The Black Eagle Brewery, Brick Lane

Pages 116-122

Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1957.

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CHAPTER IX - Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Company's Black Eagle Brewery, Brick Lane

The Present extent of the brewery site is shown in fig. 30. The part which lies west of Brick Lane was formerly a part of that portion of the Wheler estate which passed to the Wilkes family, and until 1904 was held by leasehold tenure. The other part, on the east side of Brick Lane, lies in the Borough of Bethnal Green. Several streets mentioned in this account, Mon-mouth, King, Black Eagle and (New) George Streets, have been either absorbed into the brewery site or otherwise obliterated, but their sites are shown on the map on Plate 3.

The paucity of surviving records makes it impossible fully to reconstruct the building history of the brewery and nothing is known about the architects or designers of any of the surviving buildings of interest.

The earliest reference found to Joseph Truman in Spitalfields is in August 1683 (fn. 1) when he is described as a brewer 'of brick lane'. The earliest lease to him of which record has been found is dated 1694, and refers to a messuage, brewhouse, granary and stable with two small pieces of land, then in the occupation of John Hinkwell (fn. 2) or Huckwell. (fn. 3) With the premises went the use of two passages, one into Pelham (now Woodseer) Street, and one into Brick Lane. This indicates a site to the east of Brick Lane and perhaps represents the origin of the Bethnal Green part of the brewery.

There is another reference to Truman in 1694, when he paid £10 to avoid serving as overseer of the poor in Spitalfields hamlet. (fn. 4) He served as churchwarden, however, in 1699–1701. (fn. 5)

The nucleus of the part of the brewery which lies in Spitalfields was in existence by the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1701 Truman obtained a sub-lease from Humphrey Neudick of a piece of land eighty feet square fronting on the west side of Brick Lane, (fn. 3) and apparently to the north of Black Eagle Street (now closed). On it stood a dwelling-house and brewhouse. The wording of the relevant documents is so ambiguous that it is not clear when or by whom these two buildings were erected. The land was part of a larger piece let to Thomas Bucknall, (fn. 2) citizen and merchant taylor, (fn. 6) in 1669 by John Stott, who himself held a lease from Sir William Wheler of an even larger site (see page 98). Bucknall certainly erected two new houses on his ground (fn. 3) before his death in 1679, (fn. 2) but there is no proof that he erected the brewhouse. It is known only that in 1681–2 (fn. 7) the lay-out of buildings on this part of Brick Lane approximated to the present arrangement of brewery buildings round an entrance yard, and that this lay-out may date back to 1675. (fn. 8)

Perhaps in about 1701 (the date when Truman obtained his lease) a house, whose appearance accorded with this date, was built at the southwest corner of the present entrance yard facing east towards Brick Lane. Part of its elevation is shown in a painting in the possession of the Company, (fn. 9) and its plan on a deed of 1831. (fn. 10)

In 1711 Truman took leases of two narrow pieces of land on the east side of Monmouth Street, one at least abutting on the back of his premises in Brick Lane. (fn. 3) Eight years later he obtained an assignment of a larger site on the west side of Brick Lane, which apparently included his first leasehold premises there, from Humphrey Neu-dick's widow. (fn. 11)

Joseph Truman died in 1721. (fn. 12) Thereupon his son Benjamin, with Isaac Cooper and Alud Denne, all of whom were his executors, conveyed the whole of the property already mentioned to another son, Joseph, in trust for their co-partnership. (fn. 13) Not included in the conveyance was another brewhouse, further north than the other two, on the west side of Brick Lane, abutting north on property in Sclater Street. This was referred to in 1720 as 'Truman's Brewhouse'. (fn. 14) It may be identified with the younger Joseph Truman's property in King Street (which ran parallel to and south of Sclater Street) and for which he was presented in 1729 on account of the state of the paving in front of it. (fn. 15) This property is not mentioned in Joseph Truman senior's will, though it apparently passed into the hands of Benjamin Truman when his brother retired. Joseph Truman the younger was probably the head of the firm until his retirement in 1730. (fn. 16) He is presumably the 'Mr. Trueman, Brewer in Shoreditch, reputed worth £10,000' whose death was reported in The Gentleman's Magazine in April 1733.

