Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Off to Market!

Hello again! Last week, with some spare time available, I again ventured out into Leicestershire to tick another destination off of my ever-increasing list of beer excursions. On this occasion, I was hoping to explore a place that I'd never visited before and, truthfully, didn't really know much about, both historically and from a pub point of view. Join me now as I attempt to lift the veil of mystery that surrounded the town of Market Harborough. 

Market Harborough is a market town in the Harborough district of Leicestershire, in the far southeast of the county, forming part of the border with Northamptonshire.

Market Harborough's population was 24,818 in 2019. It is the administrative headquarters of the larger Harborough District. The town was formerly at a crossroads for both road and rail; however, the A6 now bypasses the town to the east and the A14 which carries east-west traffic is 6 miles (9.7 km) to the south. Market Harborough railway station is served by East Midlands Railway services on the Midland Main Line with direct services north to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield and south to London St Pancras. Rail services to Rugby and Peterborough ended in 1966.

Market Harborough was formerly part of Rockingham Forest, a royal hunting forest used by the medieval monarchs starting with William I, whose original boundaries stretched from Market Harborough through to Stamford and included Corby, Kettering, Desborough, Rothwell, Thrapston and Oundle.

The steeple of St Dionysius' Church rises directly from the street, as there is no churchyard. It was constructed in grey stone in 1300 with the church itself a later building of about 1470. Next to the church stands the Old Grammar School, a small timber building dating from 1614. The ground floor is open, creating a covered market area and there is a single room on the first floor. It has become a symbol of the town. The nearby square is largely pedestrianised and surrounded by buildings of varying styles. The upper end of the High Street is wide and contains mostly unspoiled Georgian buildings.

Market Harborough has two villages within its confines: Great Bowden lies over a hill about a mile from the town centre; Little Bowden is less than half a mile from the town centre. The three centres have largely coalesced through ribbon development and infill, although Great Bowden continues to retain a strong village identity.

Market Harborough was founded by the Saxons between 410 and 1066. Originally a small village, believed to have been called hæfera-beorg, (harborough) meaning "oat hill".

In 1086 the Domesday Book records Bowden as a Royal Manor organised in seventy-three manors. The population lived in three villages, Great Bowden, Arden and Little Bowden. The Manor of Harborough is first mentioned in 1199 and 1227 when it was called "Haverberg". It is likely that Harborough was formed out of the Royal Manor with the intention of making it a place for tradesmen and a market when a new highway between Oxendon and Kibworth was established to help link Northampton and Leicester. A chapel dedicated to St Dionysius was built on the route, whilst St Mary in Arden retained Parish Church status.

A market was established by 1204 and has been held on a Tuesday ever since 1221. Eventually this market lead to the modern name of Market Harborough. The trades people of Harborough had large tofts or farm yards at the rear of their property where goods were made and stored. Many of these yards remain but have been subdivided down their length over the years to give frontage to the High Street.

The steeple of Harborough Church was started in 1300 and completed in 1320. It is a broach spire, which rests on the walls of the tower, and are earlier than recessed spires which rise from behind a square tower as at Great Bowden. By 1382 the village of Arden had been abandoned, although the church remained in use for some years. In 1470 the main part of Harborough Church was completed. An open stream ran down the High Street. The Town Estate was created and managed by a body of Feoffees elected by the townspeople, to help manage among other things the open fields surrounding the town, the proceeds from which were used for a variety of purposes. In 1569 the town was briefly in the news as the Privy Council debated whether a local girl Agnes Bowker had given birth to a cat. From 1570 the Town Estate owned several properties within the town.

Harborough figured nationally in the English Civil War in June 1645, when it became the headquarters of the King's Army. In Harborough, the King decided to confront Parliamentary forces who were camped near Naseby but the Battle of Naseby proved a decisive victory for Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. Harborough Chapel became a temporary prison for the captured forces. Cromwell wrote a letter from "Haverbrowe, June 14, 1645" to the Speaker of the House of Commons, William Lenthall, announcing the victory.

An independent church was established in the Harborough area following the Act of Uniformity 1662 and a meeting house was built in Bowden Lane in 1694.

During the 18th century the timber mud and thatch buildings of the town were largely replaced with brick buildings. After roads were turnpiked and regularly repaired (making wheeled traffic easier all year round) Harborough became a staging point for coach travel on the road to London from the North West and the Midlands. In 1776 the Open Fields of Great Bowden were allotted to individual owners and fenced with hedges planted, followed by those of Little Bowden in 1780.

In the 19th century, the increasing level of heavy goods traffic on the turnpike roads led to complaints. A plan for a canal from Leicester to join the London to Birmingham canal was mooted but it eventually bypassed the town and a branch canal was cut from Foxton to Harborough with wharves at Gallow Hill, and Great Bowden. Harborough wharf, to the north of the town, became a distribution centre for coal and corn. A gas company was formed in 1833 to make and distribute gas. John Clarke and Sons of London built a factory for spinning worsted and later making carpets. Other industries developed were a brickworks, brewery, wheelwright/coachworks and the British Glues and Chemicals works by the Canal at Gallow Hill. In the 1830s a union of parishes around Market Harborough was formed to look after the poor and a workhouse was built in 1836 on the site of St Luke's Hospital. In 1841 Thomas Cook who was a wood turner and cabinet maker in the town organised the first group travel by rail from Leicester to Loughborough and went on to found the travel agency bearing his name.

Market Harborough became a centre for fox hunting with hounds during the 19th century when Mr Tailby of Skeffington Hall established a hunt in South East Leicestershire in 1856. The country between Billesdon and Harborough was considered severe, involving jumping the specially designed ox fences. His hunting diary is recognised as an important document in the history of hunting. The Hunt was renamed the Fernie after a subsequent Master.

The Grand National Hunt Steeple Chase was held to the south west of the town in 1860, 1861 and 1863. This race and the meeting eventually developed into the Cheltenham Festival and the organisers were part of the founding of organised steeplechasing through the Grand National Hunt Committee.

The building of the Leicester–Rugby railway in 1840 had a catastrophic effect on the coaching traffic through the town. A railway did not serve the town until 1850 with a link to Rugby but this was quickly followed by links to Leicester and London in 1857 and to Northampton in 1859.

In 1850, William Symington, a grocer in the town established a factory to make pea-flour. His brother James developed a haberdashery and stay making business and in 1876 his sons acquired the old carpet factory to make corsets. They expanded it by three additional floors in 1881 and then built a new factory opposite Church Square in 1884 which still remains today as the Council offices, library and museum. In the 1890s the Harborough Rubber Company and Looms Wooden Heels works were established. A tannery was built on land adjoining the Commons.

In 1898, Walter Haddon opened the Caxton Works type foundry on Lathkill Street. The company later diversified into the manufacture of lead acid batteries, changing its name to Tungstone Products. The factory was closed down in 2002.

There was a rapid expansion in the town's population from 4,400 in 1861 to 7,700 in 1901. This had been at the expense of living conditions with severe overcrowding in the old town. Rows of cottages had been built in the yards of older houses with shared access to water and waste disposal. The Public Health Act 1875 required local authorities to implement building regulations, or bye-laws, which insisted that each house should be self-contained, with its own sanitation and water. In 1883 a new system of sewers were laid and piped water supplied from wells at Husbands Bosworth. Additional residential areas were developed – the New Harborough estate off Coventry Road and the Northampton Road estate between Nithsdale Avenue and Caxton Street.

In 1888 Little Bowden parish was transferred from Northamptonshire to Leicestershire and following the Local Government Act of 1894, an Urban District Council was formed for Market Harborough, covering the town and the parishes of Little and Great Bowden. Various schemes were implemented to improve the town. It acquired the gas company and built a public baths. It acquired land for the construction of Abbey Street in 1901 which removed the multi occupied yard of the Coach and Horses Inn and enabled the building of a fire station on the new street in 1903. In the same year a new livestock market was opened between Springfield Street and the river on 12 acres (4.9 ha) of land, enabling the cattle and sheep markets to be cleared from the streets. In 1905 the council bought land at Great Bowden and Little Bowden for recreation grounds.

