Hop growing in North Oxfordshire?


When considering Hop growing areas in the UK we naturally think of Kent, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and maybe South Oxfordshire but not North of the county. What made me study this subject was the reference on an old 1800′s map of Banbury (above) to there being a ‘Hop garden’ showing on Salt Way. Here’s what I’ve found so far.


Looking back using the sources shown below I found the earliest reference to Hops came under Wroxton in 1685, for ‘purchase of a Hop ground’. I suspect this was part of Wroxton Abbey that most likely had its own Brew house.

Of special interest was the 1706 reference, under the Reindeer in Banbury, to there being ‘a close at the back called Hopp Yard’. So again this suggests the growing hops for own use. This seems likely as there is a reference in the 1800′s Banbury to ‘one Brewer growing Hops’.

Again, possibly linked to a large country house, we have an entry for Broughton in 1778 ‘new crops including hops being grown’. There is a similar entry for Swalcliffe for the 1700′s and Adderbury in the 1800′s. Heythop Park is mentioned in 1805 where there was ‘work for 25 women including Hop Picking’.

Regarding the Hop Garden shown on the map, this could possibly connected to the cultivation of ‘medicinal plants’ by the Usher family of Bodicote in the 1800′s, although there are of course a number of large country houses nearby.

The coming of the Railway in 1850 was probably the reason Hop growing in North Oxfordshire ceased, as supplies could then be easily obtained from elsewhere.

James Tobin

A History of the County of Oxford – The Banbury, Bloxham and Wootton Hundreds – Alan Crossley – OUP.

Who shot the lights out?

Over the years the buildings of Hook Norton Brewery have been used for a number of things other than Brew related.

It started with World War Two and soldiers being billeted in the Stables, and then with the threat of invasion the Malt House was earmarked as a food store. In later years the local Fire Brigade used the site for practice drills.

In the 1950′s the local 2207 Squadron Air Training Corps used the area above the present stables, now occupied by Thomas Franks offices, as a rifle range. They would proudly march down from the ATC hut with their -22 air rifles on their shoulders excitedly looking forward to having a go. Entry to the range was up a ladder and in a door where the flat is now located. Targets were set up down the end where there is now an entry staircase.

Bags of grain were laid across the floor and cadets would lie on the floor resting their rifle on the bags aiming towards the targets on the far end wall. Once the first cadet was ready to go the officer would issue the ammunition.

I’m told that one evening all was going to plan and cardboard targets were duly being peppered. Then just as a cadet was about to fire, a rat decided to run across the floor in front of the targets. Unable to resist the opportunity the cadet let off his round at the scurrying rodent instead of the target. Unfortunately, the bullet glanced off the floor and hit the electric panel, plunging the range into complete darkness!

It is not known if the rat survived nor is it recorded what the officer said to the cadet involved, he was more concerned with getting the dozen or so cadets with rifles safely down from the building in the dark!  I’m told he still looked pretty pale when they got back to the ATC hut!  Apparently Bill Clarke was OK about things as the cadets were allowed to continue to use the range.

Happy days!

James Tobin

Why the gardens in Hooky are blooming

Brewers Spent Hops.

Last month we looked at Brewers Grains and their use when the Brewery had finished with them, this month we look at spent Hops.

Hops are the flowers the hop plant, they are used primarily as a flavouring and stability agent in beer to which they impart bitter, zesty, or citric flavours.

The choicest hops are used in Hook Norton Beers. Traditional varieties such as Fuggles, Goldings & Challenger dominate with First Gold & Styrian Goldings also being used in some seasonal ales. The chosen blend of hops is added and the copper is then boiled for 1 hour 15 minutes. This process allows the bitterness to be extracted from the hops.

After the boil, the contents of the Copper are cast to the Hop back where the hops are separated from the liquid and sent out of the Brewery into a stillage,  as shown in the foreground below;


Unlike Brewers Grains which are used in animal feed, Spent Hops are used for Garden compost.

I would like to clarify a local myth. There is a notion that if Spent Hops are spread on a lawn then the grass will come up Half Cut! I can confirm here that this is not the case.

James Tobin.

Why the cows are happy hooky ones

Brewers Grains.

Regular visitors to Hook Norton Brewery will be aware of the Farm trailer parked at the base of the Brewery tower which is there to collect the spent grist from the brew mashing process. The grain is dispensed from the mash tun into the trailer via a tube in the centre of the tank-like structure that juts out from the side of the brewery (see pictures). The grain is then transported to a local farm where it is used in cattle feed, the supply being tightly controlled in accordance with the Feed Materials Assurance Scheme (FEMAS).


