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.

An Oast House is a building used to dry fresh hops before they are sent to the brewers, to be used for flavouring beer. Beer was not produced within the oast house itself, but some malthouses (breweries) did incorporate drying kilns for drying barley for malt.

TQ6539 : Oast House by Oast House Archive
A typical Oast House consisted of the 'oast' and the 'stowage'.

The oast was a kiln, with a plenum chamber fired by charcoal at ground floor and the drying floor directly above. The steep pitched roof channelled the hot air through the hops to the top. A cowl on the top of the roof allowed the hot air ('reek') to be drawn up through the kiln in a vacuum effect. The cowl pivoted to control the air extraction and stop rain getting in.

The stowage, was the barn section, it had a cooling floor and press at first floor and storage area at ground floor. The dried hops were taken from the drying floor to cool and be packed using a hop press. The press packed hops in a large sack called a 'pocket' suspended to the ground floor where the pockets were stored to await collection.

Typical section through an oast house

❖ Production

The first form of oast house appeared around the latter part of the 1500's, with the increasing use of hops as a profitable crop. It wasn't until the mid 1700's that hop production took off and the oast house became to be built in greater numbers, and not until the mid 1800's that it was in full production and many of the oast houses that can be seen today originated. Over 5000 oast houses were constructed with 3000 in Kent alone.

TQ6936 : Oast House by Oast House Archive
Only a handful of original cowled oast houses are still in use for drying hops. One example is at Scotney Farm, a National Trust owned property (not open to the public) producing hops for 'Scotney Ale'.

TQ8028 : Hop processing building by Oast House Archive
Today most hops are dried in modern ridge ventilated buildings.

Many oast houses were demolished after the hop industry decline at the beginning of the 1900s, however there are estimated to be over of 3500 original cowl ventilated Oast Houses left standing in England, dating from the 1740's to the 1930's.

TQ7936 : Oast House by Oast House Archive
The oldest surviving at Godwin House.

TQ7249 : Oast House by Oast House Archive
The newest at Clockhouse Farm.

❖ Location

Hops were grown throughout England but there were only a few areas that they were grown in great numbers. Oast Houses were built in the major hop growing regions.

The majority of oast houses are found in the South East in Kent (approx 60%) and Sussex (approx 20%).
TQ6345 : Oast House by Oast House Archive TQ8519 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

A large number are found Herefordshire and Worcestershire (approx 15%)
SO6340 : The Hop Kilns by Julian P Guffogg SO7551 : Upper Sandlin Farm by Bob Embleton

there are also small numbers in…

Hampshire (approx 2%)
SU7741 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

Surrey (approx 1%)
SU8341 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

…and Greater London
TQ0371 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

Oast House grid square coverage map © Copyright 2008 nearby.org.uk/Barry HunterExternal link

Hop picking was at its peak in England between 1860 and 1880 when around 70,000 acres of hops were picked each year. Cheap imports from Europe being the main reason for their decline. Nowadays only about 5% of hops are produced compared with the peak years.

❖ Kiln Types

There are four main kiln types within the oast house.

The Internal kiln Mid to late c18
Originally oast houses were adapted barns, with a kiln built in the centre. Built of timber, many burnt down, or were replaced with purpose-built oasts. The earliest remaining oast is from about 1740, but there were undoubtedly older incarnations that have since disappeared.
TQ7936 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

The Square kiln Late c18 to early c19.
Fires were common place in the original internal kiln, so the kiln moved outside of the building. They were around 12-14 foot across.
TQ4735 : Oast House by Oast House Archive TQ8041 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

The Round kiln Early c19 to 1920's.
The most common; around 65% of oast kilns are round. It was thought that round kilns were more efficient that the square in terms of heat dissipation, and more cost efficient in materials. Early kilns 12-14 foot, later kilns 16-20 foot.
TQ5853 : Oast House by Oast House Archive TR1760 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

Mid-late c19 to 1928.
By the end of the 19th Century it was found that circular kilns were no more efficient than square kilns. The square kiln was continued, this time in larger 16-20 foot sizes in response to the large demand for hops, and economy of scale. It was down to the preference of the farmer or architect whether they chose a square or round kiln. There are many round-kilned oast houses with additional square kilns added. Large square oasts are particularly prevalent in East Kent as by the latter part of the hop producing years East Kent was a large driving force of the industry, as there were a number of local breweries, and many newer and larger oasts were built here.
TR0060 : Oast House by Oast House Archive TR0059 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

Some purpose built mid c20 oasts also reintroduced cowl ventilated internal kilns, this time using a forced draught system.
TQ6747 : Oast House by Oast House Archive TQ6945 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

The Ridge ventilated kiln. Internal kiln or kilns, this time with a vent running along the top of the roof and mechanical draught. Found on modern oasts c20 to present.
TQ8137 : Oast House by Oast House Archive TQ7542 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

An octagonal kiln can be found in Hawkhurst.
TQ7629 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

A kiln attached to the oast house at Littlebourne Green was built to fit in with the river.
TR2057 : Oast House by Oast House Archive

❖ Malthouses

What is the difference between an Oast House and Malthouse?

As maltings have similar kilns with roof ventilators akin to the oast houses, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if a building was an oast house or maltings. Malthouses were used to dry grain rather than hops, and typically have much larger kiln sizes. The malthouse was part of the brewery and so was significantly larger than a typical oast house. Instead of a rotating cowl they often have a square ventilator cap at the top of the kiln roof. Generally speaking those buildings outside of the South East and The West Midlands are Maltings or Malthouses.

There are many malthouses within the British Isles, and like oast houses, most that survive have now been converted to dwellings, usually multiple apartment units, or due to their large sizes and relatively flexible open plan layout, are particularly suited to business units.

TL4920 : Millers 1, Southmill Road, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire by Oast House Archive TL8113 : Old Maltings, Witham, Essex by Robert Edwards TL4821 : Oast House by Oast House Archive


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