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The birth of St Anne's Well brewery can be traced back to before 1817, when Messrs. William Harding and W J Richards where engaged in brewing and malting from the Swan Inn Cowick Street, St Thomas. In 1828, they moved to the Barnstaple Inn, Lower North Street which Harding had run since 1799. They continued brewing from the inn, supplying local inns and individuals. W J Richards also owned the malthouse (now Casa Italia, formerly Ginos Restaurant) on the city wall in Bartholomew Street and was in a position to supply the brewery with its malt. Expansion occurred in 1852 when Harding and Richards purchased from Mr Crockett his wine and spirit business in Paul Street. The takeover was advertised in the Exeter Flying Post with two announcements.
"MR CROCKETT In retiring from the wine and spirit business, which he has for so many years carried out in this City, begs to thank his numerous Friends for their kind support, and to introduce to them, as his successors, Messrs. Harding and Richards, for whom he solicits a continuance of their patronage and support. Paul Street, Exeter 12th May, 1852"
"MESSRS. HARDING AND RICHARDS Having succeeded to the old-established Business of Mr. Crockett, beg most respectfully to solicit the support of their friends and the Public, assuring them that it will be their constant endeavour to preserve unimpaired the high character which, for so many years has distinguished their predecessor, in the selection of the Purest and Best Wines and Spirits. 12th May, 1852"
The premises in Paul Street is now Las Iguanos. The business used cellars both below the building and across the street, under the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. When the museum was built, the cellars were preserved, and a tunnel was built that crossed under the street, linking the two sets of cellars. A stone was placed with the inscription, "This tunnel was built on the construction of the Albert Museum 1869 by Harding Richards, Wine Merchants". The tunnel was eventually bricked up, and Harding and Richards, reverted to using only the cellars below the shop. The firm also used cellars under the Lower Market from 1872, until June 1953 when the bombed Lower Market was redeveloped, and the bonded store moved to Haven Banks. The Lower Market cellars were the largest private bonded store in the West of England.
The brewery took on another partner and became Harding, Richards & Thomas in 1875. Growing markets required a new brewery, and in March 1878, Harding, Richards and Thomas opened a modern plant, in the old stable yard of the Barnstaple Inn. Its main entrance was from a road next to the Rougemont Hotel, into the top of the building. It also had its own siding from the railway. The brewery was fed from the malt store in the roof, using lifts that were powered by a steam engine. The malt was fed into a hopper and on to the crushing mill, before entering the mash tub below. From the mash tub, the malt passed into a large copper and heated with steam. It then entered the hop back before the liquid was pumped into a cooler. The wort was then fermented in one of a dozen, 47 barrel capacity vats, below the cooling room. After fermentation, the liquid was run off into barrels, ready to be delivered by road or rail.
The firm became a public company in 1889 and was renamed St Anne's Well Brewery Company Ltd. It was named after St Anne's Well, the water supply for the brewery, which was piped by gravity alongside the London & South Western Railway line.
It was in 1943 that the Financial Times announced that St Anne's Well Brewery was to be merged with Norman & Pring. In 1966, St Anne’s Well Brewery was closed and in 1968 William Chudley and Sons who were printers, purchased the site. In 1980 the chimney was removed.
In 1994 an electrician was called to find out why the light in one of the clockfaces in the Clock Tower wasn't very bright. He found an empty, 80 year old Guinness bottle dating from 1913 blocking the light through the translucent clockface. The Guinness had been bottled at St Anne's Well Brewery, and had been left by a previous workman.
The building was converted into offices, a restaurant, fitness centre and pub in 1989. The new pub, named St Anne's Well, was opened with local rock band Cut Loose, entertaining the customers. The pub was very quickly christened Stans. It seemed to have a bright future, but that fickle thing, fashion intervened and it was subject to name changes and makeovers over the next few years. It became known as the Fizgig and Firkin and the Fizgig, and even brewed its own beer, once again. It closed in 2001, only to reopen as Starz bar and restaurant. The building is very large and a good part of it has been converted into high class apartments.
Sources - The Land of Bill Brewer, Express & Echo, Financial Times, Morning Advertiser, Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, Izacke, the Exe Island and the City Brewery by Pring, Jenkins and Hoker histories, Heavitree by Hazel Harvey, Ordnance Survey map 1876, Carl Mortimer and lastly, Steve Coombes
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