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Image of iconic East London brewing company to sell at Bonhams
George Hodgson's Bow Brewery were the inventors of Indian Pale Ale; did business with the East India Company. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A depiction of an historic East London brewing company, by 19th century Worcestershire painter Thomas Woodward, is to go under the hammer in the Gentleman’s Library Sale, on the 27th and 28th of February at Bonhams Knightsbridge. Hodgson's Brewery, executed in 1823, is an oil on canvas work that carries a pre-sale estimate of £6,000-8,000.

London’s famed East End has been home to a number of major breweries over the years, one of which was the Bow Brewery, bought by George Hodgson in 1752 and situated near the banks of the Thames, opposite the present-day location of the O2 Arena (aka Millenium Dome).

Originally Hodgson specialised in making a beer called porter, a dark and heavy bitter which was sold primarily to local pubs and residents, as it was the favourite drink of working men in the East End at the time. A relatively small operation at first, things really began to boom when Hodgson started doing business with the captains of the East India Company.

With the Bow Brewery close by to the docks, the enterprising employees of the East India Company had the idea to purchase beer from their local brewery, ship it abroad, and sell it to locals and expat Englishmen. In order to make his beer even more attractive than the competition’s, Hodgson allowed the company’s men up to eighteen months of credit before they had to pay their bills. Initially selling them his dark porter beer, he then started supplying them with a lighter brew known as October beer.

October was popular with the middle and upper classes, which looked down on the darker working men’s drink. This high-class tipple usually took two years to mature- a year until it could be bottled, and another year before it should be consumed. Whatever his reasons, Hodgson was selling unmatured barrels to the East India Company- but even he could never have predicted the what would happen to this young beer on the long voyages to India.

East India Company ships typically spent up to six months or more sailing to the Far East from London, and the effects of tropical temperatures and the rough treatment of high seas on the beer were quite remarkable.

Maturing much more quickly than it would have done on dry land, by the time it reached its destination it was thought to have matured more than six times its age in a period of a just few months. This whole process turned October beer into a new kind of drink that ultimately became Pale Ale.

Over time, this Bow Brewery ale became tremendously popular in India. By 1811, Hodgson’s son Mark was in charge of the brewery, which was now shipping over 4,000 barrels of beer a year - quadruple the amount they were shipping just a decade earlier.

Painter Thomas Woodward was born in 1801 in Pershore, Worcestershire. From his early 20s until his death in 1852 he was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy and British Institution, chiefly of historical compositions, in which horses were often a prominent feature. Woodward painted many portraits of favourite horses for the Queen, the Prince Consort, and other distinguished persons.

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