Unusual Historic Houses: Hook Norton Brewery and Cowper & Newton Museum

Most of the Historic Houses portfolio of properties are, as one might expect, stately homes and their parkland, such as the impressive Blenheim Palace, Harewood House and Hever Castle.

Hook Norton Brewery
Hook Norton Brewery

However, in the South Midlands there are two very different Historic Houses’ sites.

The first of these is the Hook Norton Brewery near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, which dates back to Victorian times.

The second, fifty miles to the east at Olney in Buckinghamshire, is the Cowper & Newton Museum, which is associated with the hymn Amazing Grace.

Maybe they are unorthodox as historic houses, but both are fascinating properties and, if you are a member of Historic Houses, both are completely free to visit.

Hook Norton Brewery

Hook Norton: Steam Engine
Steam Engine

Hook Norton Brewery dates back to 1849 and is a traditional tower brewery where the processing flows logically from the top floor down. The mashing process is at the top. The boiling process is in the middle and the fermentation and racking is at the bottom. I opted to take a brewery tour to find out all about it.

The tour starts in the engine room where a beautifully preserved steam engine is on display. This powered the brewery until 2006 and was demonstrated in full flow during the tour.

I then found it quite strenuous heading up the stairs to the top of the building, but quite relaxing gradually descending the floors as each of the stages of the brewing process was observed.

Hook Norton: Brewery Tour
Brewery Tour

Finally it was well-deserved tasting time, where several beers where available including: Old Hooky and Double Stout.

A nice touch was that each visitor was given a Hook Norton Brewery glass as a souvenir.

It is interesting to note that their beer is still delivered locally by horse-drawn dray and the Shire horses were on display in the yard.

Also allow time to visit the brewing museum with many fascinating exhibits.

Cowper & Newton Museum

Cowper & Newton Museum
Cowper & Newton Museum

The Cowper & Newton Museum celebrates the lives of two famous local residents, the poet William Cowper (1731-1800) and the Rev John Newton (1725-1807), initially a slave trader but later in life an abolitionist and the author of of the world famous hymn Amazing Grace. 

The red-brick Georgian building that houses the museum was Cowper’s home, but his close friend the Rev Newton lived just to the rear of the property by Olney church.  They collaborated to produce the Olney Hymns which was published in 1779 and gained wide popularity in the 19th Century.

The museum is arranged on three floors and in addition to information about the extraordinary lives of Cowper and the Rev Newton, it also provides a fascinating insight into Georgian life.

The Kitchen
The Kitchen

I followed the advised room-by-room tour which led via the kitchen, hall and parlour on the ground floor, to Cowper’s bedroom on the first floor and a room dedicated to the Rev Newton’s remarkable transition from slave trader to abolitionist and vicar.

The second floor has an exhibition of lace-making, an important trade for Olney in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and a Georgian dressing-up room for children.

I had not realised that in addition to the house, there are two beautifully tended gardens to the rear that are planted only with species available in England before 1800.

A striking feature of the gardens is the small white-painted Summer House where Cowper found the tranquility to write many of his poems.

Visitor Information

A tour of the Hook Norton Brewery costs £20 per person and needs to be booked in advance.

Cowper's Summer House
Cowper’s Summer House

Entry to the Cowper & Newton Museum is £10 for adults (£4 for just the gardens) and free for children under 15.

However if you take up annual membership with Historic Houses, the brewery tour and the museum entry are both free of charge, plus you will get free entry to 300 other heritage sites. Enter our unique code STEW05 at ‘Add discount code’ and new members will receive a £5 discount. This also applies if you wish to give annual membership as a gift.

We have reviewed several other properties under Historic Houses and see also Historic Houses versus National Trust – Which to join?

POSTED 24th September 2023 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.