The Swan at Southwold in Suffolk

                    (c) by John Ashley Photography

It was on December 6th in 1345 that "Ale Wife" Johanna de Corby was fined for serving ale in unmarked measures in the Suffolk town of Southwold. Her husband Robert who was Southwolds baker is also said to have had a reputation for selling underweight loves of bread. Johanna did not learn her lesson as her name continues to appear in court records on a regular basis over the next 20 years.

The term "Ale Wife" comes from the fact that it was women who did the brewing back then. It was considered part of their household chores along with cooking, cleaning and having babies. The word "Brewster" actually means a woman brewer as appose to the the word "Brewer" which is used for a man who brews. Back in medieval England women brewed and sold most of the ale, so it was that the houses where the women brewed the beer became the first ever public houses. After 1350, men slowly took over the trade and by 1600, most brewers in London as well as in many towns and villages were male, not female.

Brewing continued in the Suffolk town of Southwold on the site of the old Swan Inn. Records of 1481 showed that hops were being imported from Holland to add bitterness to our English Ale. After the great fire of Southwold in 1659, The Swan was rebuilt, but the decision was taken to move the brewhouse away from the inn to its present site at the rear of Swan Yard. 

In 1818 The Swan was bought by Thomas Bokenham who also built a grand house, which stands to this day, next door to the Swan for his family. However, he sold the brewhouse to the local maltster William Crisp and it was under Crisp that the Sole Bay Brewery became famous. 1872 saw the arrival into town of George and Ernest Adnams from Berkshire who bought the Sole Bay Brewery with the help of their father. 

It was Ernest who then further built up the business as his brother George decided to go to Africa where he was unfortunately eaten by a crocodile. Adnams continues to this day and there is a legend that the washbasins in Southwold all have three taps, hot, cold and Adnams.
 Picture (c)
                    by John Ashley Photography