The Trust’s biggest project was at the Farnham Maltings in 1969 where the Trustees bought nine cottages which were part of the Maltings site, this providing the balance of the funds needed to complete the purchase by the people of Farnham. These cottages, including Tanyard House, one of the oldest buildings in Farnham, were gradually restored by the Trust and sold.
The people of Farnham had raised £18,000 towards the £30,000 required by Courages Brewery, the owners of the Maltings. The Farnham Trust raised the remaining £12,000 with grants from Surrey County Council, the Pilgrim Trust, and, it is believed, a contribution by Sir John Verney.
The Maltings as we know it today was originally not one building, but at least two separate properties. The earliest records for the South Wing, the part of the building adjacent to Red Lion Lane, show that it was being used in the 1750s as a tannery, or tanyard, by Michael Reading. When he died in 1761, he left the property to his niece, Anne Sparfield, who sold it in 1770 to Stanley Bolan. He took out mortgage after mortgage on the Tanyard until in 1802 he went bankrupt and the building was sold for £530 to pay his creditors. Two years later it was sold again for £750.
Finally, in 1845, the buildings were sold to John Barrett for £1,400. He converted them into a brewery. When the army was garrisoned at Aldershot in 1850, Barrett seized the opportunity for profit, and opened pubs all over the area. By the 1870s he was rich enough to extend his property by constructing the buildings along the river front.
At this time, the East Wing was a separate building. In 1830 it was bought by Robert Sampson, who set up as a maltster. When he died in 1863 the business passed to his son, Sampson Sampson, whose sign can still be seen on the end of his cottage at 18 Bridge Square. Eventually the Sampsons were bought out by John Barrett, in 1881.
In 1890 the whole property was bought by John Barrett’s main rival, George Trimmer of the Lion Brewery. He amalgamated his own group of pubs with those of Barrett which gave him about 91 in all, plus eight off-licences. The business was known as the Farnham United Breweries – a restored sign for which can be seen on the side wall of No. 2 Red Lion Lane, which until 1920 was the Red Lion pub.
Trimmer turned Barrett’s brewery into a malting complex, transferring the malted barley to his own brewery, the Lion Brewery in West Street, where he produced his beer. By the late 1890s and early 1900s, the brewing and malting industries were a major source of income in Farnham. Local farmers produced barley, which was passed on to local maltings, including the Farnham Maltings, to be roasted. At the other end of the process, there were around 90 public houses in the area.
Trimmer died in 1892 leaving the Maltings to his family who in 1903 further extended and improved the riverside buildings and installed the latest malting equipment.
Courage Breweries took over the Farnham United Breweries in 1925 and the Malting continued there until 1956, when the development of newer, cheaper methods of malting made it uneconomic for the brewery to continue to use it.
The building then stood abandoned and fell into disrepair and various plans to develop the site were submitted, including a proposal to convert two of the buildings into 25 flats and demolish the remainder.
However, Courage ultimately offered The Maltings to the town for £30,000 (up to £20,000 below its market value) in response to an idea from Alan Fluck to transform it into an arts and community centre.
The project was approved by a town meeting at the end of January 1969, but the purchase had to be completed by 25 March, which left only six weeks to raise the money. An action committee headed by Raymond Krish, a leading solicitor, managed to raise £18,000 by the deadline and the remaining £12,000 was raised from the sale of the Maltings cottages to the Farnham Preservation Trust.
Conversion was a long and often difficult process. The first stage alone cost £100,000, and was not fully completed until 1975. Despite this, the first Maltings Market took place in the Great Hall in October 1970. Eventually, due to fire regulations, this was no longer practicable, but the Markets continued to be held in the courtyard and in Church House, whilst the Great Hall underwent conversion. During this time, fundraising went on, and public donations were augmented by grants of £30,000 from the Ministry of the Environment; £15,000 from the Arts Council and £2,000 from the Pilgrim Trust. The project was made possible, not only by the generosity of subscribers but also by the practical help of large bands of volunteer workers who undertook considerable clearance work in the old buildings.