Visitors in the 1950′s would have seen a different arrangement as shown in the picture below. As can be seen there is a shute arrangement and a drum in the centre of the tank.  The drum was actually a dispenser which measured 1 Bushel, or 4 Pecks.


I am told that Brewery would supply the local Pig keepers with Brewers grains to add to the Pig Meal and scraps used to feed  their animals, hence the need to measure these supplies.

The keeping of Pigs in Hook Norton in 1950′s was a carry-over from the village Pig Club of the Second World War. In The Bourne alone, 8 householders out of 26 still kept them.  To earn a little pocket money local lads would borrow a trolley and with empty sacks go to the Brewery to fetch the Brewers Grains for these Pig keepers. Here the Grain would be dispensed from the drum and be shovelled into the sacks. Then it was into the Brewery Office to pay Harold Wyton the Company Secretary.  Unlike today there appeared to be no control over the supply of Brewers Grains for animal feed, other than the need to pay the formidable Harold!

James Tobin.

Hook Norton Brewery – Christmas 1939.

Any visitor to the brewery in December 1939 could be forgiven in thinking they had come to an army camp. This is because based here at that time were elements of the Durham Light Infantry.

Fortunately for us historians the head brewer at this time, Bill Clarke, has written some comments about the early war years in the brewing log books so we can pick up the start of the story from there;

‘Oct 20th, Contractors at work on the stables for troops’. This is reference to the stables being converted into temporary living accommodation. The conversion involved using timber planking being removed from the malt store.

‘Oct 24th, 95 Troops arrived [last] Sunday morning [22nd] 6th Durham Light Infantry’.

‘C’ Company of the 6th Durham’s, a Territorial Reserve Battalion, had been mobilised at Spennymoor at the end of August and were moving South in readiness for service in France. During their 3 month stay at the Brewery they would train and re-equip. They arrived as an Infantry unit but converted to an Anti-Tank role whilst here, equipping with the Boyes Anti-Tank rifle and Hotchkiss 37mm machine gun. Fields at the rear of the Brewery became practice areas and ranges, the trained eye can still spot the site of the odd fox hole and gun pit.

The odd Football match was played against the village team and lectures as well as social events took place in the village hall. Come Christmas, those soldiers who were unable to return home on leave were taken in by local families. Private Henry Ferguson was one such soldier; he spent Christmas with Harry Gardner and family living at Park Gate.

On January 17th the Durham’s paraded at Chipping Norton to be inspected by H.M. King George VI, three days later they were off to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. The next time the Gardner family heard from Henry Ferguson, it was via a letter from P.O.W. camp Stalag XX1D, he like many others were captured in the heavy fighting that lead up to the Dunkirk evacuation.

Today we can still see evidence of the Durham’s stay at the Brewery. There is the Malt store where one can see where the timber was taken from to convert the stables, then there are traces of digging in the field behind the brewery and in the village museum there is a model aircraft carrier ‘HMS Improbable’ complete with aircraft made by the soldiers.

James Tobin.

Hook Norton Brewery brew books and Museum.
Henry Ferguson letters and photos kindly loaned by the Gardner family.
‘Hook Norton at War 1939-1945′ a talk by James Tobin.

Brew dates – Hook Norton beers.

During Brewery tours I’m often asked the question “Which is your oldest Beer?”. The easy answer of course is ‘Mild’ as this is shown as ‘Brew number 1, November 24th’ in the original John Harris brew records of 1856.

To further add to this, if we then look through the sources shown below we find these original brewing dates;
1859; Pale Ale,
1864; Bitter
1880; Haymaker
1903; Double Stout
1977; Old Hooky
1992; 12 Days
1993; Haymaker,
1996; Double Stout
2004; Hooky Gold
2005; Flagship.

Although our current Hooky Mild, Hooky Gold and Hooky can be seen as direct descendants of the 1850/60′s originals, the recipes will have kept in step with changing tastes over the years.

Then there is the question of the introduction dates of key ingredients. All of our brews contain Pale Ale Malt which is produced using a Barley called Maris Otter. This was first released in 1966, so none of our current brews can be older than the 1960′s. A number of our brews also contain Challenger Hops, these were first released in 1972 so again any brew containing this variety cannot be older that the 1970′s.

So there we have it, an insight into the age of our Brews.

James Tobin.

Sources/further reading:
Hook Norton Brewery records.

Oxon Brews: The Story of Commercial Brewing in Oxfordshire – Mike Brown.
A country Brewery, Hook Norton 1849-1999 – David Eddershaw.
Brewed in the Traditional Manner, The story of Hook Norton Brewery – Rob Woolley.