In 1919 there were still around 150 dwellings identified as unfit for human habitation mostly in the yards and courts of Harborough and there was an identified need for 300 new houses. Land to the north of the town was selected and a scheme for 98 homes for rent developed as the Bowden Fields Estate. Following the introduction of mortgage subsidy, over 100 private homes were built and a further development of 72 rented homes took place. By 1928 about 400 houses had been built since 1918, 164 by the Council. A major improvement took place from 1930 with the acquisition of land between Northampton Road and Farndon Road. This enabled the construction of Welland Park Road (which enabled east west traffic to bypass the town centre), provision of 100 homes for rent along Welland Park Road and 52 in Walcot Road to rehouse occupants of the old yard houses, plots for private housing, the layout of Welland Park and the construction of Welland Park School.

On October 23, 1936, the town hosted the members and entourage of the Jarrow Crusade.

A covered market hall was opened at the western end of the Cattlemarket in 1938, replacing the market stalls on the Square on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

The post-war period saw another shortage of housing and some 600 people on the waiting list for council housing. The council developed a 100 dwelling extension to the Bowden Fields Estate by 1949 and acquired 140 acres (0.57 km2) of land to the south west of the town to deal with the problem. A new Southern Estate was planned to accommodate 700 dwellings, shopping centre, school and recreation ground. The Council laid initial access roads named after personalities of the Battle of Naseby since these fields were crossed by both armies on 14 June 1645. A plaque now records the events and was unveiled by Mrs H.B. Lenthall on 1 February 1951 to mark the opening of the estate development. Around 150 dwellings were built for rent with the remaining plots available for private building. The final phase of development occurred in the 1980s.

In 1950 the canal basin was the venue for a week long National Festival of Boats, the first such festival organised by the Inland Waterways Association and marking the beginning of the revival of the canal network for leisure use. The old brewery site was acquired for a bus station in 1951 and in 1958 a main car park was opened at the Commons and further car parks established in the 1960s to deal with the increasing demand. Proposals for development of an industrial estate at Riverside and Rockingham Road were approved in 1962 and the area developed during the 1960s.

Following serious flooding in the town centre on 2 July 1958, a flood relief scheme was begun and the river bed was straightened and deepened.

In 1968 the centre of Market Harborough was declared a conservation area. Major developments included the development of headquarters for Golden Wonder crisp makers, and the demolition of the old Symington factory in Adam and Eve Street for redevelopment as Eden Court shops and flats.

During the 1970s, draft proposals were made for an inner relief road to avoid traffic congestion in the town centre. However, it was rejected in favour of a bypass outside the town.

In 1980 the Symington's factory at Church Square was redeveloped as the District Council offices, library and museum. Plans for an A6 by-pass were approved by the Department for Transport during the 1980s and the 5 miles (8.0 km) road costing £9.5m was opened in June 1992. In addition, proposals were made for a new east-west link road (A14) between the A1 and M1 and a route was identified 10 miles (16 km) south. It was opened in summer 1991. The opening of these roads has reduced considerably the volume of heavy goods vehicles passing through the town centre.

Associated improvements to the town centre took place as part of a "By-pass Demonstration Project" completed in 1994. This involved comprehensive re-paving and new street furniture to make the centre more pedestrian friendly whilst through-traffic with a 20 mph (32 km/h) speed limit.

In 1993 the former cattle market, bus station, indoor market and several properties next to the old post office and the former Peacock Hotel were re-developed to form a new pedestrianised shopping centre called St Mary's Place. This included a Sainsbury's supermarket.

One of the town's most notable features is an unusual former grammar school located in the town centre which stands on wooden stilts. The school room had to be built upon posts to allow the butter market to be held on the ground floor. The school was founded in 1607 and built in 1614, through the generosity of Robert Smyth, a poor native of the town who became Comptroller of the Lord Mayor's Court of the City of London and member of the Merchant Taylors' Company.

The subjects taught were Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and many boys were sent to Oxford and Cambridge universities. The most distinguished of these was John Moore, who became Bishop of Norwich in 1691, and Bishop of Ely in 1707 and also William Henry Bragg, Nobel Prize winner. This is commemorated by a plaque inside the old schoolroom.

The grammar school has since moved sites and is now the Robert Smyth Academy for 11- to 18-year-olds. The school badge is the arms of the City of London. The school is divided into houses one of which is named "Bragg".

As can be seen from the above, Market Harborough holds more history than one would assume at first glance and I was hopeful that this would be reflected in its pubs. I had chosen the timing of my trip well. It being a Tuesday, I was confident that the pubs and, most importantly, my train would be less busy, and the following day had been scheduled for a national rail strike which would have led to all sorts of issues had I been travelling 24 hours later. Armed with a list of pubs, and accompanied by warm weather, I set about beginning my explorations. I arrived in the town just after midday, which always seems to be a useful arrival time. Heading out of the train station, I immediately sought out the quickest route to my first location. I'd heard tell of a shortcut through a supermarket car park that would lead me directly to it but, for some reason, I was unable to locate this so settled for the long way round. Taking a left out of the station, I walked down the main road and then took a right. Following this road on for a few minutes, I reached a T junction where I again turned right, onto Kettering Road, which took me into the Little Bowden village area of the town and brought me in sight of my first stop. My day in Market Harborough would properly begin at The Oat Hill.

Named for the Saxon name of the town, the pub was built in 1936 as the Greyhound, replacing a 300-year old inn that previously stood on the site. The original Georgian-style exterior is now brick painted and the pub was formerly under the ownership of Grand Metropolitan (Watney-Mann). Internally, the pub has been completely modernised. On the right is a comfortable lounge area with sofas, armchairs and banquette seating as well as low, marble-topped tables. A more formal restaurant space is to the rear and there is also a side patio and a large garden which hosts occasional live music and theatre. Unobtrusive background music is played. The bar is central to both areas and curves in a backwards J-shape. The bar itself includes 2 hand pulls, both of which happen to be in use when I wander in, slightly out of breath, after my walk. The options are between Timothy Taylor Landlord and Sharp's Doom Bar. Despite its now ubiquity, I still think that Landlord is a cracking beer and, when put up against an even more ubiquitous, but less well brewed (since the switch to Molson Coors), rival, there really is no contest. I take my pint of Landlord to one of the marble tables and sink down onto the banquette as I refresh myself. I was right to start my day with this beer. It's very well kept and does a great job of both revitalising and readying me for the rest of the day. 

In an ideal world, I would have had literally yards to go before reaching my next destination but so much for best laid plans. The next pub on my list was due to be the The Cherry Tree which sits exactly opposite the Oat Hill, over Kettering Road, however a sign on the door politely informed me that they don't open until 5pm on a Tuesday although they did previously open 12-2.30pm as well. However, things change and so, putting a positive spin on things, I began the wander to my intended next stop. My walk took me around the edge of the central shopping precinct and along the bank of the River Welland before crossing this slightly further along. Heading further away from the town centre, I turned right, passed the Catholic church and then turned left, heading slightly uphill to where the next pub is located. In amongst a row of houses sits the Admiral Nelson and this is where I was intending to visit next. This, however, was also closed and appeared to not open until later in the day. I made sure to check the pub opening hours online before I arranged the trip so it's a bit frustrating when these aren't kept up to date. Luckily, all was not lost. On my way to the Admiral Nelson, I'd passed my next destination and it was definitely open. A few yards back down the hill is the Three Swans Hotel. 

