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.

Oast House Holidays

Yearning for a ye olde English holiday in the countryside? Somewhere to kick off your Birkenstocks and relax in front of the fire, with a couple of faithful pooches by your side? Well, you’ve come to the right place, as we also happen to enjoy those things and have done the hard work in finding a selection of beautiful locations that fit the idyllic country theme perfectly. And what’s more, the accommodations are all converted oast houses! But you knew that was coming didn’t you… Here’s our selection of the best oast house holidays in and around Kent and Sussex…

The apple of Kent’s eye

The historic village of Appledore can trace its history back to Viking times when it was a bustling port. Nowadays, things have quieted down and it provides locals and visitors alike with a quaint English feel, scenic countryside and of course – The Black Lion pub. We have actually restored the cowls on the Hop Pickers Oast guest house (pictured) so we can vouch for just how stunning the location is!

The High Weald – an area of outstanding natural beauty is nearby and provides plenty of opportunity for lazy rambles, or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous – mountain biking. If the sun shines, make sure to pack up your beach bags and head to the endless Camber Sands near historic Rye – but get up early to secure your space on the beach…

Where to stay?

Converted oast house

The Hop Pickers Oast

Gory history and sparkling wines in Sedlescombe

If you’re looking for an oast house holiday with plenty of local history, the village of Sedlescombe could be the perfect spot. You’ll be just a short hop from the historic site of the Battle of Hastings which was fought in 1066 between the Norman-French and English armies. The whole family are sure to enjoy the gory details of the fight, and there’s plenty of museums dedicated to the event. Children will love the old Smugglers Caves located in the West Hill area of the town and the tourist attraction allows you to explore the winding labyrinth – but expect a few surprises along the way!

Wine buffs are sure to enjoy Sedlescombe and for a special treat, why not book a tour and tasting of the local vineyard who create award-winning sparkling wines.

Where to stay?

The Oast House, Sedlescombe

sedlescombe-vineyard-via secret escapes
Image – Sedlescombe Vineyard via Secret Escapes

Heading back in time in Newenden, Kent

The hamlet of Newenden was first documented in history in AD 791 and there is pre-Roman fort in the near hillside which could indicate settlement even before this date. The parish church of St Peter has an original Saxon carving which is an attraction to visitors in itself! In the 16th century there were no less than 16 public houses located in the village, but understandable only one now remains – The White Hart, which is popular for both a pint of local ale and home cooked pub grub.

Close by is the Medieval Bodiam Castle, accessible both by road and via a boat trip from the Newenden bridge in the village. This 14th century moated castle is well worth a visit and although the interior has been destroyed by the various wars over the years, the exterior rises proudly from the water, flanked by acres of manicured grounds.

Where to stay?

The Oast – holiday cottage in Newenden

Bodiam Castle via Days out with the Kids
Image – Bodiam Castle via Days out with the Kids

Get in touch and tell us about any memories of oast house holidays.

All hail the Tally Man!

Not a phrase you hear often these days, but get ready ladies and gents as we’re taking things old skool, bringing back one of the ancient traditions of working Oast Houses.
The Tally stick is back.

Original Tally Man

 

If you’re not familiar with the term then let us enlighten you. In the early 1900s, a ‘Tally Man’ would visit the Oast Houses and note down the amount of hops they were picking and brewing, and mark this on a tally stick.

“The ‘tally man’ came round at intervals during the day, when the hops would be measured out by the tally and recorded for each family. They were then transferred to the oast house in huge ‘pokes’ known as ‘green bags’, each containing 12 bushels, by horse-drawn farm wagons. Pickers were paid by the bushel and an average pick would be 25 bushels a day. One shilling (5p) per bushel is the highest pay recorded and for many years it was only eight old pence.”

[source: Faversham Hop Festival]

At the end of the picking season he would then exchange the tally stick for tokens which could be redeemed by the grower for goods such as new clothes and boots. Designing elaborate hop tokens became something of a competition between hop growers, and they are much sought after by local museums.

The Tally Stick process was later replaced by hop picker books, but not ones to let a good tradition go, we at Dude and Arnette have crafted our very own tally sticks which we use to record services on the Oast Houses we restore and revamp on across the country. We then leave the stick with the Oast House owners and it serves as a handy reminder of when we last visited and reminds them, and whoever takes over the property to keep their cowls in top condition!

Dude & Arnette Tally stick

Our team are passionate about the history behind hops, and being in the business since 1937 it’s important to us to bring some of the old history back to life whenever we can! So next time you visit an Oast House, ask to see their Tally Stick – and if they don’t have one? Send them our way!

