Delve into history and visit some of Kent’s famous Oast Houses

Driving through the Sussex and Kent countryside you’d be forgiven for wondering just what the funny looking conical roofs peeking from the old stone buildings were for! Even those who have grown up around them often will have a blank face when asked about Oast Houses, but to the keen historian, they play a big part in England’s heritage, with some of Kent’s famous Oast Houses dating back to the 15th Century.

So what on earth were they used for? You’ll like the answer we’re sure – brewing beer. Yes, that’s correct, we can thank these fine Oast Houses for playing a part in creating some of the most delicious ales ever to pass the lips of a thirsty, hardworking pub patron.

Oast Houses were traditionally used to dry out the hops equipped with a fiery kiln, a drying room and a cooling room. The conical kiln roof was topped with an oast cowl to create a draft that kept the fire alight and was fueled by wood until the 17th Century when charcoal took over.

Although arguably most famous in Kent, hop farming in Oast Houses occurred around the country, most noticeably in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, all of which grew and dried their own hops to turn into deliciously golden ales. Although most of these Oast Houses are now retired from their boozy brewing days, many are still open to the public to visit and learn more about their hop-filled history.

Fancy checking out a real-life Oast House? Of course you do! Here’s our guide to where to visit in Kent…

Hop House

Hop Farm Country Park, Tonbridge (Image via: www.geograph.org.uk)

Originally owned by the Whitbread brewery company, The Hop Farm in Kent operated as a fully working farm before opening its doors to the public and hosting family-friendly events throughout the year. Boasting the largest number of Victorian Oast Houses in the world the farm’s history spans five centuries and was a popular holiday destination of Victorian families who would ‘hop down’ to Kent to take part in the 6-week harvesting each summer. Well worth a visit – check out their website for event listings, ranging from concerts to firework displays.

 

shephard

Shepherd Neame, Faversham (Image via: kentattractions.co.uk)

Recognise the name? Well, you’ve been outed as a seasoned beer drinker then! Shepherd Neame is the Uk’s oldest brewer and has been based in Faversham, Kent since 1698. You might have heard of some of their brews which include Spitfire, Bishops Finger (oo err) and Master Brewas. Water from the artesian well deep beneath the brewery is used as one of the main ingredients to this day and the brewery runs tours so that you can learn more about what it takes to make traditional British ale…

 

kentlife

Kent Life, Maidstone (Image via: www.kentlife.org.uk)

Celebrating all things traditional, Kent Life has the last working coal-fired Oast in Britain. You can visit the Oast as part of their farm tour, and when you do – take a look at the material as it is made from rag stone, a traditional Kentish material which is rare to find. For those who are fond of the fluff, hang around the cuddle corner and you may just get the chance to get hands on with some of the animals, perhaps even their newest additions – alpacas!

 

stacation

Get the real experience…

And if you want to try something really special, why not book an overnight stay in a traditional Oast House? And whilst you’re at it, pop along to the local boozer to try a pint of their finest local brew – cheers!

(Image via: www.staycationholidays.co.uk)

We’re proud to have worked on some of Kent’s famous Oast Houses, visit our gallery to see more or get in touch to find out how we can help you with your property.

Refurbishing fibreglass oast cowls – what’s the story?

As professional oast cowl refurbishers, the word fibreglass (or GRP) can often strike a note of fear into our hearts. Commonly sold to oast house owners with an assurance of a maintenance-free lifespan, there’s definately a few potential pitfalls to consider before making the choice over a traditional wooden oast cowl (in our case made from hardy Russian or Scandinavian timber). Here goes…

Rusted fibreglass oast cowl

Rust

This little villain named rust is often to blame for the difficulty of refurbishing fibreglass oast cowls. After exposure to damp the fixings and bolts can rust solid, hindering any chance of maintenance.

Fungi in an oast cowl

Fungi

Creeping under the fibreglass to cause all sorts of problems – in terms of oast cowls there’s nothing fun about fungi (sorry). Alongside making a mouldy mess it can also cause the cowls to discolour – making it near impossible to return to its glorious traditional white hue.

Maintaining fibreglass oast cowls

At Dude & Arnette we advise against refurbishing old fibreglass oast cowls due to their unpredictable nature. For example, we recently came to the rescue of Richard Budd whose fibreglass oast cowl had blown off the roof in stormy weather and bounced down the lawn, disintegrating as it went.

Arriving to check out the damage we could see the extent of the damp and mould that had crept under the fibreglass coating and eaten away at the cowl, causing it to weaken and eventually break off. We proceeded to reconstruct both the roof and cowl using the traditional methods that we’ve been perfecting since 1937, and Richard now happily reports that the mended oast kiln roof and new cowl has made the house warmer and cosier than ever. Pats on the back all round then.

Mould in an oast cowl

If you have a fibreglass cowl and are interested in how we could help to maintain it for you then please get in touch, we have extensive experience and can offer the best solution for you with the minimum disruption.
It may be that we advise to remove the cowl in order to be repainted and weatherproofed or even reconstructed but you can rest assured that a well-cared for oast cowl should only need maintenance every seven years or so, and our traditional methods will ensure the preservation of the traditional features of your home for decades to come.

The Darling Buds of May

Do you remember the Darling buds of May TV series with David Jason and Catherine Zeta Jones? Well, we were offered the opportunity to work on the very same farm to put an oast cowl on an existing Kiln. We of course jumped at the chance to work on such an iconic property – with it’s non standard fitting it took all of our expertise and past experience to overcome every complexity.

