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Pub Visit - England

Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire:
Burton Bridge Inn (and Brewery)

Burton Bridge 1Saturday 6th January 2018

Bob Thompson

The history of the Burton Bridge Inn can be divided into two separate epochs. The first from its inception in the 17th Century to its closure in 1979. The second from 1981 to 2018. Although it is believed to have been built in the late 1600s the first record of its existence was in the early part of the 19th Century when Bass & Co purchased the inn from the Marquis of Anglesey. Interestingly he is remembered to this day by the number of pubs named after him.

Burton Bridge 2The pub was the Fox and Goose back then and the old Burton Bridge ended right by the front door. Apart from some primitive ferries over the two courses of the River Trent this was the only route into the town from the east and south and the first bridge at this crossing was erected by the Romans. Because of this it was in an important location and was a true inn, inasmuch that it provided accommodation for travellers.

The present bridge was opened in 1864 and widened in 1926. It replaced a medieval structure that dated from the 12th Century. The pub continued its existence more or less in a steady fashion throughout the 1800s.

A notable arrival as licensee was Charles Taylor in 1871. He started the first licensed horse bus service which ran from the pub to the railway station via the rest of the town. This must have bought the pub more custom and was useful for local residents. It was done for in 1903 as an electric tramway opened that continued over the bridge.

Burton Bridge 3During the brewing boom in Burton there have been no less than six breweries within a 150 yards of the pub at one time or another. After the post-war boom the town was still doing well into the 1950s but then there was a decline leading to the present day. By the 1970s beer consumption was down and this was no doubt why the Fox & Goose closed its doors in 1979.

So, the second part of the story begins in 1979. The venerable pub was boarded up and put up for sale but with no buyer apparent.

Burton Bridge 4That was until Geoff Mumford and Bruce Wilkinson saw it offered in the Morning Advertiser, visited in May 1981 and declared their interest. Their story begins at the Ind Coope (later Allied Brewers) brewery in Burton. They met again when they were working at the Ind Coope brewery in Romford.

At this time the force of CAMRA’s campaigning was beginning to be felt by the big national brewers of which Allied were one. Their response was to introduce the excellent Ind Coope Burton Ale in 1976.

Burton Bridge 5This was so good it went on to win many awards. Its success prompted a new range of cask ales to be formulated that were regionally distributed and they took the names of breweries the company had closed earlier.

I can attest that these bitters were very good. Geoff and Bruce were involved in the production of these beers. They were brewed at Romford with a few coming from Burton. So, the cask beer drinker again saw old names such as Taylor Walker, Friary Meux, Benskins, ABC (Aylesbury Brewery Co), and Hall’s.

Simultaneously Ind Coope Bitter was improved and promoted. The Romford brewery went over to keg-only production at the end of the 1970s and production of these beers was transferred to Burton.

When Carlsberg merged with Allied in 1992 the brewing division became Carlsberg-Tetley. Cask beer brewing ceased at Burton and the brewery was joined to the Bass brewery for production economies. The regional beers were dropped and the brewing of Burton Ale was transferred to Tetley in Leeds. Carlsberg then closed that famous brewery and production was contracted to J.W. Lees of Manchester. Yet, it was not to last and the last brew was during September 2014, RIP.

Burton Bridge 6So what has all this got to with the two future partners who were working in Romford? Well, they were astute enough to see the writing on the wall and left the big brewing business before it collapsed around them and departed Ind Coope in October 1981.

They purchased the Fox & Goose because it had a yard with outbuildings at the back that were suitable to convert into a small brewery. It is a familiar story these days but this was 1981! Back then they were pioneers.

Burton Bridge 7After leaving mainstream brewing they had the massive task of setting up a micro-brewery, as they are known these days. They took on two Youth Opportunity teenagers for six months and set about converting a worn-out former pub with all facilities disconnected into a welcoming hostelry that brewed its own beer. They got it right and should you ever visit Burton you will find a superb pub that sells fantastic beers, Nirvana!

The brewery was constructed from a mixture of second hand and modified equipment and has a capacity of 15 barrels (bbls). The six months from October 1981 ended with the first brew on May 25th 1982.

This was of Bridge Bitter (4.2%) which is still brewed today. It has classic English bitter ingredients: Maris Otter malt, Target and Challenger hops and is late hopped with Styrian Goldings.

Burton Bridge 8When the pub reopened its doors there was one small yet significant change. It was now the Burton Bridge Inn but in a homage to the previous name the centrepiece of the hanging sign was retained. It depicts the goose staring at a rather cute-looking fox who nevertheless probably has carnivorous intent. The outside of the building has traditional signing and there is some kind of climbing plant. I can’t say what it is as I’ve only ever been there in the winter months.

