The Maltings as we know it today was originally not one building, but at least two separate properties.

The earliest records that we have for the South Wing, the part of the building adjacent to Red Lion Lane, show that it was being used in the 1750s as a tannery, or tanyard, by Michael Reading.

When he died in 1761, he left the property to his niece, Anne Sparfield, who sold it in 1770 to Stanley Bolan. He took out mortgage after mortgage on the tanyard until in 1802 he went bankrupt and the building was sold for £530 to pay his creditors. Two years later it was sold again for £750.

Finally, in 1845, the buildings were sold to John Barrett for £1,400. He converted them into a brewery. When the army were garrisoned at Aldershot in 1850, Barrett seized the opportunity for profit, and opened pubs all over the area. By the 1870s he was rich enough to extend his property by constructing the buildings along the river front.

At this time, the East Wing was a separate building. In 1830 it was bought by Robert Sampson, who set up as a maltster. When he died in 1863 the business passed to his son, Sampson Sampson, whose sign can still be seen on the end of his cottage at 18 Bridge Square.

Eventually the Sampsons were bought out by John Barrett, in 1881. In 1890 the whole property was bought by Barrett’s main rival, George Trimmer of the Lion Brewery. Mr Trimmer amalgamated his own group of pubs with those of Mr Barrett which gave him about 91 in all, plus eight off-licences.

The business was known as the Farnham United Breweries – a restored sign for which can be seen on the side wall of No. 2 Red Lion Lane, which until 1920 was the Red Lion pub.

Mr Trimmer died in 1892 and left Farnham United Breweries to his sons, who further extended and improved the Riverside Buildings.

Courage Breweries took over the Farnham United Breweries in 1925. Malting continued there until 1956, when newer methods made it uneconomic. The building then stood abandoned and fell into disrepair.

The Maltings process

By the late 1890s and early 1900s, the brewing and malting industries were a major source of income in Farnham. Local farmers produced barley, which was passed on to local maltings, including the Farnham Maltings, to be roasted. At the other end of the process, there were around 90 public houses in the area.

After the harvest, barley from various local farms was delivered to the Barley Room where a large extractor machine removed the grit and poppy seeds from the grain. It was then stored in large storage bins, which were zinc lined to exclude rats and mice. The barley from each farm was stored separately, so that customers could choose whose produce they wished to buy.

When required for malting, the grain was soaked in water in brick built troughs, a process known as ‘steeping’, for about 48 hours. Two of these troughs stood in what is now the Great Hall. Once steeped, the grain was then spread about 4’ deep throughout the main expanses of the Maltings. It had to be turned by hand by men with wooden spades, who were known as ‘maltsters’, at regular intervals, to prevent it matting together. This process lasted about ten days, during which time the grain would start to sprout roots. It was then transferred to one of the kilns.

The kiln floors were made up of tiles perforated with tiny holes to enable the heat from the furnaces to get through. Temperatures in the kilns could rise to 200°F (93°C). The heat stopped the grain from sprouting any further, and roasted the corns. Once any roots that had grown on the grain had been removed, this was then malt, and it was poured into sacks and delivered to the brewery.

Restoration and conversion

The Maltings continued to work until 1956, when the development of newer, cheaper methods of malting made it uneconomic for the brewery to continue to use it. The building stood empty for twelve years, and various plans to develop the site were submitted, including a proposal to convert two of the buildings into 25 flats and demolish the remainder.

However, Courage ultimately offered The Maltings to the town for £30,000 (up to £20,000 below its market value) in response to an idea from Alan Fluck to transform it into an arts and community centre. The project was approved by a town meeting at the end of January 1969, but the purchase had to be completed by 25 March, which left only six weeks to raise the money. An action committee headed by Raymond Krish, a leading solicitor, managed to raise £18,000 by the deadline and the remaining £12,000 was raised from the sale of the Maltings cottages to the Farnham Preservation Trust.

Conversion was a long and often difficult process. The first stage alone cost £100,000, and was not fully completed until 1975. Despite this, the first Maltings Market took place in the Great Hall in October 1970. Eventually, due to fire regulations, this was no longer practicable, but the Markets continued to be held in the courtyard and in Church House, whilst the Great Hall underwent conversion. During this time, fundraising went on, and public donations were augmented by grants of £30,000 from the Ministry of the Environment; £15,000 from the Arts Council and £2,000 from the Pilgrim Trust.

The project was made possible, not only by the generosity of subscribers but also by the practical help of large bands of volunteer workers who undertook considerable clearance work in the old buildings.

Today, twenty years later, the Maltings provides space for many different activities, which are open to all sections of society. The building now includes artists’ studios, galleries, the Riverside Café and Cellar Bar; the Barley Room, Dance Studio (left) and Nursery.

The latest stage of conversion is the recent project to restore the South Wing of the building to provide additional performance and studio space. At the same time, the entrance has been updated to facilitate disabled access.

The Maltings is strongly supported by a membership which is open to all. The Farnham Maltings Association is a registered charity, a company limited by guarantee and is totally independent of major Government funding.

The Farnham Maltings Association is a prime example of local people coming together at grass roots to preserve a superb industrial building from certain demolition and transform it into a centre of creativity for the region.

An extensive history of the building and collected stories about the building can be found in one book entitled ‘Maltings Stories’ by Nicci Hewett available for a limited time from the Maltings Store priced at £2.00.