Monday, August 10, 2009

Shepton Mallet, Somerset

Amber nectar

This 1880s building, trying to look like a French palace with the addition of an Italianate chimney, began life as the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery, Shepton Mallet. It once had two towers, topped with pavilion roofs, that made it look even more French and palatial, but it’s still one of the most prominent buildings in the town.

The enterprise it was built to house was an interesting one. In 1872, what had been the Pale Ale Brewery took on a number of brewers from Bavaria and they began to brew lager – it’s said they were the first in this country to do so. To emphasize the uniqueness of their products, the company changed its name to the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery. It prospered, and exported the beers widely, especially to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other outposts of the British empire.

The brewery was rebuilt in 1881 in the Second Empire form it takes today, one of the great ornamental breweries of the late-19th century, with the company name emblazoned in the pediment. The architect is not known, but the firm was proud of its building and put the brewery’s image on its bottle labels, as brewers often did in the early-20th century. People liked the beer too, the ‘Celebrated Amber Ale’ as they called it, and it garnered prizes in Europe and Australia. No doubt the Bavarian input helped.

But at the time of World War I it didn’t do for a British company to have a German connection, and stockists removed the unpatriotic bottles from their displays. The business declined and although there was an inter-war revival under new owners it was too late. After the World War II the building became the Anglo Trading Estate. And so, for the moment, it remains, although there are plans for redevelopment. It’s listed, though, so will keep its status as a much-loved local landmark.


martin said...

This building reminds me of where I spent the first six months of my working life.
I did a stint for an imposing Victorian red brick psychiatric hospital in Northumberland. While it wasn't identical,obviously,it had the same imposing and dominant feel,assisted by an enormous chimney that used to service the boiler room.
Victorian architects;not keen on understatement.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, quite a few of those old hospitals had this French-Italian look - reminding me of the ones Iain Sinclair keeps coming across in his walk around the M25 in London Orbital.

Peter Ashley said...

What an amazing building. Lager brewing in England was a funny old business, and I think the Wrexham Brewery also makes loud noises about being the first. Apparently, if I remember clearly a meeting I had there on my 40th birthday, it was originally black like a stout.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, well I'm not sure British lager has ever been one of my favourite things. Frequent visits to Central Europe, though, have won me over to the Czech varieties.

LostinManc said...

What a beautiful building. And I love the idea of an Anglo-Bavarian brewery. Straying off-topic - didn't the Kray twins have a short excursion in Shepton Mallet?

Philip Wilkinson said...

CMS: Shepton Mallet's prison is the oldest English prison still in use. The Krays did time there when it was a military prison, back in the time of National Service.

Anonymous said...

Never mind your lager, Babycham is also made in Shepton Mallet!