Monday, June 4, 2007

Oast Houses in Kent

Oast houses are a feature of Eastern and Southeastern England, particularly Kent. So you can imagine on at Hunsford if you wish, although they also crop up in Surrey (around the town of D__________ , and certainly near to Box Hill) and also in Hampshire. Jane Austen would have been very familiar with them, being as how Chawton is near to Alton, and Alton was a major market for hops. Beer again, you see. Most oast houses are round, and originally would have no windows. The two storeys would be used as follows:

The ground floor was a fireplace. The upper level was just open beams, radiating out like the spokes of a wheel, onto which were placed mesh screens. the freshly, harvested hop heads would be dried on the meshes before being taken to the brewery.
The single oast house has no windows- does that mean it's still in use? It has the turret-like roof, but no chimney vent, so maybe it isn't. The triple row of oast houses do have their cute chimneys still, but also windows... which means that they are almost certainly converted into dwellings or other uses. I must admit, it would be fun to live in one. And, just for the record, I think they are a product of the Ag Rev and later- certainly the concept isn't nearly as old as malt houses.
Both these photos are from Geograph, and they are both Kent.

Malthouse in Porlock, Somerset

Time was when every farm would have had its own malthouse-an outbuilding where the barley grains would be put on racks to sprout, and then spread out on the floor below to dry to make malt. As in "This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built". And what was the malt for? Why ale, of course! The Agricultural Revolution didn't change the need for malt houses, but when the traditional areas stopped growing barley, the malthouses were often converted to other uses. With the growth of the railway system in the 1830's, they started building big commercial malting premises near to the railway stations, and farm malthouses gradually fell into disuse. The caption for this particular malthouse, which is from the lovely Geograph site again, says that it's the only one left in Somerset. I'm surprised that it exists at all, quite frankly.

Not all of this building is a malthouse- I'm sure it's just the bit on the far end with no windows and an outside set of steps.

There isn't any particular relevance to Jane Austen about this particular site, although you could imagine Col. Brandon's estate having farms like this, if you like. Or alternatively, you could imagine it belonging to the "Person from Porlock " who so rudely interrrupted Coleridge when he was daydreaming about Kubla Khan, thus depriving the world of a great epic poem....