Figure 30:

Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Company's Brewery, Brick Lane, lay-out plan. Based on the Ordnance Survey

Before his brother's retirement, Benjamin Truman, under whom the brewery greatly increased in prosperity, was living at No. 4 Princelet Street. (fn. 17) Gradually, and chiefly under Benjamin Truman's guidance, the brewery site increased in size, and longer leasehold terms were obtained from the owners and sub-lessees of the Wheler estate. In 1742 the frontage to Brick Lane measured some 156 feet and that in Monmouth Street 163 feet. On the south the site was bounded by the backs of houses in Black Eagle Street and on the north by the Ship ale house (fn. 18) (whereabouts unknown). By 1749 the Bethnal Green part of the brewery had been augmented by a piece of ground abutting south on Spicer (now part of Buxton) Street and west on Brick Lane and another piece further east abutting north on Spicer Street and west on George Street (fn. 19) (now absorbed into the brewery premises).

When the main site was extended southward to include Black Eagle Street (now closed) is not clear but stylistic evidence suggests that the Directors' House facing east on to Brick Lane and abutting south on Black Eagle Street, was built not later than the 1740's (Plate 52b, fig. 31). The pilasters on the street fronts resemble those on No. 4/6 Fournier Street and the demolished house No. 1 Church Passage built by Marma-duke Smith and Samuel Worrall respectively in 1726 and 1733.

The Dining Room in the Directors' House probably represents the period of the house's original construction (Plate 93b). The Corridor and the Boardroom in their present forms appear to be subsequent improvements introduced over a period of years by Benjamin Truman while he lived there (Plates 89a, 93a). These had presumably been completed by the time Sir Benjamin (who had been knighted in 1760) made his will, in May 1779. (fn. 20)

In this he stated that he had ’lately greatly altered and improved’ his ’dwelling house in Spitalfields’, and directed that all the paintings and pictures at Popes, his house in Hertfordshire, should be moved to Spitalfields. He also directed that ’a proper Maid Servant or Housekeeper’ should be employed to keep the Spitalfields house clean until his residuary legatees, two great grandsons called John Truman Villebois and Henry Villebois, should reach the age of twenty one and so be entitled, under the will, to a share in the business. In the meantime he directed that their parents ’may live in the said House Rent free and have the use of all the furniture and plate therein and make it their Town House during the time aforesaid also that it shall be a place of Residence for my said two Great Grandsons the Villebois as they are to be bred up to the Business conceiving it must be agreeable to Mr. and Mrs. Villebois to see how the Trade is going on which in a few years their said Sons are designed to have the benefit of…’.

Sir Benjamin's account of his motives in decorating his house illustrates the continuing residence of even wealthy tradesmen on their business premises. ’And I think it proper to declare that the Motive for my laying out a very Considerable Sum of Money in Alterations and Improvements above mentioned is to make my House more complete for the Reception of Mr. and Mrs. Villebois and their said two sons and to induce them to spend some part of their time in Spitalfields especially in the winter season. I need not enlarge on the pleasure it must give Mr. Villebois for tho’ no sharer in the Management of the said Trade He will soon form an Idea from the regular manner in which the same is conducted how beneficial a Trade is carrying on And how comfortable a prospect there is for his said two sons my great grandchildren.’

The will also mentions storehouses and ware-houses in Bethnal Green, probably on the east side of Brick Lane and premises in Coverley's Fields, in Mile End New Town (see page 280). All of this, like the Spitalfields property, was leasehold.

Benjamin Truman had taken a lease of houses on the south side of Westbury (now Quaker) Street in 1751 (fn. 21) and Horwood's map of 1799 shows that the brewery then extended thus far north.

Sampson Hanbury and Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Fowell Buxton both joined the firm about 1800. Extensive building took place in the next thirty or forty years.

Between 1799 and 1812, perhaps in about 1805, the Vat House (Plate 53b) on the east side of Brick Lane, was built. (fn. 22) The Engineer's House and the former stables were built between 1831 and 1836 (Plate 53c). (fn. 17) In 1834 additions were made on the west side of Brick Lane, (fn. 23) which may probably be identified with the Head Brewer's House and Experimental Brewery (Plate 53a). 'Sir Ben Truman's House’ is evidently of similar date. The appearance of the new buildings in Brick Lane in 1842 is shown on Plate 52a.

In 1813 the brewery sue had extended south of Black Eagle Street, being bounded on the south by houses in Brown's Lane, (fn. 24) and between 1819 and 1826 it was extended westward to cover the former site of Monmouth Street. (fn. 25) (fn. n1)

In 1831 a further lease was granted to the brewery partners, then headed by Sampson Hanbury, for sixty-one years at £1,500 per annum and four kilderkins of the ’Best Beer or Porter called Stout’. The site had by then extended to include the ground between John Street and Grey Eagle Street south of Black Eagle Street. (fn. 10)

Another lease was granted to the partners in November 1842. Included in this were the houses on the east side of Wilkes Street, of which the lease was to run from April 1852. The lessees covenanted that if they pulled these houses down they would spend £10,000 replacing them with others or brewery buildings. (fn. 27) The brewery buildings were erected after 1855 but probably before 1858, when the firm was rated at £800 for 'additional Buildings' (fn. 28) (Plate 53d).

