Brewers & Boozers Tour
Until recently Wrexham was a brewing town. Burton-upon-Trent and Warrington may be famous for their ales but none could match the variety provided by the brewers of Wrexham Town.
The Museum usually has some brewery heritage material on display. We
are also interested in acquiring material related to Wrexham's brewing
industry. Please contact
the curator if you can help.
Welsh ale was a different drink to the Saxons' brew - spicier and stronger
- but certainly to the English taste as it was taken as payment in kind.
In the time of Hywel Dda there were two main types of ale in Wales:
Bragawd - the spicy ale flavoured with honey, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and pepper.
Cwrwrf - the ordinary ale.
Until hops arrived these two were the nation's top thirst quenchers. Most farms brewed ale and ale houses were home spun affairs in every town. The idea of pubs buying in their own beer is very much a 19th & 20th Century phenomenon. The last pubs to brew in Wrexham town were the Old Swan on Abbott Street, the Black Lion on Hope Street and the Hop Pole on Yorke Street. Brewing was often done by women, despite Henry VIII's ban on women under 40 brewing or selling ale.
War always brings suffering in its wake but the independence struggle of Owain Glyndwr led to much suffering in the town. Not bloodshed but an ale shortage. Farming especially harvesting was disrupted so no brewing could be done in the town and Chester imposed a drinks trade embargo on Wrexham. Even when Chester relented as soon as they heard that the forces of Glyndwr were enjoying a tipple, they re-imposed sanctions.
More recently, George Borrow in his 1854 tour of Wales said the only Welsh Wrexham folk knew was cwrw da and not even an os gwelwch yn dda to follow. Wales may have been presented as a land of Nonconformists and teetotallers but that was never the case in Wrexham. The Chester to Shrewsbury stagecoaches always suffered inexplicable delays until they discovered the drivers (and may be the passengers too) were accustomed to stopping for a swift half in Wrexham. By the 1860s there were 19 breweries in the town. Brewers held positions of power. Many became mayors. Even the Holy Scripture in St Giles' Church was read from a lectern paid for by the profits of brewing. To cap it all the Town Hall became a bonded warehouse after the officials moved out.
Wrexham's attitude to drink was typical of Britain as a whole. Drunkenness was common long before Lloyd George restricted the licensing hours during the First World War. In fact the licensing hours were a reaction to the four nations love of drink and not the other way round. Many older people will also remember the local referenda to decide whether the pubs should open on Sunday or not. Like all cultures, Wrexham no less had a complicated attitude to drink. An attitude made more complex by being producers as well as consumers.
The sands and gravels around Wrexham act as a giant filter for water that builds up on the impervious rocks beneath. It is these waters that the brewers used for brewing, not the River Gwenfro.
Wrexham stands above a fault: to its east there is hard water with a high mineral content suitable for brewing beer; to the west softer water with fewer minerals suitable for lager. Another influence on the siting of breweries dates back to medieval times when those parts of the town that had the Abbott as landlord paid lower taxes than those who had the Crown as landlord. The town was still divided into Wrexham Abbott and Wrexham Regis in the 19th Century and nearly all the breweries were in Wrexham Abbott.