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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, 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 830-seat Snape Maltings Concert Hall, which was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth in 1967. 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.

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.

Developing young talent

The development of young musical talent had been part of the original idea of the Aldeburgh Festival from the beginning. As early as 1953, Britten and Pears, committed to the musical development of young people, formed the idea of having a school of music at Snape.
The fundamental concept was ‘to prepare and promote young singers or string players for professional life at the very highest level.’ It took until September 1972 for the first masterclasses to be given, by Pears, and in 1975 a Snape Maltings Training Orchestra rehearsed and performed at the Hall for the first time. Following the death of Britten in 1976, the Benjamin Britten Memorial Appeal was launched, and the barley store adjacent to the Concert Hall was converted by Arup Associates into the Britten–Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies (today named the Britten–Pears Building). Opened on 28 April 1979 by HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the School incorporated a 120-seat recital room (today named the Peter Pears Recital Room), a top-floor Seminar Room, with many practice rooms in between and a reference library, the Holst Library.

The aim remains to bridge formal musical education and the professional life, exposing developing artists in a safe and nurturing environment to the skills and talents of world-class artists and teachers. Over the years, such leading artists as Dame Joan Sutherland, Ann Murray, Sir Thomas Allen, Galina Vishnevskaya, Murray Perahia, Sir Charles McKerras, Elisabeth Söderström and Dawn Upshaw as well as Pears himself have been notable teachers, while its many alumni have included Thomas Adès, Ian Bostridge, Simon Keenlyside and Dame Felicity Lott.

Working with the community

From the beginning, the Festival was committed to working with and for its local community, breaking down the barriers between amateur and professional. Education and working with young people always featured, and this continues today with Aldeburgh Education involving the local community as creators and performers as well as audiences. The department now runs 3 year-round programmes and in 2011/12 delivered 432 sessions, with over 15,000 participants, over 17,000 audience members and 147 artists. In 2012 the annual Celebration of Schools’ Music, presented in association with Suffolk County Council, celebrated its 25th year at Snape Maltings Concert Hall.

Aldeburgh Residencies was launched in 2003 to offer bespoke development opportunities to established artists. The Residencies enable individuals and ensembles to come to Snape to create new work, develop new partnerships and explore new possibilities.

Aldeburgh Young Musicians is a Centre for Advanced Training (CAT), created in 2007 with funding from the government to provide advanced music mentoring for exceptionally talented young musicians aged between 8 and 18 based in the Eastern Region.

Creative Campus

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.

A unified site and mission

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.