IT is one of Henley’s most historic buildings, having been an 18th century malting house, an
IT is one of Henley’s most historic buildings, having been an 18th century malting house, an antiques dealership and even a nightclub during its 266-year existence.
Now the Maltings, off Hart Street, is set to become housing after a developer began a £2million refurbishment of the property.
Paul Springett, of New Street, Henley, is creating four houses and two flats as well as office space at the building, which has several sections including the malt kiln and malting rooms as well as more recent extensions. It stretches back more than 65 metres from Hart Street.
He became part-owner of the Maltings a year ago and is taking care to protect the Grade II listed building as he modernises it.
Mr Springett, who has been a developer for 30 years, previously converted the old Bell Street Motors in 2001, the former council offices in King’s Road and the old police station in the same street.
But he says his latest project is probably his most interesting yet.
The Maltings was built in 1750 and, as its name suggests, began life as a malthouse and it still contains an old malting kiln.
The 14,000ft square site also had various outbuildings including stables and store houses.
From the Middle Ages until the 19th century, Henley was a major inland port, serving as a gateway between London and the rest of the country.
Large commercial barges on the River Thames were unable to travel further than the town due to difficulties navigating the river, meaning goods would have to be unloaded and travel the rest of the way to the capital by road.
This carried its own threats as the outskirts of the town were notorious for highwaymen looking to hijack valuable loads.
Henley’s location meant the town’s malting trade boomed.
Grain would be brought here on the river, where it would be unloaded and treated before continuing its journey to London by road.
In the malting process grain is allowed to partially germinate as it is dried, which begins to convert the starches into sugars for the fermentation process and stops it spoiling on its onward journey.
Mr Springett says the water quality in Henley compared with that of London also played a part in the town’s success in the trade.
Residents of the capital would drink a weak beer, which was considerably more hygienic than the dirty water.
However, Henley’s strategic importance and trade began to wane with the introduction of locks on the Thames.
Mr Springett says: “When they invented locks the business started to decline because lots of places could then do it.
“The quality of the water in London also got better and there were other, new forms of transport.”
As the malting trade declined, buildings like the Malthouse had to adapt to other uses. Mr Springett says: “It’s a very interesting building and has had a lot of uses, including industrial, but the back part of it has been empty for more than half a century.”
The Maltings has also housed a butcher’s and has been showrooms, stores and even an engineering works.
It became a nightclub in the Eighties and was the site of the former Latinos, which closed in 2007 before moving to Greys Road car park and then shutting altogether.
As the Malthouse is listed, some of the biggest challenges faced by Mr Springett in the build have been keeping the historical features of the property intact.
He has had up to 20 workmen at a time on site and needed them all to raise the roof of the old malting house by just over 1ft.
He says: “We are trying to re-use all we can, then the conservation people get the building preserved and somebody gets somewhere interesting to live.
“It’s Grade II listed but that mostly refers to the exterior and key elements like the roof trusses, or special features like the malting tower.
“Raising the roof was one of the most interesting tasks we did. It was split into three sections and in each section we put in scaffolding and screws.
“We had a team of people on each screw and others using wedges and bricks or ropes to keep it solid.
“Things like that are a major contributor to retaining the building and you get a far superior result. We got a good pat on the back for that.”
Mr Springett says he has tried to keep many of the old internal beams and has used natural light in the houses and flats where possible.
One of the flats has a glass floor panel to channel light down from the top floor.
Mr Springett says he is pleased with the development and to have saved the building for future generations.
He says: “The owners had taken precautions to stop it collapsing but over time it would have deteriorated and there would have been a partial, if not total collapse.
“We have saved it from becoming a ruin and I take a certain amount of pride in that.
“It’s a big site and unique — they don’t build places like this any more.”
The two flats and two of the four houses will be put up for sale, while Mr Springett will keep the other two.