Brewing in Westerham dates back to the early 1600’s. In 1841 Robert Day established The Black Eagle Brewery in Westerham to brew pale bitter ales while he continued to brew Porters in Bermondsey, using London’s softer water.
Sussex Agricultural Express – 6 November 1877
In 1862 Ben Bushell joined the partnership and for the next 40 years he was to drive the growth in the business. Such was the success of The Black Eagle Brewery that in 1881 a branch line from Sevenoaks to Westerham was constructed to carry beer to and from London. By the turn of the century the brewery was the largest employer in Westerham.
Modification XXX Depth Charges
The Second World War could not put a stop to one of Kent’s finest breweries, and Westerham’s ales were popular with young airmen stationed at nearby RAF Biggin Hill. Indeed, following the D-Day landings, Westerham Ales were exported to troops in Normandy inside the auxiliary fuel tanks of Spitfires! They were dubbed “Modification XXX Depth Charges” to get them officially approved for flights.
Edward (Ted) Turner Describing working at Brittain’s Engineering in Peckham:
“We were also making ‘jettison’, auxiliary fuel tanks for fighter planes to carry extra fuel to enable them to fly further into Europe and still be able to get back home. Once refueling facilities were established over there, the Westerham Brewery used to fill those auxiliary non-returnable petrol tanks with Westerham Ales for our troops in Europe. Black Eagle lorries delivered it in barrels to Biggin Hill where the auxiliary dual purpose tanks were filled with Bitter on one side and Mild on the other. We made them of 16 gauge metal with baffles for safe landing, the RAF’s version of the brewer’s dray.” Westerham and Crockham Hill in the War
In his book “Dancing in the Skies”, Tony Jonsson, the only Icelander pilot in the RAF, recalled beer runs while he was flying with 65 Squadron. Every week a pilot was sent back to the UK to fill some cleaned-up drop tanks with beer and return to the squadron. Jonsson hated the beer runs as every man on the squadron would be watching you upon arrival. Anyone who made a rough landing and dropped the tanks would be the most hated man on the squadron for an entire week. (Gaëtan Marie)
The famous Spitfire test pilot Jeffrey Quill stated “After D-Day in 1944, there was a problem about getting beer over to the Normandy airfields. Henty and Constable (the Sussex brewers) were happy to make the stuff available at the 83 Group Support Unit at Ford near Littlehampton. For some inexplicable reason, however, beer had a low priority rating on the available freight aircraft. So we adapted Spitfire bomb racks so that an 18-gallon (82-litre) barrel could be carried under each wing of the Spitfires which were being ferried across from Ford to Normandy on a daily basis. We were, in fact, a little concerned about the strength situation of the barrels, and on application to Henty and Constables for basic stressing data we were astonished to find that the eventuality of being flown on the bomb racks of a Spitfire was a case which had not been taken into consideration in the design of the barrels. However, flight tests proved them to be up to the job. This installation, incidentally, was known as Mod XXX Depth charge.” Source: Air International, September 1976; Aviation News, 8-21 April 1994
Racking “XXX Joy Juice” into the auxiliary fuel tank of a Spitfire Mark IX
Photo credit: Spitfire by Eric B. Morgan and Edward Shacklady
Cask of Westerham Bitter sent to France
The caption reads “This cask containing “Westerham” Bitter was flown to France, June 6th 1944 by the Royal Air Force”
Bottle Labels from the old Black Eagle Brewery
1930’s and 1940’s
1940’s and 1950’s
Sevenoaks Chronicle Front Page Announcing the Closure of Black Eagle
(Click on Image For Full Page View)
1948 Takeover Document of Bushell, Watkins & Smith by Taylor Walker
1895 Dividend Receipt to Ben C Bushell