A series that helps prospective buyers find their dream home in the country, Episode 49 sees presenter Steve Brown facing a double challenge in his home county of Kent, as he helps two sisters from London to buy a house each, albeit with different budgets and requirements…
Recent storms have caused havoc across some areas in the country due to strong winds, rain and sleet affecting many oast house owners’ properties. If your cowl has stopped turning, you’ve noticed tiles are missing or your oast roof has been damaged, it might be worth having our expert team check them for safety and peace of mind.
The Dude & Arnette team were pleased to be asked to share some of our oast house knowledge with Patrick Grattan for his book Oast and Hop Kilns A History.
This wonderful book was released at the end of last year and is a must-read for anyone with an interest in oast houses – which if you are reading this blog is probably you!
What’s it about?
This book is the very first comprehensive account of the 400-year history of oasts and hop kilns in England. While we in Kent and Sussex know them as oast houses, in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Surrey and Hampshire they were more commonly called hop kilns. Alongside a thorough retelling of the hop history of these three distinct regions of England, the book also takes a comparative look at hop drying buildings in Continental Europe and the USA.
By the late 19th century there were a massive 8,000 oast houses dotted throughout the English countryside. Oast houses and hop kilns are a distinctive feature of our beautiful Kent countryside – and other hop growing areas – and their history is interwoven with the history of Kent. They have played a major role in shaping the area and making it the county we see today. In short, the history of oast houses is the history of Kent.
Patrick’s comprehensive research was gathered from surviving buildings, books, archives and local lore – and of course some expert advisors (if we do say so ourselves).
The book contains 250 illustrations of oast houses and their machinery, including an illustration of Dude & Arnette’s workshop! The book also features some great images of oast houses and their surrounding landscapes.
Five tips for getting your oast cowls ready for the year ahead
Get 2022 off to the best start by making sure that your oast house is ready for whatever the new year brings. Now that the festive season is done and dusted, it is time to get your oast house ready for the coming year. Good maintenance is essential to keep your oast house looking fabulous but it can also save you serious time, effort (and money!) in the long term.
To make sure your oast cowls are looking their best this year:
Check the paint
There is nothing nicer than a freshly painted bright white oast cowl. If yours is looking weatherbeaten and drab then it might be time for a refresh. This is especially important if the paint is starting to peel off. A repaint is not just about aesthetics, it can prevent costly repairs down the line. If you would like to know more about how we clean a cowl, take a look at our oast cowl cleaning tips for some valuable insights.
Listen out for strange squeaking sounds
Spend a little time listening to your oast cowl for any odd noises. If you hear any high-pitched squeaking noises, that’s your oast cowl crying out for some attention! Jokes aside, this can be a sign of something more serious so give us a call and we will come and take a look for you.
Keep an ear out for banging noises
Banging is another sound of an oast cowl in despair. A banging noise should never be ignored. This must be checked as it could be damaging to the whole roof and the oast cowl. Basically, if it doesn’t sound normal then it should not be ignored.
Check for holes
Get up close and personal with your oast cowl and see if you can spot anything that doesn’t look quite right. If you see any holes then it might be time to get them down for a refurbishment as they can potentially become dangerous. Don’t be daunted by the thought of taking the oast cowl off, it is much simpler to refurb them once they are off the roof and as with most things prevention is always better than a cure (especially for your wallet!)
Check that the oast is turning
An oast cowl needs to turn, that’s why it is there. So an oast cowl that is refusing to do a turn might be trying to tell you something. If you notice that your oast cowl is not moving, or not turning as and when you would expect then it is probably time to get us up there to figure out what is going on and to free it. This is definitely something you should tackle sooner rather than later as if the oast cowl stops turning you may find that you start to get water in your home. If you want to learn more about why oast cowls were designed to turn in the wind, then check out our previous blog to get an insight into what is an oast house and how it works.
Don’t wait until it’s too late
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.
The tree is up, the shopping is done and the mulled wine is on the stove – And for many of us, it is finally time for a well-earned break! But whether you have the whole time off, you are working over the ‘in-between-mass’, or even on the big day itself, there are lots of uniquely Kentish ways to embrace the Christmas spirit this year.
Enjoy a pint of Christmas Kentish Ale (or two!)
