Brewhouses, dairies and servants’ quarters

I recently came across an 1874 description of a brewhouse which could almost be about ours. It is by Richard Jefferies*, a Victorian novelist and writer about nature and the countyside. The brewhouse he describes is part of a multi-function farm service building that is also used as a dairy, for cheesemaking and for servants’ accommodation. Evidence we and the previous owners found in the building fits that pattern rather closely.

Jefferies writes: “The brewhouse was an important feature when all farmers brewed their own beer and baked their own bread. At present the great majority purchase their beer from the brewers, although some still brew large quantities for the labourers’ drinking in harvest time. At a period when comparatively little ready money passed between employer and employed, and the payment for work was made in kind, beer was a matter which required a great deal of the attention of the farmer, and absorbed no little of his time. At this day it is a disputed matter which is cheapest, to buy or to brew beer: at that time there was no question about it. It was indisputably economical to brew. The brewhouse was not necessarily confined to that use; when no brewing was in progress it was often made a kind of second dairy. Over these offices was the cheese-room. This was and still is a long, large, and lofty room in which the cheese after being made is taken to dry and harden. It is furnished with a number of shelves upon which the cheeses are arranged, and as no two can be placed one on the other in the early stage of their maturing, much space is required. It is the duty of the dairymaid and her assistant to turn these cheeses every morning-a work requiring some strength. In this part of the house are the servants’ rooms. In front of the dairy and brewhouse is a paved court enclosed with a wall, and in this court it was not uncommon to find a well, or hog-tub, for the refuse of the dairy.”

Our farm service building, as described in previous posts, was originally three or possibly four substantial bays, one of which collapsed, and was replaced by our new extension of the same size. At one end of the old building, there is close-spaced timber studding and upstairs there are good hardwood floors and substantial skirting boards. There are also plenty of windows. We always thought the higher quality of that end of the building showed that the upstairs at least was living accommodation.

Downstairs at that end, the previous owners found dairy equipment including stone sinks and there was a lean-to, demolished before we arrived, which according to a friend nearby was also used in living memory as a dairy. There is  still a well, with a pump where the lean to would have been.

The ground floor of the next section of the house also contained dairy equipment. But when the modern concrete was removed and the floor was excavated by archaeologists, they found a large brewing hearth – we published photos in an earlier post. As far as we can tell from the mortices in the beam that runs across this room, it had only a half floor at one stage, which would have left an opening to the roof above the brewing hearth. It may be that originally it was all open to the roof, as in a hall house.

This section had the later addition of a large fireplace, bread oven and chimney on the side of the building. As for the evidence of cheesemaking, we have none directly, but there are quite a lot of shelf supports upstairs, which could have been used in the cheesemaking process. The shelves have mostly gone

*Richard Jefferies was a writer about nature and the countryside. At least one of our best modern nature writers is on record as seeing his wonderful descriptive powers as the model to which he aspires. Jefferies was also author of a number of novels, including Bevis, a story about a boy and his friends growing up in the countryside, precursor of many modern rite of passage novels. It is even possible to recognise elements of Bevis in Richmal Crompton and Arthur Ransome. The essay from which the extract above is taken was first published as “The Farmer at Home” in Fraser’s Magazine in 1874 and republished posthumously in 1898 in a collection of his works called “The Toilers of the Field”.

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