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Report - Victorian Tower Breweries of the UK - 2006 to 2016

Discussion in 'Noteworthy Reports' started by Speed, Sep 26, 2016.

  1. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
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    @dweeb has done some excellent threads lately covering some of our 'projects' over the years. Here's one that we more or less worked on together.

    I explored my first brewery at Tolly Cobbold at the end of 2006, im still of the opinion that the place was the best of its kind we've seen in this country, if not the world! It sparked an interest in the history of beer and breweries that has never quite gone away. By 2010 we had realised that these buildings were going fast and we had indeed already missed at least two crackers at Ruddles in Langham and Morlands in Abingdon so we made a point of making sure we never missed another! (as it happens i think we missed Hydes in Manchester but meh :p)

    Tolly Cobbold - Ipswich - 2006 to 2011

    As i've mentioned this is where it all started for me. I wont go into too much detail on its history as it really deserves another thread of its own at a later date but its discovery came about after someone gave me a tip off about a 'Ridleys Brewery' in Ipswich.. The problem was Ridleys did not appear to have a brewery in Ipswich, theirs was down in a sleepy village near Chelmsford (more on them later!). After a while of searching i went back to the guy and asked him exactly where it was and to my surprise he gave me the location of a building i knew well, i just had no idea at the time what it was!

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    The amazing gothic style 'Cliffe Brewery' sits on the banks of the river Orwell close to an entrance to Ipswich port. It's a typical example of what is known as a 'Tower Brewery'. Breweries back in the Victorian era were all built to a similar design and designed more like a machine than a building in order to utilize gravity to move the beer around its various processes. Back in 2006 is didn't recognize this design at first and when i first checked the place out i assumed naively it was just a mill or granary (and a live one at that, the lights were still on!)

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    Once i eventually worked out what was what and got inside i was greeted with an amazingly intact brewery. It had closed back in 2002 at which point it had been run for a number of years as a brewery museum. The great thing was they had just shut the doors and left it. Virtually nothing had been removed on our first few trips so not only did we get to see all of the buildings amazing features such as the infamous 'Blue Room' and the cracking set of copper mashing vessels but we also got to see a whole host of smaller artifacts that wouldnt usually still be in a modern brewery when it closed let alone left there once it was derelict.

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    The thing that really made Tollys (and brewery exploring in general tbh) stand out from the crowd was its ability to keep giving. We assumed after the first couple of visits that we had seen it all but as the site matured new finds just kept cropping up. This could be anything from finding a nice old beer label under the floor to finding whole floors of buildings that we had not realised existed in the rabbit warren of a design..


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    T.D. Ridley and Sons - Hertford End - 2007 to 2011

    After my success at Tollys this was the natural place to head. Ridleys had taken over Tolly in 2002 and shut the brewery down. Fast forward 4 years to 2006 and guess what, Ridley's was bought out by the infamous Greene King (more from them later too!) and got thier brewery closed as well! Karma anyone?

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    Now Ridleys was a nice building but after exploring Tollys it was a total let down. I went once in 2007 but went home quite disappointed. It on the face of it the building seemed pretty empty and certainly not the sprawling site crammed with epic had hoped for.

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    In 2010 i returned to the brewery. In the three years away id been to a number of others and had learnt a few tricks as far as finding stuff in these places goes! The site was by now also a lot more derelict and that had opened up a few bits that had been closed before. By the end of that trip it had somewhat redeemed itself and i went away having found all of what i expected, old crates, enamel signs and old bottles of beer!

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    McMullen and Sons - Hertford - 2009 to 2011

    McMullens came along in 2009. Its one of those buildings you just can't believe they closed. Such an epic looking place! Nowadays it's a supermarket i think but back then it was quite freshly closed and not so easy to get inside.

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    As with Ridleys my initial walk around didn't exactly leave me foaming at the mouth. Although it was a larger and more architecturally embellished building than Hartford End it had a similar feel of being stripped of all it's interesting odds and ends. I think a contributing factor here was that the main site next door where all the maintenance shops and what not were situated had been retained for the company to continue brewing through a modern 'micro brewery'

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    After my first 2009 trip i returned with @Radog and @Rookinella to show them but we found the building alarmed and the copper vessels gone. When i again attempted to show Dweeb in 2011 work on the supermarket conversion had started, alarms had gone and some new parts had opened up. This was perfect for us as we delved that little bit deeper and came up with the goods yet again finding some really cool stuff such as the branding irons used to brand the company's beer barrels and a pair of flags that would once have flown from the towers flag pole (that had been discarded in one of the water tanks and left to rot.)

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    William Butlers - Wolverhampton - 2009

    I include the Springfield Brewery more for posterity than because we found a lot there. Its one of those places that i wish i had spent more time at earlier, although it is still standing its best days are definitely past it and i wish i'd gone a bit earlier!

