The history of Snape Maltings

A place of energy and industry for over 175 years

With a history as an industrial site stretching back over 175 years, the roots of Snape Maltings as it exists today were planted by the composer Benjamin Britten and landowner George Gooderham, who both recognised the potential of the striking Maltings buildings and their stunning location.

The Early Maltings

Having bought the already busy shipping port at Snape Bridge in 1841, Victorian industrial entrepreneur Newson Garrett built Snape Maltings over the following decades in order to malt barley and ship it by Thames barge to breweries in London and elsewhere. The business expanded quickly and thrived throughout for decades as demand from breweries increased. A purpose-built branch of the East Suffolk railway line was built to Snape Maltings to support the business and from 1859 to 1960 up to three trains a day would run to and from the Maltings. At full industrial use Snape Maltings grew to some seven acres of buildings and was one of the largest flat floor maltings in the country.

The Maltings Closes

In 1965, after 120 years, the malting of barley ceased, the direct result of inefficiencies of a large complex and the site was purchased by Suffolk farmer George Gooderham.

Meanwhile the composer Benjamin Britten had founded the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts, five miles from Snape, in 1948 and the festival quickly established an international reputation, outgrowing its small venues in Aldeburgh and other locations around the Suffolk coast. In the course of the 1950s and 60s Britten explored ways to build a larger venue to host the festival, and in 1965 he leased the largest building at Snape Maltings from George Gooderham to convert into the 810-seat Snape Maltings Concert Hall, which was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth in 1967. This became the home of the Aldeburgh Festival and a venue internationally renowned for the superb quality of its acoustic. It was one of the earliest examples of an industrial building being repurposed for arts use.

The Hall suffered serious fire damage two years later, re-opening in time for the Aldeburgh Festival in 1970. The conversion of the building was undertaken by Arup Associates, with the acoustics supervised by Derek Sugden.

The Site Develops

From 1967 to 2015 there were parallel developments on the site, with the Gooderham family gradually creating an independent retail complex and Britten and his successors expanding beyond Snape Maltings Concert Hall to create a musical campus that would enable his vision of a place for not only an international performance programme but also work with young artists, education and community engagement. The retail and residential complex went under the banner of Snape Maltings, while the organisation running the music and arts activity became known as Aldeburgh Music, making clear that the work was the year-round expansion of the ideas and vision at the heart of Britten’s Aldeburgh Festival.

The festival always had a distinctive feel, thanks to its mixture of stunning natural environment, international stars, up-and-coming artists and local community involvement. Britten died in 1976, but his pioneering vision for a place international in its scope yet rooted in its local community has inspired his successors to convert many more former maltings buildings on the site to create one of the world’s great centres of music, a place filled with the energy of artists creating work throughout the year.

The site continues to evolve today, with significant development planned for 2020-25. New artist accommodation and music studios will help transform Snape Maltings into a place where musicians and researchers live and work throughout the year, exploring new ground in music and its power to improve people’s lives.

A Unified Site & Vision

In 2006, Aldeburgh Music and the Gooderham family put together an ambitious scheme which enabled Aldeburgh Music to purchase the Concert Hall, the Britten-Pears Building and a number of adjacent buildings, and for the Gooderhams to develop the site. Aldeburgh Music’s creative campus opened in 2009, with many new spaces inside the Hoffmann Building, including the site’s second concert hall, the Britten Studio (capacity 340), enabling Aldeburgh Music to expand its artistic offering, leading to year-round programme of events, artist development and education.

Meanwhile the Gooderham family continued to own and operate the remaining buildings at Snape Maltings, restoring and converting the buildings for high-quality residential and holiday accommodation, as well as running a highly successful retail business, which includes the monthly farmers’ markets, and the annual Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival, now one of the UK’s largest food festivals.

In 2015 the Gooderham family put its part of the site up for sale and Aldeburgh Music purchased it with help from Arts Council England. Following this, the two organisations have come together under the name Snape Maltings to create a unified site with a unique offer for visitors.

Creative Campus

The Creative Campus at Snape Maltings is a hub buzzing with activity throughout the year. Inspired by our founder Benjamin Britten’s vision, the Creative Campus is a place where musicians at all career stages are given the time and space to develop new work and new skills. It is also home to innovative programmes that Snape Maltings takes out into communities in Suffolk, making the most of music’s ability to enrich people’s lives.

Over the next 10 years we aim to re-develop more former maltings buildings on the site which are currently derelict in order to expand the Creative Campus further. This will enable us to extend our welcome to many more people working with music – from emerging artists and international performers to researchers, local school pupils, teachers, health workers and those living in challenging circumstances.

Learning & Inclusion

Group A
A long-term wellbeing project in Ipswich and Lowestoft exploring the impact of singing on young people’s lives. This includes two large-scale unauditioned vocal projects and involves working with a range of professional musicians.

A year-round wellbeing project exploring how singing, dancing, making music together and socialising can improve the quality of the lives of people living with or affected by dementia and other socially isolating conditions.

A week-long takeover of Snape Maltings by more than 1,500 young people from Suffolk schools.

Friday Afternoons
An international singing project for schools, choirs and music groups, which commissions new songs each year and aims to help teachers develop students’ skills as performers, listeners and composers.

Criminal Justice
A year-round music-based initiative helping to rehabilitate those in custody and prevent criminal behaviour by those at risk in the community.

Artist Development

Britten–Pears Young Artist Programme
Intensive courses for international emerging professional musicians, led by high-profile practitioners.

Opportunities for artists at all career stages to experiment, take risks, develop new skills and recharge creative batteries.

Open Space
Long-term bespoke support for ambitious emerging artists and ensembles.

Aldeburgh Young Musicians
An innovative, life-changing programme for exceptionally talented musicians aged 8-18 from any musical background.

Chamber Music in Residence
Residencies and performances throughout the Spring for emerging chamber ensembles from around the world.

Jerwood Opera Writing Programme
For composers, writers and directors who want to create contemporary work combining music, theatre and text.

Aldeburgh Voices
Our in-house auditioned choir.