6 Great Kent Pub Walks

There can’t be many more pastimes as British as whacking the wellies on and striding off with the family in tow in search of an invigorating walk, ending of course in a traditional country boozer. Here in Kent, we’re lucky enough to have plenty of public footpaths to explore and even more pubs to end up in. Kent pub walks are perfect for a Sunday when the lure of a Roast is sure to ignite the interest of even the most reluctant rambler…

Here’s our choice of where to end up, and a rough guide* to how to get there. Don’t forget to spot the oast houses on route! *We can’t be held responsible for any lost and hungry walkers…

The Goudhurst Inn

Goudhurst is a pretty village, known for being one of the highest locations in Kent. The countryside surrounding the village is sprinkled with Oast houses, so no surprises we put it top of our list! The Goudhurst Inn is located in the Hush Heath Estate which is famous for its production of English wine and cider, and the pub even has rooms upstairs should you overindulge in the apple nectar and need a reviving snooze. There’s a great AA 3 mile walk which spans the village and offers fantastic views of the Weald – highly recommended for a sunny day!

oast houses on Kent pub walks

Credit: Tunbridge Wells Online

The Hare, Langton Green

Royal Tunbridge Wells is one of the most popular Kent towns, with plenty of shops, entertainment for families and even the Ivy Restaurant chain have landed in the High Street. Head just a few miles out of the centre and you’ll find the pretty village of Langton Green. A classic English pub with a huge garden, it’s the perfect location to park up and head out for a stroll before enjoying a hearty meal. We’ve found a scenic 4 mile walk which begins from The Hare and takes you on a circular ramble which passes through the majestic Groombridge Place with it’s 200 acres of manicured land.

Credit: DOUK

The Tiger Inn, Stowting

Priding themselves on a menu curated around fresh, local and organic produce, the Tiger Inn is a firm favourite with both locals and visitors to the village of Stowling. Log burning fires and being surrounded by picturesque Kentish scenery makes the Tiger a great base for a stroll, and we’re ramping things up a little with a brisk 9 miler, which will certainly stoke your appetite for a meal after!

Credit: Walks and Walking

The Dove Inn, Dargate

If cycling is more your bag, may we suggest taking a trip to Dargate, where you can begin your ride from the popular Dove Inn and explore the nearby Victory wood and the hamlets of Hernhill, Yorkletts and Boughton. Eating at the Dove Inn is a real treat, and they do a mean pizza – perfect for post-exercise carb-fest.

Credit: Mobile Food Guide

The Rock at Chiddingstone Hoath

A Grade II 16th century pub, built in 1520 and boasting a wealth of original features and Inglenook fireplace, The Rock Inn is a local favourite. Located in the small hamlet of Chiddingstone Hoath, there’s often more horses than motors in the car park due to to the rural area! History buffs will be in their element as the walk we recommend takes in the historic sites of Hever, Penshurst place and Chiddingstone itself, not to mention oodles of Oasts – all in just 4.5 miles!

Credit: Tripadvisor

The Greyhound at Charcott, Tonbridge

Under relatively new management, The Greyhound offers light pub food using locally sourced ingredients and a friendly atmosphere for locals and visitors alike. There’s plenty to explore in this beautiful part of the Kent countryside, but if you’d like to incorporate a touch of history and literature into your ramble, why not try the ‘Jane Austen & Tonbridge Walk’ which takes in the family connections of the famous author, and also visits Tonbridge Castle. The pub is a short drive from Tonbridge and the perfect location to discuss your adventure over a cold pint.

Credit: The Greyhound

Get in touch and let us know if we’ve missed any of your favourite Kent pub walks.

Featured on: Village of the year 2017

The word village conjures up nostalgic images of cobbled streets, thatched cottages, local boozers and of course, Oast Houses. Being the UK’s leading experts in all things Oast, when Channel 4 launched their search for the Village of the Year 2017 they came to us to learn the history of oast cowls and Kent Peg Tiles. With faces most definitely made for television, who were we to deny the public this education?

 

Off to Goudhurst we went and filmed a live and unscripted interview which was both terrifying and a great experience in equal measures. During the interview, our main man, Darren explained the history behind Dude & Arnette and also why we advocate the use of Tudor Roof Tiles in oast cowl refurbishment. These traditional peg tiles are handmade in Kent using methods which combine age-old craftsmanship with advanced firing techniques. The process ensures each tile has its own unique colour and character and most importantly, allows the oast roof to continue to retain its authentic appearance. We install these ourselves, but when we are in need of assistance we often call upon award-winning Kent Peg Tiling company, Karl Terry who are specialists in restoring the roofs of heritage properties.

 

Village of the Year is presented by the legend and actress that is Penelope Keith, who also featured in Channel 4’s popular ‘Britain’s Hidden Villages’ series. Penelope has spent most of 2017 scouring the length and breadth of Britain to discover the most scenic and interesting villages, rating them across a range of categories;

  • Appearance
  • History & Heritage
  • Village Events
  • Activities
  • Visitor Experience

 

The winning village will receive £10,000 towards a worthwhile community project. Make sure to keep an eye out for us when the show airs on the 23rd January let us know what you think!

