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Oast Houses

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Oast Houses

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Oast Houses

Among the more unusual visual symbols of England’s brewing industry are the oast houses of the south-east. Particularly associated with the hop-growing county of Kent (although they are also to be found in more far-flung regions, such as Sussex), oast houses are low buildings with conical or funnel-shaped sections jutting up from the roofs. It is this last feature that makes them so architecturally distinctive.

The conical bit – more properly known as the cowl – contains the hot-air vent, allowing heat to escape from the drying process that the hops undergo. Hops are what give the characteristic scented, bitter taste to real beer, and come in a range of varieties, including the aromatic Fuggles (we kid you not).

The oldest surviving oast house, dating from around 1750, is at Cranbrook, near Tunbridge Wells. In the 1930s, the widespread introduction of electric cooling fans made the traditional oast house redundant, and many of them have now been converted into private houses and holiday cottages.

Photo: Dominic Heaney


Your comments

Oast houses are a symbol of English beer-making, a centuries-old industry. they are to be found all over the South of England, particularly in Kent and Sussex

Martin Lunn

Oast House conversions are symbolic of industrial change in the countryside. People living on these brownfield sites could be guardians of rural communities but the clue to urban dependence is multiple SUVs in the grounds.
Angus Willson

These towers were the symbols of Kent, where hops were roasted to produce the finest ingredients for good English ale (beer) for centuries. Those that remain are now mainly in disrepair or have been converted into houses.

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My favourite Icon of England has to be the Cornish Pasty.

Ian Baldry