Cobholm Maltings


In 1852, the Lady Haven Estate in Cobholm, a part of the Lichfield Estate, was sold for £7,000. The area (which was sparsely populated with very few buildings as much of the area was marshland and at one time salt pans) was drained. Many plots of land in the area were sold during the following years and new buildings were gradually erected.


Robert Shingles Watling had been a prosperous corn merchant/factor since the late 1700s based on North Quay. By 1836, he is listed as a corn merchant and maltster having a small malting on Lime Kiln Road (now Steam Mill Lane). His malting business gradually expanded. By 1839, he was not only advertising as a corn merchant and maltster, but also a porter (dark brown bitter beer) merchant. In 1853, he purchased several plots of land, between Steam Mill Lane and Mill Road. Construction of the largest buildings to be erected in the area was started and this became the substantial four-storey double malting complex, known as malthouses numbers six and seven. The malting complex stood on Mill Road. Its frontage was from the north side of Queens Place to Saw Mill Lane. The site had access to the river along Steam Mill Lane. The site also included property on the east and west sides of Mill Lane giving a quay head access to the site for delivery of the raw product, barley, by wherry. Production had started at the site by 1856.


His malthouse empire eventually expanded to twelve within the town. Number 1 maltings stood on the southwest corner of the Conge. There were five in the Cobholm side of Southtown. These included, three on Mill Road, the original malthouse on Steam Mill Lane and one on High Mill Road. The rest stood within the Rows area. During the mid 19th century, Watling’s acquired two malthouses in Caister, which stood on the site of what is now the police station, north of the King’s Head public house, previously owned by William Womack Brandford. The other three were situated within the rows area. Watling's also had nine other malthouses throughout Norfolk.  


In 1871, health concerns were an issue and complaints were made to the council that Watling’s were discharging waste from the maltings’ steeps directly into the Lady Haven, which had caused the waterway to stop up and was the cause of a foul smell.


In 1877, Watling’s were advertised as ship owners, corn, oil cake and coal merchants and maltsters at Southtown riverside and Norwich. During the 19th century, Watling’s supplied malt to many of the larger cities in the country, such as London, Newcastle and including the country’s brewing capital, Burton upon Trent. Robert Shingles Watling’s son, Ralph, had taken control of the company by the 1920s, when the business had become R. S. Watling and Sons Ltd. Between the 1920s and 1940s, many of the malt houses were sold. Malting at Caister finished in 1930 and demolished in the 1960s; the remaining malthouses were those in Southtown.


In 1942, Lacon’s maltings were badly damaged during an air raid and, during the few weeks while repairs were carried out, Lacon’s malt production was transferred to malthouse number 4, which stood on High Mill Road, adjacent to Southtown Railway Station.


In 1944, R S Watling & Sons was sold to its two largest customers, Guinness and Watney’s. Seventy-five men were employed at the number 6 and 7 maltings. During the 1950s, the maltings were producing 5,300 tons of malt annually, the largest percentage being supplied to the Guinness Park Royal Brewery, London by train from Southtown Station. In 1981, Watney’s relinquished their share of Watling's to Guinness and in 1984 they became E. S. Bevan (Malting's) Ltd., a subsidiary of the Guinness Group. E. S. Beavan (Malting’s) Ltd, of Warminster, was established in 1941 by Dr Edwin Sloper after he took over the Warminster maltings, which was built in 1855 by the Morgan family. Dr. Beavan had worked for many years on producing genetically pure malt and was supplying Guinness UK with pure malt. Upon his death in 1941, E. S. Beavan (Malting’s) Ltd., was acquired by Guinness UK. Beavan also had a maltings at Diss, Norfolk.


During the 1980s, the maltings on Mill Road were modernised and large silos were built on the east side. The three remaining malthouses were being worked by 25 men producing 10,000 tons of malt annually. In 1993, the decision was made by Guinness to move all the production of malt to a purpose-built plant in Scotland, causing the imminent closure of E. S. Beavens in September 1994. This was the last maltings to be worked in the town. In November 1995, plans were forwarded to demolish the maltings for a 54 housing development. Early in 1997, the demolition of the buildings was started. The site is now residential housing owned by Clarion and Flagship Housing Groups. The only reminder of the history of the malting companies that operated from this site is its name, Bevans Court.


Although E. S. Beavan’s sites at Diss and Great Yarmouth were closed, the maltings at Warminster were saved by a management buyout and are still producing malt independently operating as Warminster Maltings, using the traditional floor malting method that was used on this site.