Black Eagle Brewery
The Black Eagle Brewery is the former brewing plant of Truman’s Brewery located around Brick Lane in the Spitalfields area, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Truman’s subsequently became Truman, Hanbury and Buxton. By 1853, the Black Eagle Brewery was the largest in the world, with an annual production of 400,000 barrels.
The former buildings, warehouses and yards were redeveloped by The Zeloof Partnership as the “Old Truman Brewery” and now house over 250 businesses, ranging from cultural venues to art galleries, restaurants, and retail shops. The Director’s House and former Brew House are listed buildings.
The original brewery was probably established by the Bucknall family, who leased the site in the seventeenth century. The site’s first associations with brewing can be traced back to 1666 when a Joseph Truman is recorded as joining William Bucknall’s Brewhouse in Brick Lane. Part of the site was located on Black Eagle Street, hence the brewery’s name. Truman appears to have acquired the lease of the brewery in 1679, upon the death of William Bucknell. Through the Truman family’s efforts - not least those of Sir Benjamin Truman (who joined the firm in 1722) - the business expanded rapidly over the following 200 years. By 1748 the Black Eagle Brewery was the third largest brewery in London, and likely the world, with 40,000 barrels produced annually.
In the mid-18th century Huguenot immigrants introduced a new beverage flavoured with hops, which proved very popular. Initially, Truman’s imported hops from Belgium, but Kent farmers were soon encouraged to grow hops to help the brewery meet growing demand.
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. The affluence of these brewers was also noted in fiction: in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1850), Mrs Micawber makes specific reference to Messrs Truman, Hanbury and Buxton):