Oast with the Most
A familiar sight to all Kentish folk, but a curious oddity to visitors from afar, the iconic oast house has become an adored emblem for Kent’s rural identity.
Travel anywhere in Kent’s countryside and you are sure to see one. Perhaps its white turrets, or ‘cowls’ will arise from a collection of trees or its circular brick base will appear from around a bend in the road, sitting resplendently on the edge of a pretty village green or tucked away behind some farm gates. Wherever you might see one and whatever function it has today, the oast house you see will have played an important part in Kent’s agricultural history and the shaping of the county’s Garden of England persona.
When hops were first cultivated in this country over 600 years ago, it was at Westbere, just outside the City of Canterbury, where they were grown. Kent’s fertile soil was so well suited to growing hops that the county soon became the centre of the British hop industry, which remains to this day both an important part of the county’s history and its status in British brewing. The market town of Faversham is famously home to Shepherd Neame – the oldest surviving brewer in the country – with a history that can be traced back to the mid-16th century. But what do hops and brewing have to do with the picturesque oast house? Everything. Designed for kilning, or drying hops, as part of the brewing process, the structure of the oast house achieved this through the use of a flow of heated air through the kiln rather than a traditional firing process.
Although the earliest description of an oast dates from 1574, the earliest surviving purpose-built oast is at Golford in Cranbrook which was built in 1750. According to British History experts, Britain Express: “There are usually three rooms in an oast; the kiln (oven), the drying room, and the cooling room. Kilns were fired by wood until the 17th century, then by charcoal, and more recently by oil. The hops were dried in the drying room usually located just above the kiln, then dragged into the cooling room before being pressed or baled into packets for transport to the breweries. The distinctive conical roof of the oast is necessary to create a good draught for the fire. The odd projections at the peak of the roof are cowls which can be pivoted to create just the right airflow for the kiln fire to draw properly. In about 1830, the cowls were made redundant by the introduction of electric fans.”
With the increasing mechanisation of the hop-picking process which began in the early 1930s, many oasts fell into disuse. Some were sadly demolished and others became derelict and fell into disrepair. However, as our love for traditional and historic architecture began to flourish, so too did our love and care for the oast house. Today, many oast houses have been converted into family homes, staycation lets and even business premises. With this admiration for the architecture of the building stronger than ever, so too is our appreciation and interest in the history of the oast, establishing a firm dedication to keeping the legacy of this building alive.
Today, those looking to experience the original functions of an oast house and witness the important part they played in our agricultural history can do so at The Hop Farm in Paddock Wood and Kent Life Museum in Maidstone. Featuring the world’s largest collection of Victorian oast houses, The Hop Farm was a major supplier of hops to London breweries in the 19th and 20th centuries. Come 2023, The Hop Farm is now a major visitor attraction featuring an outdoor adventure play park, indoor soft play area, animal farm, museums, crazy golf and lots of fantastic events. The Hop Farm is currently closed for an exciting refurbishment, but we look forward to seeing it reopen its doors soon. Kent Life, on the outskirts of Maidstone, is one of the few remaining places in Britain where hops are still grown, harvested, dried and packed in its magnificent oast house by hand using only time-honoured traditional techniques. Visit to enjoy farm animals, a big top show, the vintage village, shopping, food and more.
An Oast of your Own…
Oast Houses with Bloom Stays
The perfect way to truly embrace the unique appeal of an oast house and experience the beauty of the building up close is by staying in one. All lovingly restored and cared for by owners with an appreciation for their property’s heritage, Bloom Stay’s portfolio of oast houses provides the opportunity to do just this.
The Oast Newenden, nr Tenterden
A lovingly restored oast house which has been converted into a comfortable home. Situated in the centre of the historic village of Newenden, the oast sits opposite the village green where cricket has been played since 1300 and is close to the church with its 12th-century font. The Oast is within very easy walking distance of the 16th-century pub, The White Hart Inn, which offers local beers and wines as well as excellent home-cooked food.
While The Oast is in the centre of this historic village, it is situated in a very tranquil location with far reaching westerly views down the Rother Valley. There is plenty of outdoor space which includes a sheltered but sunny terrace, complete with a coal barbeque, a large garden and a one acre paddock which is ideal for children to run around in. The Oast, which is a listed building, was sympathetically converted in 1995 to a very high standard and retains many of its original period features. These include the hop press, which is situated at the top of the stairs. Despite design honouring its history and heritage, The Oast now benefits from modern comforts, including insulation, as well as an excellent central heating system so you are sure to keep toasty during these autumn nights. A log burning stove ensures extra comfort and an even cosier atmosphere, while the traditional kitchen with a range cooker is a great space for family meals and evenings with friends.
insideKENT had a chat with The Oast Newenden’s owner, Alan Seal.
