Early adapted barn oasts were simple timber constructions, with weatherboarded walls, and tiled roofs.
A typical oast house was constructed of red brick, usually in a flemish bond, and had a titled roof. Early to mid period oasts would usually have dark stained weatherboard timber framed walls at first floor.
East Kent has a large number of oasts with ragstone walls.
After the government dropped the 'brick tax' in 1850, round kiln roofs were often made of brick and covered with cement and tarred. They were more expensive to construct due to the material and the complexity. However they were less susceptible to catching alight, and in theory needed less maintenance than their timber counterparts.
…it is not always easy to spot them as some have been subsequently covered with tiles.
This photograph shows the construction of a typical timber and tile roundel roof.
Slate roofs appeared on later oasts, particularly in East Kent and Hereford & Worcestershire.
Hoist. This was used to lower pockets directly onto the cart, or lorry. Common on later oasts, particularly in East Kent.
Small oast houses
to large oast houses, with up to eight kilns
As the demand for hops increased, kilns were added to increase production. The oast house at Gatehouse Farm originally was built with two round kilns. Later a third a third roundel was added, followed by a fourth square kiln.
The increase in hops meant an increase in storage. An a open slatted platform, called the 'greenstage', was often added to cope with demand. Hops waiting to be dried were stored here, the open slats prevented the hops sweating before drying. The greenstage could be attached to the stowage, or directly to the rear of the kilns, in which case an external first floor door to the kiln needed to be added.
Typically a larger kiln indicates a later built kiln, as their sizes increased with the increase hop production. However, some oast houses were built with two different kiln sizes, so as to use the right size of kiln depending on the hop load to be dried. The variation allowed for a smaller load at the end of the day or during a wet season.
A larger kiln would need more fuel to heat the larger space, so a smaller kiln could be more efficient for a smaller load. Kiln roofs were built of varying heights. Problems could develop from an unsuitable height; a too shorter roof may draw out air too quickly and drying the hops too quickly, and a too taller roof may struggle drawing enough air through the cowl.
During the 20th Century, oil and electricity was introduced to the oast houses, and many were adapted to suit the technology. The wood/charcoal fired kilns were changed to oil, and controlled louvred and fan driven draught systems were added to the roofs. Flues were fitted to control the fumes.
The Watson ventilator, designed in the 1960's. This replaced the whole kiln roof and cowl, with a wooden mechanically draughted ventilated louvred roof. It was considered unsightly by comparison, and most have since been removed during conversion, which is why few remain. Their scarcity makes it more important that those that remain are not removed.
Bottle neck roof and cowl
Once an oast house had finished its life of hop-drying, the kiln roofs were often removed and replaced with a more conventional flat of pitched roof.
Nowadays, oast houses have become desirable residences and many owners and planning officers want an original looking oast, so many of those roofs are being reinstated back to their original tall roofs with cowls.
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