Now we are not saying that last-minute Christmas madness has driven you to drink – but is there any better excuse than the festive season to have a tipple or two? (is three too many?) So this year, vanquish the vino, put aside the prosecco and opt for a taste of our local Kentish ale instead.
Until the 2nd of January the ‘Loveliest Castle’ in the world is well and truly wrapped in Christmas spirit. The theme this year is the ‘12 days of Christmas’ and to celebrate this 12 unique artworks have been placed in prime locations across the estate. Inside, the castle itself will be dressed with beautiful Christmas decor. Christmas at the Castle runs until the 2nd of January.
Step out for a wonderful wintery walk
Unsurprisingly the ‘garden of England’ has no shortage of idyllic hikes and stunning scenery. And we all know that the cracking Kent countryside is made even more perfect if you can spot some of our county’s iconic oasts along the way. The best area for oast spotting is probably the High Weald, and luckily this area is also a great option for a wintery wander – and perhaps more importantly there are lots of options for a pint at the end. It is Christmas after all!
Don’t be discouraged by the wintery weather, these stunning views are only made better by a crunchy covering of frost. As Billy Connolly says ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.’
Leave 2021 behind (I am sure we all want to do that right now!) and travel back in time to the 1900s to enjoy an Edwardian Christmas. Inside the castle, everything is exactly as the Hussey family (the original residents) would have experienced.
Meanwhile, outside the castle, Percy the Park Keeper and his friends are encouraging visitors to join them on a winter activity trail around the castle grounds (perfect if you have kids!). Christmas at Scotney Castle runs until the 3rd of January.
You need to be quick for this one! Until Christmas Eve Santa and his reindeer have taken up residence at the Reindeer Centre. Children get to meet Santa in his Christmas cabin before taking a walk through his magical grotto. There are then lots of opportunities to feed the reindeer – along with a host of other animals. For obvious reasons – Christmas Eve is a pretty big night for the main man – this only runs until the afternoon of the 24th.
Interested in local traditions and heritage? So are we.
Fitting conventional furnishings into a circular room – like a converted oast house roundel – can feel a bit like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. It seems like furniture makers rarely think outside the square box and almost everything is designed to fit against straight walls and 90-degree corners. But while decorating an oast’s curved rooms is never easy, the results are always worth the effort. To get you inspired we’ve put together five tips to get you started:
1. Goodbye frames, hello murals
Curved walls and framed pictures are not a match made in heaven. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t adorn your oast roundel walls with exciting artwork. Decorative decals are a great alternative to framed images and they work great on curved surfaces. If you have any artistic talent (or know someone that does) consider painting some unique designs onto the wall yourself. You could give the room a personal twist with a dramatic mural or paint some understated wallpaper-inspired designs.
Pro tip: If you are still keen to hang some framed art, then go for long narrow frames rather than square ones. Or if you are happy without pictures but feel that your room is still missing something then choose some bold or colourful curtains as a way of adding some drama to the walls.
Embrace the appealing circular shape of your room by adding a circular focal point. If you are using your roundel as a dining area then add a round dining table in the centre of the room. If this is a seating area then a round coffee table. You can also add round soft furnishings like a circular rug to emphasise the room shape.
3. Avoid an enclosed feeling by painting the walls a light colour
Small round rooms can sometimes feel a little closed in. Using a light colour scheme to paint your circular walls will enhance their sense of space.
Contrast is key in design and oast houses often have exposed beams and woodwork. The contrast of woodwork against light colours will provide a calming, rustic effect to your unique home.
4. Consider adding some custom-made furniture
As with any curved wall, standard furniture, even curved furniture, is probably never going to be an exact fit – so how about investing in some custom made fitted pieces? Nowadays you can source some amazing pieces from local makers and independent artists that would give your space a meaningful touch – a great way to support local talent and heritage.
5. Add interesting lighting
Lighting can definitely transform how we experience a room, and curved walls offer a great opportunity for some atmospheric lighting. Wall lights are great in a round room, as the wall will pleasantly difuse the light. If you are after a more dramatic effect, a large pendant light hanging from the centre of the room will accentuate the pleasant circular shape of the room.
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.
Interested in local traditions and heritage? So are we!
