For Bristol Beer Week in October 2013, the Ashley Down microbrewery rustled up a special brew, Stokes Croft IPA (that’s India Pale Ale for the uninitiated). The brewery is in the St Andrews district of Bristol, and Stokes Croft is the road that leads to it from the city centre.
Stokes Park IPA, specially brewed by Ashley Down microbrewery for Bristol Beer Week 2013
The road was also the site until the second world war of the Stokes Croft Brewery, which stood at the corner of Stokes Croft and City Road. In the 1830s it was run, under the name of Castle & Rees, by two brothers in law: my Carmarthen-born 3x great uncle Thomas Rees and my Bristol-born great great grandfather William Henry Castle. Thomas had married Susannah Capel Jennings and William her younger sister Caroline Collins Jennings.
(A third sister, Henrietta Collins Jennings was the wife of the engineer Thomas Richard Guppy of whom I have written here; and a fourth, Margaret Collins Jennings married William Lambert and inherited a house belonging to her uncle Thomas Collins, about which I wrote last year.)
The last remaining buildings of the Stokes Croft Brewery survive as Bristol’s Lakota Nightclub
William and Thomas also ran, under the name Rees & Castle, the Nursery Brewery on Kent Street in Liverpool, where Thomas had by 1837 made his home. I don’t know when they entered into partnership together. William was already a brewer when he married Caroline in Liverpool in 1837; and perhaps they met through her sister, the wife of his business partner. Thomas Rees was among the witnesses at William and Caroline's wedding.
There was a second brewery on Kent Street, the Mersey Brewery, in which William and Thomas were joined by a third Jennings brother in law, Thomas Richard Guppy. They brewed Mersey porter ale, and had traded as Guppy, Rees and Co since at least 1838 (when Guppy brought a court case against a carpenter for late completion of work on the brewery). But Guppy withdrew on 2nd March 1840 to concentrate on his engineering career. Castle too dropped out of that operation exactly two years later, leaving Rees in sole charge there.
The brothers in law formally dissolved their Stokes Park and Nursery partnership on 10th August 1842, but I don’t think there was any crisis. Two small breweries in two cities 180 miles apart probably had little to gain from shared ownership when one partner lived in each city. Thomas concentrated on the Liverpool sites and William took on sole ownership of Stokes Croft.
Stokes Croft at the junction with City Road, c1918 (brewery just out of sight on the right)
The families on the other hand remained very close. William and Caroline Castle’s daughter Emily was visiting her uncle Thomas and aunt Susannah Rees at the time of the 1861 census, and a year later there was a Rees-Castle partnership of a different kind when Emily married their son Lambert Thomas Rees, her first cousin.
By then both men had moved out of brewing and into grain processing. Thomas was a corn merchant and William a rice dresser – cleaning up imported rice to prepare it for sale. The Stokes Croft Brewery went through a series of owners. Foll & Abbott had it in the 1860s when they sold F&A pale bitter ale for a shilling a gallon. In the early 1880s it was owned by Hereford company Harvey & Co, who sold it on to Arnold, Perrett & Co in 1889. R.W. Miller & Co took it on only four years later, and Georges & Co bought it in 1911. Having survived Bristol’s blitz in the second world war it finally closed down in 1948.
Avonmead, postwar shops and flats on the site of the Stokes Croft Brewery
At 6.1% Stokes Croft IPA is not a beer merely to quench your thirst with, and no doubt much stronger than the ale produced by its eponymous predecessor. But it has strength too in the history carried in its name.