertaken by John Owen, the family brewer’s archivist and historian, has found evidence that brewing has taken place continuously on Sheps’ current site since at least 1573 – 125 years earlier than originally believed.
Owen’s claim was revealed this month with the publication of The Emergence of Shepherd Neame from the Earliest Days of Brewing in Faversham, Kent: 1100-1752. It’s his second book concerning Sheps’ brewing heritage, the first tracing the brewer’s progression from 1752 to today.
Records located by Owen show that in 1573 brewer John Castlocke II was living at 18 Court Street, and they are also said to confirm that the site has been a brewery ever since, from which Shepherd Neame is descended. (The Shepherd and Neame families joined in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively.)
It may have been that others brewed earlier on the site – there was certainly brewing at an adjacent address from 1507 – but this is the earliest date for which continuous records are available.
Owen’s research has traced evidence of brewing in Faversham centuries earlier than even this date. It was established in the town by the early 12th century. The trade’s importance expanded so that by 1327 over 60% of the productive population were directly involved in the production and distribution of ale.
For Sheps’ it is welcome documentable verification of their claim to be Britain’s oldest brewer – and then some. As a spokesman noted, “We can prove that it is continuous. I think this history is highly important to us because we have always known in our hearts that we are Britain’s oldest brewer.”
All of which raises an interesting question – should Sheps’ replace their highly visible and extensively used date of 1698 on their corporate logo, pubs, beer brands and so forth? In fielding the question Owen demonstrated a dry wit. “I’m only the historian. I leave particular problems like that to the board.”