ARKELL’S Brewery will be celebrating its 170th year of brewing with a special open day and beer festival.

Visitors to the brewery, in Kingsdown, on September 7 will have the chance to tour one of the very few remaining working Victorian breweries in the world, and taste beers from across the UK.

Leading up to this, the brewery is currently in the middle of an exciting brewing experiment, producing five 4.2 per cent ABV beers using the same malt recipe with English Maris Otter for each, but using five carefully selected hop varieties, one in each brew.

Head brewer Alex Arkell said: “We are doing this to give drinkers the chance to learn how much hops influence beer flavour and we’ll be explaining the science behind the flavour to those who tour the brewhouse during the beer festival.”

Arkell’s was started by John Arkell at his farm at Stratton in 1843 when the town was experiencing its first economic boom, with Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway workshops opening the same year.

The brewery outlived the first age of the train, but it is still run daily by the Arkell family.

No one knows the exact date that ‘Farmer John’ who grew his own barley added ‘Brewer John’ to his list of professional achievements, but Arkell’s will be celebrating the anniversary in September 7 because it’s around the time of the Spring barley and hop harvests.

The year 1843 was also one of engineering excellence. The engineer Marc Isambard Brunel (father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel) saw his Thames Tunnel, the first tunnel under the River Thames opened, and Isambard launched the SS Great Britain from Bristol, the first iron hulled, propeller-driven ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

His Great Western Railway works were officially opened that year and Brewer John Arkell was entrepreneurial enough to recognise that men working in the sweltering sheds would welcome beyond practically anything else, a glass of refreshing ale at the end of their shift.

The Beerhouse Act of 1830 had enabled anyone to brew and sell beer from a public house or their own homes for a £2 licence without bothering the local Justice of the Peace.

As a result, public houses opened up everywhere, but Arkell’s proved a firm favourite in Swindon and in 1861 built a new brewery at Kingsdown, extended it again after just six years.

John Arkell died in 1881 and was succeeded by his sons Thomas and James. The Swindon Advertiser (which began publishing in 1854) reported shops closed and window blinds drawn as the funeral cortege passed on its way to Stratton church.

“The poor had lost a good friend, a plain and simple friend,” reported the paper.

The current chairman, James Arkell, is the founder’s great-great-grandson, and his sons George (director), Alex (head brewer) and John work alongside him running the business today.

James Arkell said: “We’ll celebrate a great British traditional industry and the continuity that a family business brings to the local economy.

“We’re looking forward to a celebration worthy of 170 years in business.”