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Blue Plaque Unveiled At Arkell’s Brewery

Councillor Barrie Jennings, of Stratton St Margaret Parish Council, and the Arkell family unveiled a commemorative plaque on the site of Arkell’s Brewery where John Arkell, founder, started brewing in 1843.

John Arkell was born into a farming family in 1802 in Kempsford, South Gloucestershire. He emigrated to the New World in his late twenties and took with him a group of local people who sought a refuge from the tough conditions endured in agriculture at that time.

They arrived in Canada and set about farming. John established a strong community and a village around his farm which is still named ‘Arkell’ to this day. However, three years later he returned for love. His fiancée preferred to live in England and he came home to marry.

In 1843 he bought his farm in Stratton St Margaret, Swindon, where he grew, among other things, his malting barley, and turned his hand to brewing beer. His foresight realized the potential market for supplying beer to a string of other pubs as well as his own Kingsdown Inn, which he had just bought.

The beer production began to outgrow the farm and in 1861 a new steam brewery was built behind the original Kingsdown Inn at Upper Stratton. By 1867 the business had even outgrown the new brewery and John was forced to convert the old Kingsdown Inn into offices and build a new pub across the road, which is still there today.

John Arkell died on 21st October 1881 and was much mourned by a local community who always knew him as ‘Honest John’. The Swindon Advertiser noted that shops were closed and blinds drawn as the funeral cortege passed to Stratton Church and added: “He was open and above board and Radical in all he said and did. The poor had lost a good friend, a plain and simple friend.”

Arkell’s was established by John Arkell 180 years ago and is Swindon’s oldest business, remaining a family business handed down through the generations. Today, onlookers gathered for the unveiling of the entrepreneur’s commemorative plaque, including current members of the Arkell family, local brewery shareholders who are all descendants of John Arkell, brewery staff, Stratton St Margaret Parish Council, and the Stratton History Society.

Alex Arkell, sixth-generation of the Arkell family said “John, our great, great, great, grandfather built his brewery at exactly the most important moment in Swindon’s history. Three miles across the fields from his farm, Isambard Kingdom Brunel opened his great Swindon Railway Works that same year. Our history is inextricably linked to the growth of the Railway Works and then the subsequent growth of Swindon in the surrounding area. John saw the potential of this little town and 180 years later we’re still here and very thankful he chose this spot.”

The decision to mount a commemorative plaque for John Arkell was proposed by Stratton St Margaret Parish Council. Councillor Robert Jandy commented, “As one of my final duties as Parish Chair, I am proud that John Arkell has finally been recognised by being awarded a blue plaque, a man and family so important to Stratton St Margaret. Arkell’s is one of less than thirty family breweries remaining in the UK. As Swindon’s oldest business, Arkell’s has kept its founding values alive and continues to produce local beer for local customers.”

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