Walking the Floors

In 1968 I took the job of assistant manager in the largest operating traditional floor maltings in the UK,  with J Gough and Sons Ltd at Bury St. Edmunds.  I did not know until some years later, when I was running the maltings, that my great Grandfather had been employed to help build it in 1884, and then worked there as a maltster for 27 years.  In 1993, as Managing Director of the malting company, I had to close the site, it was no longer viable in the modern world.  The wheel had come full circle and to a full stop after ninety nine years.  This poem was written just after the last piece of malt was cleared from the last kiln.  The massive floor maltings were totally demolished in 1994/5 and a large housing complex is now on the site.



Part of the Old House empty germinating floor, Bury Maltings







 Click on the photo for a larger image


 This will be the last inspection
no growing grain to muffle sound
beneath the Maltsters feet
footfalls stark on wooden stairs
trod for half a life.
Step on the germination floor
there is no need of light
as memory walks the forest
of the cast iron stanchions.
Grain was always grown in darkness
but this is more than loss of light.
The empty steep has dried and mocks its purpose,
for barley does not swell beneath the sparge.
Shovels lie where thrown
an exclamation from their users
one leans at ease against a post
positioned by a lifetimes rule
that will not end by closure,
“Always leave the tools to hand”
by hands no longer wanted.
All fired at the last kiln,
with their empiric knowledge:
Mastery of Water, Wind and Fire.
uptake judged between the teeth
and later by the Maltsters rub.
temperature measured on the cheek,
direction by a wetted thumb,
when ‘running on the windows’.
applied by taste and smell.
How far to crack the shutters in the frost?
How many barrows to the bay
when laying out the couch?
How deep to load the old piece on the kiln
for drying before curing?
No cure now.
The kiln fan idles in the cold draught
a clicking sucks the silence.

Yet there are noises.
Others here will walk the floor
Rats have won the ninety nine year war
and run through empty garners.

Emptying steeped grain from the steep
Pulling growing green malt up the floor
Using Dobbin barrows to load the malt to kiln

If you would like to know more about how malt is made, click on the link  How Malt is Made to visit the appropriate page on the website of The Maltsters Association of Great Britain. (Which I also wrote).  You will also be able to see photographs that show modern mechanised malting methods.

I finally read this poem in Bury St Edmunds, seventeen years after it was written!  It was at Bury Cafe Poets on September 28th 2010, and Colin Whyles recorded it an put it on the Poetry Aloud website, click here to access it


  1. Susie Barber

    Hi Ivor,

    What an amazing poem to write.

    I am another relation of Jesse Gough – He is my 3rd Great-Grandfather on my paternal grandmothers side. As a family we would be ever so grateful if yourself or anyone else for that matter, would be kind enough to share some photos. The older the better and if there is any with my ancestors in them, even better!

    My email address is susie.barber@outlook.com

    Many Thanks!

  2. Gloria Walls

    Hello Ivor,
    After 65 years it’s amazing to hear of someone who remembered my Grandad! Thank you so much.
    Mr and Mrs Paske lived in the adjoining house to ours and Mrs Perry lived on the other side – she kept chickens.
    I’d love to see some photos of the outside of the Maltings.

  3. Gloria Walls

    I remember The Maltings well. From 1941 – 1951 I lived with my Nana and Grandad in Maltings Cottage. My Grandad, William Boyden, was still there and working in the office. Myself and friends would sit on the edge of the chute and chat. No Health & Safety then.
    Happy memories.

  4. Chloe Weller

    Hello Ivor,

    Loved the poem! I work for the Button Collective and we would really appreciate it if you could contact us as soon as possible – my email is chloe.weller@buttoncollective.co.uk – it is regarding the images used to accompany this poem, we would love to get our hands on one of them.

    Look forward to hearing from you.


  5. John Boxall

    Brilliant poem Ivor. Thank you for a nostalgic “look back” into the past. I well remember all the many pleasant visist I made with customers to our very own floor maltings at Ditchingham, until it sadly caught fire and as a result became unviable to continue production at that site.
    Happy days!

  6. Alan

    I well remember George, he was my foreman for many years, and was over 70 when I finally persuaded him to retire.
    I took him to Burton on Trent with me on one occasion, and I think it was probably the first time he had been in The Midlands.
    I will send you some photos by e-mail.

    Best wishes

  7. Alan Paske


    I found your poem and photographs purely by accident. The poem brought back some vivid childhood memories as my grandfather, George Paske was foreman at the maltings for many years, living over the years in two different tied cottages adjacent to the maltings on Thingoe Hill.

    On many Sundays I would go with granddad to walk the floors, being allowed to shovel coke into the furnaces (before they were converted to gas) and to pull the hand ploughs to turn the malting barley on the floors.

    I can even now remember the smell of the malt and the sound water running through the steeps at the rear of my grandparents house.

    I paid for my first proper bicycle by working (under-age I would add) by pricking out the dust from the tiles on the malting floors with stiff wire in a cork handle. Back-breaking labour! There were hundreds of holes in each foot-square tile and as each one was completed I wrote 6d in chalk on it because that is what I was paid!

    It would be wonderful to be able to see some more photographs of the maltings especially if I could see any family members and also show my own children what the place was like!

  8. Ray

    Yes, having run that maltings for many years I have many images of the building, and its operation.
    My great grandfather was employed by the Goughs as a labourer in the 1890’s to build the Old House malting, then worked there for 27 years. I will contact you by e-mail with some photos.

  9. Ray Osborne


    I have for some years been writing a history of malting in Australia. As you would probably know Jesse Gough works as a maltster in Melbourne Australia (with Chas Smith) establishing probably the earliest floor malting’s in Victoria (1856) demolished in 1910. I have recently been researching his malting’s in Bury St Edmund’s, and wonder if you have any early external photographs of the buildings, or perhaps some prior to demolition. Happy to cover costs.


  10. Andrew Gough


    I just found your website and your poem Walking the Floors. Thank you.

    I am intrigued as Jesse Gough was my 2x g grandfather. Thank you also for the showing some photos of the place. I would also be interested if any exist of the exterior of the building.

    Also it is good to be in contact with someone who worked at the Maltings and seeing comments from other former workers there. Although by then my family had long moved on, having sold out to Peachey’s Maltings.

    Once again many thanks. Its been a privilege!

    Andrew Gough

  11. Pete Sturgeon


    How great to read the poem.
    I did a complete video of the last days of E.S.Beaven, Diss. Now transfered to DVD.
    They were great days and those of us who worked in floor maltings will never forget the art and skill needed to make good malt.
    Old friends are never forgotten.


  12. ed freestone


    you may or may not remember my time at goughs as one of the barley technicians from73-75 , the pictures and the poem were all very evocative of a long lost youth!
    still long haired and vaguley chemical! as i am now the chief pharmacist in guernsey amongst other sins, nice to read a poem about a world of work long lost but in my memory never forgotten, and in some ways still cherished for its honesty, if not not its dust (which seems to have escaped your pictures!)


  13. Ken Stares

    The poem and pictures took me back to my time with the company 1975-1980. It is sad that we have lost so many traditional crafts and the opportunity to pass them on to a new generation. Sometime in the future, we may wish to, or even need to take a step back, but will we have the skills or willingness any more ?

    Thank you for your poem.

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