Published: 12:01, 04 December 2016
A project to restore the historic Shepherd Neame brewery to its original grandeur is well under way.
More than 300 years since Britain’s oldest brewery created its first beer, the Grade II listed site is undergoing its biggest-ever facelift.
Every inch of the renovation, which began in August, has been a complex and intricate process to make sure that the centuries-old building survives the work.
The brewery’s own historian, John Owen, has been involved every step of the way.
Chief executive Jonathan Neame said: “As Britain’s oldest brewer, we feel it is important to restore and protect our historic site.
“The work will also help our brewing team to drive ever higher standards of quality and consistency in the beers we produce.”
The building work has so far included a replacement of the brewhouse roof in traditional natural slate, cleaning of the brewhouse building with a special non-abrasive method and brickwork repairs, carried out by craftsmen.
Tiles which could not be saved have been replaced in reclaimed materials to preserve the historic look, and all the leadwork has been replaced.
In the weeks before Christmas, all non-original gutters and downpipes will be replaced with handmade, bespoke Victorian-style fittings, and non-heritage windows in the brewhouse replaced with bespoke period-style windows provided by Faversham Heritage Joinery.
Senior surveyor John Arthur said: “It has been a very complex project so far, using bespoke materials and restoring original features and we are hoping to bring the building back to the way it was.
“When we first set out, our biggest challenge was finding out how we would keep the brewery brewing and the tours running and have the least impact on Shepherd Neame’s staff and visitors.
“Even the scaffolding we use is complex because of the shape of the building and we have had to use a specialist firm in London.
“There is a lot of intricate work going on behind the scenes, including brick repair work which is incredibly time consuming. We are using special imperial bricks, heritage pointing, and specialist tops to gutters which had to be shipped over from China.
“We have worked very closely with our historian John Owen and used old photographs and paintings to see how the brewery once was.”
The next step, to begin in the new year, will be repairs and maintenance of the Street at the heart of the brewery, which is the main walkway and often used for wedding photographs.
This will include replacing all the signage with the new Shepherd Neame branding introduced earlier this year.
The project is expected to be completed by March.
At the same time as the restoration of the building, the brewery’s wooden mash tuns have been replaced for the first time in 100 years.
Skilled shipwrights from Faversham Creek were asked to lead the project.
Shipwright Simon Grillet said: “Each piece of wood had to be reshaped to fit around the new mash tuns.
“It was a very peculiar puzzle to solve, and initially caused a few sleepless nights.
“But they are 100-year-old vessels made from fabulous Burmese teak, prized for its durability and beauty, so it was a very worthwhile project.”