Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Bradford in Cheltenham

This is almost all that remains of the premises of the Cheltenham Original Brewing Company, which brewed beer in the centre of Cheltenham for nearly 240 years. The site is now a ‘retail and entertainment experience’, I’m afraid.

The Agg-Gardner family began brewing in Cheltenham in 1760, and the brewery in the centre of the town belonged to Sir James Agg-Gardner in 1888 when the Cheltenham Original Brewing Company was formed to manage the business. By this time the malthouse (below), the oldest building on the site and probably built in the 1860s, was already there and the brewery buildings were to the north of it. But on a summer Sunday morning in 1897 a fire started in the hop room and swept through the brewery, destroying most of the complex. The architect William Bradford (who may also have designed the malthouse) was called in to design a replacement. Brewing continued on the site for a further century, with the business eventually passing to Whitbread’s.

William Bradford was the doyen of Victorian brewery architects. He was famous for ornate designs amongst which perhaps the best examples are the Hook Norton Brewery and the Bridge Wharf Brewery at Lewes (for Harvey’s) – elaborate fantasies of multi-coloured bricks and curvaceous ironwork featuring towers that are both eyecatching and functional. By this stage in his career, however, his designs tended to be more restrained, and at Cheltenham his priorities were different. He was careful to specify fireproof construction, with the floors separated by concrete arches, for the new Cheltenham brewery – no doubt his clients were keen on this feature too.

Most of Bradford’s 1898 structure has now gone but the developers kept his tower, with its fancy ironwork. And the malthouse, with its polychrome brick walls, remains too. Low down at pavement level is a metal plate embossed with the deathless words, ‘COMMIT NO NUISANCE’, presumably addressed to those who had imbibed the brewery’s products too freely.


Thud said...

'Retail experience' not a good combination.

Anirban said...

Excellent blog and post. I did a bit of research on the "Commit no nuisance" sign and it is ubiquitous across the Commonwealth.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thud: Quite so. While I think town-centre shopping developments are often a very good thing, the way this one is marketed as an 'experience' made my heart sink.

Anirban: Thanks for your positive response. Yes, signs bearing the words 'Commit no nuisance' are widespread - once you become aware of them you start seeing them in all kinds of places.

Peter Ashley said...

Local brewing was once a sure way of knowing where you were. If it was Bullards you'd be in Norfolk, if it was Benskins you'd be up in the Chilterns or thereabouts. Is there still a working brewery local to Cheltenham that's been there for ages? I can only thing of my beloved Donnington, but that's perhaps too far.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: As far as I can think, Donington (which has been going for well over 100 years) is the nearest old brewery to Cheltenham. Both Flowers and West Country Brewery (the latter being what the brewery in this post eventually became) got absorbed into larger entities and eventually closed. There are numerous modern and micro-breweries, some of which produce excellent stuff, but I can think of no other old established ones.

martin said...

Retail and entertainment experience isn't by any means ideal,but at least its still standing.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Martin: Yes, we should be thankful for small mercies and it's good that change of use of part of the brewery complex has saved the tower and the malthouse. It's still sad, though, when you know how much of the place was sacrificed.

Finding the right new use for a building at risk (something that the BBC RESTORATION programmes had to grapple with a few years back) is absolutely crucial in saving buildings. I hope to return to this subject.