THE OAST HOUSE
or 'hopping down in Kent'
Today, St Patrick's Day, it seemed relevant to talk about beer. Well, about one of the vital ingredients - hops. I touched on oast houses, a few posts back, when I wrote about Rowland Hilder's wonderful watercolours of the Weald.
Oast houses date back to the 17th century, shortly after the introduction of hops into England. The oast, consisted of a two storey, cylindrical structure. In the lower half, a fire was lit, while above, freshly picked hops were spread on a perforated floor. The heat rose, drying the hops and the hot air was vented through a wooden cowl, which swivelled, so as to face out of the wind.
Although they look small from ground level, these cowls are usually about six feet, or two metres tall.
The biggest concentration of hops kilns in the world is at Beltring, near Paddock Wood, in Kent. Many are still dotted around the (mainly) Kent and Sussex countryside, harking back to the times when Londoners would escape the dirt and smog of the city to spend a holiday 'hopping' in the fresh air of the countryside.
Very few oast houses survive in their original guise - most have been converted into dwellings, not always sympathetically.