A Grade II* listed building, the Three Swans dates back to the early 16th century when it operated as a coaching inn known as 'Ye Sygne of Swanne'. The coaching era of the 17th and 18th centuries ensured that trade was particularly vibrant during this period, when it was owned and operated by a local landowner who became a partner in the company that ran the Manchester to London coach service. The present frontage of the building is believed to have been built during this period. During this time, the name became The Swans and then, soon after, the Three Swans. This change is believed to be a reflection of the ornate sign that is fixed to the front of the building today and which is considered to be one of the finest examples of craft wrought ironwork in England. Featuring cut-out style figures, the sign would likely have originally been mounted on a freestanding post and a horizontal supporting bar, reflective of the Georgian era in which the inn was rebuilt. However, these styles of sign were banned in 1797 and so the amalgamated current version remains. Christian VII of Denmark had lunch here in 1768 and the Court Leet was still held here occasionally throughout the 19th century. In 1934, the infamous innkeeper John Fothergill acquired the premises. He is best known as author of the book An Innkeeper's Diary which chronicled his previous experiences in the hotel trade in the south. During his 18 years of tenancy at the Three Swans, he published a cookbook and an autobiography. His reputation as a highly intellectual and creative eccentric was characterised by his shunning of guests who didn't appreciate his style of service. 

As I was soon to find out, the hotel can be accessed from both front and rear. I entered into the rear courtyard, through the car park, which leads to a well-appointed, comfortable eating and drinking space with ornate fountains and greenery. The conservatory restaurant is to one side and the other is part of the hotel accommodation and also features an outside, stone-built pizza oven. Not seeing any obvious access to the public bar, I left the way I came in, turned right and then right again, where I came out onto the main high street. The main frontage of the hotel, with its iconic aforementioned sign, overlooks an oddly picturesque, and clearly quite historic, cluster of buildings. It also turned out that I could have ended up in the same place if I'd just walked directly through the courtyard but I was here now and that's what mattered. Internally, the public bar is to the front with another, named after John Fothergill, located to the rear. Original features have been kept in situ in the older part of the building with bric-a-brac and old photos of the building and the town adding to the atmosphere throughout. The public bar area consists of traditional banquette and wooden seating with scrubbed wooden tables, some of which look out through the front windows onto the street. To the rear is a larger area, accessed down a small flight of steps, beyond which a large staircase leads to both the customer toilets and the hotel rooms above. The bar is fairly small and located in one corner of the room, serving both areas. My heart leaped when I immediately noticed the bank of 3 hand pumps sitting pride of place. I was even more pleased to spot local beer from the area amongst the choices. My options for what was somehow only my second beer of the day were Langton Inclined Plane, Fuller's London Pride and Langton Top Lock. I can confess to never having had the opportunity to try Langton's beer until this very moment. It seemed rude not to sample the local produce. I opted for the Inclined Plane (4.2%), served to me by the very friendly and amiable Scottish lady behind the bar, and took a seat at a small table immediately opposite. Langton Brewery have been brewing just outside the town since 1999 and their beers are named after local landmarks. In this case, Inclined Plane is named a canal boat lift that operated at Foxton Locks in the 1900s. The beer is amber in colour with a light floral finish and a distinct citrus hop flavour that comes from the late addition of Amarillo hops. It's easy to see why the beer has won multiple awards as it's bloody delicious!

It was easy to get absorbed into the history of the Three Swans Hotel. It's certainly an historic and atmospheric building that has witnessed much over the course of its near 500 year existence. There is evidence that some of this has indelibly leaked into the structure. Strange things have been reported here by staff and guests alike. Cold spots have been reported in the halls and staff often report the sensation of being watched. Dogs have been known to refuse to enter certain rooms and bark at thin air for no obvious reason. In the hotel rooms, items have been seen to move of their own accord and fly through the air, as if propelled by unseen hands. Shadowy figures have been spotted walking along corridors and one guest, bathing alone, was handed a sponge as if from nowhere. A lady, whilst having a bath, reported that the water around her parted 'like the Red Sea' which, to be honest, would be rather alarming. Former landlord John Fothergill is thought to be the likely culprit. His strong, creative personality has clearly not deserted him in the next world! A portrait of him hangs in the hotel and rumour has it that disaster occurs, in the form of storms and fires, if this is moved. Might be best to leave it where it is in that case! If these stories harbour even a grain of truth, old John doesn't appear to be willing to give up his time here any time soon!

It was, unfortunately, time for my time in this place to end as tempting as it was to enjoy another pint. Following a quick food break it was time to continue. The shape and design of Market Harborough's high street means that a lot of the buildings are very close to each other. The same goes for the trio of pubs that I had earmarked for my next few stops. These all sit adjacent to each other in a sort of loose triangle, almost opposite the Three Swans, with the old town hall separating them from the hotel. The first of these pubs runs parallel to Church Street. This is the Kings Head and that was where I headed next but, lo and behold, it was also closed. I can only assume that it would also open later in the day. Luckily, it's near neighbour (pun intended) was open. Time now for the Nags Head.


Unashamedly a drinkers pub, the Nags Head essentially consists of one room, with a central U-shaped bar. There are entrances on both Church Street and the adjacent side road. The pub features a pool table, several dart boards and lots of televisions, usually showing live sport. A beer garden is to the rear as is a corridor that hosts the toilets. The bar features 2 hand pulls which, on this occasion offered a choice of Marston's Pedigree and Doom Bar. I once again eschewed the Doom Bar in favour of the Pedigree and tucked myself away around the corner from the bar at a table next to the pool table. The furniture is largely scrubbed wooden tables and the decor is largely traditional with lots of adverts for upcoming events and drinks offers. In general, the Nags Head reminds me a little bit of the Snibstone New Inn in Coalville, both in terms of atmosphere and general feel. It's not a criticism, just an observation. The Pedigree was also very well kept, another point of similarity between the two venues. Thus far, this had been the busiest pub of the day but it was approaching mid-afternoon so that probably wasn't too surprising. 

Had things gone according to plan, my next stop would have been exactly opposite at The Red Cow. This though was also closed. A couple of workmen out the front were up a ladder doing something to sign above the entrance so I suspect that this work may have delayed things from the norm, at least in this case. This meant that, there was only one more pub remaining of the ones I'd listed for the day. Reaching the end of Church Street, I turned left onto Church Square, passing the church and old grammar school on the left. Turning left onto Adam & Eve Street, I followed this until I reached the junction with St. Mary's Road where I again turned left, which led me back in the direction of the train station. A few yards down the road, on the left as I was facing it, is The Freemasons Arms.

Formerly known as the Village Inn, the building was historically both a temperance hall and a Freemasons' lodge (hence the current name), and was previously under Watney-Mann ownership. The pub reopened in its current guise in April 2016, following extensive refurbishment. A large central room divides up into smaller areas through the use of dividing pillars and partition walls. The decor is timber floors, some bare-brick walls and bright, modern lighting with a pleasant, light colour scheme. There are TVs for sport, background music, and a large garden space to the rear. The bar occupies the rear portion of the central room and boasts 3 hand pulls. Just one of these was in use offering Navigation Patriot (3.8%). I went for a pint of this and took a seat at a high table a little way from the bar, watching a very cute Akita that was in the pub with its family. The Freemasons is a decent pub with good service and a comfortable, relaxed feel. It's easy to see this place being very busy at evenings and weekends. The beer wasn't the best though, sadly. I've had Patriot a few times in the past, particularly when I worked at one of Navigation's pubs. Normally, it's softly bitter with delicate malt tones and hints of banana and caramel. This time though, there's an off flavour. It's subtle but I can definitely detect some acetone starting to creep through which suggests the beer is close to the end of its life. Lacking an alternative option if I ask for a replacement and not really wanting to draw much attention to myself in a quiet pub, I decide to grin and bear it. The beer is just about drinkable and I do manage to finish it. I've taken beer back in the past, most recently in Burton, but that was when there was an alternative to swap it for and the off flavour was unmistakable. Still, it's a rather anticlimactic end to my afternoon and, before long, I'm making my way a bit further along the road for my very busy train home.

