ALTHOUGH Vaux beer was obviously very memorable, it is the Sunderland brewery’s horsedrawn drays that have really stuck in the memory – and one of those drays can still be seen in motion in a museum in Northumberland.

“I found it on a farm in Sunderland in a hedge, and I’ve had it restored back to its original state and now it is at Hay Farm near Wooler,” says Norbert Frain, of Easington.

His dray may even be the one pictured in Memories last week when we told how the 20th anniversary of the brewery’s shocking collapse is being marked by a new film, A Passion for Vaux.

“We jumped at the chance to take the dray when Mr Frain approached us,” says Vivienne Cockburn of Hay Farm, “because many visiting children only associate the working horse with farmland.”

Hay Farm Museum was formed six years ago as the days of the heavy working horse began fading from memory.

“Originally we intended for the public just to see the horses, however the demand was so high we ended up developing the centre,” she says.

“Today Hay Farm is a charity and is the only centre in the country approved by the Rare Breeds Association for heavy horses, and we also have a huge collection of horsedrawn machinery.

“Last year, we introduced carriage rides which have been extended to brewery trips for this year as we have a micro-brewery near to us. It was great to see the old dray back out working, rattling down the road carrying barrels of beer down to the local pub – mind it was rather unfair for the horses as the brewery is situated on a hill and they had to come back up again to collect their tea of brewers’ grains.”

Hay Farm is near Heatherslaw on the Ford and Etal estate, which has the well known little steam railway. The farm is open from February to November, and holds two centrepiece events: Springtime with Heavies, which is on May 5, and Looking Back, which is October 19 and 20. It also has a Christmas Fayre on December 22. Entry is by donation.

BREWERS’ grains were the tasty leftovers produced by the brewing process. Malted barley is soaked in hot water. The sugary “wort” is drained off to be fermented into beer and what’s left is enjoyed by the horses – and anyone else who wanted it.

“Your article reminded me of my first job on a farm near Sunderland,” says GO Wright, of Sadberge.

“We used to go with a tractor and trailer down to the brewery and load up with brewers’ grains – the steam would be rising from them all the way back to the farm, and the cows loved them.”

“AT the age of 18, I had a holiday job at Vaux working in the build up to “ship yard fortnight” when all the yards shut and we had to stockpile beer to cope with the demand,” says Robin Rutherford.

“Vaux was famous for the drays and there was a story of how two crews after their last drop on the Friday before the shipyard holiday had a race back to the yard to see who could get to the pub first.

“Sadly, one of them didn’t make it as they ended up crashing into Binns shop window.”

Robin says the most he earned in a week in the early 1960s was £42 for a 14 hour day in the bottling plant and then the barrelling yard – but there were other compensations.

“It was very thirsty work and the management seemed to turn a blind eye to the number of empty bottles in the waste bins,” he says.

Not everyone, though, turned a blind eye.

“There was one story of one chap who at the end of his late shift attempted to roll a keg out of the yard to get it home,” he says.

“Unfortunately the main police station was just across the road at that time and he never made it past their front door!”

He concludes: “At the moment, the brewery site is a big hole in the ground and it is such a sad reminder of Sunderland’s history, along with the remains of the shipyards.

“My great-grandfather, who was harbourmaster there, had a street named after him, but the glass centre now covers the site.

“Growing up in Sunderland in the 1950s and 1960s was a magical time.

“We had a football team to be proud of, industry that was world leading with its ships, glass and beer, and we had respect for our betters.

“How things have changed.”