Medieval maltings found at famous brewer

THE relationship between brewing and Bury St Edmunds spans the centuries - but a new archaeological discovery has shed fresh light on the town's relationship with the amber nectar.

Laurence Cawley

THE relationship between brewing and Bury St Edmunds spans the centuries - but a new archaeological discovery has shed fresh light on the town's relationship with the amber nectar.

The monks who inhabited the grounds of the town's Abbey, once one of the richest Benedictine monasteries in the land, are known to have brewed their own beer.

But the unearthing of an expansive domed area and flue beyond the Abbey's boundary shows there was at least one other large-scale brewer in the town at the time - and that the town had a precursor to Greene King.


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The structure is thought to be a medieval malting, which was used to process and then heat soaked barley.

Appropriately enough, the discovery was made beneath the North Yard of the town's present day brewing giant Greene King, which invited in the archaeologists before clearing up the yard for building work nearby.

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Head brewer John Bexon said: “It was one of those eureka moments. The process was the same then as it is now - barley, or the malt, is one of the four key ingredients, it is the start of the process.”

Asked what his medieval forerunners would have made of Greene King's current line-ups, Mr Bexon said: “I imagine beer has changed for the better, though the process is largely the same. Their beers would been quite malty, heavier.”

Greene King spokeswoman Frances Brace said: “Beer has been loved by people over the centuries and it is a privilege to be working in a town where something is actually made, and has been made for centuries.”

Andrew Tester, of Suffolk County Council's archaeology unit, said: “It belonged to somebody else other than the monks. Some taverns and big houses brewed their own beer. Our interest in this one is that it is a substantial structure so it is more than a one off and somebody was making a fair bit of beer.

“It is a nice example of a malting. They don't come up all the time and I've seen similar ones in the past - but this one is quite large for a malting kiln. It is also interesting that it is in the North Yard of Greene King.

“It is a part of the town's history that we've not seen a lot of before.”

Simon Pott, chairman of the Bury St Edmunds Society, said: “How very appropriate that it is on the Greene King site.

“It is fascinating and the interpretation of it will be interesting to hear about in due course.

“Obviously the Abbey boasted untold wealth so it is fascinating that there might have been a rival of some sort so nearby.”

Prior to the find, Greene King, set up in the town in 1790, knew that brewing had taken place on its site since 1700. But the new evidence suggests some brewing was taking place there hundreds of years before that.

The malting will be covered over with a thin layer of bitumen to preserve it and enable easy access to it should it need to be studied at some stage in the future.

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