Monday 20 November 2023

Solved - A Mystery 'Brewery in Ireland' & Guinness's Plea

'THE HUMBLE recorders of the scene all too often pass unsung and even unrecognised. One whose skill is today becoming more appreciated is James Malton, who lived from approximately 1766 to 1803. The illustration is entitled "Brewery in Ireland." Perhaps a reader may be able to identify the subject, as possibly the round tower with lancet windows may still be standing and even some of the buildings in the background.

Craftsmen of the quality of Malton who leave behind them a series of obviously accurately observed pictures have a great value for the historian. In this alone, which measures just over nine by twelve inches, there is a wealth of contemporary information. In the foreground the broad-tracked barrel-cart, with small details of fittings clearly indicated, dominates the scene; an interesting point with this is that although the surface of the road appears soft and muddy the big wheels are not sinking in very far, which could indicate underlying cobbles or hard surface. At the top of the tower there is a strange piece of balustrade, heading what seems to be some form of vent or chute.'

On the 31st of October 1967 the above write up appeared in The Irish Times in the ‘Art Forum’ section by artist and writer of John FitzMaurice Mills concerning a small watercolour* painting that had been sold that year by The Fine Art Society, London. As you have read, the author asked readers with help to identify the subject of the brewery in the picture, hoping that someone would recognise the distinctive round tower. What appear to be two barrel loaded brewery drays were also captured in the picture, trundling onwards towards a archway in a building in the distance.

This plea was taken up by non-other than ‘The Harp - The Journal of the Home of Guinness,’ a magazine ostensibly published for the workers in the James’s Gate brewery but read by many others as the magazine found its way around the country via the breweries many employees. The following plea and offer of a reward appeared in an edition of the publication:


This is a Malton engraving of an Irish brewery. Its situation is unknown to us and we offer a three guinea voucher to any reader who may be able to provide this information. Perhaps some of our older readers in the country may recollect this unusual looking tower. Information may be sent to The Editor, 'The Harp', St. James's Gate, Dublin 8.

No one appears to have come forward with information of the brewery so there the matter died and appears to have been forgotten, and the reward unclaimed …

But towards the end of 2019 the question of this enigmatic Irish brewery resurfaced again thanks to John Fitzgerald via Twitter who tagged me in a post, practically challenging me to solve the mystery and attaching the above page from The Harp magazine showing Guinness offering that reward for information along with an image of the artwork. A number of people got involved in the discussion and although I did find out that it had since been attributed to a Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker on the Sotheby’s website, we didn't discover much more about the illustration apart from confirmation that there seemed to be no response to either query at the time and that the reward appeared to remain unclaimed.

Shortly after I started digging through images of old Irish towers and spending too much time searching for that quite distinctive structure. I even bought a book about the artist - Rooker - to see if that helped pin down where he visited in Ireland but to no avail. I though I was on to something in Louth at one point but that too came to nothing, so eventually I took a break from my searching - but never quite admitted defeat in the hope that the tower would appear somewhere, somehow in some of my other brewery research.

In the intervening years I would revisit the subject on occasion and look again for anything that would finally let me scratch that unreachable itch of not being able to solve this conundrum, but I always ended up in a dead end. Of late I had almost resigned myself to never solving the mystery but also hoped that at some point I’d find something during my research that would give me that ‘Ah ha!’ moment, although in truth I had almost given up.


But then it happened …

I was scrolling through a website when a painting’s image jumped off the cover of an old book at me. It was an angled photo but it was unmistakably ‘my’ Irish brewery. There it was, with the dray carts and tower, impossible for me to mistake for anything similar as I had spent so much time studying it …

The arresting issue was the title of the book. It was a 1980s printed facsimile of ‘A History of Southampton’ by Reverend John Silvester Davies.

Southampton? In England? So not Ireland?

And with just a little further research I discovered that this so called ‘Irish Brewery’ picture seemed to be a relatively well-known image of the Polymond Tower in the North-East corner of the old defensive city walls of Southampton. The tower still exists now but it is hugely truncated from what it once was and had been rebuilt many times since its foundations were originally laid many centuries ago. Looking more closely at the image with the benefit of knowing the position of the tower in the streetscape of old Southampton I now saw that what I took to be trees behind the building seemed to be the ivy-covered walls that abutted the tower on the right of the picture, and the faint remaining edge of a long-gone wall on the opposite side was there too.

