Oasts and Hop Kilns: A History is the first comprehensive account of the 400-year history of hop drying buildings, oasts and hop kilns, unique to England. Pieced together from multiple sources, and richly illustrated, the charm of oasts and hop kilns on the countryside is captured in sketches, diagrams and photos. To celebrate the publication of this book, author Patrick Grattan has created a selection of images from the book to tell us a little more about oasts, hop kilns, and some of the case studies featured.
Stanford Bishop, Herefordshire
Hop kilns and oasts (two regional names for the same hop drying building) fit neatly into a group of farm buildings but make a mark because of their tall kiln roof and white cowl. The majority of English hop kilns are now disused or converted to dwellings. The hop yards have disappeared and are now rich rolling pastures in central Herefordshire, above the valley of the River Lugg.
A cross section of a Hop Kiln
This shows how the wet “green” hops were hauled up to an upper floor and laid on a lattice wood drying floor in the kiln above the fire for up to 10 hours. When dry they were shovelled out of the kiln to cool before being pressed tightly down in long bags called pockets, hanging though a hole in the floor.
For most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, oasts did not look the way we imagine them now with tall kilns and cowls. They previously looked more like a barn or shed and did not have cowls. From outside they would not have been recognisable as hop drying buildings. The fumes made their way out through holes in the roof and walls.
Coxbridge, Farnham in Surrey
The walls of the kiln were built inside the outer walls of the building. The ceiling rose in a funnel up the roof. This is one of the few hop kilns where this internal structure has survived.
Sissinghurst Castle in the High Weald of Kent and Sussex has one of the most famous gardens in England. The oast watches over the entrance to the gardens but the interior drying equipment has been replaced by Tea Rooms. Sissinghurst illustrates how round and square kilns were often built alongside each other.
Batemans, East Sussex
Batemans was the home of the famous author Rudyard Kipling. He owned several oasts, but was not keen on growing hops. In one of his books he describes how children would go into the dark interior of the kiln to roast chestnuts in the fire. The kiln has not been used for over 100 years and had an elegant dovecote in place of a cowl on top.
The Law was keen to ensure that there was no fraud before the hop pockets left the oast. The farmer had to mark his name, place, and date on each sack for inspection by Customs Officers. There was great pride in the full hop pockets and they were much photographed by the standards of 100 years ago.
The large rectangular kilns with louvred vents are built into the fourteenth century walls of a former Bishop’s Palace. The kilns are still in use for hop drying, heated by powerful gas burners and fans. The red sandstone of the walls is typical of the West Midlands.
Twenty-first century hop drying in industrial units, fully automated, producing bales of dried hops, rather than pockets.
Roundels built of chalk blocks, skilfully converted to a dwelling so that there are windows round the kiln giving an all-round view but making little impact on the exterior of the building.
Spalt is one of the historic and famous hop centres in Bavaria. Farmers did not use artificial heat. They laid the hops on slated trays on the narrow sixth and seventh floors of their house, through which hot air rose. In this house everything is still in place to continue doing so, but instead twenty-first century metal trays now move on rollers above gas heaters on the first floor.
Find out more about Patrick Grattan’s new publication Oasts and Hop Kilns on the Liverpool University Press website.