Today, Northdown is an almost forgotten area hidden behind old walls and trees. Behind this façade can be found many wonderful old buildings, many of which played an early role in the brewing industry during the 17th century – or perhaps even earlier? These buildings are now either fine residential homes or part of Northdown farm.
Quoting largely from the Rev. John Lewis’s account of Margate, written in 1723, he notices the once famous beverage, known to Charles the Second’s thirsty subjects by the names of “Northdown Ale” and “Margate Ale,” of which drink Lewis says, “About forty years ago, one Prince of this place drove a great trade here in brewing a particular sort of ale, which, from its being brewed at a place called Northdown in this parish [Margate], went by the name of Northdown Ale, and afterwards was called Margate Ale. But whether it’s owing to the art of brewing this liquor dying with the inventor of it, or the humour of the people altering to the liking the pale north-country ale better, the present brewers send little or none of what they call by the name of Margate ale, which is a great disadvantage to their trade.” This was the beer which Evelyn calls “a certain heady ale”; and it is probable that its popularity with London beer drinkers influenced the generation of brewers who fixed the immutable properties of “stout.”
The following extracts also indicate the popularity of Northdown/ Margate ale and how old the brewing industry at Northdown was.
Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)
English naval administrator and Member of Parliament:
“…This morning Captain Cuttance sent me 12 bottles of Margate ale. Three of them I drank presently with some friends in the Coach…”
“…After I was in bed Mr Sheply and W Howe came and sat in my cabin, where I gave them three bottles of Margate ale and sat laughing and very merry till almost one o’clock in the morning, and so good night.”
“…Come a vessel of Northdown ale from Mr. Pierce, the purser, to me,…”
Robert Herrick (1591 –1674)
The following poem by Herrick may contain one of the earliest mentions of Northdown ale.
HYMN TO THE LARES.
‘T was, and still my care is,
To worship ye, the Lares,
With crowns of greenest parsley,
And garlic chives not scarcely;
For favours here to warm me,
And not by fire to harm me;
For gladding so my hearth here
With inoffensive mirth here;
That while the Wassail bowl here
With North-down ale doth trowl here,
No syllable doth fall here,
To mar the mirth at all here.
For which, O chimney-keepers!
I dare not call ye sweepers,
So long as I am able
To keep a country table,
Great be my fare, or small cheer,
I’ll eat and drink up all here.