Secrets of Burton – The Bass Brewery

The Bass Brewery was founded by William Bass in Burton upon Trent in 1777, and within a century became the biggest brewer in the world. Although it wasn’t Burton’s only brewer, it was probably the most well-known around the UK and the wider world. Burtonians never tire of boasting that Bass’s famous red triangle logo was the world’s first registered trademark (they also registered the world’s second and third trademarks while they were at it). Bass’s brewing business was sold to the Belgian brewer Interbrew in 2000, and their Burton brewery was sold to the American-Canadian brewer Coors (now Molson Coors), along with the Worthington and Carling brands. (It’s a popular misconception that Coors took over the Bass company, but they didn’t, they only bought their brewery). As a result, the familiar red triangle and Bass name largely disappeared from the town after almost 225 years. The company continued in the hotel and hospitality business, but had to change their name because the rights to the Bass name now belonged to Interbrew. However, some small traces of the company remain in the town.

Close to the entrance to Sainsburys car park are the Bass Gates, which were saved when part of the “New Brewery” was demolished to make way for the supermarket. The gates date from 1851, and were originally located around the corner on Station Street, where Sainsburys’ goods-in entrance stands now. In 2016, a local woman asked Sainsburys to tidy up the area around the gates, which had become overgrown since they were relocated in 1997, and the supermarket duly responded by removing a bush and having the gates repainted and restored to their former glory.

Bass Gates outside Sainsburys car park

On High Street are two large and ornate red bricked buildings. These are Bass Town House and Bass House, both almost identical, but they were actually built around a century apart. Between the buildings is a gateway with a small stone block close to the doorway. This is actually an old horse mounting block, which was used to assist with climbing up onto a horse.

Although I’ve never been inside Bass Town House, I have seen pictures of the interior and it looks very ornate and grand. There is a war memorial inside which pays tribute to the Bass workers who were killed during the First and Second World War. If Molson Coors’s plans go ahead, then the National Brewery Museum will be relocated there from its site on Horninglow Street, as they want to move their company’s offices to the current museum site. I don’t know where they will put the shire horses, though.

Some other Bass buildings survive in Burton, aside from the brewery itself. Two pump houses on the Washlands are still there, as is a pump house on Shobnall Road.

Perhaps the most well-known old Bass building in the town is the Water Tower across from the library. This is the only remaining part of a vast brewery which occupied the site now taken up by Molson Coors’s Carling House headquarters, Meadowside Leisure Centre and formerly the Bargates shopping centre.

Part of Bass’s “New Brewery” on Station Street survives to this day, although the site is in the process of being demolished, having closed in 2017.

A building in the New Brewery, pictured in 2020 with the short-lived social distancing barriers in place on the road.

An almost identical building to the one pictured above stood to the left of this one, but it was demolished in the mid-1990s to make way for the new Sainsburys supermarket. This building is listed, and so it is protected from demolition. It’s likely to be converted into flats at some point in the future. Just in the picture in the bottom right is Caskade, a former working fountain sculpture which hasn’t operated for years. I fear that it will be destined for the scrapyard.

Bass had three main brewing sites in the town; the Old Brewery which is still a working brewery, the New Brewery as mentioned above, and the Middle Brewery, which is now the site of Middleway Park, a retail and entertainment park in the town centre with a cinema, bingo hall, restaurants and shops.

That’s all for this look at Bass’s remaining relics in the town. There will be more Secrets of Burton to come, as well as the traditional travel tales returning after a break of a few weeks. Thanks very much for reading.

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