Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Bampton, Oxfordshire


The brewer’s art

Since doing a post, over a year ago, about a lovely ‘West Country Ales’ brewery plaque, I’ve meant to return to the subject and post at least one more of the ceramic plaques or ‘house marks’ that breweries used to identify their brand on the outsides of public houses. So here, at last, is one of my favourites, the plaque of the Morland brewery of Abingdon, although I would like to be able to share more information about it than I can.

You get the idea quickly enough: the plaque depicts an 18th-century artist with his palette, eyeing a glass of beer, with the implication that brewing is an art in itself, and you’ll find the equivalent of a masterpiece of brewing at a Morland house. But it’s a little more than that. Morland was the name of an actual artist – indeed, a family of actual artists, in the 18th century. Perhaps the most well known of them was Henry Robert Morland (c. 1716–97), a portrait painter whose most famous subject was King George III. But the image on the plaque is said to be of his son, animal painter George Morland. I don’t think the brewing family, who founded their business in 1711, was connected closely with the artistic Morlands – but I’m not sure: perhaps a reader knows.

These brightly coloured artist plaques are quite common in the area around Abingdon – this one is on a residential building, presumably a former pub, in Bampton – even now the firm no longer exists as a separate entity (it was bought by Greene King in 2000) and the brewery in Abingdon has been covered to apartments. Probably the most brightly coloured of brewery house marks, the plaques were made by Carter’s of Poole or Poole Pottery and are said to have been designed by Reginald Bell. Was this the same Reginald Bell who was part of the Clayton and Bell stained-glass firm? Again, I’d be pleased to hear if anyone knows.

The Morland brand name is still familiar to drinkers – beers such as Old Speckled Hen (and a family of other ‘Hen’-related beers and ales) are widely drunk. A few who drink these will remember various brews with artist-related names that Morland’s once produced, when they were independent exponents of the brewer’s art.

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