A Romford family tale of brewery and the Baptists

Romford Brewery c1890. Picture: Havering Local Studies Library

Romford Brewery c1890. Picture: Havering Local Studies Library - Credit: Archant

DAVID ADAMS explores the conflict in his great-grandfather’s life – between beer and belief

For the young William Adams, life revolved around Romford’s brewery. He was born next door to it, in 1850, at No. 2a High Street.

His father worked there as a cooper – a barrel maker – and eventually rose to head cooper.

His three sons followed him into the trade, and William became head cooper in his turn. It sounds like a real family business.

There had been a brewery in the High Street since 1708.

In 1799 a chap called Edward Ind took over and in 1845 joined up with the Coope brothers.

Ind Coopes was a big name in the brewing world for the next 100 years, thanks not least to the arrival of the railway in 1839.

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By 1900 they pretty well filled the space behind South Street, between the High Street and the railway line, and employed 400 people.

They were Romford’s biggest employers by far. The days of shopping centres were yet to come.

In the late 19th century beer and religious faith didn’t always mix well, particularly for members of Nonconformist churches, such as Methodists and Baptists.

Many of them were teetotallers – they Signed the Pledge, swearing never to let a drop of alcohol pass their lips.

William’s father was not a particularly religious man, but two of his sons were.

Henry left his job at the brewery and became a Methodist minister.

William stayed at the brewery but became a pillar of the Salem Baptist Church, which still stands in London Road, a handy quarter mile beyond the brewery.

There is still a plaque which was placed there after his death in 1915, “In Affectionate Remembrance of WILLIAM ADAMS. Who for 45 years RENDERED CONSPICUOUS SERVICE TO THIS CHURCH AS SECRETARY, CHOIR LEADER, SUNDAY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT”.

William was not one who Signed the Pledge, but even so he had a problem with a life revolving around both the brewery and his church.

It was common for breweries like Ind Coopes to give their employees a weekly amount of beer as part of their wages. Very generous no doubt, but maybe not entirely helpful to William.

In November 1891 William was very ill. His brother, now the Reverend Henry Adams, visited him at what William feared might be his deathbed. As he poured out his feelings, I think William must have known that Henry might write them down in his diary.

“If I live,” he said, “I will be a better man, a better Christian. I have never been a drunkard but I have drunk because it has been in the house and I have not been satisfied with a little. If I die, tell them you knew a man, a member of the Church, a Steward, looked upon as respectable, but who feels and confesses on his deathbed that this habit was wrong and prevented him from being what he might be.”

I think he was consumed with guilt not because he drank a lot, but because he drank at all.

In any case William’s fears were over the top. He lived another 24 years, but he left his job at the brewery and took to running a laundry instead. Perhaps that helped.