Fascinating isnt it, the Harvey’s Brewery building (pictured) in central Lewes, especially on a sunny day framed with a blue sky? Harvey’s is the oldest independent brewery in East Sussex “having been in the guardianship of eight generations of John Harvey’s descendants since 1790” according to the Harvey’s website.
John Harvey started brewing in Bear Yard around 1820 as a seasonal side-line activity. Bear Yard is opposite the current brewery and brewing was seen to be a natural and obvious extension to the business. By 1859, Henry Harvey (John’s son) was brewing porters, stouts and strong mild ales for distribution among 17 family owned pubs in East Sussex, quite an enterprise. Their fascinating story was however not success all the way, quite the opposite in fact and its ailing fortunes were only reversed when in the 1930s, Eric Rundle and Anthony Jenner were hired and steered the business back on the road to prosperity.
The brewery suffered a major flood in November 1960 and in July 1996 a huge fire caused £2,000,000 worth of damage. The flood of 2000 caused another £2,000,000 worth of damage and despite being told that brewing wouldn’t be able to re-start for nine months, just nine days later brewing recommenced, thanks to the assistance of the local brewing community. Despite all these major setbacks the brewery continued to function throughout, testimony to the sheer tenacity and hard work of its management and workforce, complemented by huge local support.
As the saying goes, “from small acorns”, and in some ways there are parallels to be drawn with the Harvey’s story and that of the Waterworks in Rye. What started life as a redundant, vacant public convenience has now become one of Rye’s most loved and popular attractions and the first micro-pub to open in south east Sussex. It’s listed with CAMRA (campaign for real ale) and has already won the south east pub of the year in 2020 and 2021, and at a time when Covid-19 knocked everything for six!
Is landlord David Roder the latter day John Harvey? He and his family have put life and soul into their business to make it the undoubted success it is. The introduction of the Happy Bus tours (to take drinkers to neighbouring hostelries) used to offer 12 places for those lucky enough to bag a return journey seat but such is the popularity of these regular outings that a 52 seater coach is now the order of the day to cope with ever increasing demand.
To complement the business and to cope with demand for real ales David has applied to Rother District Council (Application reference RR/2021/805/P) for ‘a change of use of agricultural workshop to microbrewery and taproom’ at the Old Dairy at Rye Road, Rye Foreign, TN31 7UL. The application has yet to be decided but given the amount of support registered online there are many people who want to see this application approved. Time will tell, but could this be another Harvey’s success story in the making? Watch this space for further updates.
Image Credits: Nick Forman .