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Bidwell’s Brewery

It wasn’t just Norwich that had big breweries. In this blog post by temporary exhibition curator Lauren Ephithite she looks at Bidwell’s Brewery of Thetford.

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Norfolk has the ideal conditions for growing barley which led to hundreds of breweries in the county. The small market town of Thetford was home to one of the most important breweries in the East of England – Bidwell’s!

This family run business was based in a flint building on Old Market Street, now a Grade II listed building. The family were wealthy and held important positions within the town.

The Bidwell’s Brewery was founded in Thetford in 1710. The brewery grew rapidly throughout the Victorian period. In 1868 Bidwell’s ran, not only the brewery but also several pubs in Thetford and more across Norfolk. They also owned pubs in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The estate was valued at £30,000 and continued to grow. By 1889 Bidwell’s was worth £68,000 and consisted of 55 pubs and malthouses plus other buildings and land in the town. In 1905 the business was sold outside…

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Moray-Smith does Gressenhall…

Heather Ryder has been inspired by the John Moray-Smith panel which forms part of the Beer and Brewing temporary exhibition at Gressenhall this year. John Moray-Smith was an artist employed by Morgan’s Brewery.   He created painted sculptural reliefs for the brewery’s pubs.

Heather is working on a sculptural relief of the Gressenhall building in the same style as Moray-Smith’s work. She has sent us the following progress report:

“I have made a start on my John Moray-Smith sign!

Upon seeing the Beer and Brewing temporary exhibition I was inspired to make a pub sign in the style of John Moray-Smith. I know at the meeting some of the other members of the group thought it a bit ambitious of me but hopefully my plan will come to fruition! I want to make a sign depicting Gressenhall Workhouse and have so far cut the backing to size and started to draw to scale the building. My plan is to make most of it out of balsa wood because of its lightness and paint clay slip over it to make it more like the texture of Moray-Smiths original.”

We think this is a fabulous idea Heather and can’t wait to see how you progress.


Mad about maltings? Find plenty for inspiration here with more information and archive photographs from Norfolk’s maltings…

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

The perfect combination of sandy soil and salty air means that North Norfolk has the perfect conditions for growing barley. This barley is made into malt for brewing beer, through a process called malting. Norfolk was home to hundreds of maltings and brewers.

These two items are on display in the exhibition Beers and Brewing, on loan from the Museum of Norwich.

Malt barrow. It is missing the front wheel. From the former Stag Maltings, St. Benedict’s Street, Norwich, which were demolished in March 1971. NWHCM : 1971.185.4

Watering can used for dampening the malt during fermentation. From the former Stag Maltings, St. Benedict’s Street, Norwich, which were demolished in March 1971. NWHCM : 1971.185.6

The process of malting took place in maltings or malthouses across the county. Traditionally, malt is germinated on the floor. This involves different cycles of wet, dry and heat to produce malt from the…

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Front page news!

Did you see the recent front page headline in the EDP?

Made me think about the community pubs featured in Beer and Brewing – our temporary exhibition this year. We include the story of, and objects from, The King’s Arms in Shouldham in the temporary exhibition. Community pubs are now about so much more than beer!

As the article says:

“People in Shouldham set up a community company after the King’s Arms closed and was put up for sale by its owners Punch Taverns in 2012.


Pub art

I had the pleasure earlier this week to meet up with Sheree who attended our Inspiration Day and was brought up in The Windmill pub in Necton. She brought along several large folders of original art work done by a regular known as ‘Butch’. We will be displaying several of these integrated into our Beer and Brewing exhibition later in the year.

They include many caricatures of the landlord and other local people, along with politicians, royalty and celebrities. There were also a number of more saucy subjects! It reminded me that pubs really were the hub of the community – these cartoons made the most sense to the people who were in the pub every week and knew all the people depicted in them. It is interesting to think whether this pub culture still exists, or whether it has been lost. In this age of multinational conglomerate pub chains have we lost our pub communities?

The Kings Head pub

Shared from our main Gressenhall blog – more beer and brewing inspiration!

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

One of the pubs featured in the ‘Beers and Brewing : Norfolk’s Rural pubs’ exhibition is the Kings Head in Shipdham.

The museum holds a collection of items from this pub. There had been a pub in the village since 1858. It was run by Frederick Chilvers from the 1960s to 1990s. His son donated some items from the pub to the museum. The pub is now closed and the building is now run as the Kings Café, which opened in 2012.

The items above all feature in the exhibition. Do you remember Smith’s crisps or beer sold in shillings? Beer was served in hand painted glass jars with a handle. Stoneware jars carried beer supplied by local breweries.

This book of tokens and bottle caps are also on display in the exhibition. The bottle caps were used while Emma Baker was landlady. Were these used when you bought a bottle of beer? With the…

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Calling all community groups – create a beer mat for Collaborate!

Would your community group like to get involved with Collaborate? Book a session to explore our travelling temporary exhibition and then create your own beer mat for display at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

Beer mats are wonderful miniature pieces of art. Whether they are used for marketing, advertising, questioning or political purposes beer mats get used, ripped up, torn and soggy. We even play games with them.

During our inspiration day we looked at a range of beer mats and thought about what our local pub means to us. We then drew, designed and decorated beer mats together. We were not all comfortable artists but once we got stuck in it was fun! Cutting, sticking, drawing we created our own unique designs. The nice thing about this activity is that there are no wrong answers. Expressions can be literal, abstract or even doodled.


If this is something you would like to try with your group please do get in touch! We can bring parts of the temporary exhibition to you and then give you a chance to create your own beer mat for display in the gallery in October.

Email to book a session.

Collecting found objects

Jane has been inspired by our temporary exhibition to create a woven wall hanging. She explains more below:

“I have begun to collect found objects to make a trial mix-media woven wall hanging for the Beer and Brewing exhibition in October.

Bottle tops from Felicia's collection. She hopes to integrate these into her woven hanging.

Bottle tops from Felicia’s collection. She hopes to integrate these into her woven hanging.

This weekend I have visited one of our local Green Hop growing micro breweries at Salle near Reepham. The All Day Brewing CompanyThe farmer Simon Barker, was very interested in the exhibition at Gressenhall and was happy to allow me to have some green hop vines, complete with  green hops, in August to make my natural Woven Art.

Natural green hop vines from the All Day Brewing Company

Natural green hop vines from the All Day Brewing Company

Many thanks for the Collaborate Inspiration Day, I enjoyed meeting so many creative people.”

Thanks for your update Jane – it is great to see work starting to take shape!

Exploring the temporary exhibition

During our Inspiration Day we gave plenty of time to explore the 2018 Beer and Brewing exhibition – plenty to think about and inspire here.

The temporary bar is one place where we are inviting participants to display their work in October – we have already had offers of innovative beer mats, bar stools made of beer cans and a miniature bar – what would you install in this fascinating space?