Make an oast house your home

In an age where homes are built using the same templates as their neighbours, and roads are filled with rows of identical houses, it can be difficult to truly stamp your own individuality on a property.

As you look further afield, leaving the purpose-built communities, take a look at the could-be’s and what-ifs. The buildings that have been abandoned, the structures filled with potential. This is what we see each time we visit an old oast house: the potential for repairing and rebuilding a family home, returning it to its former glory.

Building or converting your own home can be a daunting project, but oast house conversions can create a truly personal space. Each oast house is unique, and therefore each project requires an individual assessment and detailed preparation, including planning permission, assessment of whether your oast house needs a replacement oast cowl or whether it just needs cleaning and painting.

At Dude & Arnette our family have been repairing and restoring oast cowls since 1937, helping hundreds of people realise their dreams and working with them to truly create personal place to call their own. To organise a free consultation and quotation, call Dude & Arnette on 01622 725 898 or visit our Contact page, fill out our contact form, and we’ll be in touch as soon as possible.

oast house conversion

What you should know before converting your oast

Converting, restoring and repairing an historic oast house can be a rewarding and enjoyable process. From your initial consultation to seeing the stunning results at the end of the work, there are few projects more satisfying. This process should be carried alongside a team of experts, and here are a few tips on how to approach converting or restoring your oast.

Submit an application to the council before any work is carried out

Around 1 in 10 oast houses are listed buildings, and therefore permission needs to be granted by the council before any restoration work can begin. You’ll also need to carry out a survey to check for any animals that may have made your oast house their home! There are other factors that should be taken into consideration, and our expert team will be able to make sure that all the boxes have been ticked before you begin the application process.

Assess access

Our director Darren Hole attends every initial visit to discuss the requirements of every project Dude & Arnette work on. He will gather together exactly what you need, check access for removing the cowl, and will collate all of the information into a written quotation that breaks down each cost, and organise a timeframe for your work to be carried out and installed. Generally, this takes around four weeks, depending on the house.

Retain original features

With any restoration and repair work on an old building, it’s important to retain the integrity and original features of your oast house. Our family have been restoring and repairing oast houses and cowls since 1937, and provide expert knowledge and superior workmanship on every building, and can advise on the best possible way to use your space.

To arrange a free quotation, or to discuss your individual requirements in more detail, visit our Contact Us page, or call us on 01622 725 898.

 

Time to get your oast cowls ready

After having Covid-19 throwing any routine or normality out of the window, we’re pleased to announce that following Government advice – Dude & Arnette are back in action.

Normally we wouldn’t necessarily do a maintenance update but we felt it was necessary, as a lot of the oast cowl maintenance and repair work that would take place in early spring had to be paused completely due to lockdown.

So if you have an oast cowl, here’s what we’d recommend:

  1. We’ve seen a lot of rain this winter so a safety check would be the first thing to do to ensure there are no damages to the cowls and the roof
  2. After a safety check, you’ll get an idea of what might need to be done (oast cowl repair, clean, paint, re-build etc)
  3. The best thing to do if there aren’t any issues? Get your cowls freshly painted. This helps to weather-proof your cowls and makes them look their best. You might have done some indoors redecorations during lockdown, now is the time to give your home’s crown a bit of TLC!

Why you should have them painted, you ask? Well, oast cowl repairs can be costly, so avoid leaving it too late. When it comes to oast cowl maintenance, prevention is key, folks.

If you want to read more about how to clean an oast cowl, please head over to our blog for more oast cowl cleaning tips.

Want a non-obligation assessment? Contact us or call us on 01622 725 898 for an honest quote from our director Darren Hole.

 

COVID-19 Update

Following guidance issued by the Government on 20th March 2020, Dude & Arnette has temporarily paused all working activity for now.

If you require emergency work, please call us on 01622 725 898 / 07973 332 790 so we can support you in the best possible way.

Rest assured any work will be carried on with the utmost hygiene precautions and social distancing measures in place.

Stay safe,

~The Dude & Arnette Team

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oast cowl repair

Oast cowl types: The story behind the styles

Oast houses have played a huge roll in shaping the history of Kent and Sussex and they have become a symbol of the counties they inhabit. These much-loved buildings are a familiar sight throughout the countryside, their iconic bright white sails rising up across the landscape.

But these beguiling buildings are more than just a pretty façade. For centuries, Kent’s famous beer industry depended on oast houses (read our article on how oast houses used to work) and as many great things in life, their cowls came in different size and shapes!

So… Are there different types of oast cowls?

While there was certainly no standard blueprint for an oast design, they mostly fall into two categories – the circle kiln and the square kiln. Even within these two basic oast cowl designs, there was a huge degree of artistic license used by builders – meaning that each oast house has its own truly unique design. Some oasts, like Great Dixter in East Sussex, ditched the rulebook entirely, combining both square and circle designs.

