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How beer and brewing kept the country house running at Temple Newsam

a painting of a rustic looking Georgian man holding a large beer

George Garrard, Portrait of William Fox c1820 © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Beer is the word at Temple Newsam this spring as they investigate the tipple that kept the estate running

Beer was a crucial part of everyday life in times gone by. It was drunk by people of all ages and classes, valued for its nutritional qualities, and – perhaps surprisingly – used to treat ailments.

Research for a new exhibition at Temple Newsam House in Leeds uncovered the story of Elizabeth Pease, a professional brewer who made beer for the estate in the 18th century. Miss Pease’s story was recovered from archives and is explored as part of the house’s exhibition ‘Beer! A History of Brewing and Drinking’, which delves into the history of Britain’s first favourite drink.

Presenting life at Temple Newsam through the eyes of the staff and aristocrats, who lived, worked, brewed and drank there, the exhibition looks at the significance of beer a from 1650-1850. Visitors will have the opportunity to see objects from Leeds’s important collection of ceramics, rare 18th century prints, and view areas of the house in a new light, including a tour of the once well stocked cellars.

Found in inventory references at the West Yorkshire archive service, are the payments made to Elizabeth Pease over a period of at least 30 years, spanning 1728-1758, in return for a variety of tipple she brewed for the house which included ale, strong beer, table beer and small beer.

 a photo of a large beer jug

Jug, creamware, Leeds Pottery, 1802. © LMG. Photograph by Norman Taylor

a political Georgian cartoon showing a ber swilling crowd engaging a politician at the hustings

James Gillray, The Hustings, 1796. -® Leeds Museums and Galleries

“The differences between ale and beer is to do with the treatments of the malt and hops that they used; strong beer could get you drunk and is known as the more celebratory beer,” explains Leila Prescott, curator at Temple Newsam.

“Table beer was used for drinking with meals and small beer was what they used instead of water, as it wasn’t safe for drinking at this time, so everyone would drink small beer, which had a very low alcohol content.”

Big brews were needed at particular points in the agricultural year, when landowners would provide beer for their tenants, after they had harvested – and on rent day.

“it’s interesting to see how important women were to the brewing trade historically”

Additionally it was required for celebrations, such as the house wedding of Frances Shepherd and Charles Ingram, for which £210 in 18th century money was spent on brewing ale and beer.

“There were peaks and troughs in the brewing year, and so Elizabeth Pease wasn’t needed to brew all the year round which meant that it was a bit of a seasonal gig economy,” adds Prescott, “which meant that she was very poor, like quite a lot of brewers and didn’t get much money out of it really.

“However, it is interesting that women did have such a key role as we think of brewing now as more of a male thing. In the 1960s and 1970s some men in bars didn’t even like serving women. Women weren’t really drinking pints until the 1980s, so it’s interesting to see how important they were to the brewing trade historically.

an engraving showing drunken people spilling out of a pub into the streets of Georgian London

Hogarth, beer Street.

A photo of a jug decorated with beer drinkers

Beer jug decorated in Leeds, 1770s (C) Leeds Museums and Galleries

“From the early history of brewing, women were very important in the whole process and, in fact, generally up until the early eighteenth century, they were in charge of the brewing. You get phrases like ‘ale wife’ in Shakespeare. It was part of the women’s domestic sphere. .”

Furthermore accounts can be traced of ailments which could be cured by beer, such as the bite of ‘a mad dog’ and scrofula, a swelling in the lymph glands caused by tuberculosis – also referred to as the ‘King’s Evil’.

“There was a belief that if the King touched you and you had that, you would be cured,” explains Prescott.

“Charles II was the last King that went touching people to cure them, but there are recipes for beer that can be used to cure the ‘King’s evil’. If you didn’t have him around to touch you, which you probably wouldn’t, then it was believed you could use beer to cure that.”

Beer drinking experienced a decline toward the 19th century as sanitation improved and it was surpassed by tea, which became cheaper and more popular. The Temperance Movement also played a role in limiting alcohol consumption. However with taxes on foreign wine, beer was still the preferred alcoholic tipple.

Temple Newsam will be offering tasting sessions as part of the exhibition with their own Temple Newsam Ale featured. Made using specialist brewing techniques and specially selected hops, the ale has been created by local craft beer manufacturers Northern Monk, who deem it ‘heritage ale with a modern edge to it’.

a photo of an ornate jug with hollow insides

Puzzle jug, pearlware, Leeds Pottery, about 1800. ® LMG. Photograph by Norman Taylor

a photo of a large country house in gardens

Temple Newsam House.

A film on how the ale was produced using an old recipe retrieved from the archives is showing in the exhibition, alongside a film about Alistair Simms, the last divisional barrel maker in Yorkshire, who uses techniques that have been in the making for hundreds of years.

For younger visitors educational activities on offer include clay making, drawing and designing personal drinking vessels – complementing the ceramics that are on display.

These include beer jugs, which were often personalised with illustrations, and puzzle jugs, which were drinking vessels with holes or extra spouts in unexpected places. Using them was like taking part in a drinking game where you would more than likely get sprayed with ale while swigging.

Also on display is William Hogarth’s painting Beer Street (1751), the lesser known counter-part to his most famous piece, Gin Lane. In contrast to the disarray of Gin Lane, in which gin is depicted as a drink for the desperate and disenfranchised, Beer Street presents beer as a slightly more wholesome beverage enjoyed as a reward for workers.

Prescott says the “positive and patriotic” tone of the picture is typical. “In the 18th century beer was very popular as it was a patriotic drink,” an iconic emblem of Britain, utilised and enjoyed by both staff and nobles alike.

Beer: A History of Brewing and Drinking at Temple Newsam runs between March 24 and October 27 2018. Free with admission. 


Temple Newsam House

Leeds, West Yorkshire

This magnificent Tudor-Jacobean house, was the birthplace of Lord Darnley, infamous husband of Mary Queen of Scots, and for 300 years the home of the Ingram family until it was bought by Leeds from Lord Halifax in 1922. Temple Newsam is home to outstanding collections of fine and decorative arts.…

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