In the United Kingdom, up until the early 1800s, barley consisted of so-called land races, which were mixtures of types grown from saved seed, and known by exotic names such as “Nottinghamshire Long Ear” and “Old Wiltshire Archer.” By the end of the 19th century, by gradual selection and reselection, a number of malting lines had been developed, the major ones being “Chevalier,” “Archer,” “Spratt,” and “Goldthorpe.”
Chevalier dominated the English crop for around 60 years, and only really started to fall out of favor when William Gladstone repealed the Malt Tax in 1880. The tax on malt was replaced by a tax on beer itself, which meant that British brewers sought to brew more economically. Increasing volumes of cheaper malt were imported from abroad, and rice, maize, and other malt substitutes were countenanced. Though under declining acreage at the time, Chevalier was still winning prizes at the Brewers’ Exhibition in 1914 (which was to be the last). After World War I, Chevalier was to be replaced by the hybrids, “Plumage-Archer” and “Spratt-Archer,” which would dominate the British crop during the inter-war years.
There are several versions of how Chevalier came into existence, the following being from a manuscript History of Debenham (Suffolk) of 1845:
About the year 1820, John Andrews, a labourer, had been threshing barley and on his return home that night complained of his feet being very uneasy, and on taking off his shoes he discovered in one of them part of a very fine ear of barley—it struck him as being particularly so—and he was careful to have it preserved. He afterwards planted the few grains from it in his garden, and the following year Rev. John Chevallier, coming to Andrews’ dwelling (which he owned) to inspect some repairs, saw 3 or 4 ears of the barley growing. He requested that it might be kept for him when ripe. The Reverend gentleman sowed a small ridge with the produce thus obtained, and kept it by itself until he grew sufficient to plant an acre, and from this acre (the year being 1825, or 1826) the produce was 11½ coombs.
Chevalier was a two-row, narrow-eared variety originally classified as Hordeum distichum, and several seedsmen developed their own sub-varieties, so that the description came to cover a wide range of narrow-eared forms of barley. John Chevallier heirs (now Chevallier-Guild) are still involved in fermented beverages, living at Aspall Hall, Debenham, where they operate their successful Aspall Cyder Company.