Square Kilns

The very first oasts were simply barns with a kiln added to them. Unsurprisingly these rudimentary attempts at an oast house were far from safe and the substantial fire risk of these soon led to the introduction of a purpose-built, external kiln.

These square kilns were the all-original oast design. The first ones measured about 15 feet across, but as oast houses grew in popularity, they also increased in size.

Square oast houses by Dude and Arnette

While roundel oasts eventually found favour in Sussex and Kent, the square design would remain a firm favourite of hop growers in Hampshire, Herefordshire and Worcester.

In the mid-20th century onwards, the square design shot to popularity again as a surge of innovations in oast designs took hold (likely encouraged by the 1850s abolition of brick tax). Farmers realised it was easier to install a roller in the square kilns, which meant that the delicate hops could be removed to the cooling room without workers trampling on them. The popular mod-con of motorised fans were also better suited to the square design.

Nowadays, square kilns provide the perfect shell for conversions – no round furniture required in these ones. In terms of construction, the square kiln oasts consist of four sides with ridges or hips going to each corner of the kiln. The straight edge design of these means that only square tiles are needed, not tapered ones, potentially making any oast cowl repairs a bit more straightforward.

Circle Kilns

The iconic round kiln is probably the most recognisable oast cowl type in Kent, and in fact, the majority of the oasts still in existence today are the circle kilns. It was originally thought that the round kilns would be more efficient at heat distribution and more cost-effective.

Round oast houses by Dude and Arnette

When it comes to restoration, the circle kilns pose some different challenges to that of the square kiln. The circular shape means that tapered tiles are needed to swing the square tiles around the structure and a lathe is used to hang the tiles on.

Whether you have a square kiln or a circular one, we can assist with all types of oast cowl repairs and maintenance. Have a look at all the ways in which we can help you.

Oast Cowl Motifs: More Than Just Decorations

A cowl is an oast house’s crowning glory. But did you know that fitted to the kiln roof, cowls allowed the hot air to be drawn up through the hops and out through the roof? As they rotated in the wind, hot air was given the clearest escape path and the hops were kept safe from the infamous English rain. PS: If you want to read more about what is an oast house we tell you all, about it here.

A quick look up at the cowls might give you a clue as to where in the country you are though.

While Kentish cowls tend to have a flat cap, cowls in neighbouring Sussex have additional blinkers attached. Oast cowls within Herefordshire and Worcestershire follow a very different style with a pointed top and no cap. But, don’t ditch the map and compass. These rules are not set in stone and all styles have been known to travel beyond their home counties. To help the cowl do its important job and turn in the wind, a distinctive finger, fitted to the centre post and attached to the backboard, juts out from the cowl. It is on these that many owners place a delightful oast cowl decoration – a motif.

Duck motifs

These charming motifs are often more than just an aesthetic addition, they tell a tale of the history and heritage of their county. The original farmers who used the oast houses began adding these as a kind of brand identity for their farm. Hop picking season was short and most farmers would have had various sources of income, and a clue to their other activities can often be found in the oast cowl decorations.

Common motif designs range from horses, cockerels, hunters and pheasants, ducks, swans, deer and fish to relatively modern agricultural symbols like tractors. Many other historical moments are also celebrated through the motifs; one oast house features a motif of Winston Churchill on one cowl then a spitfire on the other.

The motifs also reveal the county’s history. The most popular motif is that of the horse, and the popular Invicta horse is an important symbol in Kentish heritage. The emblem exults the fact that during the invasion of Britain, William of Normandy was unable to subdue the county and so Kent negotiated favourable terms for itself. But this celebration of British heritage and culture has travelled into the modern-day. While some oasts still defer to their original owners for their motifs, as part of the oast house restoration, many owners decide to stamp their own family traditions on their oast cowls.

Malcolms brand new Cat Cowl

It has been a while since the majority of oast houses have been used to dry hops, but they have certainly not outgrown their use as a business premise. Many oast cowls are now fitted with motifs that represent their new business owners, with company logos adorning the cowls, showing that these beautiful buildings still have a place in Kentish life.

Detail of oast cowl motifs

Fancy giving your oast cowl that extra pizzazz? Our experts can craft and fit new support arms, arms, motifs and fingers for GRP cowls – perfecting the look and structure of your cowl, simply get in touch with our expert oast house Team for a consultation.

What is an oast house?

A question we get asked from time to time is, what actually is an oast house?

For us, there couldn’t be a better symbol of Kent than an oast house. Their striking shape dots the countryside skyline, providing some Instagram worthy shots – but what exactly are they?

