sleaford maltings | between a rock and a hard place

The architect, H. A. Couchman, designed a system of buildings which, architecturally, mirrored the entire malting process. Over the next six years (between 1901 and 1906), the 13 acre site was transformed at a cost of 350,000, supplying over 500,000 square foot of floor space.

The centre of the site was partially devoted to the receiving, grading and preparing the raw (or green) barley. The barley arrived by train where it was unloaded into the Green Barley Store (a three storey building where the raw barley was checked). When ready, it was moved south into the adjacent Barley Kiln, where the barley was dried, before it was moved south again into the three storey Barley Store (which was the main granary for the entire site).

The dried and prepared barley was then transported via covered conveyors to one of the eight identical malting houses; four of each stood each side of the central core arranged in parallel.

Once within a malt house, the barley was transported by further conveyors to the six storey Steep at the southern end of each malting house. Here it was mixed with water and held in silos where the germination process started. The barley was soaked in water for two days with the water being periodically drained to allow oxygen-rich water to be reintroduced.

Once germination started, conveyors were used to transport the barley to the germinating rooms. Here, on four floors, the barley was allowed to germinate for four to five days, being racked periodically. During this period, the starches within the barley kernals started to break down into simpler sugars.

When this process had continued long enough, the germinating barley seeds (now known as malt) were moved to the two storey Kiln Room where the kernals were heated. Drying the malt to 4% moisture halted the germination process.

The final stage was to transfer the malt to the Garner (granary) at the northern end of the malt house. This was a simple storage area where the malt was held until loaded onto trains destined for Burton-Upon-Trent. Therefore the green barley seeds undertook a semi-circular route around the complex; they arrived in the centre, travelled south whilst being prepared for the malting process, were transported east or west to one of the malting houses, and then moved back north during the malting itself.

The architecture of each malt house reflected the malting stages. At the southern end of the block was the imposing six storey Steep which acted as a silo; behind this was the longer four storey Germination Floor (comprising ten bays); behind which was the Kiln Room (only two large storeys with six bays); and at the northern end was the Garner (two storeys and six bays). (The picture below shows this subdivision along a malting house perfectly). This division was also emphasised by the roofs which switched pitch direction every section.

The maltings also needed an impressive powerhouse to drive all the conveyors inside and between the malting houses. This was supplied by an engine in the centrally located engine house; this drove a flywheel , which transferred drive to each malting house via transmission bridges, where it was geared down to drive each of the conveyor belt systems. The engine required a supply of steam which was provided by a boiler (in an adjacent boiler house) and water (from the imposing water tower which defined the centre of the site).

Sleaford maltings looking north west. © Simon Cornwell 2009