Brewery Yard Murals
Last year I was asked to paint a mural on Reigate High Street in Surrey. I had previously painted one in 2016 and it was from this that I was asked to paint some more.
The one I painted in 2016 was an image taken from an old Francis Frith photograph. Francis Frith was known for his photographs of high streets up and down the country in the late 19th and early 20th century. Coincidentally his home and offices were located in Reigate.
I painted this mural outside on the side of a boarded up window belonging to Boots. What interested me about the photo and why I wanted to use that particular one was that the wall I was to paint on was in the photograph. People could stand and look and the mural but at the same time be in the mural. I think placement of public artwork is crucial and it should engage people in a positive way which this mural did. I set up a crowdfunding page to raise money for a case and Perspex to have it protected. It raised its target in 24 hours after going viral on Facebook. Social media can have its positives. I built the frame and case myself. I then received an award from The Reigate Society which was a nice end to the project.
The new mural has been commissioned by local business owner Sunil who thought it would be a great idea to have a mural along the long wall. He owns the building and courtyard on the High Street where the murals are to be painted. The building at the front is now a stationers and the courtyard is called Brewery Yard. It is a cobbled alley way that leads to a Morrison’s Supermarket car park.
Sunil contacted Reigate Council about having a mural painted and they in turn put him in touch with me as they knew my work from the previous mural.
After looking at the space where the mural was to go I decided it would be better to have 3 murals as it was to span a large length of the Brewery Yard Courtyard.
I wasn’t given a specific brief by Sunil as such. So I began to think about the history of this courtyard.
Originally the courtyard was the only entrance to what was a vast brewery called Mellersh and Neale. The site is now occupied by a supermarket and large car park. There is no hint of what was there, only the cobbled yard entrance. Apparently there are train lines under some of the paving that was used with donkeys to pull the hops and coal in metal carts around the site.
I decided to make the murals about this topic.
Mellersh and Neale Brewery ceased trading in 1938. After that the site was used as lockup buildings, places where car mechanics worked and generally a large area of waste ground. In 1988 the site was cleared to make way for Safeways supermarket and Car Park. Tragically they pulled down an incredible ‘Tun House’ that used to have a pagoda roof as it sat right in the middle of the site.
In the library I found a book called The History of Reigate Brewing by Richard Symonds, a local historian. This was exactly what I had been looking for. This was so concise and also contained brewing history dating back hundreds of years. After looking at all this information I decided to make the murals tell a chronological story of brewing in Reigate.
I wrote to Richard (via post hoping he was still at the address in the book) to see if he would let me use his photographs and notes. He emailed me back giving me permission and was very pleased this mural was going to happen. A week later I received in the post a signed copy of his book wishing me well with the project.
The murals will cover a period of approximately 1000 years and I will be using old photographs, images used in advertising, old prints and drawings of brewing pre 1800.
IN 1988 Richard dismantled a house on Reigate High St and re assembled it at the Weald and Downland Museum, Chichester. In the house there are old wall paintings that I will be incorporating into the murals. The head of the museum was very happy to let me use them. I tried to visit the house but unfortunately it is unsafe. I’m hoping it will be OK to see one day.
I also signed up to go on a Reigate Beer walk. This was led by a man called Gavin who took us to key points in Reigate town centre (including Brewery Yard) and told us their brewing significance. After walking around the town we were taken to Four Hops which is a craft beer emporium where we learnt about Crumbs Brewery which is based in Reigate. A new brewery that uses bread crumbs from a Reigate bakers to make their beer.
We were then taken over the road to Pilgrims Brewery which is a larger brewery and makes beer the traditional way. We were given a tour by Rory, the brewery owner. It has been in operation 35 years.
I had been in contact with Rory earlier and we met up and chatted after the tour. He was looking to contribute to the mural fund. A week before I had set up a go Fund campaign to raise money for the project. The target was £2000 and this was to cover wood, paints and polycarbonate.
A few weeks later I was visited in the studio by Gavin from the beer walk and also a man called Toby. He has the largest collection of Mellersh and Neale ephemera including old postcards, beer mats, labels, even a calendar which he is currently trying to find for me. He said I was welcome to use anything for the murals. He is also a carpenter and I asked if he would help me build the wooden cases that the murals will go in.
To go alongside the murals I plan to have a sound archive that people will be able to access via a website. This archive will include interviews with Sunil, Gavin, Toby, Rory to name a few.
I have listened to a couple of George Ewart Evans oral histories. He recorded local people talking about their lives in the countryside between 1940s and 1970s.
I have also been in contact with a surviving descendant of the Brewery family, Tim Neale. I’ve not had a chance to meet him yet. He is quite elderly but I have spoken to him and he is keen to meet.
I am also hoping to record an old brewing song. It was sung by the workers of Mellersh and Neale whilst on charabanc outings and bean feasts!
Excerpt from the Mellersh and Neale song:
Let us sing the song of the beer, sir.
Which is brewed by Mellersh and Neale:
It flows in the tankard so cool, sir,
As clear as quality’s seal.
Sing hey, ringle, dangle;
Sing to my jolly crew,
For Mellersh and Neale’s beer, Sir,
Is Britain’s bonniest brew.
A century and more ago, sir,
This brewery saw the day,
And millions of gallons of beer, Sir,
Have eased the thorny way.
Chorus: Sing Hey…
I’m going to ask either Nicholas Owen (who gave me the award for the 2016 mural) or possibly Judi Dench as she lives locally to introduce the sound archive.
Unlike the Boots mural I have had to liaise with an architect’s firm and the local council because the site of the proposed murals is a conservation area. Reigate Architects drew up the plans and submitted them to the council.
The council have said they need to see exactly what will be on the murals. I have sent detailed descriptions and images of what will go on the walls but they won’t sign it off until they see the finished things.
I recently sourced large sheets of ply from a timber merchant in Dorset. I was unable to get oversized ply of a good quality in the south east. It was more expensive but plywood needs to be of a high quality if it is to last. I bought birch plywood. I could have got Chinese or far eastern but I wasn’t happy with where they may have originated from in relation to an environmental perspective.