In the meantime, we’re off to practise our BAFTA speech…

Our favourite Kent & Sussex Craft Beers – perfect for a festive pint.

It’s not a secret that after a hard day’s work at Dude & Arnette HQ, we’re partial to a craft beer tipple, especially around the festive season. Pop a bit of Michael Bublé on the gramophone, and that’s our kind of party.

Traditionally, Oast Houses were designed for kilning (drying) hops as part of the brewing process so you could say we’ve got the amber nectar running through our veins (in more ways than one).

 

With the majority of Oast Houses located in Kent and Sussex, it’s no wonder that these regions are famed for their microbrewed craft beers, and in the spirit of Christmas, we’ve put together our favourites that we’ll be supping throughout the festivities.

The Canterbury Ales (Kent)

Hohoho and a Merry Christmas – could this be the best name in the brewing world? The Canterbury Ales have been making craft beers since 2010, and in 2014 their ‘Merchant’s Ale’, a 4% mild stout, was judged by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) to be not just the best beer in Kent, but the best beer in the South East of England! Their popular ‘Mosaic Gold’ is back for a limited time only for Christmas so get in quick…

Caterbury Beers

Larkins Brewery (Kent)

Specialising in traditional Kentish-style real ales, Larkins is a family run brewery based in the idyllic village of Chiddingston. Using only hops from the on site farm, they produce 3 traditional beers (Traditional, Pale and Best Bitter) alongside two guest brews which change with the seasons. Available on tap in many of the independent pubs in Kent.

Larkins Brewery

Mad Cat Brewery (Kent)

Crazy name, kooky branding and delicious in taste, the Mad Cat Brewery are based in Faversham, where they’ve set up a microbrewery at Brogdale Farm. They’re on a mission to create something that will send your taste buds into ecstasy, and in their own words ‘if you want taste and flavour and a genuinely delicious experience then welcome to Mad Cat Brewery and the craft beer revolution’. With a range of ‘keepers’ and a couple of seasonal ales available, we’ll be enjoying a pint of ‘Santa Paws’ (4.5%) this Christmas.

Mad Cat

Long Man Brewery (Sussex)

Tucked away on Church Farm in the hamlet of Litlington (near Alfriston) the Long Man Brewery derived their name from nearby popular walking attraction, ‘The Long Man of Wilmington’. In August their brew, ‘Old Man’ was declared ‘World’s Best Dark Mild Beer 2017’ at the World Beer Awards. When moving into the farm they discovered that a document written in 1538 stated that Church Farm House had a ‘brew-house chamber’ as a part of the premises, so it’s safe to say there’s been plenty of ale through the ages, and Head Brewer, Jamie and his team are keen to continue the tradition for us thirsty folk to enjoy.

Long Man Brewery

Bison Beer (Sussex)

We couldn’t write a post about craft beer without mentioning the bearded, hipster, ale-drinking city of Brighton & Hove. Mock the cost of a pint (or bottle) on the south coast all you like, but the guys over at Bison Beer are making waves throughout the south with their tasty brews such as ‘Tropic Soda’ 5.8% and ‘Stoutzilla’ 8.3%. As we’ve been very good boys this year, we’re hoping to find a few in our stockings this Christmas.

Bison Beer

Our top 3 National Trust attractions with Oast Houses

All we want for Christmas is… a National Trust membership! Why? To visit our favourite historical oast houses of course…

The National Trust is truly a British institution and are outstanding at maintaining the estates they manage for the enjoyment of visitors. We’ve put together our top three destinations to visit that include an oast house on site, all of which are steeped in history and make for a great day (or overnight) visit!

 

Bateman’s

Jacobean house and home of Rudyard Kipling

Burwash, East Sussex

Batemans oast house

Famous for writing The Jungle Book and Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling will always be one of Britain’s most revered Children’s authors. Rudyard lived at Bateman’s from 1902 to his death in 1936, and the property and its grounds were bequeathed to the The National Trust in 1939 following his wife, Catherine’s death. The estate features a well restored Jacobean house which has been kept the same as when the Kiplings lived there, a mill house and a brick-built double oast house which is grade II listed. We’d recommend visiting on an autumnal day when the leaves are turning golden, perhaps on ‘Apple Day’ which is held in October. Other events include a folklore and fairy tale trail which is perfect for budding bookworms.

 

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Cranbrook, Kent

Sissinghurst Oast House

460 acres of stunning Wealden countryside encase the majestic Sissinghurst castle and its famous gardens. Vita Sackville-West, a poet and writer and her husband Harold Nicolson (a Diplomat) fell in love with the estate and made it their home in 1930. In the years that followed they worked tirelessly to create the spectacular gardens that now draw thousands of visitors to the estate each year and are looked after by The National Trust. The castle and its grounds also housed plenty of secrets during Vita and Harold’s marriage, including numerous same sex love affairs, most notably between Vita and Virginia Woolf. A fantastic place to visit, especially to see the large oast house which is part of the sprawling gardens.