In 1 846 and 1847 it had been intended to make a raised ’Tramway’ from the Eastern Countries railway line to the brewery which the railway company would have been prohibited from selling during the term of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Company's lease, (fn. 29) but this was never carried out.

In 1904 Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Company bought from representatives of the Wilkes family the freehold of their premises west of Brick Lane (fn. 30)

The east end of Black Eagle Street was closed to the public in 1912 and the west end in 1913. (fn. 31)

Buildings on the West Side of Brick Lane

The Directors' House, fronting on to Brick Lane south of the main entrance yaro, is a much altered building of several periods (Plate 52b, fig. 31). Its nucleus was probably a small house no longer existing, shown on the lease plan of 1831. Set well back from Brick Lane, it was a singlefronted house, two rooms deep, with the staircase between the rooms. One bay of its typical Queen Anne front, two storeys high, appears on the left in a view of the brewery painted about 1825 by Dean Wolstenholme. (fn. 9) South of this house was added the wing containing the handsome second storey room now used as the Boardroom, and a parallel range was built along the Brick Lane frontage line. The general plan, however, has been so much changed over the years that the original arrangement of the interior is now quite obscure.

Figure 31:

Truman, Hanbury, Buiton and Company's Brewery, Directors' House, 1740's, elevation

It seems probable that the Brick Lane front was largely built in the 1740's, although the general design suggests an earlier date. Alterations are evident and there is a strongly defined straight joint between the second and third bays north of the southern pilastered feature. It is a long and low front of two storeys, built of yellow and pink stocks, dressed with stone and gauged red brick. At each end is a narrow, slightly projecting feature, flanked by giant pilasters of stock brick with Doric capitals of stone which support the plain frieze and moulded cornice of gauged red brick. In the upper storey of each end feature is a simple Venetian window, with red brick mullions, central arch, and lugged apron, stone being used for the moulded imposts, keystone, and sill. The northern window, although glazed, is blind and apparently has always been so, and the window below it is a modern insertion. The plain brick face between the two pilastered features is divided by the plain bandcourse at first-floor level, and the cornice of flat profile below the parapet. Both of these horizontal strings are of stone. The number of windows in the ground storey has been increased, but the spacing was always irregular. The seven windows of the second storey are more evenly spaced, and each end one is round-headed. All the other windows have slightly cambered arches of yellow brick. Generally, the windows are furnished with double-hung sashes of late eighteenth-century type, in moulded flush boxes.

The most noteworthy internal features are the Corridor, the Directors' Dining Room, and the Boardroom, forming a suite on the first floor. The Corridor extends through the building at its north end (Plate 89a). The walls are divided into bays by fluted Ionic pilasters, supporting entablature-blocks. These consist of a frieze ornamented with a simple key fret, and a dentilled cornice. From these entablature-blocks spring the semi-circular arches dividing the ceiling into a series of five compartments, the second and fourth being ceiled with saucer-domes on pendentives, and the other three with intersecting vaults. The arch soffits are decorated with guilloches, the pendentives with husk and ribbon wreaths, and the intersecting vaults with centrally placed paterae from which extend branches of formalized foliage. The doors are centred in the bays with doorcases consisting of a moulded architrave, fluted frieze, and a triangular pediment. In each end wall is a round-headed sash window with a panelled apron. The general character of the Corridor suggests the employment of a skilled designer working in the later manner of Sir Robert Taylor.

A door in the north wall of the Corridor opens to the Directors' Dining Room, a simple rectangular apartment lined with painted deal panelling in two heights, set in ovolo-moulded framing with a moulded chair-rail and a dentilled cornice (Plate 93b).

