History of Oast Cottage Laddingford

Here at Dude & Arnette we’re passionate about oast houses, from oast house maintenance to roof repairs, we’ve been in the business since 1937 and know a trick or two. But we don’t stop there. We’re also big advocates of preserving British heritage and sharing with you fragments of our country’s history through its oast houses.

On this blog post, our customer Mike Reader shares with us the fascinating history of the unusual oast cottage Laddingford. Let’s have a look…

An oast within an oast

Laddingford Oast Cottage is an unusual one. The original building, a small T shaped oast house with 2 square kilns and stowage, probably dates from the 17th century. It may represent one of the earliest purpose-built oast houses. Many of the early oast houses were created from existing barns with kilns added, but this building was designed and built as an oast house. The evidence for it being built as a unit is the distinctive brickwork and ragstone plinth around the T shape, neither of which are in the rest of the building. An indication of its age is given by the roof construction without a ridge plate and without the use of nails. The building is essentially an “oast within an oast”.

interior view of wooden beams

Additionally, there are 2 windows with simple vertical square-sectioned timber battens, they have no glass but had external shutters. These are possibly like those in Scot’s oast dated 1574.

wooden pivoted louvres

There were also wooden, horizontal pivoted louvres, controlled by a simple timber mechanism, for ventilation throughout the building. One of these still survives.

horizontal window louvres

At some point in the 18th century, a larger 3rd square kiln was added on the southern side to provide increased drying capacity.  The construction is not of such high quality and the roof has a ridge plate. There is evidence in the roof showing where the cowl was situated. A deposit of ash was found under the bricks in the centre of the floor, showing where the fire had been. The addition of another kiln led to a need for an increased cooling area so a small barn was dismantled and rebuilt on the western side of the building to provide an extension to the upper floor.

old Postcard of painting by A W Head produced around 1900
Postcard of painting by A W Head produced around 1900 showing cottage Laddingford on the right-hand side

In 1820 a small weather-boarded 2-bed cottage was built on the western side, next to the small barn.

The 1871 map of the area shows that the southern-most roundel had been built. This was probably to replace the large square southern kiln, whose cowl was removed from the roof.

Moving onto the 19th century, a fire affected both small square kilns. As a result, these kilns were no longer used and the roof was rebuilt without their cowls. The lost drying capacity was replaced by building a new brick roundel on the northeast corner. This is shown on the later 1897 map.

The building was bought by Walter Reader in 1912, as part of Mereworth Farm. It has remained in the Reader family since.

The oast was used to dry hops until 1935 after which all drying was carried out in the oast at Uptons Farm. The cowls on the roundels were removed in the 1940s having been damaged by a bomb falling nearby. They were replaced by Dude and Arnette in June 2020.

old photo of flooding in Laddingford
Photograph of flooding in Laddingford which shows the cowls, taken in 1935.

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.