Looking back at Brewing and Pubs in Hook Norton.

Looking back at Brewing and Pubs in Hook Norton.

Today, when there’s talk of Beer in Hook Norton we naturally think of the ales brewed by our famous Brewery here in Scotland End.


In 1300 the Brewing scene was very different, and we have Margaret Dickens history of the village to thank for giving us an insight into this. Then it seems the only standard for Ale was that it had to be of a certain Quality and should not be overpriced. Brewing licenses were issued by the Lord of the Manor and officials known as Tythingmen checked these Licences while Tasters checked the Quality.

Brewing then was very much a cottage industry and the Ale produced would be without hops consisting of Barley Malt for sugar, which yeast would convert to alcohol, with fruit and herbs added for bitterness and flavour. When a brew was ready for sale the brewer would put up a sign outside to make customers and the taster aware. Such picture signs were a forerunner of the Pub signs we see today.

It seems there was considerable rule breaking going on as, according to Dickens, in 1341 the following were find 6d each for brewing without a License; ‘Matilda Coventre, Thomas Tailour and Agnes Couhernde’. Also, Tythingmen themselves were find 4d each ‘For the concealment of brewing’.

In 1500 we learn of five brewers of Ale in the village namely, ‘John Clerke, Robert Playsto, Richard Hyde, Agnes Goffe and Elizabeth Fyttes, and Thomas Pufford and John Clyfton’ as tasters.

The year 1700 saw the introduction of Verification and Capacity marking of drinking vessels and measures. This is still in place today of course with the familiar Monarch’s Crown and capacity mark on glasses etc.  The early mark for Hook Norton vessels would have been the relevant Monarch’s crown and a number, either 547 (Banbury) or 113 (Oxford County). Hook Norton did not have its own number allocated.

The Beerhouse Act of 1830 enabled more individuals to Brew and sell Beer by removing a lot of the red tape involved plus the introduction of a reduced licence fee. This had a dramatic effect in the country as a whole, in 1830 there were around 1000 retail brewers, and in 1839 this had risen to 18,000.

When John Harris became established in 1849 as a farmer and Maltster we learn from David Eddershaw that he supplied Malted Barley to local brewers including; The Sun, The Red Lion, The Bell, The Wheatsheaf and The Gate. There were other Pubs here at that time of course including: The Fox & Hounds (where Turpin’s Lodge is today), The Old Red Lion Southrop, The Talbot in Garrett Lane and The Blackbird in Chapel Street. In fact, the late Percy Hackling had researched the pubs in Hook Norton and there appears to have been no less than 17 different pubs and Beer Houses in the Parish over the years.

According to Mike Brown it seems that by the late 1800′s the most of the old Hook Norton brew pubs were selling their brewing equipment and being taken over by local Breweries. The coming of the Railway would have opened up the village to competition and we find The Bell eventually becoming a Hunt Edmunds, Banbury pub; the Wheatsheaf Hopcraft & Norris/Chesham & Brackley and The Red Lion, Chesham & Brackley/Phipps of Northampton. The Sun and the Gate became John Harris/Hook Norton Brewery tied houses, in addition to the Pear Tree and Railway Hotel, while the remainder mentioned above closed.

Of the local Breweries mentioned of course, only Hook Norton remains.

James Tobin.

Sources/further reading:
A history of Hook Norton 912-1928 – Margaret Dickins.

Oxon Brews: The Story of Commercial Brewing in Oxfordshire – Mike Brown.
Percy Hackling: Information held by the village museum and James Tobin.
A country Brewery, Hook Norton 1849-1999 – David Eddershaw.
Brewed in the Traditional Manner, The story of Hook Norton Brewery – Rob Woolley.

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Pear Tree, Hook Norton

Located at the end of Brewery Lane and known as the Brewery Tap, the Pear Tree was opened as a pub in 1869.


John Harris had earlier recorded his first commercial brew in 1856 and soon after, in 1859, opened up a Beerhouse in Down End. The acquisition of the Pear Tree saw the beginning of the John Harris Brewery tied estate. The Pub was originally a substantial 18th century house with cottage attached with a well at the front, which is still present. The original owner it seems was quite well to do as the front of the building is red brick, a sign of wealth, whereas the remainder is local stone.

