Sunday, 12 August 2012

Gottle of Geer

                                 I’ve mentioned the Nowells of Read Hall several times but we owe a debt to Alexander Nowell as the man who invented bottled beer. Alexander was born at Read, near Whalley, in about 1507. He was educated at Middleton, near Manchester, and at Brasenose College, Oxford, and was later ordained as a Protestant minister. 

Alexander Nowell

Nowell was a very keen angler, and one day in 1554 he went fishing in the River Thames (although some say it was the Ash, in Hertfordshire), and as was his habit, he decanted some ale into a bottle and stoppered it with a cork, intending to drink it later in the day. But while Nowell sought to catch fish, Bishop Bonner sought to catch Nowell. Bishop Bonner was Bishop of London, and when Queen Mary Tudor came to the throne in 1553 she began to re-establish Catholicism in England with Bonner as one of her principal tools – so enthusiastically, he earned the nickname Bloody Bonner for his persecution of English Protestants. Bonner went looking for Nowell, intending to send him to the shambles, but Nowell, aided by the London merchant (and later Sheriff of London) Francis Bowyer, fled to the safety of the continent. 

Read Hall - Nowell's family home

When Mary died in 1558 her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth became Queen and it was safe for Nowell to return to England. Resuming his hobby, he remembered the bottle of beer he had hidden away in the grass and on finding it again, he opened “…no bottle, but a gun, such the sound at the opening thereof,” and always drank bottled beer thereafter. The secondary fermentation in the bottle had improved the taste of the contents, and added fizz to the brew - cask ale, drawn from the barrel, lacked these qualities. Alexander Nowell went on to become Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth, (where the Dance of Death series had once been seen). 

On New Year’s Day 1562, Nowell had a book made with pictures of the saints and martyrs new and richly bound, which was placed on the Queen’s cushion in St Paul’s, as a New Year’s gift for her. The Queen opened the book, saw the pictures and frowned and blushed, before closing the book and having the verger bring her old prayer book. At the end of the service, rather than leaving immediately as she normally did, she went into the vestry and confronted Nowell, asking what he meant by presenting her with such a book. Nowell protested his ignorance, saying he only sought to please her with a gift, but the Queen persisted, saying she had an aversion to images and idolatry, calling them ‘absurdities’ and asking, “… have you forgot our proclamation against images, pictures, and Romish relics in the churches?” Again Nowell protested his ignorance, saying he meant no harm, so the Queen relented, being convinced of his innocent intentions, and let the matter lie. But word quickly spread, and the clergymen and churchwardens of London were at pains to remove any suspect materials, and wall paintings were whitewashed over, being replaced with more suitable Biblical texts. 

Nowell's signature - note the fish-hooks in the emblem.

In 1564, Nowell found himself at odds with the Queen when, during a Lenten sermon he spoke disparagingly of the crucifix, whereupon the Queen loudly rebuked him, calling out, “To your text, Mr. Dean leave that; we have heard enough of that.” Nowell was so upset he was unable to carry on. In 1568, Nowell made a visit home to Lancashire, where he preached many sermons, and undoubtedly returned home to Read, where he would have been introduced to his young half-nephew Roger, then about six years old. Roger would grow up to be master of Read Hall, when his father died in 1591. In 1612, he prosecuted the Pendle Witches.

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