I first made a pilgrimage to the pub in the mid-eighties when it was quite young. The next time was in the early nineties with an organised group that included a tour of the brewery conducted by the two partners. We also went around the somewhat larger Bass Brewery. I have revisited a few times since then. Little has changed over the years except to say the interior has been refurbished sympathetically in traditional style and has won an award for the work done.

Burton Bridge 9The entrance is to the right of the building’s frontage. This actually a corridor that leads through to the yard, beyond which the brewery is to be found behind an iron fence. Before you get to this point there are a few wooden tables with benches in the usual pub garden style. The door to the pub is on the left as you come in. Once inside there is the choice, right into the lounge or left into the bar.

I went left as this room has a lot of light coming in. I ordered a beer and took a seat. Running my eye around I could see that this was once two rooms. The giveaway is the short section of wall in the middle of the room with a fireplace on either side which feed to a common chimney. The two sections have a similar décor with wooden panelling from the floor to about half way up the walls.

The panelling is varnished, as are the benches. These are covered with many cushions. In front of the benches are loose polished tables and stools.

Burton Bridge 10The upper parts of the walls have white wallpaper and there are a number of framed advertising posters as well as old maps, certificates and beermat collections.

On one wall there is a beautiful stained glass window through to the entrance hall. It acknowledges a Master Cellar-man and is presented by Ind Coope Burton Bitter. There are also shelves that are crammed with books, Toby jugs, bottles, etc. There is also a Devil among the Tailors board. This is a form of table skittles where the ball is suspended on a chain.

I then went to look at the lounge. This is a bigger room and the crowning piece is the magnificent fireplace, please see photograph. There is some superb panelling on the wall behind which is much older than that found in the bar room. The whole ensemble is fabulous. Tables in this room are loose with red cushioned stools that match the carpet.

Burton Bridge 11There were six casks beers on offer, all from the brewery in the back yard. In ascending order of strength they were: Golden Delicious Bitter (3.8%); Sovereign Gold Bitter (4.0%); Bridge Bitter (4.2%); Burton Porter (4.5%); Stairway to Heaven Bitter (5.0%) and Festival Ale (5.5%).

The pub has been presented with many awards over the years with the latest being Burton & South Staffordshire CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year 2016. Food is served Thursday-Friday: 12.00-14.00 and on Saturday: 12.00-15.00. Of course the pub serves a full range of wines and spirits. Upstairs is a skittle alley and this can be hired.

In a major development towards the end of 2016 Geoff and Bruce announced that they wanted to sell the brewery and their six pubs. One, the Great Northern near the football ground, was sold to its licensee. By autumn 2017 no sale had been made and the two partners began to consider selling the brewery separately to the pubs. By then Geoff was 75 and Bruce 69. Hence their desire to retire.

Burton Bridge 12As a matter of interest the other pubs in the estate were as follows. The Plough at Stapenhill, a Burton suburb. It was built between 1862 and 1871 and has been a BBB house for ten years. Their most recent purchase was the Brickmakers Arms at Newton Solney, a village just over the River Trent in Derbyshire. It’s a very old pub that they had owned for the last five years.

The Burton Bridge Inn has its history detailed above. The other two are quite near to the station and both have close connections with the town’s breweries.

Burton Bridge 13The Devonshire Arms in Station Street sits opposite the Ind Coope brewery and lies in shadow of their wines and spirits merchants, B Grant & Co. It was first licensed in 1844 and is a former house. It was the Ind Coope Tap and it was here in 1976 that Burton Ale was launched. The photographs of this pub and the Alfred were taken early in 2003.

Apart from the Burton Bridge Inn their oldest acquisition was the Alfred Ale House in Derby Street. This pub was built as the Prince Alfred during the 1860s by Phillip’s. Their brewery was almost opposite. In the 1870s it was purchased by Truman’s of London who wanted to expand to Burton. They demolished the old brewery and constructed a new one. The Prince Alfred became the Truman’s tap in Burton. It was named Black Eagle Brewery as was the London plant. It brewed its last beer in 1971 and the site is now housing.

So, if you are anywhere around Burton you should visit these pubs especially as they might be sold on.

Important Information:

Burton Bridge Inn, 24 Bridge Street, Burton upon Trent DE14 1SY. Tel: 01283 536596.

Hours: Monday: 17.00-23.00; Tuesday-Wednesday: 12.00-14.00, 17.00-23.00;
Thursday: 12.00-14.30, 17.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday: 11.30-23.30; Sunday: 12.00-15.00, 19.00-23.00.

Hours for food: Only at the following times: Thursday-Friday: 12.00-14.00; Saturday: 12.00-15.00.

There is a reasonably frequent bus service from central Burton. Alight at the Severn Drive stop.
To return turn left out of the pub. Turn left again into high Street. You will then see the Bargates Bus stop.