Hops have been grown in Sussex for around 500 years, meaning that oast houses have been a key feature of the Sussex landscape for half a millennia!
Our nation’s love of beer all started at Sussex’s Winchelsea harbour around the 1400s as the first recorded imports of hopped beer began arriving on British soil. This beer typically came from the Netherlands and Belgium and the flavourful imported beer gradually became the tipple of choice for many, not least because it lasted a lot longer and was often stronger than the local brew.
Hop growing soon took off across Sussex and Kent and the traditional English ale, which relied on herbs and spices to give it flavour, was mostly replaced by this new hopped beer. The demand for hopped beer only increased in the following centuries and by the 1700s London was regularly producing over a million barrels a year of the much-loved drink. Hop production in Sussex hit its peak during the 19th century, and records show that in 1835 a substantial 11,380 acres of Sussex countryside had been devoted to the growing of hops. And all that hop growing and subsequent drying would have meant a lot of oast house building!
Great Dixter in East Sussex offers visitors a taste of what a traditional working oast house would have felt like. Their renovated 500-year-old Great Barn and its adjoining oast houses offer a glimpse into the county’s past. The current oast house was built in the 1890s – sadly nothing remains of the original oast house – and the dates of the yearly hop drying seasons, from 1892 through to 1938, are still scrawled on the wooden joists.
The majority of oast houses in Sussex are scattered around the High Weald AONB. One of the best ways to explore the area is by bike. The Oasts and Orchards cycle route winds its way through the undulating East Sussex countryside and past the area’s famous oast houses. The bright white cowls are an impressive feature of the landscape and give you a good sense of what this area would have looked like when it was in its hop growing heyday.
Hop growing has declined in Sussex and many of the county’s original oast houses have been converted into homes, businesses and tourist attractions, but hop growing and brewing still remain a quintessential part of Sussex industry. In the past few years numerous microbreweries have popped up across the county and incredibly in 2005, a new hop was discovered growing wild in one of the county’s hedgerows – the aptly named Sussex.
Hopefully, you caught our recent TV appearance on Channel 4’s new tv series: Great British Home Restoration with Charlie Luxton, but in case you didn’t, you can still see us in action on Channel 4’s catch-up service More4. And for those who share our love for history and heritage, we’ve put together a case study with a bit more insights into the project, which we hope you enjoy. Here it goes:
First, a bit of background
When home restorer Hazel took on the challenge of turning her dilapidated oast house into an idyllic new home, we were lucky enough to be chosen for this incredible challenge.
After decades of living in her large farmhouse, it was time for 79-year-old Hazel and her beloved dog Lucy to downsize. And she had her sights on a new home – literally. Just a stone’s throw from her farmhouse lay a little-used oast house that was a shadow of its former self.
With the support of her friend Glyn and lots of enthusiasm from her builder Stu, Hazel began to restore this little piece of Kent’s heritage.
When host and architectural designer Charlie Luxton arrived at the oast, it was clear that this was going to be a big challenge. The oast house had lost its signature cone-shaped roofs, the 146-year-old brickwork was crumbling and it was far from habitable.
The plan was to strip out the entire interior of the building and add two new floors to the cooling barn – one housing the living and kitchen area, the second a bedroom and office. The roundels would house stairs to the upper floor and a lounge and a spare bedroom.
Adding the roof
As the new interior took shape, and it was time to start work on the roundels’ roofs – which thanks to their conical shape is less than straightforward. Enter Dude & Arnette.
The roofs are constructed by adding a ring of cement and sand on top of the roundel and then placing a wooden roof plate on top. This must be completely level to ensure the roof does not lean. A challenge given the old, uneven brickwork.
Once completed, four wooden rafters connected with cross braces are added. On top of this, a wooden ring is placed and then many more rafters are added in to give the roof its iconic conical shape. The cone is then covered with felt and tiled.
Again the cone shape poses a challenge when tiling. Darren and team use traditional handmade Kent peg tiles to tile the new roof. Following the techniques perfected over almost a century in business, the team get to work adding the tiles. They use squares and tapers so that any tiles that begin to drift downhill are swung back into position by the taper. Then every fifth row some cement is added to ensure that once they are in position they are not coming off – regardless of the weather! As Charlie says ‘tiling the exterior of the roof takes great skill and craftsmanship’.
