07. Witham and the Adnams' brewery

Many readers will have heard of Adnams the famous brewers of Southwold in Suffolk. But did you know that they owe their existence to people and money from Witham?

This was because of the Thomasin family. They are worthy of study for their nonconformity, but here we are concerned with their money. Matthew Thomasin first came to Newland Street during the early 1700s. By the 1840s George Thomasin, of the fifth generation, had a flourishing brush factory, where about fifty people worked. With the proceeds he bought a large number of houses and buildings. By 1861 he had moved from the brush yard into one of the grandest of his properties, Roslyn House in Newland Street (now number 16). In the census of that year, he called himself a ‘gentleman’ on his census return (the enumerator, his neighbour, changed it to ‘brushmaker’).

Then in 1868, George Thomasin died in his fifties, in spite of treating himself by homeopathy. Fifty brushworkers attended his funeral, including one who had worked at the yard for 55 years. George’s only son James was destined for the Stock Exchange. So who was to run the brush factory? Well, in 1871 we find that Roslyn House was occupied by a George Adnams, “brush manufacturer”, and his family. What had happened was that Mary Elizabeth (George Thomasin’s widow), and Ann (George Adnams’ wife), were sisters, and so the Adnams family had moved from Berkshire to help their relatives out. George Adnams was previously a surveyor.

George and Ann Adnams’ two sons also came to Witham, and were described as brush manufacturers like their father. They were George aged 21 and James aged 19. Later in 1871 the brushworks closed down. So the two brothers decided to try something else, and bought the Sole Bay brewery in Southwold (one of their uncles in Berkshire was a brewer). A few years later, they must have been in financial difficulties, because they borrowed a large sum of money, using the whole brewery as security. And the person who lent them the money was – their aunt Mrs Mary Elizabeth Thomasin of Witham. Thus the Adnams brewery survived as a result of the profits of the Witham brushworks and of the Thomasins’ Witham estates.

Young George Adnams soon found that a settled life was not for him, and he emigrated to Africa. One legend is that he was eaten by a crocodile, whilst drunk. Another is that he drowned. However his brother Ernest persevered with the brewery, with the result that we can savour Adnams’ beers today, safe in the knowledge that their foundation depended on Witham’s money and hard work.
w112 newland st 67-83The photo shows 67 and 83 Newland Street in 1977. The brush yard was through the archway on the left. There were a considerable number of workshops and cottages there, many occupied by brushworkers.

A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in February 2011.

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