Published on May 3, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour0
The lamp is flickering
In October 1982, the Ford Sierra was launched to replace the Cortina; Sony introduced the first consumer compact disc; Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, was raised, and Culture Club topped the charts with Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? Wince a little; beer was 62p a pint.
At the same time, a new microbrewery mashed in its first brew at a former undertaker’s on Westgate Hill in Newcastle – and Big Lamp has been illuminating the cask-conditioned beer sector ever since.
And hopefully it will continue long into the future as Big Lamp – operating from Newburn, Newcastle, since 1996 – has been put on the market along with the adjoining Keelman restaurant and brewery tap, plus two well-equipped lodges enjoyed by walking and cycling enthusiasts.
Big Lamp is the oldest microbrewery in the North East but now its two directors Lee Goulding and George Storey have decided that retirement beckons. The pub and restaurant is based in the Tyne Riverside Country Park and on the banks of the River Tyne at Newburn, around six miles from Newcastle city centre.
The brewery produces around 40 barrels (11,520 pints) per week, around a third of which are consumed by the Keelman. Named after the River Tyne boatmen, The Keelman’s traditional pub and restaurant has seating for around 100 diners and has a mezzanine level often used for private functions and events. It also has a large conservatory, which overlooks an extensive external patio.
The pub has 14 en-suite bedrooms in two purpose-built buildings set in the grounds – The Keelman’s Lodge with six en-suite family rooms and Salmon Cottage with eight en-suite rooms, each with king size beds and Juliet balconies. The rooms are fitted out to top hotel standard which has enabled the company to win several tourism awards for initiative and customer service. It has an ambience of peaceful isolation with only birdsong interrupting the evening silence.
The freehold asking price for the pub and brewery is £725,000, and with the addition of Keelman’s Lodge and Salmon Cottage the price tag rises to £1,425,000. The Big Lamp brand and beer recipes are available by separate negotiation.
The brewery itself sits within a restored 19th Century water pumping station and is fitted out as a traditional Victorian tower operation. Simple gravity does most of the work – the grain is mashed at the top level and is sent into the copper to boil before it drops down a floor to the fermenters, then finally to conditioning tanks at the bottom where it’s delivered into casks.
Beers include Sunny Daze 3.6% abv), Summerhill Stout (4.4% abv), Big Lamp Bitter (4.2% abv) Prince Bishop (4.8% abv), Lamplight Bitter (4.2% abv) and Keelman Brown (5.7% abv).
Hopefully, someone will take over the whole operation – life is far too short to go without Sunny Daze.
THE BIG LAMP SWITCH ON
The Big Lamp Brewery Company was formed in 1982 by five real ale enthusiasts, Terry Harrison, Tom Harrison, Norman Bell, John Tomlinson and Paul Needham, with a capital of £5,000. The company was established in a three-storey converted workshop in Summerhill Street, Westgate Road, in Newcastle (the area known as Big Lamp). In 1986, the brewery bought its only tied house – the Wheatsheaf in Felling, Gateshead – from Newcastle Breweries, which it continues to operate today.
Lee Goulding joined the five founding Big Lamp partners in 1987 and George Storey, whom he knew from their days together at Joshua Tetley’s Cavalier Inns division, signed up a year later. The pair bought the business outright in 1990.
The top of Westgate Hill is called Big Lamp in recognition of one of the first electric street lights – one arc lamp stood in an arched iron structure at the junction with Elswick Road. The incandescent electric light bulb was first unveiled by Joseph Swan in 1860 just down the hill at a lecture in the Literary & Philosophical Society on Westgate Road which he delivered to the Newcastle Chemical Society.
The Newburn Pumping Station where Big Lamp Brewery now operates was built by the Whittle Dene Water Company in 1855 to serve the needs of industrial revolution Newcastle. The water supply from the tidal Tyne was subject to varying degrees of saltiness and though it was fed from the river through a gravel filter channel it still wasn’t particularly clean – the supply from the lower Tyne was the suspected cause of 1,527 deaths in a cholera epidemic in 1853.
The former Wylam to Lemington waggonway runs close by the brewery where coal was hauled from the Tyne Valley mines to riverside staiths. The first waggons were horse-drawn but steam engines designed by William Hedley had come into service by 1815, known as Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly. In 1876 the route was replaced by a mainline railway which joined the Newcastle to Carlisle line on the south side of the river at Wylam. It closed in 1968.
The Pumping Station Engine House was dismantled stone by stone, numbered and moved a short distance in 1996 to house the brewery.