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Little Shelford brewery

The brewery can be seen on the far right of the photo

Little Shelford’s Brewery

I have tried to establish the history of our very own Brewery. We know the Village had a Brewery at some point as we commonly refer to the “Brewers House” on the Corner of Newton Road and Hauxton Road and we refer to the “Brewers Cottages”, the row of 19th Century Terraced Brick Cottages along Hauxton Road from the junction of Newton Road. But when did the Brewery open and what happened to it? The history of its rise and demise can be found in various sources including the British Newspaper Archive.

We will start with what we generally know from the Little Shelford History Website and British History on-line for Little Shelford.

British History On-Line – Little Shelford Entry 

“Arthur Austin (d. 1908), whose family had been long established in the area as windmill builders, farmed at Little Shelford from the 1890s. He was also a lime and coprolite merchant, and before 1875 he built a brewery on the Hauxton road. He may also have run a foundry for a time in the parish. (fn. 120) The brewery was disused in 1916 and had been demolished by 1966”.

This is a good start and if we look at the Little Shelford census records, we can see Arthur Austin living at Cherry Cottage in Newton Road in 1871 (Age 41) and working as a Lime Merchant. He must have been reasonably prosperous at the time as well as there were 5 children and a servant living in the Cottage. But when is there a first mention of the West End Brewery? Well, the earliest reference I can find is in 1873 when Arthur Austin, by now a Brewer, accused an employee of theft (see the first article below). By the time of the Census of 1881 Arthur Austin (Age 51) and his family have taken up residence at the “West End Brewery” in Little Shelford, presumably what we know now as the Brewers House. The census notes that Arthur Austin is a Farmer (farming 158 Acres and employing 6 men and a boy) as well as a being a Brewer. So, it looks like Arthur Austin built the brewery between 1871 and 1873.

In 1892 the Brewery was let to Oliver St. John, and it was this action which resulted in the West End Brewery’s sad demise, although by then it was known as the Phoenix Brewery. Oliver St. John came from a wealthy family in Dulwich, South London. In 1861 (Age 3) he was living in Dulwich with his father, Frederick St John, and many siblings and servants. Frederick St. John, who was the Surveyor General of Customs, was related to George Richard St John, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke and 4th Viscount St John.

But, as the story unfolds in the pages of our local papers we see that Oliver St John did not have a particularly good business acumen and this led to the Brewery’s sad demise! The story of Oliver St John’s involvement with local brewing starts in Whittlesford in 1887 and ends with bankruptcy in Little Shelford in 1894.

Cambridge Independent Press - Saturday 24 May 1873

CAMBRIDGE DIVISION PETTY SESSIONS. SATURDAY. Before l.W. Pemberton, T. J. Ficklin, and I. H. Wilkinson, Esqs. Little Shelford: George Jackson, labourer of Bartlow, was brought up charged with stealing a hoe, valued at 1 shilling from the property of Arthur Austin, brewer, on the 19th of April. The prisoner had been engaged by prosecutor about a month before the theft to hoe some beans at Little Shelford. Having no hoe, Mr. Austin lent him one, and he remained in his employment till the 19th of April, when he left work and took the hoe with him. He was apprehended by p.c. Webb on the 15th May, at Harston, and the hoe was found in a shed where the prisoner had been sleeping. The prisoner said he intended to take the hoe back and he was discharged.

Cambridge Chronicle and Journal - Friday 16 February 1894 – Phoenix Brewery Bankruptcy

CAMBRIDGE BANKRUPTCY COURT. Oliver St. John, of the Phoenix Brewery, Little Shelford, brewer, trading as Saunders and Co and residing at Great Shelford. In answer to the Official Receiver (Mr. J. Ellison) debtor said he commenced business about six years ago at Whittlesford, in succession to Messrs. Saunders and Co., from whom he purchased the business for £4,600. Of that sum the debtor borrowed £3.500 from his brother, the Rev. E. St John. The trade at Whittlesford did not realise his expectations, and during the five years he remained there lost every penny of his capital.

In March 1892, he rented the Phoenix Brewery at Little Shelford, and his brother lent him a further sum of £5OO. From that time to this had had other advances from his brother, making a total of about £8,000. The whole of the money had gone. He was pressed by his brother for security in December 1892, and debtor gave him bill of sale upon the brewery plant and other things.

No money was paid under the bill of sale and the result was his brother had put the bill of sale in force. An execution was put in at the same time, and that compelled Oliver St John to file his petition in bankruptcy. He had known for some considerable time past that his financial position had been very much crippled. The money advanced by his brother was not intended as a gift to him.

His deficiency of £9,000 and was as the result of unsuccessful trading.

Do you know more about our Phoenix Brewery? Any comments or additional information or even photos of the Brewery? Please feel free to contact me on

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