Until recently, the Malt House at Harvington Hall was closed to the public. In 2007 the Hall was awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant to enable restoration. The work was completed whilst the Hall was closed for the winter and is now open to visitors.
Inside the Malt House were many original features including an 18th Century kiln, the perforated tiles of the drying floor and a hoist for raising sacks of barley. All of these have been incorporated into the restoration, along with information panels describing life at Harvington in the 18th Century.
Harvington Hall was once at the centre of a 6000 acre estate, the Malt House exhibition centre gives details about this as well as telling more about the lives of people who lived and worked here over the years.
There is a new audio-visual display, so that those who have difficulty accessing the upper floors of the Hall can learn all about it. There is now room for a classroom, with interactive children’s games upstairs, and the top floor is an archive storage space.
Malting, an important task.
The Malt House was first built in Tudor times and was originally used as a stable or barn. Whatever it’s original purpose, it was being used for malting barley by the 18th century. This was a process which turned the locally grown barley into beer.
A skilled craftsman was required to oversee the malting process. In the 18th century this job was done at Harvington by a man called Randall Bagnall who would see that the following steps were completed.
Once threshed, the barley was taken by cart to the Malt House where it was steeped (soaked) on the ground floor for at least two days. After this the grains were spread out on the first floor where they were left to germinate. This part of the process which took between ten and twenty days required that a constant temperature be maintained.
The germinated barley was moved up another floor where it was left to dry for four days, during this time it was regularly turned.
Once dried, the barley was fed down a chute onto the curing floor – above the kiln. Here it was spread out on perforated tiles, a process which gave the grains a lovely aroma and flavour.
In the last part of the process the kilned grains were put into sacks and taken to the Hall. In the Brewhouse, hops and yeast were added to make beer.
Beer – an essential drink.
In the past, beer was an important drink for ordinary English people. We still talk about ‘small beer’ as being something which is of little importance but in the past, it was far from being unimportant. Small beer, which is produced from a second and third use of the barley was drunk by everyone from labourers in the fields to their children. This was because water was often unsafe to drink, unlike the beer which contained enough alcohol to kill harmful bacteria.
Come and see Harvington Hall for yourself!
As you may know, Tudor Stuff blog is a bit biased when it comes to Harvington Hall. However, in our opinion the Malt House restoration is another reason that a visit to the Hall is essential for anyone interested in the history of the Tudor period.
See also post entitled ‘Drunken Bidford’
NB This post contains information reproduced from material originally written by Michael Hodgetts and Sherida Breeden at Harvington Hall.
Photo at top of post by Imagemakers Interpretive Design and Consulting