Swindon's oldest business celebrates 180 years of brewing and honours its founder, John Arkell, by mounting a Blue Plaque at its site in Stratton St. Margaret.
Stratton St Margaret's Cllr Barrie Jennings and the Arkell family unveiled a commemorative plaque on the site of Arkell’s Brewery where its founder, John Arkell, started brewing in 1843.
The brewery is Swindon's oldest business, as well as one of less than 30 remaining family-run breweries in the UK.
John Arkell was born into a farming family in 1802 in Kempsford, South Gloucestershire. He emigrated to the Americas in his late twenties and took with him a group of local people who sought a refuge from the tough agricultural conditions in the UK at that time.
They settled in Canada and started farming. John established a strong community and a village around his farm which is still named ‘Arkell’ to this day. However, three years later he returned to England to marry, and in 1843 he bought his farm in Stratton St Margaret, Swindon, where he began brewing beer. He quickly realized the potential market for supplying beer to his pub, the Kingsdown Inn, as well as a string of other local pubs.
The beer production soon began to outgrow the farm and in 1861 a new steam brewery was built behind the original Kingsdown Inn at Upper Stratton. By 1867 the business had even outgrown the new brewery and John converted the old Kingsdown Inn into offices and built a new pub across the road, which is still there today.
John Arkell died on 21 October 1881 and was mourned by the local community who knew him as 'Honest John'. The Swindon Advertiser noted that shops were closed and blinds drawn as the funeral cortege passed to Stratton Church and added: "He was open and above board and radical in all he said and did. The poor had lost a good friend, a plain and simple friend."
Arkell’s remains to this day, a family business handed down through the generations. Today celebrates the unveiling of the founder's commemorative plaque, attended by onlookers including current members of the Arkell family, local brewery shareholders, brewery staff, Stratton St Margaret Parish Council, and the Stratton History Society.
Alex Arkell, sixth-generation of the Arkell family said: “John, our great, great, great, grandfather built his brewery at exactly the most important moment in Swindon’s history. Three miles across the fields from his farm, Isambard Kingdom Brunel opened his great Swindon Railway Works that same year.
"Our history is inextricably linked to the growth of the Railway Works and then the subsequent growth of Swindon in the surrounding area. John saw the potential of this little town and 180 years later we’re still here and very thankful he chose this spot.”
The decision to mount a plaque for John Arkell was proposed by Stratton St Margaret Parish Council.
Cllr Robert Jandy commented: "As one of my final duties as Parish Chair, I am proud that John Arkell has finally been recognised by being awarded a blue plaque, a man and family so important to Stratton St Margaret. Arkell's is one of less than thirty family breweries remaining in the UK. As Swindon's oldest business, Arkell's has kept its founding values alive and continues to produce local beer for local customers."
More information on the Brewery's history can be found in the archive centre on the upper floor of the Grape & Grain Wine & Brewery Warehouse.
Here you can take a walk back in time to enjoy a tour through the key dates in Arkell's history, view pub signs, archive adverts, videos, and an animated explanation of how their beer is brewed. It is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays). Alternatively join a brewery tour, bookable at https://www.arkells.com/tour
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