My conclusions regarding Market Harborough are a bit of a mixed bag. The pubs that were open were fine enough, with the Three Swans Hotel an undoubted standout and the town itself isn't a bad place to spend a few hours on a summer's afternoon. It's frustrating that I wasn't able to explore the town's drinking establishments to the extent that I would have liked, even in the face of making sure I did as much research as possible regarding opening times etc. beforehand. It really is a benefit to pubs to make sure that this information is up to date across all mediums in order to avoid other people having the same problems I did. All in all, despite my disappointments regarding certain things, I'm glad I made the journey out. If nothing else, it's always nice to experience new places, even if they don't quite live up to expectations. Had I been able to visit later in the week, I would at least have been able to visit Beerhouse, the town micropub. Work and travel restrictions meant that this wasn't possible but I can at least say I've gained an insight into another part of the country that I'd never visited. Every journey is a lesson and I've definitely learned something. 

Monday, May 30, 2022

Gone for a Burton

I don't know how it happened but somehow, over the course of the years since this blog has existed, I've committed an egregious error. In the near decade of this thing's existence, I've never made it out to the home of British brewing; a place where IPA came into being; a place that is synonymous with the growth and development of real ale, not just at home but worldwide. Those in the know will know that I speak, of course, of Burton-upon-Trent and last week, on my day off, it was finally time to correct my longstanding mistake. Not only would this tick a significant destination in beer history off of my ever-growing pub trip bucket list, but it would also see this blog make its first foray into the county of Staffordshire. The excitement was palpable.

Burton upon Trent, also known as Burton-on-Trent or simply Burton, is a market town in the borough of East Staffordshire, close to the border with Derbyshire. In 2011, it had a population of 72,299. The demonym for residents of the town is Burtonian. Burton is located 11 miles (18 km) south-west of Derby, 27 miles (43 km) north-west of Leicester, 28 miles (45 km) west-south-west of Nottingham and 20 miles (32 km) south of the southern entrance to the Peak District National Park.

Burton is known for its brewing. The town grew up around Burton Abbey. Burton Bridge was also the site of two battles, in 1322, when Edward II defeated the rebel Earl of Lancaster and in 1643 when royalists captured the town during the First English Civil War. William Lord Paget and his descendants were responsible for extending the manor house within the abbey grounds and facilitating the extension of the River Trent Navigation to Burton. Burton grew into a busy market town by the early modern period.

The town is served by Burton-on-Trent railway station. The town was also the start and terminus of the now defunct South Staffordshire Line which linked it to Lichfield, Walsall, Dudley and Stourbridge.

Rykneld Street, a Roman road, ran north-east through what later became the parish of Burton, linking camps at Letocetum (Wall), near Lichfield and Derventio (Little Chester) near Derby.

Between 666 and 669 Wilfrid, the pro-Roman bishop of York, exercised episcopal functions in Mercia, whose Christian king, Wulfhere, gave him land in various places, on which he established monasteries. Burton was almost certainly one of the sites: the name Andresey given to an island in the river Trent near the parish church means "Andrew's isle" and refers to a church there dedicated to St Andrew. The island is associated with the legend of St Modwen or Modwenna, an Irish abbess. It is likely that any surviving religious house would have been destroyed during the Danish incursion into the area in 874. Place names indicate Scandinavian influence, and several personal names of Scandinavian origin were still used in the area in the early 12th century. In 1003 a Benedictine abbey was established on a new site on the west bank of the Trent at Burton by Wulfric Spott, a thegn. He is known to have been buried in the abbey cloister in 1010, alongside his wife.

Burton Abbey was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it was said to control lands in Appleby Magna in Leicestershire, and Mickleover, Winshill, Stapenhill, Coton in the Elms, Ca(u)ldwell (in Stapenhill Parish) and Ticknall, all then in Derbyshire. The monastery was the most important in Staffordshire and by the 1530s had the highest revenue. It is known that there were frequent Royal visits to the abbey, including those by William I, Henry II and Edward I. In the 12th and 13th centuries, streets were laid out off the west side of High Street, the earliest being New Street, which stretched from the abbey gates towards the line of Ryknild Street. Horninglow Street at the north end of High Street was part of a major east-west route using the bridge over the river.

A royal charter was granted on 12 April 1200 by King John to the Abbot to hold a market in Burton every Thursday. This charter was later renewed by King Henry III and King Edward IV. There were four annual fairs for trade in horses, cattle and produce: on Candlemas Day, 5 April, Holy Thursday, and 29 October (the feast of St Modwen) although as in other British towns this practice has died out.

While Burton's great bridge over the Trent was in poor repair by the early 16th century, it served as "a comen passage to and fro many countries to the grett releff and comfort of travellyng people", according to the abbot. The bridge was the site of two battles, first in 1322 when Edward II defeated the rebel Earl of Lancaster and also in 1643 when the Royalists captured the town during the First English Civil War.

Under Henry VIII the abbey was dissolved in 1539, to be refounded in 1541 as a collegiate church for a dean (who had been the last abbot) and four prebendaries. It was again dissolved in 1545 and granted to Sir William Paget. Paget began planning to expand the Manor House within the abbey precincts, known to have existed since at least 1514, into a grand mansion. To provide the materials for this project, the old abbey buildings were to be cannibalised. There were major alterations to the house over the next three centuries. Sir William died in 1563.

In 1585 it was suggested that Mary, Queen of Scots might stay at Burton while Tutbury Castle was cleaned, but it was said that it was "a ruinous house, the buildings scattered and adjoining a very poor town, full of bad neighbours". The Paget family was implicated in Catholic plots against Queen Elizabeth I, the manor house along with most of the family estates were confiscated, with the Manor House leased to Richard Almond in 1612. Parts of the abbey church may have been retained for parish use, however these were demolished and replaced by a new church in 1719–1726. Some fragments remain of the chapter house nearby, but little of the rest remains. Two buildings were converted to residential use—a part known as the Manor House and the former Infirmary. The Infirmary became known as The Abbey and is now an inn.

The Paget family's lands and title were restored to them by James I in 1602 and they owned considerable estates around Burton for over 150 years. In 1699, William Lord Paget obtained an Act of Parliament to extend navigation on the River Trent from Nottingham up to Burton, but nothing was immediately done. In 1711 Lord Paget leased his rights to George Hayne, who in 1712 opened the River Trent Navigation and constructed a wharf and other buildings in the precinct of the old abbey. This led to the development of Burton as the major town for brewing and exporting beer, as it allowed Burton beer to be shipped to Hull, and on to the Baltic Sea and Prussia, as well as to London, where it was being sold in 1712. A number of breweries opened in the second half of the 18th century. The Napoleonic blockade badly affected overseas trade, leading to some consolidation and a redirection of the trade to London and Lancashire via canals. When Burton brewers succeeded in replicating the pale ale produced in London, the advantage of the water's qualities, in a process named Burtonisation allowed the development of the trade of Burton India Pale Ale (an ale specially brewed to keep during the long sea voyage to India). Burton became a centre for the brewing industry due in part to the quality of the local water, which contains a high proportion of dissolved salts, predominantly caused by the gypsum in the surrounding hills. This allowed a greater proportion of hops, a natural preservative, to be included in the beer, thereby allowing the beer to be shipped further afield. Much of the open land within and around the town is protected from chemical treatment to help preserve this water quality. New rail links to Liverpool enabled brewers to export their beer throughout the British Empire.

Burton came to dominate the brewing trade, and at its height one quarter of all beer sold in Britain was produced here. In the second half of the 19th century there was a growth in native breweries, supplemented by outside brewing companies moving into the town, so that over 30 breweries were recorded in 1880. However at the beginning of the 20th century there was a slump in beer sales, causing many breweries to fail; the industry suffered from the Liberal government's anti-drinking attitudes. This time no new markets were found and so the number of breweries shrank by closure and consolidation from 20 in 1900 to 8 in 1928. After further mergers and buy-outs, just three main breweries remained by 1980: Bass, Ind Coope and Marston's.

