Full steam ahead since 1899

Steam at Hook Norton Brewery

One of the most remarkable survivors of time at this iconic Victorian tower brewery is the 25hp steam engine that can drive the machinery, just as it has done for the past hundred years. Installed in 1899 it was used to provide the motive power that the brewery needed to produce its beer and it is believed to be the last steam engine in the country that can still be used for its original purpose.

The earliest steam engine

John Harris, the brewery's founder, had an earlier steam engine installed in the brewery, probably in 1880 but little is known about it. The steam engine was used to pump the liquor (water), to drive the grist mill and for hoisting sacks and barrels. When the new brewery was built at the turn of the century the accounts include "thoroughly overhauling and fixing the present steam engine and barrel hoist for loading out stage, including additions and alterations to shafting and gearing for same", suggesting that it continued to have a limited use for some time even though the new steam engine had taken over the main role.

Plant driven by the steam engine

The steam engine drives a range of machinery in the brewery via belts and line shafting:

  • The Steele's Masher (patented in 1853) is connected to the lineshafting.
  • On the top floor is the grist mill for crushing the malt. Supplied in 1899 by Nalder and Nalder of Wantage, this is another example of original machinery which is still in use, and it may be the last one of its kind.

Steam Heating

The copper in which the wort is boiled was heated directly by a coal fire until the 1970s when steam pipes were inserted to do the work rather more efficiently. Steam also helped to keep staff happy by supplying a heating system to the new office building when it was completed in 1897.

Cask Washing

Cask washing required ample supplies of hot water, which was heated by reusing the exhaust steam from the engine. A note in the brewing book for 1901 records that the temperature of the water in the washing tank was raised by this means from 74 degrees farenheit at 8.00 am to 180 degrees farenheit by 3.30 pm.

Steam Engine

Technical information

Steam Pressure:

80 psi

Valves:

Thornley drop inlet, Corliss exhaust, driven by two eccentrics

Crank Discs:

Counterbalanced

Flywheel:

7” dia, 9” face

Belt pulleys:

4’ and 18” (all drives are now via belt and lineshaft from the larger pulley)

An unusual feature of this engine is that it is fitted with a type of valve cut-off gear invented by Mr George Thonley, one of the partners in the firm of Buxton & Thonley. The mechanism was later descried in detail in Engineering vol. LXXVIII, 1904.

  • The steam engine drives a range of machinery in the brewery via belts and line shafting
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