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Robinson Bros. Brewery, Durham Road, Houghton-le-Spring

The former malting house of the City Brewery is located in the centre of Houghton, on Durham Road, perched next to a large roundabout above the A690. The building, of course, predates the neighbouring dual-carriageway and was owned by the Robinsons, a family with great influence across the Houghton-le-Spring district. Copyright © Books of the North 2011

The Brewery on Durham Road, with the Imperial Garage in the foreground, circa 1972

The following time line was written in April 2009 and Paul Lanagan should be grateful to hear from anyone who may have photographs of the old building. Copyright © Books of the North 2011

This article is now out of date. To see the new version, which is updated, visit:

1754 – The Brewery was founded by the Robinson family and was known as The City Brewery. Copyright © Books of the North 2011

1804 – On December 9th 1804, Thomas Robinson, brewer, aged 71 years, was buried in St Michael & All Angels’ churchyard, Houghton.

1814 – J.Robinson, son of Mr Robinson, brewer, died aged 18 years. Nine months earlier “he had the misfortune to fall into a quantity of hot wort, since which time he unhappily lingered”. According to Wikipedia, wort is “the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer or whisky”.

1827 – George Robinson listed in the Gazette for Durham & Northumberland as a ‘Brewers’ and ‘Maltsters’ on Durham Road, Houghton-le-Spring.

1843 – George Robinson, brewer, aged 83 years, died.

1851 – Elizabeth Robinson, aged 57 years, was listed in Hagar & Co’s Directory as a ‘Brewers’ and ‘Maltsters’. She lived at Quality Hill with her son Thomas William Usherwood Robinson (who was known locally as the Squire) and her younger son Abbot Robinson.

1852 – Abbot Robinson passed away in December 1852 and was buried on Christmas Eve in the parish churchyard.

1854 – Thomas William Usherwood Robinson, churchwarden at Houghton Parish Church, opposed Rector John Grey’s plans to open up a church cemetery next to Houghton Cut. Copyright © Books of the North 2011

Thomas William Usherwood Robinson, circa 1860

1861 – T.W.U. Robinson lived at the Brewery with his wife, Margaret, his young family and five servants. Copyright © Books of the North 2011

1874 – Parts of the brewery were rebuilt. The brewery is made from the locally sourced magnesian limestone, with sandstone sills and arches.

Invoice issued to Robinson Bros Brewery from Pallister & Co for beer drainers, dated Christmas 1878

1881 – At this time, Thomas William Usherwood Robinson, resided in Hatfield House [Imperial Buildings], Houghton-le-Spring, and gave his occupation as “brewer, employing 18 men”.

1888 – T.W.U. Robinson died and was buried at Houghton Hillside Cemetery; his burial service was performed by none other than Rector Grey, his former opponent. Copyright © Books of the North 2011

1894 – The Robinson Bros (Brewery) Ltd was registered.

This double-sided tape measure featured ads for Houghton Ales and the Robinson Bros Brewery's bottled ales and stout.

1909 – The brew house was totally destroyed by fire.

1910 – The brewery was rebuilt by Gateshead architect James William Fraser, and was described as: “The five storey, red brick warehouse-like structure had 22Q capacity” [British Breweries: An Architectural History, by Lynn F Pearson, 1999]

1914 – Avery Norman Robinson (T.W.U. Robinson’s son) and John James Stokoe were listed as the managing directors of the Robinson Brothers Brewery in Kelly’s Directory. The business was listed as ‘Maltsters, brewers and wine and spirit merchants’.

A promotional match box and striker advertising Houghton Ales and the Robinson Bros Brewery

1921 – The brewery was taken over by C Vaux & Sons Ltd and James Calder & Co Ltd of Alloa, Scotland. Five months afterwards, the brewery went on sale. [Possibly acquired by Calder in 1921 then Vaux in 1925 tbc]. The brewery had 63 licensed public houses (tied houses). Copyright © Books of the North 2011

1925 – The Brewery closed (according to Ken Richardson).

WWII – The brewery building Was used as emergency kitchens during the Second World War.

The Old Brewery building on Durham Road in the 1950s

???? – At some point the building was used by Roughts (Skin Merchants) Ltd. Copyright © Books of the North 2011

c1969 – Bottle collectors today relay the tale of how when the new A690 dual-carriageway was constructed adjacent to the brewery building in the 1960s, the Imperial Garage in the grounds was demolished and revealed a trapdoor leading to a large cellar filled with thousands of bottles branded with the Robinson Bros logo. All were destroyed and thrown in the skip!

1971 – The old Brewery became a listed building on June 17th 1971. The entry is as follows:

List Entry Number: 456/7/30
Date Listed: 17.06.71
Address: Durham Road, Houghton-le-Spring
Building Type: Maltings Club now luxury flats.
Building Name: The Old Mill Public House
Conservation Area: No. 8
Occupied: No 1
Ownership: Company 3
Grade: II(Risk 1)
Description: Maltings, now club. Circa 1874.
Exterior: Limestone rubble with brick and sandstone dressings; Welsh slate roof has flat stone gable copings. 4 storeys, 13 bays and 3 bays at right, 2 storeys. Double doors in fourth and twelfth bays, door in fourteenth, all modern; windows square, modern pivoted type. Brick segmental-headed door and window openings, projecting stone cills. Weatherboarded hoist with barge boards and wind vane projects from third floor roof in fourth bay. Roof of 2-storey section (former kiln) rises steeply to meet ridge with cowl continuous with ridge over main building. Historical Note: built for Robinson's, the brewers.