The town is currently home to eight breweries; Coors Brewers Ltd: formerly Bass Brewers Ltd, and now the UK arm of Molson Coors Brewing Company – which produces Carling and Worthington Bitter; Marston's, Thompson and Evershed plc, bought by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries now renamed Marstons plc. The Marston's Brewery produces its own brands, draught Marston's Pedigree, draught Hobgoblin and also draught Bass under licence from InBev. Burton Bridge Brewery is based in Bridge Street, with six pubs in and around Burton. It produces a number of traditional beers including Bridge Bitter, Stairway to Heaven, Damson Porter and Golden Delicious. Tower Brewery is a microbrewery off Wharf Road. Old Cottage Brewery is based in Hawkins Lane. Its beers include Oak Ale and Halcyon Daze. Black Hole Brewery is based at the Imex Centre. Gates Brewery microbrewery is in Reservoir Road. Burton is also the corporate headquarters of the pub operators Punch Taverns plc and Spirit Pub Company, which were spun out of Bass in 1997. In addition, the White Shield microbrewery remains open alongside the National Brewery Centre (formerly the Bass Museum of Brewing).

A by-product of the brewing industry is the Marmite factory in the town. The original Marmite factory (now demolished) was at the corner of Cross Street and Duke Street before they moved to the current factory on Wellington Road in the 1960s. The production of Marmite has in turn generated the production of Bovril. Both are owned by multinational company Unilever.

Burton is also home to CAMRA's National Breweriana Auction that takes place each October in the Town Hall.

Burton was home to the Peel family, who played a significant role in the Industrial Revolution. The family home is still visible in the town as Peel House on Lichfield Street. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited the town on 3 July 2002 during her Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Following a 40 minute train journey, and a slight delay caused by a freight train, I arrived in Burton around midday on an warm and slightly breezy Thursday. I had a simple plan in mind and a route that, due to the staggered opening times of a number of Burton's pubs, would involve lots of toing and froing across town. If nothing else, this would allow me to immerse myself more completely in the town whilst exploring as much as possible and keeping an eye out for the pubs on the itinerary. I was hopeful that, all being well, I'd be able to tick them all off of my list and arrive back at the station in plenty of time for my return journey. However, as will become clear, things didn't quite pan out that way. 

Leaving the station, I immediately turned right and headed down the slope of the railway bridge. At the bottom of this, the road becomes Station Street and, a few feet away, on the right hand side is the pub that would be my first port of call. My introduction to Burton would begin at The Roebuck Inn.

Dating back to the 19th Century, the Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Roebuck is a three-storey corner terrace, situated opposite the former location of the Ind Coope Brewery. The pub took on its current appearance when it was rebuilt in 1956 during the widening of Station Street. The Roebuck effectively operated as the Ind Coope Brewery tap and the legendary Draught Burton Ale was launched here in 1976. Subsequently the pub has been owned by Punch Taverns and, since 2007, Admiral Taverns. Internally, the pub is basically a long, single room with entrances on both Station Street and Mosley Street. The flooring is bare wood and the decor is mostly dark wood panelling, with the bar along one side of the room. Old photos of the town and old brewery adverts and memorabilia are displayed throughout. There is a TV and dartboard at the far end of the room with a corridor to one side leading to the toilets. There is a small concrete patio area at the rear for outside drinking. The furniture is scrubbed wood tables and chairs with some banquette seating around the perimeter. 8 handpulls are located on the bar, 6 of which happened to be in use during my visit. One of these held Weston's Old Rosie cider with the remaining 5 given over to real ale, on this occasion offering Theakston's Old Peculier, Bass, Gates Burton Ale, Marston's Pedigree and Greene King Abbot Ale. One of my goals for the day was to drink Bass, on draught, in the town were it was born and is still brewed. I had in my head that this would make the perfect farewell drink before my train home so, for now, I skipped it and went for the Gates Burton Ale (GBA), another locally brewed beverage. This is a 4.8% amber ale that is based on the original Ind Coope recipe for Draught Burton Ale. Made with premium hops and dry hopped in the cask, it has a floral aroma and a sweet finish. I have to be completely honest: this is an absolutely cracking beer. The depth of flavour really resonates throughout the whole drink and it's clear that Draught Burton Ale lives on in all but name. I was genuinely gobsmacked at how good this beer was. Well done to all involved. My day in Burton had started with a definite bang!

Leaving the Roebuck, I turned right and continued down Station Street, identifying some locations that I would be returning to later in the day. I passed the hulking titan of the Molson Coors brewery on the left hand side, lamenting the fate of Doom Bar as I did so, and admired an ornamental fountain made of recycled metal beer casks on my right. After a few minutes walk, I found myself in the town centre proper and made my way down a pedestrianised area between two rows of shops. Reaching the end of this, I turned left onto High Street where my next location resides, next to the local branch of a certain, cheap, well-known national pub chain. Next up, the Prince of Brewers.

This pub is built on the site of the much-earlier Star Inn, which dated back to the early 1800s and had its own on-site brewery from 1845-1870. While the original Star Inn was believed to have been demolished, a pub of the same name appears to have existed in 1960, and a sketch of the pub from 1952 looks remarkably similar to a 1984 photo of the Galaxy, this pub's name at the time. Despite the murky and uncertain history, the pub went through a number of names and incarnations, including as a struggling nightclub, before being bought and refurbished by Amber Taverns and reopened in 2016 under the current name, which is an oblique reference to Michael Arthur Bass, the first Lord Burton and great grandson of William Bass, the founder of Bass Brewery. The pub is much bigger and longer than it appears from the outside. A narrow single room stretches back from the entrance with access to the beer garden at the far end. The decor is largely wood and wood panelling, including on one side of the bar which is along part of the right hand wall. Furniture ranges from standard tables and chairs to 4-seater booths and higher tables and chairs. A large map of central Burton, with transport pictures, is on a wall near the entrance. Some drink-related sayings and Bass Brewery memorabilia complete the decoration and there are a large number of TVs throughout, including 2 in the beer garden. Live sport is one of this pub's specialities. I was confident that, even though this pub was something of a wild card, that it would continue the strong start. After all, a pub called the Prince of Brewers, in a town famous for its brewing heritage, wouldn't let me down, would it? Alas, I was incorrect. Three handpulls are on the bar here but, when I arrived, none of them were pouring anything, with all 3 pump clips turned around, a sure indicator that no real ale was available. Being someone who breaks out in hives if I go into a pub and don't buy anything, I instead settled for a Guinness and used up some time charging my phone in one of the aforementioned booths. As disappointed as I was, the presence of pump clips, albeit turned around, suggests that the pub does cater for real ale at some point. Perhaps Thursday lunchtime is not the time. Still, I was hopeful that this would be my only disappointment of the afternoon. 

Phone charged and negativity shaken off, I left the Prince of Brewers in search of my next stop. Turning right, I continued down High Street, where pub number 3 soon hove into view. Situated at a crossroads, is the aptly named Crossing.

This large, two-storey building occupies the spot where an 18th century pub called the Blue Posts or Blue Stumps, which incorporated Yeomans Brewery once stood, not to be confused with another pub/brewery called the Blue Stoops which existed nearby at the same time. Marston's acquired the Blue Posts around 1890 and it was sold to Worthington's in 1925, before being demolished and replaced by a new Blue Posts two years later, the same year that Worthington's merged with the Bass company. The building remained in Bass hands until sometime in 2002/03 and was then a privately-owned freehouse before Enterprise Inns took ownership in 2006. The pub has been renamed several times in the intervening years and suffered intermittent closure until being taken over by the current landlord. The current name comes from the 1961 L.S. Lowry painting 'Level crossing, Burton-on-Trent' in which the pub features. The Crossing is comfortably furnished throughout, with an L-shaped bar area to the front and a dining area to the rear which overlooks the garden. The dining area contains a small, more luxurious, raised section which is partly partitioned off from the main area. The bar itself is very well stocked and modern and, when I entered, had been festooned with Union flags in preparation for the Jubilee. I'd also managed to arrive at the same time as members of a wedding party so felt significantly underdressed as I made my way to the bar. 5 hand pumps are in residence here. Two of them were taken up by ciders from the Lilley's range, in this case Peach and Mango respectively, whilst the remainder offered a choice of beers in the shape of Dancing Duck Dark Drake, Dancing Duck Ay Up and Marston's Pedigree. I plumped for the Dark Drake and retreated to a small, round table in a corner opposite the bar, trying to look inconspicuous in a room full of wedding guests. I was shortly forced to return to the bar though as the Dark Drake was off and was tasting vinegary. This was replaced very swiftly by Ay Up as the next cask of Drake wasn't quite ready and besides which the line would need to be cleaned. I have to commend the staff at the Crossing for being so efficient and professional in dealing with the issue. I don't like to complain but it was handled with consummate skill. The Ay Up, from Derby's Dancing Duck, was excellent. This is a thoroughly drinkable session ale, at 3.9%. Subtle malt and floral notes match perfectly with citrus hops and the whole thing ends in a dry finish. It was very enjoyable and the Crossing is a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere to enjoy it in. I thought some of the decor rang a bell and it turns out that the current landlord also owns the Exeter Arms in Derby, the Refectory in Chesterfield and the Devonshire in Belper, all of which are cracking pubs which I'm fairly positive have all featured in these pages at some stage. 

