The history of Stratford-upon-Avon is firmly rooted in Fordham House. Here, Joan McFarlane, who has lived in Stratford-upon-Avon since 1978, looks back at the history that resides with the name of the building.
There can be no doubt about the influence the Flower family has had on the evolution of Stratford-upon-Avon since 1831 when the brewery was founded by Edward Fordham Flower.
Richard Flower, a brewer, banker, politician and sheep breeder of Marden Hill, was despondent about the future of agriculture in Warwickshire. He emigrated to America with his entire family in 1817.
Edward, his youngest son, was 12 years old when the family left. On arrival Edward helped his father establish a new home, and became known as a remarkably energetic character.
When he was 19, Edward became very ill and was determined to return home. Formal education had not been possible in America, and on his return he stayed with a Robert Owen in Lanark.
It is not clear how he came to Warwickshire. However, in 1827 he married Celina Greaves of Barford. Edward married into a wealthy family, but remained independent by going into business on his own and gained experience in brewing through relatives. The Fordham family had a business in Hertfordshire and it was here he served his apprenticeship.
With a legacy from his father Richard, who had recently died in Illinois, he established his own brewery on the land between the Birmingham and Clopton Roads.
The brewery was served by a canal wharf, which facilitated the delivery of materials along with the onward distribution of finished products.
Early years were difficult, but with the introduction of East India Pale Ale, based on the Pale Ales of Burton-on-Trent, put the brewery on the map.
In 1852 Edward was joined by Charles his son, and later by another son Edgar. The company expanded and a new brewery was built nearby.
The site of this new building was the cooperage and the main brewery was on the opposite corner. The brewery expanded still further in 1874 when a new building was built situated west of the Birmingham Road close to the station, served by its railway sidings and by electricity.
Edward retired in 1863 having built a mansion house at the top Welcome Road, the house remains and is called The Hill.
Edward was four times Mayor and he was also a Magistrate. He over saw the Shakespeare birthday celebrations and stood for Parliament twice, but was unsuccessful both times.
He and Celina moved to London where he became a Philanthropist in particular in the field of equine care.
He died at his home in Hyde Park Gardens in 1883.
Charles, his son, also served as Mayor and lived at Avonbank in Southern Lane with Sarah his wife. Following Charles’ death she carried on his good work by funding the restoration of the King Edward VI Grammar School, the Alms Houses and the Guild Chapel.
Sarah died in 1908, her generosity knew no bounds and her garden is still in use today.
The brewery, by this time, was the town’s main employer with a workforce of 200 people. The Company owned 20 Public Houses.
The sons of Edward’s youngest son Edgar, Archibald and Richard, later became directors.
Charles owned large tracts of land, and in 1875 he donated a two acre site and launched an international campaign to open a theatre to commemorate Shakespeare’s life. The new theatre opened in 1879 with a performance of Much Ado about Nothing. This theatre was destroyed by fire in 1926.
Edwards’ nephew Archibald launched a campaign for a replacement, raising millions of dollars in the United States of America.
The Elisabeth Scott theatre opened in Stratford-upon-Avon, this was the first important public building in Britain to be designed by a female architect. In July 1929 the foundation stone was laid with Masonic ritual, and was reopened in 1932. The Masonic ceremonies around the foundation stone paled into insignificance besides the folderol of the official opening on 23 April 1932, broadcast and relayed live to the United States (from whence came most of the funding). Some 100,000 people came to see the Prince of Wales arrive by monoplane (self-piloted), to declare the building open, receive a key from Scott – a modern figure in her cloche hat and neatly cropped hair – and attend part of the opening production of Henry IV and then fly off again, well before the end of the performance.
Orbit is proud to name their new building Fordham House in recognition of the contribution made by the remarkable Flower family, and the role the family has played in the evolution of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Flowers Ales still exist but the production has been transferred to Whitbread’s Brewery in Cheltenham.
Joan McFarlane has been visiting Stratford-upon-Avon since she was nine years old, when holidays were only possible away from the coast and Stratford was accessible by train. She came to live in the town in 1978 and was elected to Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council in 1987. She was chosen to be Mayor in 1995, and was the sixth lady mayor ever. The history of the town has always fascinated her, and it was during that time that she started to write down what she learnt. During the past years she has met and made friends with Elizabeth Flower , the present generation, who verified her family’s history above.