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1972 – Photographs from this era shows the wooden grain hoist (lucomb) and malt kiln were still present at the brewery. Internal photos show that the “floor tiles were perforated to allow the passage of warm air, from the heat source below, but the perforations were small enough to prevent the grains falling through. The tiles were supported on an iron framework” [SINE project]. Also shown, in front of the building, was the Imperial Garage alongside Durham Road.

1976 - The Brewery was converted into a night club, taking several names over the years, including: Aries, the Bird’s Nest Club, Inn Cognito, and lastly Rafters, which closed around 1989/1990.

1992 - The old Brewery building caught fire in July 1992, causing damage to the southern end of the building. Children from the nearby Houghton Kepier School would often investigate the derelict building during the lunch break, only for the police to arrive and escort them out.

The Old Brewery building in 2010

1995 - May 16th - The old Brewery building was to be auctioned off by its owners, the Pubmaster group.

1996 - Planning permission was granted for a scheme to convert the old Brewery into twenty flats and eight maisonettes.

1998 - April - Work started on the redevelopment of the old Brewery, following delays over heritage grant aid.

1999 – The burnt out shell of the old brewery was converted by McCarrick Homes into twenty-seven duplex and single storey luxury apartments. Many original features were retained, including oriel windows, exposed beams and steel trusses. The residential complex is now known as The Old Brewery and all apartments were sold out within two weeks!


Article and research by Paul Lanagan, local historian

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This article is now out of date. To see the new version, which is updated, visit:

Paul Lanagan wishes to place on record his thanks to the following:

Thanks are given to the following for help and assistance:
:: Dina Salter, great-great granddaughter of Thomas William Usherwood Robinson.
:: The Brewers & Breweries of North-Eastern England: A Historical Guide, Brian Bennison, 2004.
:: Members of the ‘Rafters Nightclub...who spent their youth there?’ group on Facebook.
:: The Brewing Industry: A Guide to Historical Records, Richmond & Turton, 1990.
:: 'The Old Brewery, Houghton-le-Spring, Grade II Listed Building Dating from 1874’ leaflet by McCarrick Homes.
:: Entries on the Structural Images of the North East (SINE) website at:
:: George Wilson for the Robinson Bros Houghton Ales promotional match striker.

Copyright © Books of the North 2002 - 2011.



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The Golden Lion's past landlords, licensed victuallars and inn keepers 1841 - Thomas Surtees 1871 - Mark Jobling 1890 - George Harding 1891 - Hugh Sydney 1901 - Robert Crofton 1911 - Thomas Gittens
Agar, Geo. vict. Victoria Inn, Robinson St
Berry, Wm. vict. Red Lion, Church St.
Clark, Timothy, vict. Lamb Inn, Newbottle Lane
Dixon, James Turnbull, vict. White Lion and Commercial Hotel, Sunderland St.
Dixon, T, vict. Halfway House, Newbottle Lane (see below)
Fleming, Mrs A, vict. County Arms, Sunderland St.
Fletcher, Rbt, vict, Bonny Pit Lad, Newtown vFuller, Francis, vict. & threshing machine prop., Copt Hill Inn, Copt Hill
Gray, Robt. vict, Colliery Inn, Newbottle Lane
Hall, H, vict. Newcastle Arms, Newbottle Lane
Hall, Hugh, vict. Golden Lion, Sunderland St.
Harrison, Marmaduke Tomlins Parkin, vict. Cross House, Hutton Lane
Haswell, George, vict. and farmer, Jolly Farmers, Market Place
Moffitt, Wm, vict. Robbie Burns, Newbottle Lane
Patrick, Edwd, vict. Black Horse, Market Place
Pickering, William, vict. Sportsman Tavern, Newtown
Place, Wm, vict. Mill Inn, Rainton bridge
Rennoldson, Thomas, vict and farmer, Wheat Sheaf, Neasham Place
Richardson, Mrs M A, vict. Bay Horse, Sunderland St.
Rigby, T, vict, Lamton Arms, Newbottle Lane
Scott John, shopkeeper, Newbottle Lane, Halfway House (see above)
Shields, W, vict, Nag's Head, Newbottle Lane
Smith, W, beerhouse, Prince of Wales, Hopper St
Smith, William Bell, vict. Queen's Head, Sunderland Street
Smyth, Mrs Isa, vict. White Lion, Sunderland St
Turnbull, Mrs E, vict. Royal Oak, Newbottle Lane
Turnbull, William Benjamin, grocer, wine and spirit merchant, Newbottle Lane
Waller, T, vict. Ram's Head, Sunderland St vWelsh, Nrs E, beerhouse, Albert Inn, Newbottle Lane
Wheatley, G. jr., vict. Malster's Arms, Newton
Wilson, G, vict. Britannia Inn, Newbottle Lane
Wilson, Wm, vict. Black Lion, Sunderland St