My next stop was a bit of a walk away but I was determined that I wasn't going to miss it out as it was very much a bucket list destination. Leaving the Crossing, I turned right and then immediately right again onto a nearby side road. I followed this until I reached a nearby retail park which I then cut through. Emerging on a main road, I followed this straight down until the first signs of my next stop started to appear. An old copper brewing vessel. A long line of large casks suspended from a rack in an outdoor shed. A pair of shire horses contentedly munching grass in a paddock. I reached the end of the road and turned left onto Horninglow Street where signs welcomed me to the National Brewery Centre and its adjacent Brewery Tap. 


The buildings that now house the National Brewery Centre were formerly occupied by the Bass Brewery engineering, craft and maintenance workshops. The premises opened in July 1977 as the Bass Museum but became the Coors Visitor Centre and Museum of Brewing in 2003 following the Molson Coors acquisition of the site, including the entire brewery. Alleged financial issues forced the closure of the Coors Visitor Centre in 2008 but a persistent campaign led to its reopening in 2010 as the National Brewery Centre under the current management. The site includes the White Shield Brewery, which is England's oldest microbrewery and the new 25-barrel William Worthington's Brewery which opened in 2011. Whilst the main museum requires a ticket and opens at 10am, the Brewery Tap can be visited, free of charge, without the need to visit the museum and is accessed through a separate entrance through the beer garden. The bar is in a comfortable L-shaped room with an adjacent restaurant and mezzanine floor. Both areas are bright and airy and furnished in a modern style, despite the sheer abundance of brewery memorabilia on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. The cellar that serves the bar can be viewed through an adjacent window. There is an L-shaped conservatory space that overlooks the garden and children's play area as well as a part-covered patio for outdoor drinking. Sadly, I didn't have time on my trip to visit the museum proper but, rest assured, that's an adventure that will be saved for another day. Instead, I was here to explore the bar. It features 6 handpulls, perhaps unsurprisingly offering Bass and other beers from the William Worthington brewery, marketed under the Heritage Brewing Co. name, as well as one guest beer. The Heritage offerings were Happy as Larry, Masterpiece IPA, Oatmeal Stout and HPA (Heritage Platinum Ale) with the guest beer taking the form of Goffs Lancer. Whilst I'm familiar with some of the Heritage range, I'd never come across Happy as Larry so it seemed like a good choice to partake here. I took my beer to a table off to one side to enjoy not only the drink but the brewing history that surrounded me, as well as an excellent, if eclectic, inhouse playlist (No Doubt, Britney, Paramore, no complaints here!). Happy as Larry (4.6%) is a pale bitter with hop sweetness, a balanced character and a well rounded finish. I was indeed happy as Larry that I had finally made it here! With a little bit of time to kill, I settled for another beer, this time giving the HPA, a Jubilee special, a try. This is another pale ale, albeit a tad weaker at 4.2%. This time, the aroma is fruity and there is a clean hop flavour that develops throughout the mouthfeel. As limited edition beers go, it's certainly a decent one. I would have loved to have stayed here all day and dosed up on beer history but time was moving on which meant that I had to as well. 

Retracing my steps back through the retail park, I had a brief wander down to the river to bask in the view and sunshine. I also inexplicably bumped into the same wedding party from earlier on and gave them a much wider berth to avoid an accidental photobomb of the happiest day of someone else's life. Heading back down High Street, back onto Station Street and successfully negotiating some roadworks I arrived at the next location shortly after opening. The first micropub of the day would be Brews of the World. 

Built on the site of a former police station, the building was formerly the Burton Museum & Art Gallery which opened in 1915 and closed in the late 1970s. Located in a double-fronted shop unit, next to what is now a nail salon, the ground floor premises where the pub resides was previously a bookshop and a hairdressers. Self-styled as Burton's 'premier bottled beer shop and tap room', Brews of the World opened in November 2017 as an off-licence offering beers and other drinks from around the world, before obtaining an on-licence in May of 2019. The interior consists of two rooms. The large, slightly spartan room to the front features the bar counter to the right, adjacent to two fridges that house an array of bottled and canned drinks as well as bag-in-box ciders. Memorabilia from Burton breweries can be found throughout the space. 20 keg fonts dispensing craft beers and ciders are mounted behind the bar with boards above listing what is available. The second, smaller, room to the rear features more brewery memorabilia, including what is allegedly the world's largest Double Diamond flag, additional seating and toilet access in a nearby corridor. As well as the 20 keg fonts, the bar also boasts 4 handpulls featuring locally brewed ales. On my visit, all 4 of the offerings were from the town, specifically Gates Burton Ale, Heritage Masterpiece, Heritage Massey's Original Mild and Heritage Oatmeal Stout. The Masterpiece seemed like an excellent choice so this is what I opted for. I drank my beer sat at a high table opposite the bar. I had a brief chat with the landlord about how business was going and was very pleased to hear that things were picking up and business was starting to boom again post-pandemic. It's always good to know that pubs are doing well, especially in a town with so much brewing in its industrial blood. The beer was great too. I've had Masterpiece before and it's always a good drop. Masterpiece is a 5.6% IPA that carries a full, luxurious mouthfeel and a subtle, peppery character. It always goes down well. If only there was a word to describe a beer this good.......

More retracing of the steps would be required now. Tearing myself away from Brews of the World, I turned right and continued on my way back down Station Street in the direction of the station. Going over the railway bridge, with the station on my left, I took the next right onto Derby Street. A short distance down this road, on the left hand side, sits the next stop of the day. Time to investigate the Alfred Ale House.

Built in the 1860s, this double-fronted terrace pub is located in the middle of a row of houses. It was the Truman's Brewery tap until the brewery was closed in 1971, although an original Truman's mirror and pictures remain. The pub had various owners until Burton Bridge Brewery purchased it in 1996. Inside, two rooms are served by a central bar counter. Each room features wooden partitions topped with leaded stained glass. A raised seating area can be found in the left hand room (the lounge). A small snug to the rear features a charity book stall, some unusual barrel seats and photographs and memorabilia related to submarines. The local Submariners Association meets at the pub on alternate Fridays. As well as real ale, the Alfred is also known locally for its selection of English fruit wines. I was slightly confused by the bar layout to begin with and mistakenly thought there was just a single hand pull to meet my needs. In reality, there are 6 handpulls present: one on each side of the bar, with a further 4 mounted in a bank on the back bar, facing outwards. This being a Burton Bridge house, their beers take pride of place. 5 of the hand pumps were in use giving me a choice of the following beers, all from the Burton Bridge range: Burton Bridge Bitter, Draught Burton Ale, Stairway to Heaven, Festival Ale and Top Dog Stout. Having initially panicked at only seeing one handpull, I had ordered the Burton Bridge Bitter. I didn't mind as it was one of the Burton Bridge beers that I'd never previously tried. The brewery's flagship beer, Bridge Bitter (4.2.%) has been brewed to the same recipe for over 30 years. Reddish brown in colour and with aromas of earth, nuts and malt, it is brewed with Challenger, Target and Northdown hops, with Styrian hops added at the end of the boil. The end result is a lingering, dry bitter finish. I can absolutely see why the recipe for this particular beer has remained unchanged for so long. If it ain't broke and all that! The Alfred is a nice, traditional little place which, whilst quiet on the day, I have no doubt has its fond admirers locally. 

