Hertford's wealth was founded on the brewing industry. Street names such as Barley
Croft, Brewhouse Lane and The Maltings can be associated with none other than malting
McMullens remain as the only large scale independent brewer in the area. This sudden
decline was outside of the control of the maltsters that thrived on Hertfordshire's
pre-eminence within the brewing industry; their wealth was born out of a simple geographic
Londoner's had always drunk beer; it was healthier than untreated water from the
Thames. This demand was met by the brewers who had traditionally sourced malt, the
raw material for beer, from three main areas; Surrey, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.
Hertfordshire's main crop was barley and it thrived in the light well drained soil
producing the short, plump, thin-skinned variety that every maltster desired.
It was brought in from the fields to the maltings where it was soaked in water to
convert the starch into sugar and then heated to arrest germination before the addition
of yeast to produce alcohol. The temperature is controlled to give either a pale
malt for which this area was renown or roasted to produce the dark malts for stout
and porter - particular favourites of Londoners.
The maltsters of Hertford had one other natural advantage - the river Lea. It ran
straight into the heart of London on the Thames, from where the great brewing names
such as Whitbread, Perkins and Coombe built riverside warehouses to accept the continuous
barges of malt.
Almost as soon as the Navigation Acts of the 1830's were passed allowing for the
improvement of barge transport into Hertford, events were occurring elsewhere that
were to threaten local trade.
East Anglia was establishing itself as a major source of barley and barges using
the sea route from Norfolk to London's Bear Quay were accounting for a higher proportion
of London's malt imports. The big brewers were establishing their own maltings and
factoring houses not just in Hertford but in the newer territories and their dependence
on local supplies was diminishing.