The Pub Chain: Courage

The idle traveller around London is still frequently exhorted to “TAKE COURAGE” by pubs (fig. 34), and even occasionally other buildings which retain their old signage. This is, of course, no mere public-spirited advice; it is advertising. Where nowadays the imperative has been hijacked by Fuller Smith Turner’s brewers and amended to “Take Pride”,1 the original harks back to the brewery firm founded by John Courage in 1787.

The Amersham Arms (New Cross SE14)
Figure 34. The Amersham Arms (New Cross SE14).

History

Courage started his brewing business in a location by Tower Bridge — the Anchor Brewhouse (fig. 35) — and the company remained based in South-East London until very near the end of their existence. This first site is still there, clearly visible from the bridge, even if now it’s been turned into expensive waterside apartments.

Anchor Brewhouse (Bermondsey SE1), now closed
Figure 35. Anchor Brewhouse (Bermondsey SE1), now apartments.

For 150 years, this remained the arrangement, until a 1955 merger with Barclay Perkins & Co., who did their brewing at the larger Anchor Brewery, not far along the Thames.2 The story thereafter becomes one complicated by mergers and acquisitions. Five years later, Barclay Perkins merged with Simonds & Co. (of Reading), then Georges & Co. (of Bristol) in 1961, and John Smith & Co. (of Yorkshire) in 1970, though the name returned to plain Courage & Co. in this same year. Then they were sold to Imperial Tobacco in 1972, and in the mid-1980s a new brewery was opened in Reading to replace both the Anchor breweries.3

The Courage brewery was now sold to the Australian company Elders IXL in 1986, who became Foster’s Group in 1990, then merged a year later with the brewing operations of Grand Metropolitan (later to become known as Diageo), which owned Truman Hanbury Buxton and Watney Mann, two other key London players who are now extinct. This newly-enlarged Foster’s was purchased by Scottish & Newcastle in 1995 as its brewing arm, while the pub chain (under the brand Inntrepreneur Estates) was hived off and largely sold after the 1991 Beer Orders.4 Most recently, in 2007, Wells & Young’s have obtained the rights to brew the remaining Courage beers.

Insignia

The most distinctive symbol to be found on Courage’s tied pubs was the rooster, most of the surviving examples of which are painted gold. Generally these are found perched atop the hanging signs. A more modest version of this same symbol, on a square red plastic background, can also often be seen affixed to pub buildings. It’s also worth noting the signs often hang off a pole held together by two iron supports with five holes punched in each (as may be seen, for example, on the sign hanging off The Prince Albert, Greenwich SE10, amongst many others).

The Exmouth Arms (Somers Town NW1)
Figure 36. The Exmouth Arms (Somers Town NW1). It has all three of the features noted above.

What Now?

You can still drink Courage’s beers. Their Courage Best and Courage Directors are fairly commonly available and represent perfectly decent session ales. So, this Christmas, have a good holiday season, and remember. Take Courage.

See also:
Photos of all Courage pubs that I have on my Flickr.

Footnotes

[1] This is a reference to their London Pride ale.
[2] This brewery was located on Park Street in Bankside. It was founded as far back as 1616, purchased by Henry Thrale in 1729, and came under the control of Robert Barclay and John Perkins in the early-18th century. After a huge fire in the mid-19th century it was rebuilt, but closed in 1981 and was largely demolished at this time to be replaced by Council housing. All that remains is The Anchor pub (the “brewery tap”, a name for a pub which adjoins a brewer and dispenses its wares directly) and some outlying buildings, such as one which may have been The Golden Anchor (Borough SE1) and which retains the ‘Take Courage’ banner.
[3] This brewery is itself set to close, with the takeover of Scottish & Newcastle by InBev. CAMRA provides some reportage here in its inimitably unbiased fashion (“no one it appears wants the mass of fizzy yellow liquid…”), inadvertently bringing to our attention the fine compound noun “mega-keggery”.
[4] Details of the changes in ownership are sourced from Jack S. Blocker Jr., Ian R. Tyrrell and David M. Fahey, Alcohol and Temperance in Modern Society: An International Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2003), accessed online. There is also useful information in the Wikipedia article. The Beer Orders are discussed in my earlier post on Mitchells & Butlers, another former brewer with extensive estate holdings.

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19 responses to “The Pub Chain: Courage

  1. What a complicated history! Do you know anything more about how — and perhaps more interestingly, why — Wells & Young’s got their hands on the beers? I always think of Courage beers as being drunk solely by people who remember them from their youth, rather than as something that has an enduring and sustainable market.

  2. Wells & Young’s have a press release here which doesn’t really say much, except that apparently the Courage beers “complimented” W&Y, and who can say no to a friend?

  3. That’s a great photo of the Anchor brewery / flats. It’s quite hard to take it all in and see the underlying brewery when you’re up close.

  4. Hey neat site although I was disappointed to see that The Greystoke North Ealing was not included in the pictures. I was employed and lived at the Greysoke back in 1972. The had a habit of employing young travelling Canadians and Aussies with job posted in Embassies. I was interested what happend to courage brewery pub so I goggled map the Greystoke but they have the wrong address. It was located close to North Ealing tube station. I have fond memories of this pub and when I left I stole (well I just followed instruction on the plate) a brass plate with the Take Courage rooster . We could get tins of Courage best bitter here, but it seems to have dissappeared. Now I drink Morlands Old Speckled Hen. I quess once you taste english beer you stick with it. Do they have Morland pubs.

  5. hi my family came from Bermondsey and I have a courage rooster in my garden I think it was from a bombed out pub in Bermondsey or nearby does anyone have any idea why Courage adopted a rooster and does anyone know where my grandfather would of got the rooster?

  6. I have an original take courage sign in brass with the cockeral on it size about 2ftx1ft do you know where I could sell it

  7. Excellent items from you, man. I have bear in mind your stuff prior to and you’re just too fantastic. I actually like what you’ve bought right here, certainly like what you’re stating and the way in which during which you assert it. You’re making it entertaining and you continue to care for to stay it sensible. I can not wait to read much more from you. This is really a terrific website.

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  11. If anyone want to sell a gold cockrill please email me at clivejrich@hotmail.co.uk thanks

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