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.

Curious about what we do? Follow us on InstagramFacebook or Twitter and watch us in action.

5 Helpful tips for oast cowl maintenance

Here at Dude & Arnette we know looking after oast cowls is a serious crafty business. And if you don’t do much to maintain them… well, a costly one. Our expert team uses traditional building and maintaining methods (perfected over 4 generations) to weatherproof and protect your roof and ensure your roof is tip top!

To help you get an idea of what’s required to maintain your oast cowl we’ve put together 5 recommendations:

1. Get them serviced every year

It might seem obvious, but we’d suggest having your oast cowl serviced every year. This is to avoid it from collapsing due to damage caused by weather conditions. Lucky for you, with Dude & Arnette you’ll be in safe hands. Our specialist team can strip and re-tile all types of kiln roofs, including brick and wooden, round or square roofs, making sure your roof is weatherproof. We can also replace ironwork and lead work for kiln tops, and craft bespoke kiln guttering. Phew!

2. Have them down every 5 years to avoid as many repairs

Repairs can be costly, so avoid leaving it too late by having the cowls down for a check-up every five years. This will help you get an idea of the state of the cowl and avoid potentially costly problems that can develop with the wood- and iron-work due to weather conditions. Prevention is key, folks.

3. Always get the oast cowls down to refurbish

After we’ve assessed your oast cowl we bring them down using scaffolding or a crane, which is usually a fast and hassle-free process. We also cap the building securely to protect against the weather and any would-be nesting wildlife. Once the cowl is down, we sand it, remove all moisture from the wood before any paint work or repairs take place. If you want more detailed information of our step by step process, read how our cowl repairs work.

Old cowl coming off

4. Check the top of the oast roofs when the oast cowls are off

It is as important to check the cowls as it is to check the top of the oast roofs. In some cases, where the cowls have been severely damaged, it may be more cost-effective to build a new traditional wooden cowl rather than carry out all of the repairs needed. If we feel that this is best, we will always advise clients in advance and discuss the options.

5. Banging or squeaking? Get your oast cowl serviced ASAP

If you hear any banging or squeaking coming from your roof we recommend you contact us as soon as you can to prevent any damage or water coming in.

If you are interested in our oast cowl maintenance services please get in touch today for a no obligation visit and we’ll organise a time to meet with you and assess your roof.

Curious about what we do? Follow us on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and watch us in action.

Filming an oast cowl construction with Channel 4

The guys from Channel 4 love a good oast cowl construction. Back in 2017 they featured us in their Village of the Year programme showcasing the history of oast cowls and Kent peg tiles. This time, they approached us to film the construction of an oast house a from start to finish. This is part of a programme that will showcase the build of different traditional buildings, each one being different and unique (a church, a windmill). With faces most definitely made for television, who were we to deny the public this experience?

They were particularly interested in watching us build the two oast house roundels (the roof) and the two oast cowls. As highly trained craftsmen and a fourth-generation family business, we know this process very well. We restore and rebuild oast houses and oast cowls from scratch and over the years, we have worked on all types of oast houses across the country, including buildings listed with local heritage departments.

Building an oast owl from scratch

We started the construction by pitching the two oast roofs known as roundels. We then used Tyvek (flash spun high-density polyethene fibres) to weather each kiln. After that, we used counter batten up each rafter, so that when we lathed the kiln it could hold the tile nails away from the Tyvek preventing holes. We then made onto the counter baton to work out where every row of tiles had to go so that they were evenly spread up the kiln and weathering one another.

oast cowl construction  Oast cowl structure being put together  oast construction filming

Going onto the makes we added the lath, which is wood that’s run out really thin and therefore gives us an opportunity to bend it and pin it around the roof. The lath also serves as a base for the tiles. We used tapered and square tiles as due to their shape they’re able to go around the roof without running downhill. Once the tiles were on with lead and fibreglass, the top was ready for the oast cowl.

Preparing tiles for oast construction  oast construction tiles . oast cowls built in the warehouse

The last step of the process is to add the oast cowl on top, which we are in the process of putting on so watch this space for the final snaps!

Whether you’re interested in oast construction, installation or kiln roof maintenance, get 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 Instagram, Facebook or Twitter for the latest oast updates.

Oast cowl repairs by hand

We’ve always worked with our hands here at Dude & Arnette, some of us used to be mechanics, some started working on oasts early raising cowls up by hand using pulleys and poles. We like getting stuck in, but there are lots of other reason why investing in a true craftsman for your oast cowl repairs is important.

How often should I have my oast refurbished?

Looking after your oast is important, it can preserve the life of your oast and save replacement.  Oasts ideally should be refurbished every five to six years so any rotten or broken wood can be repaired before causing a larger problem.  If we carried out the original repair work, it may be a little longer. From start to finish, a standard cowl refurbishment typically takes around four weeks.

oast cowl repairs    finishing oast cowl repairs a before shot of oast cowl repairs

Why should I have my oast cowl repairs done by hand?

Oast refurbishment is a detailed process. We carefully strip down the oast by sanding it – removing all the paint from the boards. This allows us to see any wear or water damage. The cowl then gets placed in a special drying room to remove any moisture from the wood before we begin repair work. Depending on the cowl’s condition, this may include meticulously replacing or repairing boards, heads, mainframe or curb, our expert craftsmen know exactly how to repair any problems with minimal disruption to the structure of the original cowl.

