“THE dray was pulled by four horses and went right up Weardale from West Auckland, delivering to all the pubs up to Stanhope,” says John Monk.

The West Auckland Brewery draymen would refresh themselves with a half in each of the pubs they delivered to on the 17-mile journey so that by the time they dropped the last barrels into the cellars of Stanhope’s pubs, they were quite literally comatose.

But the horses knew the way home.

And so off they set without a human hand on the reins to hold them back, clattering down the dale on the A689 to Harperley, turning south down the huge bank of the A68 to Witton-le-Wear and up the even steeper other side into Toft Hill before they flew down the final descent into West.

“My father was always getting letters of complaint from the police at Fir Tree saying the wagon had come cantering through, scattering the multitude,” says John.

Even with drunken drivers, who had to be carried out of the wagon once they’d arrived at the brewery, horsedrawn drays were probably still the best means of transport in the early decades of the 20th Century.

“The steam wagons were a disaster,” says John. “My father got so many claims from farmers for setting their fields on fire!”

West Auckland Brewery, as Memories 411 told, was founded in 1840 by a consortium of local people on land behind the Manor House in the village. The secret of its success was its water, which was drawn from a well on the banks of the Gaunless.

It was headed by John James Hoult Tamplin, who acquired about 20 south Durham pubs, but ran into debt problems in 1877.

A new consortium was formed to takeover, which was led by maltsters JW Cameron of West Hartlepool, Henry Rudd of Thirsk and William Cunningham of East Lothian, plus brewer William Standish of Darlington and banker George Roper of Richmond – between them, they had most aspects of the business covered.

In the 1880s, the company employed colliery clerk Alfred Monk as its secretary, and he came to live in the Manor House, with 1429 above the door, in front of the brewery – like all the brewery land, it was rented from the Eden family who were now based at Windlestone Hall.

Alfred began acquiring shares in the business, so that when he died on January 5, 1917, aged 63, he was the main shareholder.

However, his three sons were away on active service, so his daughter, Carrie, who had been looking after the business during her father’s illness, took control.

His eldest son, Sydney, was not just on active service – he was believed to be dead, shot in the head at Sanctuary Wood, near Ypres, on August 21, 1917. But just as the 10th Durham Light Infantry prepared him for burial, his body moved, and he was stretchered away to hospital, where he recovered after six months and returned to West to assume control of the brewery.

It was he who had to battle with drunken draymen and incendiary steam wagons.

Those were different times: mid-morning and mid-afternoon, a whistle would blow in the brewery and the scores of workers would come to the “allowance” hut to receive their daily allowance of two pints of beer.

By the outbreak of the Second World War, the brewery owned at least 80 pubs, from the Rose and Crown at Romaldkirk to the Park Hotel at Redcar. In those days, there was a pub on every corner, but, even so, West was a major slaker of thirsts in south Durham – and during the war, it received special dispensation to brew stronger beer to keep the miners mining and the steelworkers working for the war effort.

West brewed a complete range of ale: pale, brown, mild, export, Indian Pale, and even bottled rum. Presumably, it bottled soft fizzy drinks, as well.

And it kept local farm animals fed: farmers would cart off the steaming hot “brewers grains” to give to cattle and pigs.

However, as the 1950s wore on, the brewery needed a substantial overhaul and Sydney’s sons, John and Peter, had begun more sober careers in accountancy with Bishop Auckland firm Chipchase Wood. The Monks decided to sell, and Camerons of Hartlepool decided to buy, principally to acquire the 80 pubs (in the 1960s, Camerons had 750 premises in the North-East).

Brewing stopped at West in 1962, and the chimney and outbuildings were demolished in 1970. The Monks continued to live in the Manor House until Sydney died, aged 95, in 1976, when the house was sold to the Cleminsons of nearby Hummerbeck who converted it into a hotel, retaining the outline of the brewery at the rear.

But is the capped off well, that was the font and foundation of the West Auckland Brewery’s domination of south Durham for a century, still there?

With thanks to Peter and John Monk for their help with this article