More research was required, as I needed to assure myself that the painting was what it claimed to be. The top storeys of ‘our’ tower had been removed in 1828 as they were deemed unsafe, and although there was a brief mention in one of the building's online histories of a sketch of this demolition as it was happening, which would surely be the proof I needed, it seemed to be unpublished in any form. That was until by I came across a paper called 'The Military Organisation of Southampton in the Late Medieval Period 1300-1500' by Randall Moffett** that discusses the Polymond tower and includes two telling images. One being a version of our painting from the Southampton Art Gallery storeroom which tells us that the painting is actually by Edward Dayes and - equally importantly - its title is given as ‘Tower near York Buildings, Southampton’ from c. 1794. Somewhat different from the artist and title that was attributed to it in the flawed history from the sixties that I had been lead to believe.

Crucially for my much-needed confirmation, the second sketch was that missing image of the tower’s demolition titled ‘North view of the North-East tower of the old wall, Southampton as it appeared Dec 3rd 1828.’ It can be clearly seen that it is the same building right down to the ivy on the adjoining city wall. There are a few differences with the window style but not enough to make me doubt that it truly is the Polymond tower that is featured in our original painting - not that I should have doubted Southampton’s historians of course! (The paper is copyrighted but I have included its online link details and the page number of the image below.)

How it came by its earlier misattribution and erroneous title might need to remain a minor mystery, as is the puzzle that there appears to be two of these watercolours in existence. It is possible that ‘our’ version came to be looked at as Irish given the original attribution of it being by James Malton, who was lived and worked most of his life in this country. Somebody saw the drays and barrels in the picture and just assumed it was an Irish scene featuring and Irish brewery and christened it as such.

Regardless, I think we can now repeat the more likely painter and its true depiction and title - ‘Tower near York Buildings, Southampton’ by Edward Dayes c. 1794.


And what of that brewery? To claim that three guineas Guinness voucher I still need to name the brewery, even if it is an English one.

And I can - sort of - as down through that opening seen in the distance on the left of the picture stood a brewhouse that became known as The East Street Brewery which according to the one brewery history site*** was founded c. 1786 - eight years before our watercolour was created. There is also note of a R & W Saunders supplying beer from their brewery on East Street in 1809, and a John Sanders was known to be a brewer in Southampton according to a 1790 trade directory along, with 5 other individuals admittedly. Is it too much to suggest that the drays and barrels were heading into the Sa[u]nders’ brewery? Absolutely, but I think it’s fair to say that they were heading to a brewery and there was very likely to be one there at the time of our painting, as such sites tend to change hands and be reused over the years, and this was a perfect location for one along East Street, tucked in nicely just outside what was the city walls. (Although other online resources**** state that there were three brewers operating on East Street up to the 17th century at least so those brewer's names I suggest as being on site - although real - are pure conjecture.)

We can even see inside that opening to the brewery buildings - although it's from a century later when it was Cooper’s Brewery - in an 1895 watercolour by the unrelated William Marshall Cooper*****. Look at the lower archway through which yet another dray cart is coming or going and the structure of the building and roof over it. That’s surely the opposite side of our original picture, leading back up to the tower - meaning we can literally seen through the matching archway at the end of our original picture. It is also quite likely that some if not all of these buildings are from the previous century, so perhaps here finally is our brewery, and certainly their footprint is the same in Ordnance Survey maps from almost 50 years before in 1846 which also show a brewery exactly here by the way.

John FitzMaurice Mills was right about the invaluable recording that was done by artists before the age of photography but as we can see we need to treat these sketches and paintings with a little scepticism, especially those with faltering or missing provenance, but I think we can finally put this one to bed - and at long last I’ve almost completely scratched that nagging itch.

Only one serious question still remains …

With The Harp magazine no longer around, where do I claim my three guinea voucher? Although given its value now I think I'd prefer three gold guineas ...

Liam K

The original Tweet that started this is here.

*Watercolour image was shareable via

** Moffett, Randall (2009) - The military organisation of Southampton in the Late Medieval Period 1300-1500.  University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 279pp - Page 28 -

*** That date is mentioned on the Brewey History site here but I can't find verify it -

****Brewers' Tales: making, retailing and regulating beer in Southampton, 1550-1700 James R. Brown -

***** The Cooper brewery watercolour is from the Sotonopedia site and shared under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License:

Please note, all written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and cannot be reproduced elsewhere without permission, full credit to its sources, and a link back to this post - sources are as credited. DO NOT STEAL THIS CONTENT!


Morrighani said...

This is incredibly satisfying to read. Great work. It reminds me of an episode in my former life as a museum curator when I was able to identify and rehome a box of archaeological material after about 10 years in the job because I suddenly recognised the handwriting on the box which allowed me to connect it back to its initial records. You have to do the legwork to get those satisfying 'falling into place' moments!

Martyn Cornell said...

Fabulous research, Liam, and many congratulations on solving such a long-standing mystery.

Liam said...

Cheers, and satisfaction is the right word!

Liam said...

Thanks Martyn, much appreciated!

Roy @ QuareSwally said...

Love this! Glad you got that itch scratched.