A critical stage is the re-painting, we still paint the cowls by hand, the shape of the cowl means it’s almost impossible to get good, solid coverage by spraying. And we do five coats for optimum appearance and weatherproofing. Something we are committed to always doing by hand.

What have you changed?

We keep up to date with the very latest technology and quality when it comes to paint and wood treatment.  Using cutting edge primer, undercoats and finishes leaves you fully weatherproofed and prevents any potentially costly problems developing with the wood- and iron-work.

Make sure to follow us on Instagram or Facebook to see what we’re up to in the new year, or get in touch to chat about your oast refurbishment needs.

Oast House Restoration

It’s that time of year when those of us lucky enough to live in a period property are warming our feet by a large open fire. But period properties are hard work. Fact. They require tender, loving care, and a fair measure of expertise. It takes bravery and commitment to take on an oast house restoration and we’re always inspired by the clients we work with.

This month we spoke to Ecclesiastical and World Heritage Magazine about Richard and Jane Horobin’s project, two great examples of the bravery we admire. They transformed the Grade II listed Lydens Farmhouse, near Hever in Kent into a family home. And what a spot to work – with views over the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Committed to Kent’s history

What we liked about the Horobin’s was their commitment to preserving the historical features of the property. Which, luckily for us meant working with only the finest oast house experts in Kent! They meticulously used local joiners, bricklayers and other tradesmen when they could. For example, they used locally sourced oak to replace the original rotten timbers. And Tudor Roof Tiles (traditional clay Kent Peg tiles) that give an authentic, natural finish than modern tiles.

The historical building had no record or clues of how it used to look. That’s where our generations of experience came in. From the diameter of the roundel base, we knew exactly the height and style of oast cowl to build to be true to Kent’s history.

A year of oast house restoration

As the year draws to a close we’re so proud of our team and the oast house projects we’ve worked on across Kent, Herefordshire and Sussex. Thank you from us all for being amazing customers and we’re excited to working with you all in 2019.

Make sure to follow us on Instagram or Facebook to see what we’re up to in the new year, or get in touch to chat about your oast restoration needs.

 

 

Kent’s Oast history

Designed for the drying of hops, an oast (or oast house) is an essential part of Kent history. Kent was famed for its hop-growing, and the demand for somewhere safe to dry (kiln) the hops for the thirsty brewers was high.

How did an oast house work?

Green hops were picked in the hop gardens (for a set price per bushel), however when freshly picked they had a moisture content of 80% – this needed to be reduced all the way down to 6% to be any use for the all-important brewing.

Traditional Kent oast houses were two or three storeys high with diagonally slatted floors (stowage). Hops were strewn out across these thin drying floors and heated from below – the slats allowed the heat to gently rise through them decreasing the moisture content.

Topped by anywhere between one and eight circular kilns, the oast cowls that we so lovingly construct and restore provided ventilation for the hot air from the wood or charcoal fires below to escape. They were cleverly designed to swing away from the prevailing wind and therefore create a vacuum that kept hot air being drawn through the slatted floors above.

The hops were then left to cool before being bagged up into large jute sacks called ‘pockets’ with a hop press. Each pocket contained about 150 bushels of green hops! Most importantly, the pocket had to be marked with the grower’s details. The brewers at the market would want to know for certain, where their hops were coming from, as they were used in their breweries to add distinct flavour and character to the Kent beers we know and love.

A history respected

Starting our business in 1937 it’s no wonder we know these oast and oast cowls inside out. We are really proud of our part in maintaining this important part of Kent life. If you want to see a traditional oast house in Kent, one of the best preserved is The Hop Farm Country Park at Beltring. Famous for having the world’s largest collection of Victorian Oast Houses it has been our honour to work on this project.

If you have any questions about oast houses in Kent then get in touch.

Toasting a busy summer

We’ve had a wonderful summer here at Dude & Arnette, from press interviews celebrating craftsmanship to maintaining our much-loved oast cowl project Hop Farm and constructing brand new kiln roofs and oasts in Sussex. We couldn’t have done any of it without our hard-working team.

Kent Life Magazine

Our very own Dude was also interviewed for Kent Life Magazine’s piece – 4 Kent Craftspeople: from blacksmith to woodcarver. It was an honour to feature alongside fellow traditional businesses including bespoke woodcarving, spinning, and a blacksmith. What we all have in common is a passion for bespoke work, attention to detail and respect for traditional tools and techniques. So thanks to Kent Life Magazine for showcasing true craftspeople like ourselves.

Dude and Arnette Kent life Magazine
photo: Manu Palomeque

Traditional oast cowl construction

We’ve been on the ground on many sites doing not just restoration but complete oast cowl construction. We wanted to give you a look at the care, commitment and dedication to the craft you only get with a company with over 70 years of experience. You can follow us on Instagram or Facebook to watch us in action. See below some of the painstaking tasks of completing a new kiln roof, timber work, and the blacking phase. We’ve been lucky with the weather and have been enjoying some great views across the Sussex countryside.

 

Ecclesiastical and Heritage World Magazine

We were also featured in Ecclesiastical and Heritage World Magazine last month. The oast cowl styles standing proudly atop traditional oast houses can be spotted across the Sussex, Kent and Hereford & Worcestershire countryside. Each county has a unique style that is stuck to and we love how these styles tell a story about our countryside’s history and are very much a part of our heritage, so we were delighted to be featured.

Autumn shows no signs of slowing down, but we work year-round and now’s the perfect time to prepare your roof and oast cowl for winter, so get in touch to chat about your needs.