Tell us the story of how you came to own the The Oast Newenden.
The Oast was an impulse purchase in 2010. I was looking for a property that would be perfect for holiday letting and found The Oast Newnden on the web. Although the property needed a lot of work and expenditure, I knew I would not find anything better. It was the only property I looked at!
What are your favourite quirks about The Oast?
The Oast is very original; it is believed that the central part of the building was a very small cottage built in the 17th century. The oast’s kiln was added in 1837 and used to dry hops until it was abandoned in 1965. At this time it was given Grade II listed status. The large oast press is still in the building and is located at the top of the stairs. There are many oak beams and other original features and the central part of the building has a bedroom with a vaulted ceiling with many exposed beams.
What inspired your interior design concept?
I wanted to ensure that all the furnishings in the property, especially the beds, were very comfortable but not too fussy. What has been chosen is a mixture of classical, antique and contemporary furniture. This sounds like a very odd mixture, but judging from the many compliments, reviews and comments that have been expressed, this mixture works with the quirky nature of The Oast. Much of the furniture has been built bespoke by local craftsmen. This is because the unusual shape of the building doesn’t allow for shop-bought furniture.
What would you most like our readers to know about The Oast Newenden?
Newenden is Kent’s smallest village and is very historic, but despite its size there is lots to do and visit locally. There are five places to eat in the village, a great traditional pub, two cafes, a kebab hut and a very good Indian restaurant about half a mile away. The views from The Oast are great, especially from the sheltered patio, there is also a large garden and a one-acre paddock. From The Oast there are many walks or bike rides along by the river, or through some stunning countryside. Dogs are also very welcome!
Bushes Oast, Sevenoaks Weald
A newly renovated oast house incorporating the unusual combination of a square and round oast, Bushes Oast promises a wonderful staycation. Beautifully furnished in a mix of contemporary and antique styles, expect a luxurious stay with modern amenities, ideal for couples and small families. The house and garden are set within a private estate and there are wonderful views from all rooms across the Weald of Kent, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The rural location offers a haven of peace and tranquillity with miles of footpaths – including the famous Greensand Way. A mere 10 minutes drive from the buzzy town of Sevenoaks for shopping, dining and entertainment.
insideKENT caught up with Bushes Oast’s owner, Tom Campbell
Tell us the story of how you came to own Bushes Oast.
The oast house is part of the family farm. Over the years it has been used in a number of guises, but years of being used as a farm building meant it was in desperate need of renovation. The family had contemplated converting it into a cottage for a number of years, as it would have been a great shame if it had been left to ruin. We were fortunate enough to be granted planning permission to develop the building, which has enabled us to keep this historic piece of Kent architecture for all to enjoy.
What are your favourite quirks about the property?
It is a square oast which adds a certain quirkiness to the property. It is run completely on electricity and the wood burning stove, so it is as efficient as it can be, while still retaining its historical aesthetic. The building is exactly as it has always been on the outside and we have tried to keep as many of the original materials from the building as possible. The wooden bedroom with the bath in it is my particular favourite!
What inspired your interior design concept?
My mother and a vision of ‘countryside comfort’!
What would you most like our readers to know about Bushes Oast?
Its location is only 30 miles from Hyde Park Corner, but feels like the middle of Scotland! It is quiet and peaceful, with uninterrupted views over the Weald of Kent and there is an abundance of wildlife in the surrounding fields. The oast has incredible access to nearly a dozen National Trust properties such as Ightham Mote, Hever Castle, Penshurst Place, Chartwell, Chiddingstone Castle and many more. It is also close to Sevenoaks station which can have you in central London, watching a play in the West End in just 45 minutes!
Finchcocks Oast, Goudhurst
Finchcocks Oast is a sensational oast house conversion with six rectangular oasts complete with the traditional white ‘cowls’ pointing towards the sky. As well as original features, Finchcoks Oast has wonderfully spacious and beautifully designed rooms as well as a gorgeous swimming pool and beautiful grounds. Expect lovely views over traditional hop gardens and farmland from the windows. This fabulous building makes a breathtaking place to celebrate special family occasions or holidays with friends. With light and airy accommodation across two floors, double-height ceilings, designer lighting and oak flooring, guests can expect a truly aesthetic stay with plenty of luxurious elements and photo opportunities. As well as the private outdoor heated swimming pool, guests can make use of the tennis court, gardens and first-floor balcony. The balcony leads straight from the main reception area and delivers stunning views over the surrounding countryside. An unforgettable Kentish stay perfect for bidding farewell to the summer of 2023.