Oakhill Brewery was founded circa 1761 by Messers Jordan and Perkins. During its life it passed through the hands of several proprietors, firstly Jordan and Perkins, then in the late 18th century Jordan and Billingsley. For most of the 19th century the Jillard and Spencer families were the owners, and in the early 20th century, the Hobhouse family came into the business. The most famous owner was John Billingsley, a local man and entrepreneur, known for many major engineering projects in Somerset; he was a practical and forward thinking man and under his planning, the brewery developed over the years in areas not normally associated with simply brewing.
The brewery developed a range of services and buildings for its own use: gasometers for lighting both the brewery and the local streets, stables for the dray horses, offices, a sewer system for both the brewery and local housing, a light railway to take the beer to the main line station at Binegar, a water system which carried water from the brewery to many dwellings in the area, with one supply heading out towards Nettlebridge. The brewery itself took its water supply in its own water pipes from springs on the hill to the south. The brewery proprietors had gracious mansions in landscaped gardens, the managers were provided with villas, and the terraces of humbler houses were built for the workers.
The brewery proprietors were concerned for the happiness and welfare of their workforce. They gave land for the construction of chapels. They sometimes distributed free coal in harsh weather and provided food and entertainment on occasions of public celebration, such as the ending of the Napoleonic War, when feasting and fireworks ‘accompanied by a good band’ were the order of the day.
front of Oakhill Brewery as seen from High Street at the junction with Zion Hill, the roof of the malthouse can just be seen in the distance.
In its heyday it was a major producer, most famous for Oakhill Invalid Stout. In 1904, due to its large volumes of production (between 2,000 and 2,500 barrels per week), the brewery constructed its own railway to take barrels of Oakhill Invalid Stout to the Somerset & Dorset Railway in nearby Binegar. The railway had a 2'6" gauge and operated two 0-4-0T locomotives, the 'Mendip' and the 'Oakhill', which were painted in an olive green livery. Traces of the railway can still be seen in the surrounding area.
Until the railway's construction, the brewery had used a Wallis & Stevens traction engine to deliver their barrels to the station.
the brewery as seen from the bottom of Zion Hill
In 1924, just months after a major refitment and renovation, the main brewery building caught fire and was largely destroyed. After the fire the business belonged for a period to the Bristol brewery of Georges and then to Courages but brewing itself stopped in 1938, although the malt sheds remained in use. The malt sheds were situated a little way up the High Street, where the stone wall of the old malt-house abuts the street. This building is thought to date from about 1890. Adjacent to that building, but further away from the street are the partial remains of an earlier malthouse, probably that recorded as newly built by the Shepton Mallet Journal in November 1864. In 1866 the same newspaper reported that ‘A workman’s supper was provided for employees of Jillard and Spencer. About 50 sat down in the malthouses next to the brewery for supper, songs sung, finishing at 10pm’
To the side of the malthouse is Coronation Terrace which belonged to the brewery and was probably built to house the maltsters and their families: these properties had wooden stairways between their backyards and the malt-houses.
In 1981 brewing recommenced in the original brewery building when the Beacon Brewery took over the premises to brew Fosseway Bitter and later Fosseway Forty. However it was short lived as the brewery closed in 1983 when owner Gerry Watts died, but not before he had managed to produce Fosseway Stout, a tribute beer to the former Oakhill Brewery.
New Oakhill Brewery
In 1984, the brewery plant and premises were bought by local businessman Reg Keevil. Under the name New Oakhill Brewery, he brewed beers in the original location until 1997, when he moved the plant to the original malt sheds in order to expand. The brewery produced a total of 31 different beers through the company's 13 year history, and acquired a small chain of tied houses in the village. The brewery finally closed in 2004 when the owner retired.
The original malt sheds are the only buildings remaining today; the original brewery site being demolished and a gated development of new houses being erected in 2005/6. The malthouse itself is a listed building but has been the subject of planning application to convert the building into residential units. In 2010 amended plans were put forward, with the site being named as ‘Oakhill Brewery’ rather than the malthouse. See photo below.
The old Malthouses. photo by Jack Stringer
proposed redevelopement of the old maltings buildings
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