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Report - The curse of Worton Grange (Courage brewery)

Discussion in 'Industrial Sites' started by Treadstone, Jul 26, 2010.

  1. Treadstone

    Treadstone 28DL Full Member
    28DL Full Member

    Mar 14, 2010
    Likes Received:
    That title
    The curse of Worton Grange sounds like a Gothic horror novel. Worton Grange was (as I understand it) a farm which was built on; there was the giant site of DEC built in 1981, which became Compaq, which became HP - which became a pile of rubble in January 2010. Facing that across the A33 stood the sparkling new offices of MCI-Worldcom. Worldcom was an Enron-style corporate disaster and their business was absorbed by Verizon. Like some strange anachronism the old half timbered farm house remains beside the giant complex. Behind them both is the 58 acre brewery site where Courage set up shop in 1979, and which brewed it's last earlier this year.

    Local History
    Reading was once known for Beer, Bulbs, and Biscuits. Huntly and Palmers, swallowed up to be a brand of United Biscuits no longer has any presence in the town. Suttons Seeds, growers of bulbs moved to Devon though their site is still known as Suttons business park. And Simonds brewery - which acquired local rivals over the years until it was "last man standing" merged with Courage and Barclay in 1960. The Simonds and Barclay names disappeared and Courage was bought by Imperial Tobacco, which in turn was bought by Hanson, who sold Courage to Elders IXL who became Fosters. They in turn sold it Scottish and Newcastle, who sold off the Courage brands to Wells & Youngs. The Reading site brewed John Smiths, Kronebourg, and Fosters (under licence) until - during another takeover, this time by Heinekin - it was announced the Reading Brewery was to close.
    When I first lived in the Thames valley area, 20 odd years ago, Breakspears were brewing beer at Henley (the next town downstream on the Thames from Reading), Morlands were brewing in Abingdon (upstream on the Thames) - co-incidentally both could trace their history back to the same year: 1711. Further upstream in Oxford, Morrells were the Johnny-come-lately's having only started in 1743. Greene king now own Morland's pubs and most of Morrells', and they still brew a couple of the Morlands beers. Breakspears is still brewed but by Refresh - a company which, before it's takeover by Marstons, was infused with a lot of staff who came from Ushers, another defunct Brewery. Morrells' beers are now brewed at the Thomas Hardy Brewery in Burtonwood.

    The brewing capacity of the Worton Grange site was quoted as six Million Hectolitres of beer a year - though it had been running well below that. (Some sloppy reports said 6 million litres, a hecto litre is 100 litres). An Olympic swimming pool is 50M x 2m x25M - 25,000 hectolitres, these folks could produce that much beer in a day and half.

    A quote from CAMRA "in the 1970s Courage closed its breweries in London, Plymouth and Reading and concentrated its production in a mega-keggery by the side of the M4. This was to be the shape of things to come. Now less than 30 years afterwards all those plans have come to nought. No one it would appear wants the mass of fizzy yellow liquid that the state-of-the-art plant could produce. Few will mourn the closure of this steel and glass white elephant; the last remains of the Courage brewing empire founded originally by John Courage in 1787" Sic transit gloria mundi.

    You can get some idea of the size of the site from the Birds-eye view on Bing

    I visited the site recently with True-British-Metal, and a tip of the hat is due in his direction: after I flagged up that the site was closing he paid a visit and his prior knowledge was very useful. Not least because as time began to run out I was thinking about heading out, he said "there's one more place you'll want to see". And boy was I glad of that information. The size is such that there must be multiple ways in, and I'll say no more about access here than TBM managed to find a new and interesting challenge for me.

    If you look at the bing view, the glass fronted building on the right is where the "wort" is made, and the 4 rows of 12 cylinders are the giant fermenting vessels, and the building with the Fosters sign on it is where the beer is filtered before packaging - it also seems to hold the vessels where the yeast was cultured. The canning / bottling part of the site closed before the brewery and we didn't get that far. With 58 acres to cover and not even a full afternoon available we had to prioritize :) It is a pretty Epic place. We saw no signs of vandalism and I hope things remain that way.

    OK on to the pictures - obviously there is a bit of overlap with TBM's report.
    The yeast culturing vats ...
    Centrifuge control room
    Looking out of the Window at the Fermenting Vessels, (not the round grilles set into the tops)
    Looking down the stair case on the way to the roof
    Co2 build up is a major hazard where yeast is working actively, inside the buildings there were alarms for the Co2 level - here we're venturing into the walkway that links the caps on the top of the fermenting vessels.
    Inside the cap on the top of fermenting vessel 13. You can see the grilles from the inside here.

    Corridor porn - although it looks more like a track into a mine. This walkway runs along the top of the fermenting vessels, so FV1 is to my left, the F in the shot is the sign for FV5: FV9,13,17,21 etc stretch away into the distance.

    Inside the brewing hall. These are The Lauter Tuns. After the grain has been mashed with the water these remove the spent grains so they don't go into the fermentation process.

    TBM having a look inside one of the Lauter Tuns.

    The "coppers" where the wort from the Lauter Tuns is boiled up before going to be be fermented.

    I find this document quite poignant; it reads:

    Scottish Courage Brewing Ltd: Brewers since 1749
    Plant Release Certificate
    To be used where plant is released to engineer for planned or long term maintenance.

    Plant Descrtiption : Malt silos 6,7,8,9,10,12,19,13,18,14,15
    Purpose of release : Emptied and taken out of services
    Routes affected : In / Out
    Hygienic Maintenance Required: No.
    Agreed date of return : Never
    Released by production : 16 Feb 2010 , 17:00
    Accepted by Engineering : ----


    Part of the brewhouse control panel

    The bottom of the a fermenting vessel (number 37)

    Thanks for looking.

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