Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Industrial heritage - breweries

Jonathan Glancey has written a nice little piece lamenting the closure of our ancient breweries in the Guardian today.

It certainly has resonance for me... I've seen Greene King close down Ridley's, I've seen Gales' Horndean Brewery, whose honest ugly bulk welcomed me off the motorway every time I drove down to Portsmouth, closed by Fullers, and I've seen old maltings and breweries destroyed all over East Anglia.

Breweries are a bit like railway stations. They're functional buildings that have some very special requirements to meet. The Victorian tower brewery  was a marvellous piece of architecture and engineering combined to make the brewing of huge amounts of beer streamlined and easy.

The 'beerage', immensely wealthy families owning breweries, dignified their industrial buildings with baronial style or Renaissance references. The Cliff Brewery at Ipswich was the home of Tolly Cobbold - apparently it's shortly to house brewing operations again as Earl Soham brewery moves in. (Ironically, it was Ridleys that put this brewery out of action when they acquired Tolly.)  Hook Norton still uses its fine tower brewery - so does Highgate Brewery in Walsall. (Both these breweries offer group tours.)

Nowadays, breweries are less romantic - but need equally specialised buildings. I visited Adnams' new brewery a while back (they don't offer tours to the general public, but local CAMRA organised a visit). While the street frontage is exactly the same as it always was, behind the cobbles and the cottages a sparkling new stainless steel brewery has been erected. It's like something out of James Bond; you open a little eighteenth century door and behind it is the Adnams plan for world domination. I wouldn't have been surprised if the production manager had a white Persian cat sitting on his desk...

Some breweries are still being demolished, which is a crying shame. Others, like the Anchor Brewery in Norwich and the old Trumans and Watneys breweries in the East End, are being refurbished for use as housing or commercial space. But there's nothing quite like a real brewery being used for real brewing...

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