A Detective Story – Last Orders in William Street
Strange how we often fail to pay much attention to buildings that we frequently walk past. I have often walked along William Street at the rear of Brandon Parade, but it wasn’t until I had passed that way several times that I noticed the large two storey building adjacent to an open space currently used as a car park. My curiosity was aroused further by a hanging sign above the main door with the words ‘The Malthouse’ on it. Below the sign was a stone plaque now painted blue with the following legend picked out in white: ‘1871 CW’. The main doorway appeared to have been partially filled in at some time but was quite obviously an eight- foot wide cart entrance when the place was first built.
So who was the enigmatic CW who erected this building 140 years earlier? Enter the inquisitive, bearded local historian. The premises are now let for commercial use but none of the occupants knew anything of the early history of the building. One said that he had been told that the CW referred to the Charles Wells Brewery. I somehow doubted this because I knew that the Charles Wells Brewery was local to the Bedford area and having ‘googled’ the name, I soon ruled Wells out since the company wasn’t in any event founded until 1875.
I won’t bore you with many twists and turns of the story but I eventually managed to unravel the history of the Maltings. There was no reference in any of the local trade directories of the period to anyone with the initial CW and when I went back again to look at the sign I could see that what at first sight I’d taken to be a letter ‘C’ was in fact a ‘G’, and the initials GW began to make sense.
The Maltings were built in 1871 by a Leamington publican named George Warren, who was landlord of the Leamington Tavern in Tavistock Street. George and his wife and eight children were in the 1871 census and I then found out that he had died in 1887 at the age of sixty-five. One of the most revealing pieces of information that I uncovered was a sale notice in the Courier newspaper of 17 December 1887 for ‘that newly erected freehold Malthouse situate in William Street,Leamington, built and occupied by the late Mr George Warren.’ This not only detailed the extent of the premises and their contents but it also mentioned over 2000 bushels of barley which I worked out to be about 90 tons. I still can’t make up my mind whether such a quantity was purely to satisfy the thirst of George’s own customers or whether it suggests brewing on a much larger commercial scale.The sale notice also refers to ‘the late Mr Warren’s Brewery’ but the location of this is not known. It might well have been the pub in Tavistock Street. It was quite a challenge to track down the story but it has to be said that all of the information is in the public domain, if only you know where to find it. If you need a bit of help for advice with your own lines of enquiry we at the Leamington History Group are here to help. Happy sleuthing!
Alan Griffin, Autumn 2013