Once again, I found myself turning back on myself. Once again passing the train station, this time on my right, I made my way back down Station Road to a place that I had located earlier on but which I knew didn't open until later in the day. It was time for another micropub now: The Last Heretic.

Set in a terrace of commercial properties, the Last Heretic opened in May 2016. It comprises a comfortable single room with wooden flooring and furniture, a small bar counter to the rear with the stillage visible through a glass door and window beyond and a short corridor, up one step, that leads to the toilets and rear garden. A picture of historical and drink-related pictures adorn the walls. The unusual name of the pub comes from that of Edward Wightman, a Burton resident, though born in Burbage, who was the last person in England to be executed for heresy when he was burned at the stake in Lichfield in 1612. Despite his demise occurring in a neighbouring city, Wightman's shade is believed to still appear in the town in which he lived and has been sited many times around Burton in the centuries since his death. Beerwise, 3 cask ales are offered at a time, served on gravity direct from casks behind the bar counter. A board near the bar displays current and pending beers. A selection of keg beers is also served. The trio from which I had to choose were Dancing Duck Dark Drake, Old Sawley Two Rivers Oxbow and Purple Moose Elderflower Ale. It seemed unusual to see Purple Moose in this neck of the woods so that was an easy choice. It was at this point however that my visit, and my day in general, started to unravel. I had somehow missed that the board on which beer information was displayed also clearly stated that there was a minimum spend of £5 in order to pay on card, something that I had been doing all day without an issue. As I had only ordered the one drink, and intended to stay and drink it, I had no choice but to order an additional pint in order to reach the required amount. The landlord explained that this was due to the charges he faced from accepting card payments lower than this, although I had not encountered this in any other venues thus far. More annoyingly, this was one of the few occasions where I hadn't thought to bring a little bit of cash with me as I sometimes do when I visit smaller towns where not all pubs may take card. Still, willing to ignore a niggling issue in favour of tasty beer, I contented myself with enjoying just that. The Elderflower Ale (4%) from Porthmadog's Purple Moose went down swimmingly. Golden straw in colour and brewed with Cascade hops, the beer gives a floral aroma and a sweet citrusy finish. The elderflower is subtle but contrasts well with the sweetness. My second beer, Old Sawley's Two Rivers Oxbow (3.9%), is a completely different beast. This is a modern take on a classic amber ale. Brewed with a combination of darker malts and fruity hops, it's a well-rounded, slightly sweet amber bitter. 

My additional time at the Last Heretic had waylaid me somewhat but I was still confident that I would be able to conquer my complete list of pubs in time. Conveniently, the next stop was only just down the road at the Devonshire Arms. 

This Grade II listed and Good Beer Guide 2022 featured pub was originally built as a house around 1830 and converted into a pub during the 1850s. At some stage, probably during the late 1800s, it became an Eadie's property until that brewery was taken over by Bass in 1932. It then became an Ind Coope pub as the result of a 'pub swap' in 1978, was bought by Burton Bridge in 1998 and was then sold to the current owners in 2019. Now a free-house, the pub contains a smart public bar at the front, with a larger, split-level lounge to the rear, which also features an unusual curved wooden ceiling and a framed 1853 map of Burton. Brewery and drink-related items are prevalent throughout, including framed lists of Burton breweries (1870-1880) and licensed premises (1911). The Devonshire has developed a good reputation for real ale, as evidenced by its GBG inclusion and the 10 handpulls that occupy the bar. Of these, 4 were doubled up with Bass and Burton Bridge Stairway to Heaven respectively. The remaining 6 offered Burton Bridge Bitter, Gates Burton Reservoir, Burton Bridge Top Dog Stout, Ashover Font, Anarchy Blonde Star and Purity Mad Goose. After a moment's deliberation, I passed over the local offerings for the Font, a guest beer from Clay Cross based Ashover. Font is a 3.8% session pale ale brewed with Chinook and Cascade hops, giving floral grapefruit and subtle spice flavours. It's also apparently named after an ornate font at All Saints Church in Ashover. So there's that. It's a very good beer though and a perfect palate freshener after the bitterness of my last choice. I sat and enjoyed it in the lounge bar, enjoying the ambience and listening to regulars complaining to the landlady about the taste of the new rose wine. 

It was another gallivant across town now, as my next stop was at the far end of High Street, past the Crossing and further on. Once again a micropub took my fancy. This one was Beeropolis. 

This micropub opened in May 2021 on the ground floor of a Grade II listed end-terrace building that was previously occupied by another micropub called the Fuggle & Nugget. The building itself is believed to date back to the early 18th century but the shop-front is more recent, dating from the late 19th-early 20th century. Previous incarnations of the building include both an estate agents and a hairdressers. This is another comfortable single room layout with upholstered bench seating around the periphery and low tables with a short raised area under the windows. A small bar counter is located to the side and towards the rear with the stillage room located behind. Current and upcoming beers are listed on a TV screen above the bar. As well as a pair of hand pumps, the bar also features a bank of keg fonts mounted on the wall behind, offering a choice of craft beers and ciders. On the cask ale front though, two choices awaited me, Allsopp's Pale and Heritage Oatmeal Stout. I opted for the Allsopp's, local to Burton. Due to my earlier hold up, I was already in a little bit of rush by the time I arrived here. That's my only explanation for missing the sign on the bar that once again advised me of a minimum £5 card spend. That meant I had again found myself in the position of having to order two drinks at once and therefore spend more time than intended in this location. I was more annoyed with myself than anything, as well as slightly baffled that 2 of the last 3 pubs had had the same rule in place despite there being no issues anywhere else on the day. It soon transpired that both this pub and the Last Heretic are under the same ownership which goes some way to explaining things. I was now in a difficult situation. With me now having to take root at Beeropolis for longer than planned, it was increasingly unlikely that I would complete the route I had devised. It was either: finish my beer, rush to the next pub and hope I don't miss the train; skip the next pub and head straight to the train or, continue as planned and get a much later train, not knowing exactly when I'd get back, and also sacrificing funds and phone battery in the process. I had a beer to drink first though, which would at least help me to decide. Allsopp's Pale (4.4%) is a golden session ale. It's crisp, sessionable and refreshing and very balanced through the use of three types of malt and Aurora and Cascade hops. It's definitely drinkable as both my first and second helpings will testify! 

Ultimately, Beeropolis ended up being the last pub of the trip. I decided that, with time escaping me, discretion was the better part of valour and I couldn't really afford to miss my return train. I was a bit frustrated and disappointed that I'd missed out on completing my route due to a not entirely legal rule in a couple of the pubs. I also blame myself a little bit as I normally do take some cash with me, however, none of the research I did into the pubs I had lined up suggested that I would have any issue paying with card, even in small amounts, and this was certainly the case for the vast majority of the venues I visited. Despite the late snag, was my trip to Burton worth it? Absolutely! I'd waited far too long to visit the real ale mothership. I don't think I could really have continued to call myself a real ale drinker, let alone a beer blogger, if I hadn't deigned to make that pilgrimage. The variety and quality of the pubs impressed me and that's even saying that I didn't manage to make some of the most iconic and vaunted ones. Nevertheless, that's given me fuel for next time. The only advantage of missing out the final trio of pubs is that it gives me an excuse to come back. Besides which, I never did get around to having any Bass. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

When the Going gets Lough

Unusually, the past couple of weeks have seen me in a position to accommodate a couple of trips in quick succession, with the most recent of these seeing us back over the border into Leicestershire. Amy and I had long discussed a revisit and reappraisal of Loughborough, ostensibly to see how much things had improved, or not, since 2015 when it last featured in these pages. Time and circumstance were finally on our side last weekend. With a Saturday off and Amy scheduled for a hair appointment in Loughborough on the same day, an opportunity had at last presented itself. The aim was to explore some venues that we'd neglected last time or, as with the recent trip to Nottingham, were relatively new on the scene. There would be a couple of returnees but the majority would be new experiences. From our home in Clifton, we find ourselves in the handy position of being directly on a bus route between Nottingham and Loughborough, making planning our trip significantly easier than it might otherwise have been. I was very eager to see what the day would bring and it would already be much enhanced by having Amy alongside me.

