Behind Closed Doors: A glimpse at the history of Thwaites

Although the sight of Thwaites’ brewery tower bluntly prodding the grey clouds above Blackburn is a familiar one, it’s not a view that will endure. As Thwaites completes its half-decade long relocation project to the Ribble Valley, some four miles north west of its iconic Penny Street factory, the people who’ve grown used to the huge brutalist slabs in the middle of their town are getting ready to say goodbye to them. It’ll be strange, getting used to the loss after spending more than 50 years learning to admire that browning concrete.

As part of Found In Blackburn — a series of art exhibitions and installations placed around the town by Blackburn Is Open — photographer Richard Tymon has been working with Thwaites to explore the empty Eanam brewery and document its gentle slouch into retirement since its closure in 2014.

Behind the red gate

A site that’s guarded by brand guidelines and company interests, photographs of the interior’s decline are hard to come by. Being that Thwaites is still operational, (in fact, it is expanding) it’s in some way understandable that the organisation wouldn’t want its landmark headquarters to evoke the dusty spectors of a booming former workplace.

But images like these are intriguing and important. They give people an insight into the secret world behind the bricks and cloying smell of malty mash. Giving life to sterile environments, a veneer of dust can add pathos and personality where once there was glossy paintwork and stainless steel.

Richard’s exhibition was installed at the stables on Eanam Wharf,  the historic heart of Thwaites, by the edge of the Leeds – Liverpool canal. Still home to the brewery’s prized heavy horses and an impressive array of vintage carts and carriages, the stables represent a Blackburn that’s firmly in the past, but somehow omnipresent in the fabric of the town. A great location to celebrate some local history, then.

Richard’s photos looked into the brewery’s recent history, recounting the life its had since the Sixties. Alongside photos of state-of-the-art equipment left to rest were snippets of interviews with Thwaites employees from over the years. 
“I enjoyed that part a lot,” says Richard with a grin. “In the past Thwaites brewers were given beer rations — it was enlightening to learn that there was an area of the factory nicknamed ‘mothercare’, especially for workers who’d slightly overdone it.”
One overarching theme from the exhibit was a strong sense of personal and local pride. Richard was quick to agree. “The Thwaites staff were proud to work for the brewery. It was and is an institution and is synonymous with Blackburn itself.”
Quotes from his interviews:
“I’m proud to have invented a Thwaites beer called Golden.”

“On Christmas Eve the switcboard operator used to sing carols over the tannoy.”

“We had so many parties that my husband used to say we’d have a knees-up for moving chairs.”

“I’m proud to work here, to be part of Thwaites.”

There is an elephant in the room however, and it’s bitterness. The iconic, if imposing, building will be torn down over the next few years, making way for new developments and the progression of the town. Change is inevitable, necessary and often good, but it’s never easy. Richard’s exhibition, though small, gave a snapshot into the melancholy all towns feel when history has to be tidied away into photos and memories to make room for the future.
Photo credit: Richard Tymon, used with permission
Photo credit: Richard Tymon, used with permission
Not everybody left on bad terms – Writing in the dust on the rear hopper reads “All the best,” left by a former employee.

Find out more about Found In Blackburn by visiting the Blackburn Is Open website:
See more of Richard Tymon’s work:

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One thought on “Behind Closed Doors: A glimpse at the history of Thwaites

  1. “…gave a snapshot into the melancholy all towns feel when history has to be tidied away into photos and memories to make room for the future.”
    That is an amazing sentence – what an evocative piece of writing!

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