The oast house is usually associated with Kent, and certainly with the countryside, so that it comes as a visual surprise to find two of the typical conical roofs, but without their traditional cowls and vanes, surmounting brick-built kilns in the heart of Lambeth. Their connection with the Kentish oast house is, however, direct and logical.
Thomas Dence, the founder of Brand & Co. Ltd, was a Kentish man. When his firm required a food-drying installation, it was perhaps natural that his ideas should turn to the highly efficient oast houses which so effectively dried the Kentish hops. Brand's Essence, long a household name, and which incidentally succeeded viper broth as a popular invalid food, is extracted from beef and chicken. After extraction, the meat is then suitable only for animal food. Before it can be processed for this purpose it must be thoroughly dried.
The beef and chicken, with the essence extracted, were cut into about one- inch cubes and taken to the second floor of the Lambeth building by a hand~ operated lift. Here the cubes were spread over an iron open-mesh floor, beneath which a wood fire was lit. The conical roofs induced a strong upward draught which, to some extent, was controlled by limiting the access of air to the lower floors.
One of the hazards of this drying process was that the fat would frequently drip into the fire and ignite, so that before long the fire was out of control. Apparently it was a commonplace occurrence to call the fire brigade to douse the fire as often as once or twice a month. The total drying process took about 24 hours, compared with today's rate of 1� hours for up to 2�tons of meat.
The kilns, made from London stock brick, were erected about 1900 and have survived London weather, the vibration of the Southern Region's main line which runs close by, and flying and incendiary bombs within yards. Today the building is no longer part of the food-drying plant but is still in use, to some extent for its original purpose. Apart from storage, some incineration takes place there, the conical roofs continuing to provide the strong upward draughts needed for quick burning.
Oast houses have been accurately described as constituting architecture of pure geometry; it is perhaps not remarkable, therefore, that they fit as snugly into the industrial landscape of Lambeth as into the Kentish countryside.