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    #1 Speed, Sep 26, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2016

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  2. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
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    Hardys and Hansons - Kimberley - 2010

    This was the brewery that kicked off our real mission to see the rest before they had all gone. Another victim of a Greene King takeover this prompted a flurry of proper research that identified we had been missing a lot of Green Kings closures for the past few years but also identified a few that might just still be there!

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    The Kimberley brewery was a nice large site where nearly all of the buildings were old and dated. We were too late to see much in the brewery itself as it had already been quite extensively stripped but the attached maltings were excellent.

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    Poking about in the loft of the maltings we found all sorts of discarded bits and bobs, everything from amazing old hand painted pub signs to rakes used to rake over the malt. There were also a couple of great examples of the infamous 'Bobby Barrows' still in situe. These weird wheelbarrow devices were used to move malt around the maltings and got their name as they were usually made by Robert Boby of Bury St Edmunds who made a lot of malting equipment for these buildings. (They are also excellent for racing and making BBQs out of.. Apparently)

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    On our very first trip we had found our way into the brewery offices which were at the time home to security. Dweeb went to ask if we could get a tour while i rushed around frantically snapping photos. They didn't let us in but it was the only chance i've had so far to get photos inside the offices so i guess you could say it worked? All was going well until the guy operating the CCTV noticed he'd seen three of us outside and now there was only two. I came trotting down the stairs just in time to hear him say it and be shown the door haha.

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    George Gales - Horndean - 2010

    After Kimberley the first thing we did was look back at some of the old reports on the forum. Gales was one that @Oxygen Thief and @Raddog had done many years previously but let's say 'the standard of photos from 2006 aren't quite what we take today'! After a bit of hunting online we thought building would still be there so we jumped in the car and went the check it out. Arriving late in the evening we spotted a way in but it was going to be pointless in the dark. Luckily the brewery tap was still going so a few pints of HSB (Horndean Special Bitter) later we were spending the coldest night of the year trying to sleep in a derelict brewery full of pigeons. It was far from ideal but one must always have a drink in the brewery tap when visiting these sites so at least that was taken care of!


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    I have to say this was far from a photogenic site. It was dark even in the daylight and quite cramped. No epic coppers or stuff like that to see but it had a fair few bits to hunt out nonetheless. We found the usual crates, old beer, and a pretty fearsome well with ladder descending into nothingness neither of us fancied doing!

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    Gales had been bought out by London brewer Fullers (more from them later!) It was closed in 2006 and was demolished a few years ago to become flats or some such boredom. Not Greene King this time but much the same outcome!

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    Mitchells - Lancaster - 2010 to 2016

    Another brewery we had identified but in the end were beaten to was Mitchells of Lancaster. We dropped in here on our way to Scotland and had a look round the main tower brewery building. At the time i didn't rate it but looking back it was no worse than many of the others we have been inside.​


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    We returned next time a Scotland trip was on the cards but this time it was at 3am. We found our access to the main brewery sealed but this was probably actually quite good luck as i decided to check out one of the outbuildings instead. Shining our torches through the windows we knew we had to get in there and some horrible climbing later we both were. The building was absolutely rammed with old brewery tat. We must have spent two or three hours in there rummaging through it all, it was like being back in Tollys all over again! My over riding memory of that night was playing 'crate jenga'.. They had stacked a large pallet full of old wooden crates from various local brewers. Problem is there was another pallet on top with a large lump of equipment on we couldnt lift.. Im sure you can work out the rest!​


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    The brewery had been bought out in 1999 by Thwaites who had kept part of it on for distribution. Now Thwaites have sold pretty much all of thier brewing business to Marston's that part has closed aswell and the buildings look set to be levelled in the near future.​


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    Eldridge Pope - Dorchester - 2010

    It's fair to say we were a little late for the Dorchester brewery. It had closed in July 2003 and by 2010 the brewery itself was very stripped and a lot had been demolished. The saving grace was finding some interesting stuff in the loft of the maltings. Worth the trek down there to check it out no doubt.

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    Highgate Brewery - Walsall - 2014

    I'm afraid so far i only have the one photo from highgate as the brewery is quite well alarmed. Definitely more to come from here in the future tho. Its had many owners over the years but was sold to property developers for a measly £80,000! Currently its back on the market for closer to £3 million. It's a great example and probably has a few secrets to reveal once we actually get a good chance to hunt them out.

