We have just wrapped up a fantastic five-part series on Burton upon Trent’s Brewing Heritage – do not forget to check them out – and with that, we have got a lot to unpack here now. And we are here today to help you navigate your way around our website and to give you a harmless nudge in the right direction for some extra readings with our most curated recommendations.
Note: There is also a pint-sized search box at the bottom of this page to help ease your search since we could not link up all our articles on this page. Leave us a message if you have any other questions!
Thinking of Burton as a charming little market town in the borough of East Staffordshire, a mere distance of 123 miles from London, this place might seem small – just over 7,730 acres (about the area of Chicago O’Hare airport) – but it is definitely a handful. To kick start Burton’s history, we mentioned a nobleman, Wulfric Spot, a descendant of King Alfred, a wealthy Earl of Mercia, and significant to our curious minds, founder of the first Benedictine abbey at Burton. The Early History (Part I) also details the arrival of a young Irish abbess, Modwenna, who stumbled upon this obscured town and laid down the groundworks to its first-ever church, backdating to as far as the 7th century.
Around the closing years of the 11th century, King William commissioned for a Domesday Book compilation to record the monetary values and ownership of lands and the worth of their feudal lords. But to our absolute frustration, we get to see in The Early History (Part II) that nearly two-thirds of Burton’s households were not accounted for in a scheme to evade taxes. The article follows with the Battle of Burton Bridge (1322) highlights: a classic tragedy of a power-hungry baron instigating a nation-wide war against his own crowned cousin. Indeed a pickle for King Edward I, but all the more shining moment for our town in England’s history.
What is more fun than a bit more tragedy, but this time, it is the Burton Abbey that caught the wrong end of the stick. You will find all the mayhem that followed the abbey throughout its years of standing. From maladministration and unsatisfactory bookkeeping by the abbots to spiritual negligence and resulting in Pope’s intervention, the place suffered brutally. It would not be wrong to say that salvation came to the abbey in the form of Henry VIII’s orders for the dissolution of the abbeys, although that led many monastic churches to fall into ruins all over the country.
The Crown entrusted the fate of the Burton abbey into the hands of Sir William Paget, the principal secretary of the state and the dying King Henry VIII’s confidante. He acquired most of the properties at Burton and its surrounding areas, and a manor at Beaudesert, which became the permanent residence of the Paget family. Tied up in accusations of plotting against Queen Elizabeth with Mary, Queen of Scots, all the properties of William Paget’s son were promptly seized, including the Burton Manor House. A few years passed, and a Burtonian headlined in the history as the last heretic burned in England.
Very soon, we get to see Charles I ruling the country without a Parliament for straight eleven years and then paying for the consequences dearly. Burton in the First Civil War (1642-46), became quite a strategic point, and being such a small, compact town, it had a leadership change at least a dozen times. At the end of the war, Burton emerged as a stronghold of the Parliamentarians and soon became a rendezvous for various dissenting groups.
Next up for discussion is the brewing industry that gave a beating heart to Burton. But before we dive into the topic, we would like to pass on our hearty thanks to two journal entries, which contributed indefinitely to our research: THE HISTORY OF BREWING IN BURTON UPON TRENT BY C.C. OWEN and BURTON’S BREWING HERITAGE POST – 1984: UPDATING THE VICTORIAN SOCIETY’S REPORT BY MALCOLM JAMES.
Scraping by a year from the big 1700, the journey to becoming the staple article of trade started with the Trent Navigation Act of 1699. Together with the subsequent opening of the Trent and Mersey canal, Burton was soon exporting its signature beer to Liverpool and Manchester and competing with the likes of top London brewers in the trade to the Baltic. And by 1780, Burton was at its unexpected height of success, housing 13 valued players of the brewing industry. Benjamin Wilson considered as being the frontrunner of the show, with William Bass and William Worthington closing in quickly.
Taking in the reins of the operations with the same passion as his father, Benjamin Junior made sure that the export trade to Russia and hence to the court of the Emperor, Peter the Great, was increased by numerous folds. To gain some more insights into the correspondences from that time, we suggest picking up a handy book like Noted breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume I by Alfred Barnard, or just browsing through Ron Pattinson’s blog. He has got a massive collection of blog posts on all things beer, and leafing from one entry to the next is a sweet treat for people who love beer and its vast history a little too much.
And just because we cannot resist, we introduce yet another article from our beloved series: Burton’s ultimate economic development. The Napoleonic wars of 1803-15 had worn down the hopes of the budding brewers of Burton for trade in the Baltic. Although the dealings resumed in 1814, by that time, Russia had already started on with their brewing. They even slammed so many tariffs on British goods that the trade automatically dwindled out. However, this paved the way for a better opportunity that was offered to Samuel Allsopp by an Indian Serviceman. It was the start of what would become the world’s personal favorite beverage: India Pale ale.
On this note, we would like to throw another beer enthusiast’s writings in the mix: Ian Webster has a knack for Burton beer, and his new book, Brewing in Burton upon Trent, is a clear depiction of his talents. The book is a follow-up to his 2015’s Ind Coope & Allsopp Breweries: The History of the Hand and is a pleasingly illustrated assemblage with never seen before pictures, taking you from the commencement of the brewing industry through to the interviews with the current commercial brewers of the town. Also, not to miss, he has got a website up and running, which he updates regularly at https://thebeertonian.com/.
The glorious years of Burton saw a remarkable growth rate in the town’s brewing commerce, and as time flew, it was Bass & Co that came out on top each year, without fail. By 1880, Bass became the largest brewer in Great Britain – nay, the world – finishing off with over 800,000 barrels in one single season and contributed to more than £780 a day to the National Revenue. But just like time and tides change things, Burton saw a decline in its flourishing industry from the turn of the 20th century. Over a few years, brewers merged their companies to thrive in the business, and sometimes later in the century, Burton lost a prime chunk of its Victorian heritage in an attempt of commercialization. We have covered the aforementioned stories in the last two articles of our series: Part IV and Part V.