Blessed beer - did holy water start Kimberley brewery?

Photo:Kimberley Brewery

Kimberley Brewery

Photo:The outflow from Holly well

The outflow from Holly well

By R B Parish

We are all familiar with the Kimberley Brewery and its noted brews. What is probably not so well know is that the sources of the world famous drinks were probably holy wells. Bruce (1832) in his account of the history of Kimberley’s breweries notes that Samuel Robinson set up a small brewery in Cuckold Alley, because “a spring of pure sparkling water gushed forth” and b y about 1847, the developing Hansons Brewery had:

“ of this water from the Alley Spring up on the hill down to the brewery he had arranged with a friend, Abraham Brown, who had in his garden nearby a cistern into which the water was piped. There was a constant overflow, so Stephen settled with him for this to be piped down to a ground level cistern in the brewery.”

This may have been the rediscovery of a lost spring, it was called the Alley Spring. It may have derived its name from the virtue of its location in Cuckold’s Alley rather than from the Saxon word halig meaning holy often converted to haly, although equally it could derive from the word alley, although it would suggest by the name, that there was already a water source there; the term cuckold being derived from what was done to witches and gossips: the cucking or ducking stool.

The dependence on a single spring was of course problematic, and by 1865 there was a shortage. Fortunately, another source of the same kind of water, the Holly Well Spring was used and Robert Hanson noted again:

“I put down a cistern in my own property contiguous to the watercourse coming from the Holly Well and laid pipes from this cistern to another one.”

Thus, instead of continuing to obtain only the Alley Spring water from the overflow of Abraham Brown's cistern he had his own direct supply from the Holly Well, possibly deriving from holy or possibly from the Old English hol for hollow. The Holly well remained a source until the 1900s despite some concerns over its survival due to work establishing a railway network. Finally in 1962 the railway company stopped maintaining the water plant in the disused cutting. This lead to the purchase by the brewery of the cutting from the east of the tunnel down to the Brewery yard in 1966 and the water was apparently still used until the 1980s. However, by the 2000s a letter from Mr. Helps at Kimberley Brewery confirmed that they no longer use the Holly Well water for brewing but the spring near Watnall tunnel still flows and is piped down to the brewery. The water then overflows from the breweries cisterns and joins an underground sweet water culvert just below the old Service men’s club. This then feeds down into the Gilt Brook.   A local primary school near the Hanson brewery remembers the well in its name. However, there is no evidence of the spring here as it has been covered over and its outflow can still be traced re-appearing just outside the Hogs Head Inn joining the Gilt Brook.

Extracted from R.B. Parish, Holy wells and healing springs of Nottinghamshire.

Many thanks to Mr. John Lee, local historian, for some of the information.

This page was added by R B Parish on 28/03/2013.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.