All the buildings forming what is now New Brewery Arts were once part of the Cirencester Brewery.
The Cirencester Brewery can trace its origins back to 1792 when it supplied the Bell Inn and other nearby public houses. It’s easy to confuse locations here. The original, medieval courtyard (old) Bell Inn stood behind Cricklade Street, and its access road survives as the pedestrian route into Brewery Court today. The Bell Inn was first recorded in 1540 and eventually closed in 1937 when it was largely demolished and the present offices and shops were built. In the yard behind the Bell Inn the Cripps family of Cirencester had their brewery. None of this is to be confused with the (new) Bell Inn on the corner of Cricklade Street and Castle Street, which survived into the 1950s. Its only trace today is the large golden bell above Savills estate agents’ offices.
The Cripps family are recorded as brewers in the 1820 trade directory and from 1847 the brewery underwent considerable development. In 1888 the business became a limited company and the Victorian brew-house and chimneys dominated the skyline.
The brewery was large enough to have its own coopers’ shop, which was located in Brewery Court where the modern buildings adjacent to New Brewery Arts now stand. A maltings –still functioning in the 1970’s- was built further down Cricklade Street. The name was changed from Cripps to the Cirencester Brewery and in 1929 the company started a mineral water business using water from the well on the site. The well was rediscovered during the refurbishment in 2007 (underneath Studio 5 in the front building).
By 1920 the Cirencester Brewery owned ninety-two licensed premises and some one hundred and twenty private properties within a twenty-five mile radius of Cirencester, and although it was not the only brewery in town it was by far the largest. In 1937 the company was sold to H & G Simmonds of Reading and Bristol (which later became part of Courages) and brewing at Cirencester ceased. The Cripps family connections continued until 1949 when the company was liquidated.
The remaining buildings, which were all built in the late 19th Century, were occupied during and after the Second world war by Johnson’s a sheet metal firm until they re-located to Love Lane in the mid 1970’s. The buildings were due for demolition until the Cirencester Workshops Trust proposed a scheme to transform the former brewery into craft workshops, which were opened in 1979. In 1984 the former barrel store was converted into a small theatre called The Niccol Centre in honour of Dr. Niccol who had made a substantial bequest to the Trust. It provided a much-appreciated small concert and theatre venue in the town.
In 1989 the merger of Cirencester Workshops Trust and The Niccol Centre to become Brewery Arts, provided workshop space, arts education and performance for all ages. In 2006-2008 extensive alterations took place including removing the outside stairs and replacing them with a more accessible glazed entrance into the building. On 9th February 2008 the centre reopened as the New Brewery Arts. In 2015 the theatre space closed for good and the brewery building was once again repurposed. This time the old barrel store was converted into guest accommodation, providing much-needed affordable overnight accommodation in the town and contributing to the long-term income of the New Brewery Arts charity.
The full story is told in Joyce Moss’ New Brewery Arts: from the beginning to the present day, published in 2009. Second-hand copies can still be found.
John Tiffney-ably assisted by David Viner and Beth Alden