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The story of the town's last remaining malt house

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: May 28, 2014

By By Gareth Butterfield

  • Vivyan Manion is selling what is believed to be Ashbourne's last malt house. Main picture shows Vivyan outside the Grade-II listed maltings. Top, inside the building. Above and below, the building's courtyard.

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Ashbourne's last remaining malt house is due to go up for sale next month. Gareth Butterfield and Geoff Merryweather take a look around a forgotten relic of a once thriving local industry.

BACK in the 18th century the brewing industry was something of a lucrative trade.

Even in Ashbourne, a lack of any proper sanitation meant the rivers were heavily polluted and the only source of hydration for many was beer. This prompted a surge in demand for beer. Among those capitalising on this was Ashbourne man Thomas Hemsworth.

Mr Hemsworth and his family built up a mini-empire around brewing which saw the family firm building two large malt houses in Ashbourne to house the barley they grew themselves, which they would then convert to malt ready for beer production.

At the time, his malt houses, at the rear of 23 Church Street were among seven in the town – but now only one derelict building, owned by antiques dealer Vivyan Manion, remains.

It stands as a last monument to Ashbourne's forgotten brewing heritage, and a sole legacy of the impact Mr Hemsworth, a former Yeoman farmer, had on the town.

Mrs Manion, who bought the building along with her shop and home when she moved to Ashbourne from her native New Zealand, is now hoping to find a new owner for the property as she plans to move back overseas.

She said: "It will be very sad for me to leave it, having been here 30 years.

"I suppose I'm a bit of an old romantic at heart and I'd love to see it restored properly, but I realise it has to be made into something viable.

"I originally wanted to turn it in to a house, which I suppose would have worked 30 years ago.

"As it stands at the moment, it's quite sad because it's a project unrealised."

Mrs Manion's malt house was once one of a pair that stood at the rear of what is now her home – the other building has since been demolished and its footprint is now her courtyard garden – also up for sale along with the house and shop, both on the open market.

In total, Church Street was home to three malt houses with the others located in St John Street, Union Street, Compton and Hall Lane.

The barley that supplied the malt houses was largely grown in the countryside south of Ashbourne, although the majority of Ashbourne public houses brewed their own ale from local malt.

Burton ale was available in the town, especially after the opening of the railway in 1852 which connected both towns by rail.

During the mid-19th century the rapid growth and close proximity of the Burton brewing industry led to a decline in Ashbourne's malting trade and the number of businesses fell from seven in 1846 to four in 1857.

During its heyday, however, the town was home to 36 inns and pubs as well as a fluctuating number of retail ''beer houses''.

A few of these were owned by the Hemsworth family, who supplied their businesses with their malt, produced in their malt houses.

They owned the Old Bear – which is now Spurrier Smith Antiques, the Rose and Crown – now Poole and Sons Antiques – and the White Hart, all in Church Street.

Ann and Thomas Hemsworth, along with their sons John and William, were involved in the whole brewing process – growing the barley, processing it into malt and finally selling the ale in their public houses.

But what will become of the final relic of the family's booming business?

Ashbourne-based estate agents Scargill Mann has been tasked with finding a new owner for the property, which is tucked away and accessed through a yard with no parking.

It is due to go under the hammer at a public auction on Wednesday, June 18, at the iPro Stadium in Derby and has been given a guide price of £50,000.

Mrs Manion said: "Keeping it standing has been a labour of love but I've not really done anything to it.

"I put a new roof on shortly after I bought the place but basically it's an untouched building."

She adds that, in an ideal world, she would love to see it become a home for artisans and craftspeople, a place where they can be seen working and sell the fruits of their labour from.

However she understands that, despite its Grade-II listing and tricky access, it could catch the eye of a developer.

Its listed building status will afford it some protection as whoever takes it on starts work on finding another use for it.

And, whatever that use may be, the fabric will have to remain of the last malt house standing in Ashbourne, standing like a time-capsule and a reminder of what was once one of the town's most important industries.

To find out more about the Malt House, or Mrs Manion's other properties, call 01335 345460.

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