Burton nurses a picturesque secret right in the heart of its town centre. Behind the busy shopping streets are the delightfully unspoilt meadows of the washlands through which the River Trent slowly meanders on its journey downstream. The town itself is renowned throughout the world as the capital of British brewing. Situated on the Staffordshire border with Derbyshire it shares close links with its neighbour, the A38 providing a fast link for both shoppers and workers.
Brewing though, no longer dominates the local economy. Food, engineering and distribution all are of growing importance. The town is well served by a good communication network, which provides relatively easy access to motorways and other major road routes. Traffic free shopping precincts and low cost parking attract visitors from a wide area.
Apart from shopping, entertainment is well catered for at Burton’s Art Centre, the Brewhouse, which runs a varied programme of art and music, dance and drama. There is also a multiplex cinema in the centre of the town and for the more energetic the Meadowside Leisure Centre provides a wide array of sporting and leisure facilities.
In Burton High Street the former home of William Bass, which he acquired in 1777, has been continuously occupied by the brewing company of that name and its successor, Coors, ever since. Originally a carrier by trade, Bass only entered the brewing trade at the age of 60. This proved to be an inspired move, as over the next one hundred years, the firm became the biggest ale brewer in the world. Worthington House, which stands on the opposite side of the road a little higher up the street, was used as the Worthington Brewery offices from 1888-1975.
At the other extreme, Burton Bridge Brewery, established in 1982 is Burton’s smallest commercial brewery. The Bridge Inn situated at the front of the brewery is the town’s second oldest remaining pub. As the name suggests, the inn is located by Burton Bridge, which originally had 36 arches and was maintained by the monks of Burton Abbey. Over the road the Queen’s Hotel was built in the late 18th century on the site of The Three Queens, a former posting house which was first licensed in 1531.
Prior to that, in the medieval period, Burton Abbey dominated the town, but that too had a brewing connection, the water from the local wells being used by the monks to brew ale. The quality of the spring water seeping through the gypsum beds provided hard water rich in magnesium and calcium sulphates which was ideal for brewing.
Little of the abbey still remains, but there is evidence at the Abbey Inn of the old abbey infirmary chapel and some of the stonework can still be found in the grounds. It was one of the last abbeys to be dissolved in Staffordshire.
The growth of the abbey and the town was marked in 1200 when King John granted a market charter. To this day Burton still retains its colourful open air market supported by a spacious market hall. A carving of a bull’s head adorns the Butcher’s Entrance and is a particularly skilful piece of craftsmanship.
In the early 18th century, the Trent was made navigable as far as Burton, which opened up the market for the local brewers. This and the impetus given to brewing by the completion of the Trent and Mersey Canal in 1777, led to the growth in number of breweries operating in the town. By 1880, it was estimated that over 40 brewers had set up businesses.
The centre of the town was taken up by a network of railway lines, with 32 level crossings. Bass alone had 15 miles of private railway. There is a small scale model of the railway layout and the centre of the town as it was in 1921, at the former Bass Museum in Horninglow Street.
The Coors Visitor Centre, formerly called the Bass Museum is one of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions. It has expanded considerably since opening in 1977, now covers ten acres, and provides an excellent insight into the history of brewing in Burton. The original Joiners’ Shop, a grade II listed building, offers three floors of galleries containing items placed on loan by the trustees of the Town Museum, which closed in 1984. Marstons also provide brewery tours for groups of visitors.
Since 1841, the washlands have been used for public recreation and boasts an abundance of flora, fauna and wildlife along the pretty river bank walks. A popular attraction for many people is the large number of swans which swim gracefully along the river close to Stapenhill Remembrance Gardens, attracted by the good feeding conditions both natural and human.
Remains of prehistoric man have been found in the gravel beds of the River Trent near Burton, but the history of the town really started in the seventh century. Saint Modwen, an Irish lady passing through Burton on a pilgrimage to Rome, built a church dedicated to God and St. Andrew. Andressy Bridge is crossed near the start of the walk that accompanies this feature.
A recent innovation is the Washlands Sculpture Trail, which was developed by artists and involved the help of the local community. The two sculptures at the beginning of the trail have been inspired by the story of Saint Modwen, the patron saint of Burton, who healed damaged eyes with water from the washlands.
Burton is the ‘capital’ of Britain’s National Forest, the most ambitious environmental project for over 1,000 years to creating a new forest for the nation across 200 square miles, embracing parts of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire. During the first ten years over six million trees have been planted and the wooded cover increased from six to sixteen per cent. Access has been improved and over 20 new tourist attractions opened.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
Coors Visitor Centre (Tel. 01283 511000) formerly the Bass Museum of Brewing, including the Coors Shires. There are excellent restaurant facilities. Café facilities are also available. Open every day except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
Tutbury Castle (Tel. 01283 812129) is a picturesque castle with stunning views, once the prison-home of Mary, Queen of Scots. There is a full programme of events. Please telephone for opening details or visit website.
Sharpe’s Pottery Visitor Centre (Tel. 01283 222600) the exhibits tell the story of the South Derbyshire Pottery industry from the 16th to the 21st century. The centre is equipped with interactive technology, a Coffee Shop, Conference suite and range of goods for sale. Open Monday to Saturday throughout the year.
Burton Bridge Inn (Tel. 01283 536596) situated at the front of the Burton Bridge Brewery, is the town’s second oldest remaining pub. As the name suggests, the inn is located by Burton Bridge, which originally had 36 arches and was maintained by the monks of Burton Abbey. Open daily, food served Monday to Saturday.
Bothy Tea Rooms and Restaurant (Tel. 01283 703355) located at the popular Bretby Garden Centre. The Tea Rooms are particularly spacious and offer good food at very competitive prices. There is also seating outside on the patio. Apart from meeting the needs of most gardeners, there is an excellent gift shop and aquatics centre on site.
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An excellent town walk, as for most of the route you really feel as if you are deep in the heart of the countryside, yet never far from housing and commercial development.
After leaving the centre of Burton, you arrive in surprisingly quick time in the Washlands, which since 1841 have been used for public recreation. There is an abundance of flora and fauna and wildlife along the pretty river bank walks.
The highest point of the walk is the water tower, built in 1904 to improve the low pressure of water in Winshill. Today it is bedecked with radio and aerial communications that serve the needs of the present generation.
The final stage of the walk takes you over Burton Bridge; the first bridge had 36 arches and was maintained by the monks of Burton Abbey.
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