In a nutshell, an oast house or hop kiln is a building created to drying hops as part of the brewing process.

Oast houses or hop kilns have played a huge part in the agricultural history of both the county and the country. And, at the heart of their fascinating origins is one of the nation’s favourite tipples – beer!

Starting from the top, what are hops? Hops are the flowering clusters of a plant called Humulus Lupulus and they give beer its distinctive flavour and aroma. Like grapes in wine, hops come in different varieties, each with its own characteristic. For centuries, the garden of England produced hops on an industrial scale, bringing life and prosperity to the countryside – and building on mass the oast houses seen all over Kent.

Side note: If you want to know a bit more about Kent’s oast houses, please have a read at our previous blog post.

Ok, but what do hops have to do with oast houses?

After enjoying a long summer basking in the English sunshine (in theory), hops are harvested around September. But, before they can be popped into any brews, they need to be dried. That is where the oast houses come in.

When hops are picked, they have a moisture content of 80% – which is no good for brewing. However, after an oast house has worked its magic, the amount of moisture in them goes down to a tiny 6%.

oast house history

How did a traditional oast house work?

Sitting on the ground floor of the roundel was a furnace, halfway up the tower was a slatted ceiling covered by a horsehair cloth, then above that a cone-shaped roof, and at the very top a cowl.

First, the hops were placed across the slatted ceiling. The furnace was then lit, and as the heat rose through the slatted ceiling, moisture was removed from the plants. The excess steam rose through the conical roof and out through the cowl. Not only did the cowl act as a very effective vent it was also rotated by a wind vane, ensuring that air was always circulating throughout the roundel and that the hot air had a clear path out of the oast.

Henden Manor Oast Cowl image

After the hops were deemed to be dry, they were shovelled out and placed onto the barn floor to cool. Once ready to be packed, they were pressed into large jute bags and sent to market. Just like today, brewers would not just throw any old hop into their beer so, by law, each batch was labelled with the grower’s details. This ensured that the much-loved Kentish beer would never be compromised.

As the hop growing industry in Kent declined and imported hops fell into favour, the use of oast houses declined too. Now, many of these wonderfully clever contraptions have a new lease of life as beloved homes!

Dude & Arnette are the UK’s market leader for oast cowl manufacturing, restoration and repairs. We have been the go-to family business for oast house owners since 1937.

Sue & Les Hart - Cowl

Help! Does my oast cowl need cleaning?

Since 1937, we have been cleaning oast houses across the country, both inside and out. Our specialist team can clean, paint and maintain your oast house to the highest standard, bringing joy to many more generations. So, if your oast house is looking a little drab and dated, maybe it is time to give it a clean.

Why do I need to give my oast cowls a clean?

Oast cowl cleaning can prolong the life of your oast house. Committing to a good cleaning routine for your oast is a great investment for both your oast house and your wallet.

Carrying out an oast cowl cleaning gives us the opportunity to get up close and personal with your oast, spotting potential issues before they arise and making any potential repairs both easier and cheaper!

What should you do if you think your oast cowl might be in need of cleaning? Firstly, give us a call and we will give the cowl a servicing. To avoid issues, we recommend having oast houses serviced every 5 years. This keeps them in good condition, meaning they require very little upkeep.

oast cowl on the floor in need of cleaning

Can you give my oast cowl a wash?

The way we clean your oast cowl depends on if it is a fibreglass cowl or a traditional timber one. If your cowl is made of fibreglass – safe to say, this is not our favourite material – then we can wash and clean them easily. However, we would not want to wash wooden cowls as this can cause them to rot.

In case you are thinking this sounds like fibreglass cowls are a low maintenance option, think again. We actually find these to be a false economy. In time, bolts and fixings frequently rust solid and fungi can creep under the fibreglass top surface and sometimes into the mat – making it impossible to clean the oast cowls back to white. It is worth bearing in mind that often what appears to be an oast cowl in need of a clean is actually an oast cowl in need of a refurbishment.

How do you make my oast cowl look clean again?

The cowl is truly the crowning glory on your oast house and a re-painting can give it a new lease of life. With a bright and clean cowl, your home really will be the oast with the most. Cowls are exposed to the elements 24 hours a day, experiencing the very worse the infamous British weather can throw at them. Unsurprisingly, this onslaught can leave your cowls looking weathered and dull. But, this is not just about aesthetics. Not only does painting your cowls give them a fresh and clean look, but it also ensures that they are weatherproof, stopping rot and decay.

As you would expect from a team passionate about oast restoration, our painting process stands the test of time. After drying out and restoring the wood, we apply five separate coats of beautiful high-gloss paint.

Oast cowls after being cleaned and painted

Do you need to take the oast cowl away?

