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17th July 2013

Arkell’s celebrates 170 years in business this September

Arkell’s Brewery is celebrating 170th years of brewing this year by throwing its doors open on Saturday 7 September for an Open Day and Beer Festival at Kingsdown Brewery, Swindon, for visitors to tour one of the very few remaining working Victorian breweries in the world, and taste beers from across the UK.

Leading up to this, the brewery is currently in the middle of an exciting brewing experiment, producing five 4.2% ABV beers using the same malt recipe with English Maris Otter for each, but using 5 carefully selected hop varieties, one in each brewHead Brewer Alex Arkell explains: “We are doing this to give drinkers the chance to learn how much hops influence beer flavour and we’ll be explaining the science behind the flavour to those who tour the brewhouse during the beer festival.”

Arkell’s was started by John Arkell at his farm at Stratton, Swindon in 1943 when the town was experiencing its first economic boom with Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway workshops opening the same year. The brewery outlived the first age of the train, but it is still run daily by the Arkell family.

No one knows the exact date that ‘Farmer John’ who grew his own barley added ‘Brewer John’ to his list of professional achievements, but Arkell’s will be celebrating the anniversary in September 7th because it’s around the time of the Spring barley and hop harvests.
1843 was also year of engineering excellence. The engineer Marc Isambard Brunel (the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel) saw his Thames Tunnel, the first tunnel under the River Thames opened, and his son Isambard launched the SS Great Britain from Bristol, the first iron hulled, propeller-driven ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. His Great Western Railway works were officially opened that year and Brewer John Arkell was entrepreneurial enough to recognise that men working in the sweltering sheds would welcome beyond practically anything else, a glass of refreshing ale at the end of their shift.
Then, a price of pint of beer was around 2d (cheaper than a loaf of bread at 3d but more expensive than 1d pint of milk).
The Beerhouse Act of 1830 had enabled anyone to brew and sell beer from a public house or their own homes for a £2 licence without bothering the local Justice of the Peace. As a result public houses opened up everywhere, but Arkell’s proved a firm favourite in Swindon and in 1861 built a new brewery at Kingsdown (it’s present site), extended it again after just six years.
John Arkell died peacefully in 1881 and was succeeded by his sons Thomas and James. The Swindon Advertiser (which began publishing in 1854) reported shops closed and window blinds drawn as the funeral cortege passed on its way to Stratton church.  “The poor had lost a good friend, a plain and simple friend,” reported the paper.
The current chairman, James Arkell, is the founder’s great, great grandson, and his sons George (director), Alex (head brewer) and John work alongside him running the business today.
James Arkell said: “We’ll celebrate a great British traditional industry and the continuity that a family business brings to the local economy. We’re looking forward to a celebration worthy of 170 years in business.”