John Drew was born at Portsea in December 1768 (baptized 25 December at St Mary’s Church, Portsea). In 1796 he moved to Southampton to assist Robert Heather in the spirit trade and particularly with a gin distillery in French Street. ‘Townsman’ (Southern Evening Echo, 21 January 1939) identifies Robert as his uncle. It is possible that he may have been his brother-in-law as his elder sister Elizabeth Drew (baptized 1 June 1766 also at St Mary’s, Portsea) had married a Robert Heather at St Mary’s Church, Southampton on 5 February 1787.
Between 1800 and 1804 Drew was a partner with Philip Le Feuvre and Robert Heather as brewers and spirit merchants. He set up independently in September 1804, purchasing a brewery at 100 High Street in 1807. He was to become one of the largest brewers and public house proprietors in the district. At the time of his death on 11 August 1841 he owned public houses Southampton (Fish and Kettle and Castle Inn), Hythe (Wheat Sheaf), Winchester (Waterloo Inn), Alresford (Bricklayers Arms), Newport, Isle of Wight (The Three Tuns), Poole (The London Tavern), Romsey (Red Lion and King’s Head) and Bishops Waltham (Vine Inn). His will was proved ithe Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 4 October 1841. He lived in Broad Lane.
His son John Watkin Drew first joined his father as a partner and then inherited the business entirely after the death of his father in c.1836. The son retired from the brewing business in 1842 and went into property development, building Sussex Place, an elegant terrace of houses off the east side of Above Bar Street. In 1835 Drew had bought Bellevue House as his residence but in 1845 he moved into one of his houses in Sussex Place. He leased out Bellevue House and developed some of the estate to the south and east of the house.
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