Our many years spent working on oast houses has taught us that refurbishing an oast cowl properly means removing it. Repairs are much more difficult when the oast is in position, and painting properly is impossible!

Invest in the lifespan of your oast house, and get in touch with our specialist team today for a free consultation and quote.

Client Feedback: Restoring an oast cowl

Since we started in 1937, Dude and Arnette has restored hundreds of cowls around the UK. We approach every job with honesty, dedication and craftsmanship. We’re committed to making sure that our work is long-lasting and that our clients are happy with our work. Every project is approached as unique, so we can make sure we tailor our services to your exact needs.

We recently received a client testimonial and we thought we’d share it with you so you can get an idea of how we roll.

Dude and Arnette came recommended as the country’s top specialists on cowl restoration. Because of our oast’s difficult access, Darren and his team had to use the traditional way of block and tackle to remove our cowl, and what a great job they did with it.

View of two people inside a wooden oast cowl

It was delivered back to us a few weeks later like new. It was a pleasure to know that three generations were restoring our cowl and are keeping the tradition alive.

View of an oast cowl being transported to a roof

Five years later Dude and Arnette returned to spruce up and refresh our cowl. The service and standard of work were top notch yet again. We are happy to recommend the company without reservation.

Dude and Arnette Specialist holding an owl coast

Whether you’re interested in oast construction, installation or kiln roof maintenanceget in touch with our specialist oast cowl build team for a clear, honest and concise quote and we will organise a visit to your oast house at a time that suits you.

Want to see how we finish this project? Follow us on InstagramFacebook or Twitter for the latest oast updates.

Five Great Pub Walks in East Sussex

East Sussex is not short on picturesque landscapes and country pubs, and now that summer is fast approaching, there is no better time to get out there. East Sussex’s gentle rolling countryside, combined with the promise of a great country pub, could inspire even the most reluctant walker to don walking boots and a cagoule.

While the High Weald AONB (that’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in case you were wondering) might be in the London commuter belt, it is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The rolling farmland is dotted with traditional oasts and cowls so, wherever you end up, be sure to keep a lookout for some delightful oast houses.

The Playden Walk

The Playden Walk is a relatively gentle ramble is a must for oast house aficionados. Beginning and ending at Rye train station (no designated driver necessary if you all fancy a tipple), this trail meanders across fields and farmland, offering views of the picturesque Tillingham Valley.

The Playden Oasts Inn photo
Image Source: The Playden Oasts Inn

The real highlight comes approximately halfway through the walk, where a small detour brings you to the Playden Oasts. This charming inn features three oast houses topped with traditional cowls. As well as two great restaurants, the inn also offers guests the chance to stay the night at the top of an authentic oast house.

The beautifully restored building was actually run as a working oast house until the 70s. Could there be a better place to enjoy a Sunday roast and a traditional pint of English ale than this?

 

Burwash Walk

This six-mile round-robin ramble sets off from the beautiful village of Burwash. The walk kicks off with some fantastic views of the Dudwell valley before weaving its way through the medieval landscape of the valley.

Burwash walk photo by © Fraser Elliott
Image Source: Discovering Britain © Fraser Elliott

The route takes walkers through ancient woods and meadows and past many traditional structures. Want to know what the area looked like 700 years ago? Well, this walk is the one to do.

After all that exercise, enjoy a well-earned drink back at the quaint Rose and Crown Pub.

 

Eridge Walk

Beginning at the nearby Eridge train station, the Eridge country walk passes Harrison Rocks – a must for rock climbers. Remember to look out for the oast house towards the end of the route!

Photo of roast dinner by The Huntsman Pub
Image Source: The Huntsman Pub

The quaint country pub The Huntsman, in the sleepy village of Eridge, certainly packs a punch with its top-notch hearty pub food and quality real ales.

 

Catsfield & The White Hart Inn

When the sun is out, the White Hart Inn’s expansive beer garden is the perfect place to catch some rays. The captivating countryside around Catsfield offers plenty of opportunities for burning some calories – before putting them back on with a long lazy lunch.

This moderate walk begins at the White Hart Inn and takes walkers on a picturesque four-mile hike through forests and rolling countryside. View further information on the Catsfield walk.

 

Marc Cross Walk

For those who enjoy a bit more of a challenge, this walk from the village of Mark Cross should suit. The area boasts oasts and cowls aplenty and walks around here should offer the opportunity to spot many an oast house.

View of the hills around the Mark Cross Inn
Image Source: The Mark Cross Inn via Rotherfield Parish Council

All that exertion and effort deserves a reward, and the Mark Cross Inn certainly delivers. Their menu is created from seasonal and locally sourced produce and is sure to satisfy even the fussiest foodie.

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