States of Ignorance
In Memory of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton
The Old Truman Brewery (formerly the Black Eagle Brewery) has a fascinating history, which we will briefly summarise here. The site's first associations with brewing can be traced back to 1666 when a Joseph Truman is recorded as joining William Bucknall's Brewnouse in Brick Lane. Truman subsequently became manager in 1697, and through his family's efforts - not least those of Benjamin Truman (who joined the firm in 1722) - the business expanded rapidly over the following 200 years. Benjamin Truman was knighted by George III in recognition of his loyalty in contributing to the voluntary loans raised tocarry on the various foreign wars. He was a man of refined taste and a lover of the arts; and had his portrait painted by Gainsborough.
He had two children: a son who died and a daughter, Frances, who fell in love with her French dancing master, whom she married. She had two sons, John Freeman ViIlebois and Henry Villebois. Benjamin Truman had no interest in involving his son-in-law in the business (very little is known about him) and pinned his hopes on his two grandsons instead. However, they never developed any interest in the Brewery and were only ever 'sleeping paltners.' In 1789, the business was taken over by Sampson Hanbury. He was greatly devoted to agriculture and a keen sportsman. He was also an excellent man of business, and is said to have excelled all his clerks in his knowledge of book-keeping. Anna, his sister, married Thomas Fowell Buxton, of Earls Colne, Essex, and their son, also calledThomas Fowell Buxton, born in 1786, entered the service of his uncles at the brewery in 1808, at first as an assistant and three years afterwards as a partner.
The young man had had a brilliant career at Trinity College, Dublin, and soon after his admission as a partner, the seniors, struck with his capability and energy, entrusted him with the responsible task of reorganizing the entire system on which the brewery was conducted. This he accomplished with great success, overcoming objections from the senior officials with great firmness and tact. Among other measures of reform, he resolved to "remedy the state of gross ignorance which prevailed among the workmen" *. He dealt with this in a summary method, weeks everyone who could not read and write. He gave them "a schoolmaster and other means of instruction and fixed a day for examination, when he was gratified to find that he had not to send away a single man"*. He was also very careful to prevent the servants of the firm from working on Sunday. Mr Buxton entered Parliament in 1818, and distinguished himself there by his efforts in the cause of philanthropy and in the reform of judicial and penal systems. The great work of his life and the cause which lay nearest to his heart was that in which he was associated with William Wilberforce - the abolition of slavery in the dominions of Great Britain. In 1816, when almost the whole population of Spitalfields was on the verge of starvation, a meeting was called at the Mansion House, and Buxton delivered a forcible speech. He narrated the results of his personal investigations; the large sum of £43,369 was raised at the meeting, and an extensive and well organized system of relief was established. He was, for twenty years, the representative of Weymouth in Parliament, and was made a Baronet in 1841. However he did not live long to enjoy his honours, and died in 1845.
*from 'Industries: Brewing' in 'A History of the County of Middlesex' Volume 2 (1911) by William Page