Historic Beer Birthday: Thomas Fowell Buxton

Today is the birthday of Thomas Fowell Buxton (April 1, 1786–February 19, 1845). He was “an English Member of Parliament, brewer, abolitionist and social reformer.” While he’s best remembered today for his role in abolishing slavery in England, he was also involved in the brewing business. “In 1808, Buxton’s Hanbury family connections led to an appointment to work at the brewery of Truman, Hanbury & Company, in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London. In 1811 he was made a partner in the business, renamed Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. Later he became sole owner.”


Naturally, Martyn Cornell has written about Buxton and his brewery in a post entitled When Brick Lane was home to the biggest brewery in the world. Here’s the part that mentions Fowell Buxton:

In 1808 [Sampson] Hanbury’s nephew, Thomas Fowell Buxton, son of Thomas Fowell Buxton of Earl’s Colne, Essex, and Anna Hanbury, joined the brewery, aged 21 or 22. Buxton (who was not a Quaker, though his wife was) became a partner in 1811, at the age of 25, with a 1/12th share, bringing the last element to what would eventually, by 1827, be called Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Company. By now the Black Eagle brewery was making 142,179 barrels of beer a year, some 20,000 barrels more than Whitbread, but a long way behind the number two London brewer, Meux Reid in Liquorpond Street, near Clerkenwell, on 220,000 barrels, and trailing Barclay Perkins in Southwark, on 264,405 barrels a year, by a large margin.

Buxton’s wife was one of the Gurneys of the Norwich bank, and a cousin of Sampson’s wife Agatha. A few years after he became a partner, in 1815, the shares in the brewery were redivided into 41 slices, and Buxton, evidently after bringing in some extra capital to the firm, increased his share to 8/41ths. His greatest gift to the brewery was sorting out the management of a concern that, by 1815, owned 200 pubs outright and financed another 300 landlords. But he also successfully intervened to prevent a disaster that might have destroyed the business.


And here’s the account from the Wikipedia page on the Black Eagle Brewery:

Sir Benjamin died in March 1780 and, without a son to take on the business, it passed to his grandsons. In 1789, the brewery was taken over by Sampson Hanbury (Hanbury had been a partner since 1780; the Truman family became ‘sleeping partners’). Hanbury’s nephew, Thomas Fowell Buxton, joined the company in 1808, improved the brewing process, converted the works to steam power and, with the rapid expansion and improvement of Britain’s road and rail transport networks, the Black Eagle label soon became famous across Britain (by 1835, when Buxton took over the business upon Hanbury’s death, the brewery was producing some 200,000 barrels (32,000 m3) of porter a year).

The Brick Lane brewery – now known as Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co – took on new partners in 1816, the Pryor brothers (the company’s owners were renowned for their good treatment of their workers – providing free schooling – and for their support of abolitionism). By 1853 the brewery was the largest in the world, producing 400,000 barrels of beer each year, with a site covering six acres.

However, the company also faced competition from breweries based outside London – notably in Burton upon Trent, where the water was particularly suitable for brewing – and in 1873 the company acquired a brewery (Phillips) in Burton and began to build a major new brewery, named the Black Eagle after the original London site.

In 1888, Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co became a public company with shareholders, but the balance of production was now shifting to Burton.

The Brick Lane brewery site covered six acres by 1898.

The Brick Lane facility remained active through a take-over by the Grand Metropolitan Group in 1971 and a merger with Watney Mann in 1972, but it was in terminal decline. It eventually closed in 1989.


Glenn Payne wrote the Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. entry for the Oxford Companion to Beer:

Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. was a venerable British brewery that operated for more than 3 centuries before it closed its doors in 1988. The original brewery was built on Lolsworth Field, Spitalhope, London, by Thomas Bucknall in 1669. He was soon joined by Joseph Truman, who became brewery manager in 1694. Joseph Truman brought Joseph Truman Jr into the company in 1716 and his executor, Sir Benjamin Truman, who took ownership of the business in 1722. Two years later a new brewery, The Black Eagle, was built on nearby Brick Lane, which grew to become Britain’s second largest brewery, employing some 1,000 people. Sir Benjamin died in 1780 without a direct male heir and left the brewery to his grandsons. In the same year, Sampson Hanbury became a partner and took over control in 1789. His nephew, Thomas Fowler Buxton, joined in 1808. He improved the brewing process by adopting innovations in brewing technology brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Outside his activities in the brewery, Buxton was a renowned philanthropist, and he was elected a member of Parliament in 1818. He was associated with William Wilberforce, a leader in the fight to end the British slave trade. By the time of his death in 1845, the brewery produced about 305,000 hl of porter annually. The brewery is even mentioned in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1850). Seizing upon the growing influence of Burton as a brewing center in the 19th century, the company acquired the Phillips brewery there in 1887 and 2 years later became a public company. But its fortunes declined with the shift in popular taste away from porter toward pale ale near the end of the 19th century. In 1971, the brewery was acquired by the Grand Metropolitan Group, which, in turn, was merged into Watney Mann 1 year later. Thomas, Hanbury, and Buxton ceased production in 1988 but its brewery still stands on its site in Brick Lane, London, where it has been redeveloped into a complex of residential housing, offices, restaurants, galleries, and shops.


And here’s an account of his entire life, from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, 1st Baronet, (born April 1, 1786, Castle Hedingham, Essex, England—died February 19, 1845, near Cromer, Norfolk), British philanthropist and politician who, in 1822, succeeded William Wilberforce as leader of the campaign in the House of Commons for the abolition of slavery in the British colonies and thus was partly responsible for the Abolition Act of August 28, 1833.

A brother-in-law of the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, Buxton, in 1818, published his own Inquiry into Prison Discipline, based on his inspection of Newgate Prison, London. In 1823 he joined Wilberforce and others in founding the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. The ideas he expressed in The African Slave Trade and Its Remedy (1839) inspired the British government to send an expedition to the Niger River Delta in 1841. Intended to make anti-slave-trade treaties with the peoples of the area, to engage in other kinds of trade, and to establish a missionary headquarters, the expedition suffered many deaths from fever and was soon recalled. Although Buxton did not accompany the group, his own health was permanently affected by the shock of the failure of the project. He was made a baronet in 1840.


And this is from the Abolition Project:

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton was born in Essex in 1786. He was privately educated and went to Trinty College, Dublin. He became a close friend of Joseph Gurney after his mother (a Quaker) introduced him to the Norfolk based family.

He started to attend Quaker meetings with the Gurney family and married Joseph’s sister, Hannah, in 1807. He became a partner in a brewing company and became involved in several campaigns for social reform. Another of Joseph’s sisters was Elizabeth Fry and Buxton became involved in her campaign for prison reform.

In 1818, Buxton was elected MP for Weymouth, a position he held until 1837. He was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery in the British Colonies. In 1823, he formed the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade, the committee that co-ordinated the campaign for total abolition. In 1824, he succeeded William Wilberforce as head of the anti-slavery party in Parliament, continuing the struggle until the Slavery Abolition Act, in 1833, freed all enslaved people in the British Empire.

In 1838, Buxton published The African Slave Trade and Its Remedy. In this book, he told the British government to make treaties with rulers in Africa. An expedition was sent in 1841 to put the plan into action but it failed, mainly because of the large number of deaths among the expedition members from yellow fever and malaria.

You can read an account of this expedition in White Dreams, Black Africa: Antislavery Expedition to the Niger, 1841-42 by Howard Temperley, 1991.

Thomas Fowell Buxton was made a Baron in 1840 and is famous for

saying. “With Ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.”


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