AS the festive season approaches it seems permissible to think a little about drinking – in moderation, of course!

The provision of beer for the local population has kept many Wallingford people employed over the centuries.

In the 13th century brewers were the largest group trading in the town, and they were mostly women!

Of the 61 people recorded as brewing ‘for sale’ in 1228, only four were men.

The women would have brewed in their homes and sold from their front doors, where they had to display a sign.

The price and quality of the ale was regulated by two official ‘ale-tasters’ appointed by the Borough – the many fines listed in the Borough Court records show their work was necessary!

Innkeepers are also recorded, along with vinters, traders in wine who were among the most prominent citizens.

The best wine was imported from Bordeaux, via Southampton, and transported to Wallingford in barrels by road.

Henry III, who spent Christmas at Wallingford Castle on several occasions, bought plenty of it!

In 1548 three pubs are named in a town survey: The George (still on the High Street), The King’s Hedde (now the Lamb Arcade) and The Bell (on the site of the present Waitrose).

By 1584, The Cock in the Market Place is also mentioned.

By the time of the 17th century Civil War, there were 32 premises selling ale, but in 1650, under Cromwell’s puritanical Commonwealth, only 12 of these were given licence to sell.

Once the Monarchy was restored in 1660, the number of ale houses soon rose again!

By 1740 Wallingford had its own brewery, established in Goldsmiths’ Lane by Edward Wells.

He and his successors (all Edwards) soon dominated the Wallingford area with their beer.

They were good employers, with houses in the High Street for their managers and others for the ‘draymen’ who delivered the beer barrels in horse-drawn drays.

The brewer himself had a grand house on the High Street (now Wallingford House).

Two other local breweries – that of Frederick Francis in the High Street and the bigger Hilliard’s Brewery at the southern end of Goldsmiths’ Lane – found themselves unable to withstand the competition of the Wells brewery which owned most of the 38 pubs and ale houses in the town.

The population of 2,864 in 1851 had a drinking place for every 75 people.

No wonder drunken brawls feature in many newspaper articles of the time!

By the late 19th century, brewer Edward Wells was MP for Wallingford, a Justice of the Peace and, in 1890, was elected High Steward of the town – an ancient honorary title.

The celebrations included a luncheon for the Mayor and Corporation, a tea for schoolchildren in the Corn Exchange and a splendid display of fireworks in the Market Place for all to enjoy.

Wells’ brewery lasted into the 20th century until it was taken over by Usher’s brewery in 1926 but brewing soon ceased.

The premises were used as a bottling plant, then a warehouse, but finally closed in 1970 – the end of a long and productive, if slightly boozy, era in Wallingford's history.