Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hook Norton Brewery, Oxfordshire

As you walk up Brewery Lane in the North Oxfordshire village of Hook Norton, the road climbs slightly. Walking away from the centre of the village and towards bushes and trees, you expect to get a view of hills and fields as you reach the brow of the slope. Instead you come face to face with this most surprising building, a brewery that seems to have escaped from the fantasy-world of some Victorian industrialist, decked out with every material that its builders could throw at it, from the local orangey-brown ironstone to half-timber, lead, and slate.

The structure was the brainchild of William Bradford (1845-1919), a Victorian architect who specialized in breweries and designed dozens, all over England. They weren’t all as ornate as Hook Norton, which was built right at the end of the 19th century. A lot of the architectural features – the half-timbering, tall windows, and ornate roofs, for example – show the influence of the Queen Anne revival style that was fashionable at the time as the way to build posh houses in West London. But Bradford makes the elegant Queen Anne style his own, with a lavish supply of quirky features such as the triangular dormer windows that pop up everywhere like raised eyebrows.

In an age when industrial buildings like breweries were often designed by engineers rather than architects, Bradford was a keen advocate of breweries with architectural pretensions. He spoke with scorn about the majority of breweries, whose design was ‘entrusted to the hands of the same gentleman who provides and fits up the pipes and cocks’. This approach wasn’t good enough for Bradford, who wanted his buildings to look impressive. And he had a point. Buildings like the brewery at Hook Norton have become icons, their images proudly displayed on jugs and beer mats.

Hook Norton Brewery is big, too. What other Oxfordshire village can boast a 7-floor Victorian skyscraper? But then, breweries are often tall, because traditional brewing is a process that relies on gravity. You pump the wort (the basic mixture of water and ground malt) to the top of the building, and then it flows downward through the various brewing processes until the brown nectar emerges at the ground-floor level. Many old breweries have closed, but the one at Hook Norton is still brewing. Naturally, they still use the original 1899 steam engine to pump the wort and power the machinery that crushes the grain. Naturally, they’re still winning praise for their beer. Cheers!


Anonymous said...

I can' recall posting here before, but Hook Norton 'takes the cake1 in breweries! Long may they brew!
I have driven past the Adolph Coors Brewery in Colorado USA and it for all its vastness is a mere apostrophe to Hook Norton, and its brew is obviously much less in quality.

James Morgan
Olympia, WA USA
formerly home of the Olympia Beer Artesians (cute little guys, until they closed their home here)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks for your comment, James. Hook Norton is indeed one of the most amazing breweries. I posted two other interesting ones that you can find by typing "Devizes" and "Shepton" into the search box at the top of the blog.