The door at the west end of the south wall opens to the fine Boardroom, originally the drawing-room (Plate 93a). The plan is a slightly irregular oblong, with a screen of columns forming a shallow ante at the north end. There are three windows in the long west wall, and the fireplace is centred on the opposite side. The walls, which are plastered and moulded to form large panels above the chair-rail, finish with an enriched modillioned cornice. The Rococo ceiling faithfully reproduces the original plasterwork, the design having obvious affinities with the fine ceiling at No. 58 Artillery Lane. It is a delightful confection of lightly modelled C-scrolls, rocaille scrolls, and diapered panels, the inner ring of ornament round the chandelier-boss being linked to the outer chains of scrolls by floral festoons held by the beaks of birds perched on scrolls. In the incurved angles of the simply moulded outer frame are motifs of putti, emblematic of the four seasons (Plate 108a). The cornice and ceiling have the character of mid-eighteenth-century work, but the screen-columns are surely later. There are two columns with respondent pilasters on the side walls, all with moulded bases, fluted and cabled shafts, and delicately modelled Corinthian capitals. They support a beam, the soffit of which is decorated with a guilloche and the fascia with a frieze of delicate foliage-scrolls with lyres placed above the columns. A late eighteenth-century date must also be assigned to the two door ways, one a dummy, in the north wall, and to the fine marble chimneypiece. Each six-panelled door is framed by a doorcase consisting of a moulded architrave, fluted frieze, and a dentilled cornice. The chimneypiece has a flat architrave of figured marble, flanked by half-pilasters with swagged Ionic capitals. The frieze of inlaid fluting is broken by a wide tablet carved with a lyre flanked by sphinxes, and surmounted by an enriched cornice-shelf (Plate 103c). The room is beautifully furnished in late eighteenth-century taste, and the walls are hung with portraits. Outstanding is Gainsborough's splendid full-length’Sir Benjamin Truman’, hung centrally on the south wall.

The main brewery, which fronts the extensive complex of buildings developed during the nineteenth century, is a rebuilding of 1924 (foundation stone laid 12 June 1924 by Gerald Buxton). The architect, A. R. Robertson, used early Georgian motifs with others more typical of the commercial Classicism in vogue during the 1920's. The front has four lofty storeys, the ground storey being of grey granite and the rest of red brick dressed with stone. There are three slightly projecting bays, the middle one being more elaborately treated than the others. Above it rises an oblong turret with a domed roof. This front has replaced the bold, utilitarian structure of c. 1820, shown in Wolstenholme’s painting and in the lithograph reproduced as Plate 52a. There were two lofty storeys in this brick front, each containing four openings, two wider between two narrow. The ground-storey openings had round arches and the louvred openings above had segmental arches, all with plain keystones.

Immured in the complex of buildings, lying behind and parallel with the Directors' House, is the former external wall known as ’Sir Ben Truman's House’, an elegant Grecian front of two storeys, the upper having two pedimented three light windows placed in bays between paired pilasters. This front was, presumably, not existing in 1831 since it is not shown on the lease plan of that date.

The Head Brewer's House and Experimental Brewery (Plate 53a), north of the entrance yard, was probably erected about 1834. The exterior, of yellow brick with stone dressings, is particularly interesting in that the front to Brick Lane is large-scaled and industrial in character, whereas the return front to the yard has a quiet domestic air, enhanced by the fig tree and the handsome lead tank, initialed T H B and dated 1821, which is placed near the entrance. Before the alteration, the Brick Lane front was a balanced composition in which the various windows were placed in a range of five tall round-arched recesses, the middle three contained in a slightly projecting central feature, crowned with a lofty attic storey. This was divided by plain pilasters into three bays, each containing a round window, and was finished with a plain frieze, cornice and blocking-course.

North of the Head Brewer's House is No. 10 Building (Plate 53a), which appears to date from the 1840's, and fronts on to Brick Lane and Quaker Street. The exterior consists of two lofty stages, the lower faced with stucco and the upper with yellow brick. Each stage is evenly divided into bays by wide pilasters, four to Brick Lane and three to Quaker Street. The pilasters of the lower stage support a deep pedestal-course, and those of the upper stage finish with moulded imposts from which spring linking arches of flat elliptical form. Each bay contains a vertical series of three-light windows linked by panelled aprons, the topmost aprons being ornamented with large guilloche grilles.

The long range of buildings fronting the east side of Wilkes Street belongs to the late 1850's. The front elevation, of yellow brick with cement dressings, is an impressive example of industrial architecture continuing the Classical tradition of Rennie and Telford (Plate 53d). Massive pilasters divide the great length into two series of equal bays, seven to the north of the entrance feature, and twelve to the south. These brick pilasters rest on a plain cement plinth and rise through two storeys to a cornice which is returned round each pilaster and across each bay. A secondary range of short pilasters in the attic storey supports the unbroken main cornice, which is surmounted by a plain parapet. Each bay contains three windows, first a square one, then a round-arched one, and a square one in the attic storey. The great entrance archway has a high segmental arch formed of four rings of brickwork. Above are three round-arched windows, and the parapet is broken by a panelled pseudo-attic.

