Oast Houses

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright April 2009, Oast House Archive; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
Images also under a similar Creative Commons Licence.

❖ Cowls

The cowl was fitted to the top of the kiln roof. It pivoted with the wind to allow the hot air from the fired kiln below to be drawn through the hops and out through the top.

A Kentish cowl
TQ7248 : Cowl of The Roundels by Oast House Archive

A Sussex Oast cowl can be distinguished by its 'blinkers'. The flat side panels at the front of the cowl. Some Kent Oasts near the county border have them too, and likewise Sussex oasts often have Kentish Cowls.
TQ7822 : Sussex Cowl by Oast House Archive TQ8816 : Cowl of Manor Farm Oast by Oast House Archive

Hereford & Worcestershire cowls do not have a cap, but a pointed top.
SO7133 : Cowl of Smallends Farm Oast by Oast House Archive

Traditional cowls are made of wood and painted white, they came in different sizes, but a typical example stood about 2.5m high and 1.2m wide at its base.

Many wooden cowls have now been replaced with lighter and supposedly easier to maintain fibre-glass ones. However their longevity is not fully proven. It has been said that they cannot be easily repaired or maintained, and deteriorate at a much faster rate.

Cowls are notorious for being blown off during strong winds, so it is essential they are well maintained and are always able to move with the wind. Many were knocked off during the hurricane of September 1987.

During the Second World War, some oast house cowls had to be painted black so as not to attract the attention of the enemy. The lady of the estate of Chart Court Oast at Little Chart, decided to have hers painted red and green.
TQ9346 : Chart Court Oast, Pluckley Road, Little Chart, Kent by Oast House Archive

It was common for the cowl to be replaced with a cap once the Oast House was disused for hop drying, or if it was blown off during strong winds and no longer in use.
TQ9127 : Oast House at Stocks Farm, Wittersham Road, Wittersham, Kent by Oast House Archive TQ8150 : The Oast, Warmlake Business Estate, Sutton Valence, Kent by Oast House Archive TQ5935 : Shernfold Park Farm, The Oast House, Frant, East Sussex by Oast House Archive TQ9224 : Oast Houses at Bosney Farm, Grove Lane, Iden, East Sussex by Oast House Archive

The vane of the cowl is often decorated with an icon. Traditionally the farmer would adorn an icon of his trade, hop picking after all was only for 4 weeks of the year, so most farms would have other sources of income. Typically these were an animal, or farm or countryside related theme, these include horses, cockerels, dogs, cats, acorns, cat chasing mouse (two cowls), huntsman and pheasants, ducks, swans, sheep, cows, an oast house, deer and stags, fish, and tractors…
TQ5530 : Cowl of Little Oast House by Oast House Archive TQ6643 : Cowl of Oast House, Mascalls Pound Farm by Oast House Archive TQ8115 : Cowl of Fuggles Oast, Main Road, Westfield, East Sussex by Oast House Archive TQ6029 : Cowl of Mousehall Oast by Oast House Archive
Nowadays many home owners replace or add an icon that reflects their own interests, some examples including a sailboat, badgers, a train, rabbits, a bugle, squirrels, witch on broomstick, theatrical faces, a helicopter, a dragon, and a teddy bear.
TR2258 : Cowl Of Ickham Oast House, Witch & Broomstick by Oast House Archive

By far the most common is the 'Invicta' prancing horse, the symbol of Kent.
TQ7742 : Kentish Cowl at Brattle Farm, Five Oak Lane, Staplehurst, Kent by Oast House Archive

Tatlingbury Oast in Five Oak Green shows a hunting scene of a horse and hounds.
TQ6345 : Tatlingbury Oast, Five Oak Green Road, Five Oak Green, Kent by Oast House Archive

The vanes also come in various shapes.
TR3258 : Cowl of The Oast, Moat Sole, Sandwich, Kent by Oast House Archive

In the 20th Century, electric fans were introduced to push the air through the hops and cowls were no longer needed. Louvred ventilators were placed on the roofs instead.
TR0558 : Oast House Ventilator by Oast House Archive

Much like the oast houses they once adorned, some cowls are converted to living accommodation, in the form of a dove cotes!
TQ6750 : Converted Cowl at Cronks Farm by Oast House Archive


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