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Downing's Malthouses

The brothers George & William E Downing from Smethwick established a malthouse in Merchants Rd in 1876, and in due course they erected additional buildings on adjoining land beside Bakers Quay. This page outlines the history of the site, which continued producing malt until the 1970s.

No 1 Malthouse
     The Downing family already had malthouses around the West Midlands, and the new site at Gloucester was no doubt chosen because of ready access to imported barley. The original building on the east side of Merchants Rd (to right of photo) had a basement with a cistern capable of steeping 100 quarters of grain, three working floors on which the grain was allowed to germinate and four kilns used to complete the production of malt. Direct railway communication was provided by a siding from the Midland Railway running along Merchants Rd.

No 2 Malthouse
     The first malthouse was evidently successful, and a second was built to the north of the first in 1895 (to left of photo above). It had a basement working floor with a steeping tank, two more working floors and two store floors. The floor levels were the same as in the first malthouse, and the gap between the buildings was bridged at two levels. A range at the north end contained a large malt kiln heated by four fires and a smaller barley drying kiln heated by two fires.

Nos 3 & 4 Malthouses
     A further expansion took place in 1901, when two more large malthouses were built between Merchants Rd and Bakers Quay with the upper floors on the west side supported on pillars over the quay (photo right). Each malthouse had a basement and four floors with a range of kilns at the north end. A bridge over Merchants Rd linked the new malthouses to the earlier ones.

     In the early 1950s, a major programme of modifications was carried out. Most of the original No 1 malthouse was demolished and replaced by a concrete building containing silos. The associated kiln to the east was reused to house a barley dryer. The ground floors of Nos 3 & 4 malthouses, originally used for storing malt in garners prior to dispatch, were converted into additional working floors, and the malt was stored in the new silos. The working floors in Nos 3 & 4 malthouses were provided with forced-draught air cooling to remove the heat generated by germination - previously, the only means of temperature control was by adjusting wooden shutters in the window openings, and this was not sufficient to allow malt production to continue during the summer months. In the 1970s, the site began trading under the name Associated British Maltsters, a group that the Downing's business had joined back in 1931.

     Although the modernisation programme helped the business, the traditional method of malt making in use was very labour intensive. Following the installation of modern plant at other malthouses around the country, the business at Gloucester could no longer compete, and it closed down circa 1980. The buildings were later used by West Midlands Farmers for grain storage.

      Glos Arch GBR L20/1875/4, D7942/415; D2460/4/7/4/22 to 34; Glo Jnl 24 Mar 1877; dates on buildings. Photos by kind permission of Gloucestershire Archives D7942/491.

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