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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Buxton   21 October 1864

Northrepps Hall | Norwich

Oct 21/64

My dear Sir

I forwarded your note1 the day it reached me to our head brewer; & I enclose his reply.2 It appears that I was mistaken in thinking, as I certainly did, that the reason why we change yeast with other breweries is that it will not do to breed in & in too long.

When I joined the Brewery 19 years ago,3 we used to exchange yeast constantly: & I certainly was told then that the reason was that above mentioned.

If any further information can be of service I shall be most happy to procure it. Do not trouble yourself to acknowledge this. I hope your health is better.

Your’s very truly | Charles Buxton


Brewery Spitalfields | London 18 Oct 1864 Dear Sir

I am afraid that I cannot give you all the information necessary for a full reply to the questions put in Dr Darwin’s letter with reference to Yeast, as our use of it here being under the favourable circumstances of constant Brewing, and the production of various qualities, we have no experience in many of the points he brings forward.4

It is quite a mistaken notion that we cannot use our own Yeast. We very rarely do otherwise. It was our custom formerly to exchange with other Brewers frequently, perhaps about every two months, and many do so now occasionally.

But our production being so large, and from such various kinds of Beer, we have a choice, and by the exercise of a little judgement and management can avoid this system of changes. They are resorted to when the Fermentations become languid, and the production of the Yeast is not so large as usual, nor of such good quality, that is, not so thick as it should be, in which case, that which has been mixed with the Worts to excite the Fermentation is held to have been weak, and enquiry is made amongst neighbouring Brewers for one whose fermentations are vigorous, and his yeast produced of a good quality, and here the change is taken. But as good Yeast is always used in these changes, I am not prepared to say whether that which is feeble in one Brewery, will produce a vigorous fermentation in another. I have frequently seen a very poor result from a change, and am therefore disposed to doubt whether feeble Yeast will do well anywhere. At the age of three or four days it is in its best state for the Brewer. After this period it begins to lose its proper consistency gradually: becomes more and more fluid looking like thin oil, and finally has a strong putrid smell.

This change takes place in greater or less time according to the state of the weather, or the temperature of the store5

Even however in this degenerate condition it has considerable power, for the Distillers can use it provided that it is free from the smell

I shall be happy to seek any further information that cannot be given from our own experiences here

I am | Sir | Your obt Servt. | Laurence Burleigh

Chas Buxton Esq


See enclosure.
Buxton was a partner in the brewery firm of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co., in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London (DNB, Post Office London directory 1864).
For a discussion of the factors affecting the growth of yeast and the process of fermentation as managed in London breweries, see Accum 1820, pp. 76–93. See also Young 1996.


Accum, Frederick. 1820. A treatise on the art of brewing, exhibiting the London practice of brewing porter, brown stout, ale, table beer, and various other kinds of malt liquors. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

Young, T. W. 1996. The biochemistry and physiology of yeast growth. In Brewing microbiology, 2d edition, edited by F. G. Priest and I. Campbell. London: Chapman & Hall.


Forwards a letter from his head brewer, Laurence Burleigh, on yeast. They seldom exchange yeast with other brewers, and he doubts whether weak yeast from one brewery will ferment strongly in another.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Buxton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 375, 394
Physical description
ALS 4pp, encl ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4641,” accessed on 19 June 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12