Buildings on the East Side of Brick Lane

The Vat House (Plate 53b) was built during the 1800's, but the interior has been entirely reconstructed. The charming front, so suggestive of a meeting-house, is a simple Classical design built in yellow and pink brick with stone dressings, now painted. The high plinth, finished with a stone bandcourse, is broken by the central doorway, a modern addition, which is framed by a moulded architrave and surmounted by a triangular pediment resting on consoles. The main wall face contains three large three-light windows, set in plain openings with high segmental-arched heads. The front is finished with an open-bedmould triangular pediment, the returns of its delicately moulded cornice resting on elongated plain consoles, centred over the mullions of each side window. In the tympanum is a large clock dial and above the pediment apex rises a bell-turret of hexagonal plan. This has a plain arched opening, with louvres, in each face, and the helmet-shaped dome is surmounted by a wind-vane.

The Engineer's House (Plate 53c) adjoins the north side of the Vat House and probably dates from the 1830's. The three-storeyed front is a simple design with the ground storey divided into two bays by Doric pilasters. The left-hand bay has a brick face containing a round-headed window, but the right-hand bay is an open passageway. A deep frieze and narrow cornice underline the yellow brick face of the upper two storeys, each with four windows which were originally framed with stucco architraves. A shallow frieze, moulded cornice, and blocking-course finish the front.

North of the Engineer's House stretches the long front of the former stables (Plate 53c), now masking the canteens and boiler-house. (fn. c1) This front is an excellent example of early nineteenth-century industrial architecture, a monumental design in restrained Classical taste carried out in yellow brick with simple dressings of stone or stucco. The high plinth, finished with a stone bandcourse, supports the plain pilasters of a blind arcade, sixteen bays long, with round arches of brickwork springing from the moulded imposts of stone. Each bay contains a segmental-arched window and, concentric with the arch, a circular window within a moulded frame. The continued entablature, consisting of a plain frieze and a boldly moulded cornice, is surmounted by a blocking-course, broken over the middle two bays by a panelled tablet, flanked by stele and finished with a triangular unmoulded pediment bearing a black eagle.


  • n1. In April 1850 the Spitalfields Very Clerk asked to the clerk to the Paving Commissioners ’when and by what means a Street formerly called Monmouth Street … [was] stopped up some years ago, and [was] afterwards taken possession of by Messrs. Truman Hanbury and Co.’ The clerk replied ’I have known ’ I he locality for upwards of half a century during which time there has been no such street as Monmouth Street.’
  • 1. St. Dunstan's Stepney, Register of Christenings 1682–98.
  • 2. T.H.B., Epitome of Deeds, 10 Sept. 1720.
  • 3. M.L.R. 1720/1/232.
  • 4. S.C.L.L.C, Vestry Minutes, 9, 11 April 1694.
  • 5. Ibid., passim.
  • 6. M.L.R. 1726/6/380.
  • 7. Ogilby and Morgan's map.
  • 8. P.R.O., C66/3170 m. 14 No. 29.
  • 9. Reproduced on Plate XXI in The East End of London, 1951, by Millicent Rose.
  • 10. L.C.C.R.O., Ace. 55.115, deed of 19 May 1831.
  • 11. M.L.R. 1719/4/174.
  • 12. P.C.C. 71 Shaller.
  • 13. M.L.R. 1720/1/232–3.
  • 14. Ibid., 1720/2/357.
  • 15. M.C.R.O., Presentments of Surveyors of Streets 1729–31 f. 22.
  • 16. T.H.B., Notes on History and Structure of the Company.
  • 17. R.B.
  • 18. M.L.R. 1743/1/151.
  • 19. Ibid., 1749/2/320–1.
  • 20. P.C.C. 221 Collins.
  • 21. T.H.B., Epitome of Deeds, 21 May 1751.
  • 22. M.C.R.O., Registers of Building Affidavits, 23 Dec. 1805; R.B.; Horwood's map of 1799.
  • 23. S.C.L.L.C, Vestry Minutes, 16 Oct. 1834, 9 April 1835.
  • 24. L.C.C.R.O., Acc. 55.115, deeds of 19–20 May 1813.
  • 25. Horwood's map of 1819, and Greenwood's map of 1824–6.
  • 26. S.C.L.L.C., Vestry Minutes, n April, 6 June 1850.
  • 27. L.C.C.R.O.,Acc. 5 5.115, deed of 16 Nov. 1842.
  • 28. S.C.L.L.C, Vestry Minutes, 8, 14 Oct. 1858; R.B.
  • 29. See 9 and 10 Vict., c. 258, and ro and 11 Vict., c. 147, local and personal.
  • 30. L.C.C.R.O., Acc. 55.115, deed of 30 June 1904.
  • 31. B.A. 37358.
  • c1. This stable-block was built c.1836-7 to designs by R. Davison, Assoc. MICE, at a cosy of £10,000 (see The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, vol.1, 1837-8, pp.47-50).