Our first step was to build the scaffold around the kiln and take all the measurements.

The Darling Buds of May - Stage1

 

Then back to the workshop to construct the base and complete the pattern which was then taken back to site to make sure it fitted – this allowed us to start construction immediately.

Dude and Arnette - workshop

 

Given the tight turn around time for this build, the team worked through the weekend to finalise the cowl construction and with all of  the preparation done and the construction ready it’s was time to fit the cowl – “on the roof goes!”

Oast Cowl Restoration in Progress

With the cowl fitted and everything looking secure & ready it was the ‘perfick’ time to take a picture of the team enjoying the view!

Oast Cowl Complete Restoration

Another successful job by Dude & Arnette brought in on time and within budget.

More on Cowl Restoration Projects

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

Santa’s knocking on our oast cowl – open the hatch!

As Christmas approaches and wish lists are being scribbled and posted to Father Christmas,what about families that live in an oast house, without a chimney?

Surely Santa should know that he can still bring them gifts too, even if they don’t have a chimney, right? Well we think so!

So if you live in an oast house and have young children, or just find this a funny story – then check out our ‘letter to Santa’ below…..

Santa-Chimney-Dec 2015

Dear Santa,

Today at school we learnt that you deliver our Christmas presents by jumping down the chimney into the lounge of people’s houses. It sounds like a great way to spend Christmas Eve.

Mum and Dad have told us that our house is very special, and that not everyone lives in an old oast house, so I don’t know if you have visited one before. The problem is, we don’t have a chimney.

Don’t be nervous, you can still land your sleigh nearby and use the hatch in our oast cowl. Don’t eat too many mince pies though, you might not fit! My Mum and Dad said they will be leaving out sherry for you and a carrot for Rudolph and the rest of your reindeer, so don’t forget them when you shoot back up our oast cowl.

oh, and parking could be a little tricky too, so maybe best not park on the roof!

Thanks Santa x

Oast House Restoration & Repair

OurHappyCustomers

As the years roll by, your oast house can look tired and faded. Without regular maintenance the appearance can become weathered, and the wood and ironwork can become rotten, decayed and at risk of leaks and water damage. With regular cleaning and repair work you can enjoy your oast for years to come, passing on your home to the next generation and beyond.

From kiln roof maintenance to oast cowl construction, restoration and cleaning, Dude & Arnette offer a range of repair and maintenance services for oast cowls, both inside and outside, across the UK.

Over the past seven decades we’ve worked on all stages of oast and cowl decay, and have restored and repaired cowls in even the most damaged of states. Although we will always try to restore a cowl and bring it back to its original glory, sometimes it just isn’t possible. In this instance we will advise you in advance and build you a traditional wooden cowl from scratch, using many of the same techniques our family used when we began in 1937.

The longer you wait for repair work or renovation to be carried out, the greater the risk of costly problems developing within the wood and iron work. We recommend regular maintenance – around every seven years – however if Dude & Arnette carried out the original repair work, it may be left a little longer between reviews.

Visit our FAQs page to find out more, and get in touch with our expert team to organise your free quotation. You can find all of our contact details on our Contact Us page, or call us on 01622 725 898.

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.

oast house repair

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.

Repair and maintenance is vital for your oast cowl

Oast houses across the UK stand as a testament to the history and heritage of our country. Although you can find oast houses in countries across the world, from Belgium and the Czech Republic, all the way to Australia, where they are known as hop kilns, they are synonymous with our stunning English countryside.

An oast house in Sevenoaks was recently revealed to be abandoned and left derelict, a shadow of its former beauty, with one oast collapsed and tarpaulin covering another of the buildings. Dating back to the 15th century, it’s a sorry state to see such a magnificent piece of history rot away.

abandoned oast houses

Although this is an extreme example of lack of maintenance and care, it’s not a world away from some of the oasts that we’ve visited over the past 75 years. Oast cowl repair and maintenance is vital. By carrying out regular maintenance you’ll ensure that your cowl is ready for the Great British weather, and help avoid costly repairs needed over time. Dude & Arnette recommend repairing and repainting your cowl every seven years, but each cowl is unique, and depending on whether we carried out the original work, you may have leeway with this timeframe.

Visit our Contact Us page, where you’ll find all of our details, or call us on 01622 725 898 to arrange a no-obligation assessment and quote from our director Darren Hole.

Repairing and restoring oasts of Kent and Sussex: A step back in time

The Dude & Arnette family history dates back to 1937, but oast houses themselves go back hundreds of years, with the earliest description thought to go back to 1574.

Symbolic of the countryside that surrounds them, oast houses historically represent one of Britain’s oldest known trades – beer making – and the industry and means to dry hops remain in Kent and Sussex today.

The cycle of inhabiting, converting, and inhabiting again means that today’s oast houses are cloaked in stunning history, with many maintaining original features and ornate detail once found in its original form.

oast house history

As the beer-making industry evolved over time, and machinery was introduced into the hop-picking process, many oasts became redundant, often becoming derelict or demolished. These stunning buildings soon became the solution to the housing situation that arose in the late 19th century, and at the turn of the century Sir Philip Waterlow became one of the first to convert an oast to a house.

As the decades rolled on, our family learnt the skill and craftsmanship needed to restore cowls and hop kilns across the country, and we still use many of the same techniques today.

Find out more about Dude & Arnette and our family history on Our Story page, and get in touch today to arrange a free quotation for restoring and repairing your oast cowl.