 

The Oast House
Bromyard, Herefordshire

The Oast House

The Oast House is an 18th-century brick built house, located on the Brockhampton estate, with its former hop kilns and barns still in place. If you fancy taking a break in Herefordshire, then staying at The Oast House is the perfect place to get your history fix. Take time to explore the neighbouring towns and National Trust properties which include The Weir Garden in Hereford, and Croome, a secret wartime air base in Worcester. The Oast house boasts 6 bedrooms and sleeps up to 10 people, which makes it the perfect family base for a UK ‘staycation’.

Inspired by these beautiful oast houses? Why not view some of our latest work restoring these national treasures.

All images are from The National Trust Website

The day that Doris battered the Hop Farm Oast Houses!

There’s a French saying, ‘force majeure’ (superior force) which strikes fear into any property owners heart. These unavoidable acts of nature, such as Storm Doris don’t come around often in the UK but when they hit they cause a whole lot of damage, as the team at the popular Hop Farm attraction in Kent found out.

 

If you can get the image of a little old lady battering an Oast Cowl with her handbag out of your head (!) then let us take you back in time to the day Storm Doris descended and reeked havoc on the Hop Farm’s historic Oast Cowls.

 

Hop Farm Oasts

 

On the 23rd February 2017, Doris blew in with gusto with winds of up to 94mph, whipping trees from their roots, and causing devastation across the country. We were called in to the Hop Farm the following day after they saw that their Oast Kilns has been badly damaged by the storm, with one cowl ripped off the pole and four others which had been badly damaged.

 

A venue famous for having the world’s largest collection of Victorian Oast Houses, and with wedding season fast approaching, it was imperative that they be restored to their former glory quickly, so we zoomed to the rescue – Superman style.

 

Darren_Superman

 

The cowl that had come off had been sealed by our team on the first visit, but on our return we removed the four additional damaged cowls and took them away to inspect and repair. After refitting, we decided with the site manager that a maintenance program for the cowls would be the best idea going forward to ensure the site continued to stay in tip top condition, a little like the painting of the Severn Bridge.

 

Although Doris is firmly in the bad books, we are pleased to be working alongside The Hop Farm, helping to restore and maintain their beautiful Oast Houses for thousands of visitors to enjoy year after year.

 

Team D&A to the rescue once again – now we’re off to hang up our capes and have a cuppa.

Ever seen a team of Oast Cowl experts blush?

As a independent, family-run company we rely on good feedback from our previous customers, and word of mouth recommendations in particular give us a warm fuzzy feeling.

So imagine our delight when we received an email trail from a prospective customer, Lisa who had been looking into getting her Oast Cowls restored. Enter Sophie, who had previously used the services of our rather *dapper ‘gents’ and was singing the praises of Dude & Arnette from the top of her pristine Oast Cowls (oh what an image!).

Hi Lisa

Darren and his team did all the repairs on our twin Oast roof. We were so pleased with the standard of work as well as the lovely team of gents that came every day.

We bought our beautiful home a few years ago only to find that not only had the Oast cowls been “bodged” and leaked, but our chimney also leaked and also our roof – great!!

I put in a huge amount of research re the cowls especially as didn’t have a clue not ever owning an Oast before.

Dude and Arnette came across to be not only professional, knowledgeable and honest but also competitive in price and reliable and trustworthy.
I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them for any job no matter how big or small.

They organised everything for me using their regular scaffolders they trusted and keeping me regularly up to date with progress and costs.

Our final bill came in exactly as planned- no horrible hidden extras.

Both cowls were re done inside with the water baffles and on the outside in bitumen and look a-mazing!! As well as the And are completely waterproof and weatherproof to everything thrown at it.
We live at the top of hill with valleys either side – it’s very punishing sometimes with the wind and rain.
They also cleaned my white cowl tips so they are pristine again and I had them organise and fit black motifs to them whilst up there – all in all a fantastic job!!

I have subsequently recommended them to others and they have returned to do other jobs for me and I am just about to use them to refurbish our out house.

In my opinion, you are in safe hands and could not choose a better firm to carry out the works on your home.

I will send you some photos of our roofs – please don’t hesitate to ask me anything else if you wish

Kindest Regards
Sophie

Thanks Sophie, if you ever fancy a job in the marketing team then give us a call – we’d be happy to oblige!

Love this story? Take a look at what our previous happy customers have said about their Oast Cowl restorations, from repairing storm damage to providing a much needed ‘facelift’.

*Ok we added in the ‘dapper’