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Wind of change blows through Gales Brewery site

Demolition work at the Gales Brewery site in Horndean.

Pictures courtesy of Horndean Camera Club.

Demolition work at the Gales Brewery site in Horndean. Pictures courtesy of Horndean Camera Club.

It was the end of an era. In 2006, the Gales Brewery flag was lowered for last time in Horndean – bringing to an end 160 years of brewing history.

Horndean existed since the Middle Ages as a staging post because it was conveniently located between the capital and the growing naval city of Portsmouth.

But it was the vision of one man, George Gale, that really put the village on the map when he started brewing beers in 1850s.

One hundred years later, Gales was established as a beer powerhouse, producing fine ales for more than 100 pubs across the wider Portsmouth area.

Gales Horndean Special Bitter, first brewed in 1959 and with a distinctive, moreish flavour, was the ale that saw the brewery go from strength to strength.

But by 2005 it was all coming to an end with rumours of a takeover.

And when it finally happened, people in Horndean were shell-shocked and wondered what the future would hold.

Fuller’s, Smith and Turner bought the award-winning brewery for £92m and still brew Gales beers to this day, although not the wide variety of one-off brews that Horndean was once famous for.

But the page has now been turned.

The remnants of the brewery are now being transformed into a housing development.

The iconic Gales Tower, so loved by villagers, is being renovated into apartments by Linden Homes.

I visit on a Friday morning and the sprawling building site is a frenzy of activity, with many of the dozens of new homes and apartments taking shape, as well as a shop.

Some houses are already up, but they do not look out of place on streets named Barley Rise, Gale Drive, Malthouse Way, and The Old Brewery

‘Part of the planning was that the tower had to stay,’ says Tina Chalk, marketing manager for Linden Homes, who is giving me a tour of the site.

‘We are quite pleased – why would you want to take it down?

‘It’s gorgeous! I think there would have been a riot if they tried to take it down.’

Even though much of the old brewery has been demolished, the heritage is still evident.

You can still see the remnants of the old bridge that connects the tower to the Ship and Bell pub, which was being run by George Gale in 1853.

‘The feedback we get is they are pleased we are retaining the street scene along London Road,’ says Tina.

‘You are not losing that street scene through the centre of the village, you are just tidying it up.

‘It’s all been empty and derelict for so long. Every empty building looks neglected and sad.’

One empty building is Nash Hall, once used by Gales staff.

It needs a good clear-up, but Linden is considering several options, including it becoming a community space.

The development is due to be finished by the middle of 2015.

Tina, who has helped to develop many sites, says this development has offered a unique challenge as it was never about just plonking houses on green fields.

‘It’s connects with the village,’ she says.

‘It’s not just new houses.

‘This has real meaning to the people who are going to be living here.

‘It just feels nice. We are embracing the history, rather than not caring.’

Brendan Charles, who runs Horndean Community Association at Merchistoun Hall, says: ‘It’s the end of an era.

‘The tower however will always be an iconic and proud reminder of the past, standing tall in the place of where the brewery once stood.

‘With an identified need for more housing in the country, it seems an ideal place.

‘I hope it brings much interest in the community where our new residents reside - to be active in the community they live.’

Sara Schillemore, a Horndean Councillor born and bred in East Hampshire, says: ‘The site has mostly been developing quite well.

‘I am sure it will meet a housing need for the people who wish to move into East Hampshire. ‘We are looking forward to the new convenience store opening.’

Horndean was first identified in 12th century documents as ‘Harmedene’, which translates as Field Mouse Valley.

Horndean stood in a great forest that stretched from the border of Hampshire to Winchester called the Forest of Bere.

A track led through the forest from Horndean to Portsmouth but it was only usable in summer. In winter coaches had to make a detour to Havant.

This changed in 1711 when a much better road was built from Cosham along the route of London Road.

Merchistoun Hall was built in the late 18th century.

In 1836 it was bought by Admiral Charles Napier who renamed it after his birthplace Merchiston Hall in Scotland.

He was an eccentric character who used to walk around Horndean with a pet monkey on his shoulder.

In 1903 a tram called the Horndean Light Railway began running between the city and Horndean. For many Portsmouth people travelling to Horndean for a day in the summer was a big treat

The light railway closed in 1935 and was replaced by buses.

In 1932 Horndean was given a parish council in recognition of the fact that the area was growing rapidly.

During World War II many people from Portsmouth came to Waterlooville and Horndean each night to escape the bombing. They slept in sheds and garages and in temporary shacks.

The Gale family had been residents of Horndean since the 18th century.

One of the general stores was owned by the widowed Anne Gale, whose son Richard was a baker.

By 1836, Richard built his own house with bakery ovens, on the bend in the London Road opposite the Ship and Bell Inn.

He continued as a shopkeeper until the 1840s when he then became a corn merchant – with his eldest son Henry taking responsibility for the shop duties.

In 1847, Richard and Henry Gale bought the Ship and Bell Inn and Richard Gale’s profession as a corn merchant meant he also had easy access to the raw material for brewing – barley.

By 1855, Richard’s now only surviving son, George Gale, had progressed from being master of the Ship and Bell Inn, to becoming the brewer as well as wine and spirit merchant.

The brewery took its water from its own well situated under the brewery which is fed from the South Downs.

By 1861, George Gale was employing nine men and two boys. However, disaster struck in 1869 when substantial part of the brewery was destroyed by fire.

The insurance company paid out the money within 10 days of the fire, which meant that Richard Gale was able to get a larger brewery built and operational within the same year.

While the brewery went from strength to strength, Gales provided accommodation for many of the workforce in a number of the cottages along the west side of London Road opposite the brewery - many of which are still standing today.

 

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