Hipperholme Steam Brewery's Construction

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Hipperholme Steam Brewery - Messrs. Brear & Brown Ltd.

by P.W.Robinson

Historical notes and context

Tenders were invited during November 1889 for the various works required in building a brewery tower, covered yard, store cellars and retaining walls at Hipperholme Steam Brewery. Tenders to be delivered to Messrs. Jackson & Fox, architects, 22 George Street, Halifax by Wednesday 27th November.1

It was usual for Halifax architects at this period to undertake both the design of new buildings and also to undertake the role of clerk of works during their construction. This was in contrast to the usual custom in the larger city and in London practices where the architect was responsible for the design only and contractors and others were employed to undertake the role of clerk of works. In Halifax, where a local firm working for a client undertook to construct a particularly large or specialist type of building, such as a brewery or maltings, the design work was often put out to another architectural practice with the necessary expertise in that field, and was then carried into construction by the local firm acting as clerk of works. There is evidence for this in the case of Thomas Ramsden & Son Ltd's Stone Trough Brewery, Commercial Street, Halifax where the plans were completed by the nationally recognised firm of William Bradford, but the tendering process and overseeing of the construction was undertaken by the Halifax architectural practice of W.H.D. Horsfall.2 Likewise, when Halifax brewers, [[Richard Whitaker & Sons Ltd] required the construction of new maltings adjoining its Corporation Street Brewery, its favoured local architect, Joseph Frederick Walsh who obtained technical drawings for the building from Richard Hardy of Nottingham, but undertook all the other detailed aspects of the design before overseeing the erection of the building through to completion.3

Stylistically the brewery tower at Hipperholme bears similarities in design and quality of decoration to that of Scamell & Colyer for Peter Walker & Co. Ltd’s, Clarence Street Brewery, Burton on Trent built in 1883.4 If one compares the Hipperholme Brewery to that of William Bradford’s design for James Hole & Co. Ltd’s, Castle Brewery, Newark (1890) the similarity of treatment is even more striking.5 Apart from the execution of the roof line all the main architectural elements of the tower are almost identical floor by floor. Although the contribution of either of these nationally recognised firms cannot be demonstrated in this particular case, the quality of architectural detail and style are of a similarly high order, making this tower amongst the most striking and important amongst those few that remain, especially so, since West Yorkshire brewers were not normally given to providing the money for this level of architectural decoration.

Very few substantial late Victorian brewery towers survive in West Yorkshire. When compared to Hipperholme, that at the former Kirkstall Brewery Co Ltd is of an altogether smaller and plainer character, so too is that of the Ilkley Brewery & Aerated Water Co. Ltd. That attached to Lydia H.Platt's Puzzle Hall Inn, Sowerby Bridge, is of a merely domestic character exemplifying the opposite end of the scale within the brewing industry. Furthermore the dominant location of the Hipperholme tower is of considerable importance, not only does its striking design act as a signature building dominating the approach to Hipperholme along Halifax Road, it also provides a prominent focal point in the landscape along the whole section on the Shibden Valley between Stump Cross and Southedge, being clearly visible from the ancient Wakefield Gate highway as it descends from the shoulder of Beacon Hill; this despite the loss of some of the site’s ancillary buildings and its substantial maltings.

Steam Brewery The term ‘Steam Brewery’ is a significant one, and has parallels with the use of the word ‘electric’ in the 1920s and 1930s or ‘turbo’ in the 1980s. It was an expression of modernity at the time of the brewery’s construction in the early 1890s and was commonly used by a variety of progressive businesses.6 Although steam had been used in some of the London breweries since the late 18th century to power steam engines, by the end of the next century it had been extended to all aspects of the brewing process. Not only was the brewing liquor transferred from underground wells into vast tanks at the top of the brewery tower for use in making the beer, water was also pumped for the numerous cleaning requirements through the plant. Belt drives from the steam engines also drove sack hoists and grain elevators as well as the malt mills located above the mash tun. By the end of the century, steam coils within the brewing copper were being used to boil the wort, whilst steam was also used for sterilising casks prior to filling with the fermented beer. The use of steam power had made possible the concept of the tower brewery, whereby brewing liquor and malt for the mash tun could first be lifted up to the top of the building and then gravity was allowed to carry out the task of transferring the ingredients down the building as they passed through the various stages of the brewing process, eventually ending up in the cellar where the casks were held for maturation before going out to trade.7


1. Halifax Courier, 16 November 1889.

2. Lynn Pearson, British Breweries, an Architectural History, Hambleton Press, London 1999, p157 & 172. (hereafter, British Breweries) and Peter W. Robinson, The Stone Trough Brewery, Halifax Antiquarian Society and Brewery History Society, New Ash Green, 1997.

3. Peter W. Robinson, Joseph Frederick Walsh (1861-1950), Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society Vol. 9 New Series, 2001, p123. 4. Lynn Pearson, British Breweries, p54.

5. Lynn Pearson, British Breweries, p62. See also attached photograph PJ4546.

6. West Yorkshire Archives Service, Calderdale District Archive, HAS/C:12/23 Prospectus for the United Steam Millers Co. Ltd., 1891.

7. H. S. Corran, A History of Brewing, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1975, p161 for details of the adoption of steam in the brewing industry.