Four weeks later and Darren and builder Stu complete the roof and Hazel’s new home is beginning to resemble its original mid 19th-century self.
Creating the cowls
The last stage of the build is to add the oast’s crowning glory, its white pointed cowls.
Each cowls rests on a long wooden pole that lets it rotate a full 360 degrees. When the wind blows the cowl always has its back to the breeze. This simple and traditional design still works perfectly today.
Here at Dude & Arnette we still make cowls by hand the traditional way. And that sense of tradition is not only seen in the techniques used, Darren still has his ancestors original toolbag!
Every cowl that comes through the doors of Darren’s workshop have their own tale to tell. A great example is the layer of green paint often discovered while refurbishing old cowls This layer immediately tells the team any cowl they are dealing with is at least 70 years old. During the second world war, cowls were coated in camouflaging green paint to stop them being used as landmarks for the Lufftwaffe.
Adding the cowls
The arrival of the cowls is a landmark moment in the restoration. First, a 22-foot rotating pole that the cowl will be fitted onto, is fixed into place. Then comes the nerve-racking part of the process for everyone watching. Cowls can weigh a whopping 220kgs and the ones going on top of Hazel’s roundels needed to be lifted 20 metres into the air. Not only that, but just as the crane arrived the wind picked up (eeeek!).
As Hazel watched in anticipation, one cowl made its way safely onto the roof and placed onto the waiting roundel. Soon followed by the second one.
The final step is to add the bespoke fingers – one with a motif of a dog, to reflect Hazel’s love of dogs and one featuring a cow to represent the farm’s history. Finally, after 50 years the oast house has been returned to its former glory.
To sign off the job, Darren hands Hazel her cowl service book. But this is no boring pile of papers. Based on an old tally stick that would have been used as hop pickers as a way of counting how many bushels had been picked, this piece of wood can now be used to record the history of Hazel’s new cowls.
Now the interior has been completed, Hazel and Lucy are well and truly settled and enjoying life in their wonderful piece of English heritage.
If you are fascinated by British heritage and love a good ‘before and after’ transformation you’re in for a treat. Last week Channel 4 launched a brand new series with Charlie Luxton called Great British Home Restoration, a tv programme following couples and families that transform historic buildings into their ultimate dream homes… and guess who’s done one of the restorations? yours truly! Here’s the promo video, can you spot us?
Don’t miss this opportunity to see Dude & Arnette in action simply tune into More4 (Channel4 on demand) on Sunday 1st August, 9pm to watch our episode where we turn an oast house into a dream home!
With international travel still up in the air (or well and truly grounded), there has never been a better time for a staycation. And perhaps the one benefit of lockdown has been discovering the unique gems that are right on our doorstep. You don’t have to travel far to experience some truly unique holidays and if you are looking for a trip with a difference then a stay in an oast house might be just what you are looking for.
There are oast houses aplenty in Kent and Sussex and no shortage of holiday accommodation, but we have picked three potential properties to kick off your holiday home hunt.
Set on farmland amidst rolling countryside this one-bedroom holiday home provides the perfect romantic getaway. Northium is located near the Kent/Sussex border in the High Weald. This medieval landscape is famous for its rolling hills, forests, and, of course, its oast houses. No matter where you walk in this area, it probably won’t be too long before you see an oast cowl rising up from the landscape.
As well as enjoying scenic hikes along the ancient route ways, there is also the option of exploring nearby Great Dixter House and Gardens and Bodium Castle.
Going on holiday needn’t mean leaving behind those furrier family members. With a garden onsite and plenty of countryside and beaches nearby, this is a great option for holidaying hounds – and their owners.
The house is within easy reach of the Cinque Port market town of Tenterden and picturesque Rye.
After all that exploring, you will need a drink. But luckily the property is also a short hop from the Chapel Down vineyard.
If lockdown has left you with the urge to splurge on some much-needed R&R, then this might the oast for you. Sat on the edge of the High Weald and within easy reach of the coast, this is in a great location. Not that you would want to go anywhere. Because this really is the oast with the most.
This grade II listed roundel house has been immaculately restored, both inside and out and its grounds include a heated swimming pool and a boating lake.
Would you like to know more about oast houses? Here are some useful articles to get you started!