Great Beer Explosion

Many moons ago in the times of old when Malmesbury was a Beer Borough, with at least 35 public houses in the town, it was passed by town council that the town clerks office should hold its very own, licence to sell all intoxicating liquor for consumption on or off the premises.

The proposal was passed unanimously by the Burial Board Committee and brought into effect July 23rd 1831. During the following months and into the new year everything ran smoothly and Special Ten Brew was available from the Rent Office to the public, and at council meetings members frequently popped down from the chamber to fill and re-fill their chalices.

Then one morning in the month of March there was a terrible accident. Barrels of Special Ten Brew were being delivered as usual on the Tower House side of the town hall next to the adjoining blacksmiths. Having off loaded the barrels, they stood not far from the blacksmiths forge whilst awaiting their turn to be lowered down into the town hall cellars.

One of the shire horses had lost a shoe coming up Holloway Hill and the Dray Master took the opportunity to have it replaced whilst he and his lad stocked the cellar. It is thought that the heat from the forge caused one of the barrels to explode. The oak split sending the whole contents through the open door and into the town clerks office, needless to say he was not amused.

With beer frothing all over the floor councillor Sanderson entered the room and took a tumble sliding across the room and striking his head on the corner of a very large mahogany table. For a while he lay unconscious and it was feared he was dying so the Rev’d Sarah Simpson was called upon long before anyone considered a doctor.

Ever since this calamity there has been a tradition in town hall every year since, where on the anniversary a barrel of beer is deliberately exploded in the clerks office followed by drinks all round for invited guests. The following week a member of a well known local family of builders, the Hurcombe’s, re-decorates the room with Old Fashioned Milk Paint and then washes out the brushes with beer residue.

In the Athelstan Museum within the town hall they hold the Ceremonial Barrel Splitter and other regalia from differing years relating to this historical tradition. There is also a digitised visual display taken from old cine films of the event dating back to the early twenties. To this very day Special Ten Brew is still served at the Kings Arms Inn in Malmesbury High Street in The Sanderson Bar.

27 January, 2015
All images and written works by David Forward are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License