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    #2 Speed, Sep 26, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2016
    A-Plevin, Naginii, raisinwing and 7 others like this.
  3. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
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    Youngs & Co - Wandsworth - 2014

    The Ram Brewery in Wandsworth was a really long time coming. It closed back in 2006 when it was bought out by Fullers (told you they would come up again!) and we looked at it many times never quite finding that clown's pocket that was going to get us inside undetected. Its is apparently the oldest brewery in the country to have been continuously brewing beer and even after closure they continued to brew a Firkin at a time just to keep this title.​


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    Once work started on renovating the building it became possible and it was better than i had imagined. The original building was a typical victorian tower with some modern additions but still housed its original coppers and fermentation tanks. It's also the first since Tolly Cobbold where i've seen a steam engine still in situe. The highlight was probably the old workshops down in the basement that were strewn with old advertising and general junk!

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    My overriding memory of this one is security moving thier cabin just outside the main access point. I crept right up behind them to the point that i could see the guy through the window about 3 yards away. Slid under a fence as quietly as possible but the door into the building had a bit of 110v extension cable wrapped round the handle to try and stop it opening.. i was frantically wiggling it trying to get it off when suddenly it popped and made a bang. The door swung open and i slid inside and pulled it closed just as the cabin door opened. The guy looked right at me through a window in the door but it must have been too dark for him to see me. I ran off into the brewery and spent the whole morning in there after that. Close shave!

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    Robert Cains - Liverpool - 2015

    The building you see today has Higsons branded in the brickwork but it was originally built by brewer Robert Cain. It's probably the most recent closure of a Victorian brewery although it's fair to say that toward the end of its life all the actual brewing went on in modern sheds next door to the old building. The fact that it closed recently made me doubt how good it would actually be to explore but i needn't have worried. It made for an excellent explore with us discovering everything that you want to see in a brewery really. The only downside was worrying about getting locked in and rushing round then getting locked in anyway! Should have just took our time.

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    After a couple of failed attempts we eventually gained access when the building was being used for filming. After contemplating asking permission We literally walked into the costume department past a load of people, pushed or way through a rack of fur coats and military uniforms and found ourself in the brewery.

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    Hartleys - Ulverstone - 2011 to 2015

    Our original attempt at getting in Hartleys happened when a large part of the site was still being used for distribution for the still active Robinsons brewery that took over the site in 1982. I returned in 2015 after the site had fully shut down to have another look and found it a lot simpler to get around. I can't say it was the best i've done but finding acid etched windows and old crates hiding in the basement make it worthwhile even if the rest of the building is quite stripped.

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    Biggest surprise of the explore was having to rescue a stray cat from one of the fermenting vats.

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    As i write this that's as far as we have got. As i mentioned earlier we may well have missed a brewery at Hydes in Manchester but i don't think i know of any others of this age sitting disused, if you know better then let us know!. There are a few still out there, Marstons in Burton and Shepherds Neame in Faversham come to mind, but it remains to be seen if i will need to add to the list any time soon.​
     
  4. Ojay

    Ojay Admin
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    Bloody good that, sure there's a few more that must of eluded you :(

    Hardy's in Manc had a noice clock tower :thumb
     
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  5. Wevsky

    Wevsky A Predisposed Tourist
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    Nice report,and spanking pics and write up"! trouble is though when its archived don't you lose the continued threads in the comments
     
  6. Ojay

    Ojay Admin
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    We no longer archive stuff young Wevsky
     
  7. Wevsky

    Wevsky A Predisposed Tourist
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    ah my bad,when maniacs post got moved earlier it was minus the comment/follow on part to report so i "assumed"..wrongly
     
  8. Camera Shy

    Camera Shy Old enough to know better
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    Awesome, must admit I've never heard/seen a few of them so nice to see it.
     
  9. The_Raw

    The_Raw 28DL Regular User
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    Very nice, Cains looks a bit special. Still really want to get into the pub at Ram brewery, don't think anyone's been in there yet.
     
  10. dweeb

    dweeb Super Moderator
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    Jeez... remember "a brewery a week" month?!

    I should get some of my very old Springfield pics up... that place was amazing and I captured some of the epic in crooked and blurred 3.2 megapixel glory!

    Still need to see Hartleys, never went back after that copper rudely awoke me from my slumber :(
     
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  11. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
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    Yeh i think you're right about Youngs. Theres certainly a lot out there to see still.
     
  12. The Amateur Wanderer

    The Amateur Wanderer 28DL Regular User
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    Very nice compilation that, I'm a little heavy industry mad at the moment but these buildings are full of character.

    Ought to get out and see some really!
     
  13. HughieD

    HughieD 28DL Regular User
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    Completely epic. I need a beer after seeing all that..
     
  14. Oxygen Thief

    Oxygen Thief Admin
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    Go on just say it... they were CRAP
     
  15. bhg

    bhg In Search of Lost Time
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    this is amazing @Speed.
    great stuff
     
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