7 Oct. 2015, Wells-next-the-Sea: a talk on Mary Hardy, farming and brewing

Margaret Bird will give an illustrated talk ‘Mary Hardy: farmer, brewer, diarist‘ to the Wells Local History Group on Wednesday 7 October 2015 at 7.30 pm. All are welcome. The details of the meeting at Wells, Norfolk, are below.

Power for malting and brewing

Wells, like other ports and staithes along the Norfolk coast at King’s Lynn, Brancaster Staithe, Burnham Overy, Blakeney, Cley and Great Yarmouth, played a vital role in importing coal from as early as the opening of the 16th century. By the Hardys’ time large numbers of colliers battled down the east coast from Blyth, Tynemouth, North Shields, Newcastle, South Shields and Sunderland, all bringing the precious commodity for rural manufacturers.

Wells harbour, evening light

Wells-next-the-Sea: coaling yards and cinder ovens lined these quays for centuries. Pit coal and coke provided fuel for the breweries and maltings of the port and its hinterland

Coal was used in huge quantities in brewery coppers. But producers like the Hardys needed ‘cinders’ (coke) in even larger quantities.

Coke was preferred to coal in the malt-kilns as it did not taint the grain; coal would give the malted barley, and thus the beer, a sulphurous taste.

Coking ovens for maltings lined the quays of the ports and also the inland staithes of the Norfolk Broads; very little coked coal was brought down from the ports of the North-East.

In the years 1793–97 only 42% of the Hardys’ cart journeys to the quays at Blakeney and Cley were for coal for their brewery and for domestic use. By contrast 58% were for cinders for their maltings four miles away at Letheringsett. In their early days there they built their own cinder oven at Cley, bringing a trusted Coltishall team 22 miles across country to carry out the building work in 1781.

Causey Arch and Burn

The Causey Arch, over the fast-flowing burn below: the oldest surviving railway bridge in the world. Every day 930 trucks, on wooden rails, crossed this bridge in each direction

The start of a dangerous journey

The voyages of the valiant brigs and schooners on the treacherous North Sea were perilous. But so too was the land journey from the pits above the banks of the Tyne to the staithes below, where sailing vessels, the keels, waited to take the coal downriver; there it was transhipped for the journey by sea.

In the old County Durham (now Tyne and Wear) the Tanfield Wagonway carried the pit coal in wooden trucks named chaldrons, each carrying 53 hundredweight of coal (nearly three tons): the Newcastle measure. In 1725–27 a great single-span bridge was built to cross the Causey Burn. The trucks rolled down by gravity on the main way to the south bank of the Tyne on a gradient at times 1 in 14, and were hauled by horses back up again on the bye way.

An observer in the mid-18th century noted that a laden truck crossed this bridge every 45 seconds—so great was the hunger for coal.

The meeting at Wells

The talk will be given at 7.30 pm at the Gordon Barrett Memorial Hall beside the Congregational Church (formerly the church school room), in the centre of Wells: Clubbs Lane (east side), Wells, NR23 1DP. Parking is available very close to the venue. The charge is £1.00 for members of Wells Local History Group and £3.50 for guests and visitors.

The other talks this season are listed on the Group’s website: Wells Local History Group, diary of events.

You can read more about the talk, and the role of vertical integration in the brewing industry, on the website for Mary Hardy’s diary.