The name of course comes from the fact that there is a pear tree growing up the front wall. The original tree is still there on the right hand side of the entrance but as an insurance this was supplemented by a second one planted in the 1960′s on the left hand side. Looking through old Kelly’s directories I have noted the following keepers; 1871 John Dunnett, 1883 Thomas Smart, 1891 James Stone, 1901 Mary Stone, 1911 Tom Rixon, 1915 Thomas Drake, 1920 Rosabella Hoare, 1931 Ellen Messenger and 1935 Eva Heritage.

Looking at old photographs we see tall white wooden railings at either side of the entrance seemingly placed there to tether one’s horse while seeking refreshments inside? It’s nice that we still see horses outside the pub, although these days it is of course usually the Brewery dray horses.


Autumn Musings

After a summer that overall has been quite kind to us, we are now officially in the Autumn season, and time to consider the central heating, relight the Aga, and start to move from salad to vegetables.  Brewing is in many ways similar to cooking, and I enjoy both, with mixed success at the latter.  Saturday morning saw a trip to the butchers, for some shin of beef.  After a beer and food event some years ago in Upton Bishop, shin has become one of my favourite cuts, when cooked with thought and time.  So ten cuts of shin, as we had seven for Saturday dinner, and I also needed a good fill for the Forest of Dean Half Marathon the next day.

The meat is layered in a casserole pot, with some red onion, seasoned with salt and pepper and a couple of stockpots, and of course some Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, and then 2 bottles of beer added – in this case, some Cotswold Lion, which is a limited edition beer to celebrate 50 years of the Cotswolds as an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The beer is a single hop, using just the best quality Fuggles hops, and the malt grist is 100% Maris Otter.  This gives a very clean beer, delicate fruit notes, a balance of bitterness but not overly bitter, and some residual sugars which give a pleasant sweetness.  Not a beer I had cooked with before, so a trial was due. I then leave it to marinade in the frige overnight,  removing on the morning of cooking to attemporate for a few hours.  Bring to the boil on the hob, then into the oven for a long, slow cook time – at least four hours, to tenderise the meat.  Served simply with sweet potato and greens. A healthy meal, with probably the tastiest beef cut, but also the cheapest cut.  Cooking with beer is always fun, with lots of learnings.   Try substituting the glass of wine in a risotto with a bottle of beer – a lighter,  hoppier beer is best in my experience, but try something you might like.

We can all love cooking with beer – in the recipe, an accompaniment to your cooking labours, and of course served with the dish.

If you have a special recipe with beer, let us know, and we will share it with our followers. Who knows, this could develop into a brew and bake off.

Looking Back – World War 2 Military musings

Brewery in World War Two was, like everyone else, affected by the shortages of brew materials and of course manpower as men began to be called up for military service. As well as this the Government increased the cost of a pint in successive Budgets. And then there was the imposed reduction in specific gravity all of which meant the poor old customer ended up paying a higher price for a weaker pint!

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Hook Norton Brewery as new sales opportunities emerged as military forces became mobilised and took over requisitioned Country houses in the area plus of course, new establishments being built such as airfields. Based on information unearthed by Rob Woolley for his book on the Brewery entitled ‘Brewed in the Traditional Manner’ I have researched some of the ‘new’ Military customers supplied by the Brewery during the war period.

In 1939 we find beer being supplied to the Sergeants mess, Royal Army Service Corps at Daylesford and Stow on the Wold. In 1940 it was the Officers mess Liverpool Scottish and Irish at Banbury and Adderbury. Then in 1941 it was the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards east of Banbury at Culworth, Edgecote, Thorpe Mandeville and Woodford. The sales ledger for 1942 included the Officers mess Worcestershire Regiment at Adlestrop House, the NAAFI at Aynho petrol storage depot and Sergeants mess Burton Dassett.

New Airfields were being built in the area and we find sales to George Wimpey in 1941/2 at the ‘Shenington RAF site’ (RAF Edgehill). Once established the Brewery went on to supply beer to RAF Barford St John, RAF Chipping Warden, RAF Croughton, RAF Edgehill as well as RAF Upper Heyford.

It wasn’t just the British forces who liked Hooky; by 1944 the U.S. Army was being supplied at Adlestrop house and North Aston.

At Hook Norton of course we find soldiers being billeted at the Brewery itself during WW2. These included the Durham Light Infantry, Gordon Highlanders and Royal Artillery. Mostly these frequented the six pubs in the village although there are sales recorded for Sergeants and Officers Messes during 1941/42.

According to the wartime Brew books we only ran out of beer once, that was December 23rd 1941.

Come May 8th, V.E. Day, the Brewery workers were given a well earned break finishing at 12 noon on the 8th until Thursday May 10th.

A Brewer’s Musings