We arrived in Loughborough shortly after 11am. Amy's appointment was scheduled for around 11.30 so, whilst she made her way over, I was left to my own devices for around 40 minutes or so. This time was spent wandering around the market, exploring a couple of shops, generally refreshing my memory of where things were and, at one point, paying 20p to use a public toilet. The weather was warm, calm and very pleasant so we had definitely picked a good day on which to explore Loughborough's pubs. Around 12.30, Amy got in touch to confirm that she was all done and we reconvened to begin our day proper. The location of Amy's hair appointment is situated just off the central market place and our first port of call was only a short walk away. Turning left onto Derby Square, we continued on for a few yards until we reached the junction of Market Street and Ashby Road. In the centre of this, on Ashby Square, is where you'll find our first stop: The Griffin.

Located just north of the town centre, The Griffin is a heavily student-oriented pub operated by Marston's. The inside is large and open-plan with lots of seating throughout as well as a more secluded snug-type area to the left of the entrance and a large rear garden that features picnic bench style seating as well as a wall-mounted TV. The bar sits along one side and is decorated with fake ferns and palm leaves. The decor throughout is bright and colourful. There are a number of TVs around the room with an emphasis on showing live sport. There is a staircase in one corner that leads to an upstairs corridor where the toilets are located. On the bar, which is very well-stocked in general, sits a solitary handpull on the very end. This features a rotating beer from the Marston's range which, on the day of our visit, is Wychwood Hobgoblin IPA. We both opted for this and headed to a comfortable looking sofa in the aforementioned snug area which allowed us a prime view of a large TV showing the Liverpool game. We drank our beers in relative comfort here. The pub was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday which led us to speculate as to whether a number of students are adhering to the old stereotype about them not getting up before mid-afternoon. The beer was very good and perfectly drinkable and the match wasn't bad either. We decided to use the half time interval to make our way to pub number two. 

Leaving the Griffin, we turned left and made our way up Ashby Road, heading further away from the centre of town. After only a couple of minutes, our next destination hove into view on the right hand side. Crossing over, we approached The Generous Briton.

Known locally as 'The GB', the pub reopened in 2011 as a freehouse. The two room layout has been retained with a main entrance on Ashby Road and a side entrance, that leads directly into the bar, on Regent Street at the side. The decor is homely and welcoming with banquette seating in the bar and more traditional tables and chairs in the slightly larger lounge. TV sport is shown throughout. The bar, into which we enter, features a dartboard and old photographs of the local area. The lounge contains a pool table and a jukebox. The interior has been maintained to a high standard with a light and airy feel and the pub's name branded onto some of the windows. The bar is central and serves both areas with two banks of hand pumps divided between the two. Closer inspection confirms that the lounge bar contains 4 handpulls which feature the pubs regular beers: Timothy Taylor Landlord, Sharp's Doom Bar, Draught Bass and Charnwood Salvation. The bar area holds the remaining 3 and these are given over to guest beers. It is in this area that we now find ourselves. The guest beers on the day were Brains Rev James, Castle Rock In Bloom and Navigation Eclipse. I was surprised, although probably shouldn't have been, to see Castle Rock in The GB so it made sense to give it a try. Amy followed suit and we retreated to a table opposite the bar where we could watch the opening minutes of the second half of the Liverpool match unfold. In Bloom is a Castle Rock seasonal beer. At 4.5%, it's brewed with Loral, Citra and Sabro hops. This provides floral aromas and subtle earthy and herbal notes followed by a delicate hit of lime and coconut, all ending in a rounded mouthfeel and refreshing bitterness. It's a delicious beverage indeed! The GB had surprised us. The interior is at definite odds with the first impressions from outside and it's a welcome addition to Loughborough's beer scene, as evidenced by it being awarded Town Pub of the Year in 2011 and 2013 and Pub of the Year 2012 by the local branch of CAMRA. The choice of beers is wide and varied and the service is good, if slightly pushy when trying to persuade you to buy another. 

We neglected the offer of a second beer here. We had arranged to meet Amy's sister and her partner at some point later in the day and were concerned about being pushed for time so we made the decision to move on. Our next intended port of call was the Paget Arms on Oxford Street but, despite what the Internet would have had us believe, we arrived too early. Concerned that we might be forced to rush if we waited for opening time, we decided to head back towards the town centre, which offered the next string of pubs in fairly close proximity. Retracing our steps slightly, we headed left down Regent Street until we emerged near a retail park. Crossing through this, we emerged on a road known as The Rushes which runs into the main shopping area of the town. A short way along this road, from our perspective, is the Swan in the Rushes.

The Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Swan is a traditional three-roomed pub, owned and operated by Castle Rock. As of 2022, it is the oldest surviving pub across Castle Rock's managed estate. Originally built in 1932, when it was known as the Charnwood Inn, the pub gained its current name in 1986. The glazed stone frontage is original but the original leaded windows that once said 'Vaults' and 'Smoke Room' respectively, have been replaced with modern versions. Left of the entrance lobby is the smoke room, which has retained a 1930s tiled and wood surround fireplace, fixed seating, leaded glass panels and parquet flooring. The lower part of the back bar is also original but the upper part is more modern, possibly from the 1960s. The right hand bar still contains the original bar counter with a rare shallow copper trough running around the base and original fixed seating, although the bar back dates from the mid-80s. A smaller room to the rear was formerly part of the living quarters and most of the doors throughout the premises are original and remain in situ. The pub is recognised by CAMRA as having a a regionally important historic interior. As well as its wealth of original features, there is also an upstairs function room, the Hop Loft, and a first floor outside terrace. A large beer garden with marquees and bench seating has been incorporated into what was once the car park. A recently refurbished games room features darts, pool, table football and a vintage arcade game. The Swan has undergone a revival in recent years and was awarded CAMRA branch Cider Pub of the Year for 2019, 2021 and 2022. The central bar serves both of the front rooms and features 10 handpulls, divided into two banks of 5, one in each room. 8 of these were in use when we arrived. As well as offering Castle Rock beers, namely Elsie Mo, Harvest Pale and Preservation, there were also guest ales available, in the form of Shiny Glamour Muscles, Charnwood Salvation, Littleover Taj and Backyard 1898. Another pump was taken up by Seacider. As strange as it sounds, I often won't drink Castle Rock in a Castle Rock pub if there are guests available as it allows me to expand my palate. So, on this occasion, I opted for the Taj from Derby-based Littleover. Amy went for a craft beer this time and we decided to sit outside in the expansive garden so we could enjoy the warm weather, albeit from the shade of a marquee, and watch one of the employees tighten bolts in all of the picnic benches. I wasn't familiar with this particular beer from Littleover before but I was pleased to make its acquaintance. Taj (4.6%) is a gluten free IPA with refreshing tropical and citrus hop notes and a subtle, dry bitter finish. It went down very well indeed in the sunshine of a beer garden! I'd enjoyed properly visiting the Swan again. It has certainly improved in the 7 years between appearances in the blog and I'm not even being biased. Confident that we now had more time to kill before we met Amy's sister and her partner, and emboldened by confirmation of a Liverpool win, we were well and truly in the swing of things by now.

We left the Swan the way we came in and had but yards to go to find out next location. The first of two micropubs to make an appearance on the itinerary, had we not been looking for it, we would have missed the Needle & Pin. 

Converted from an old electronics shop that had been closed since 2008, the Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Needle & Pin opened in 2016. The door leads into a split level layout with the ground floor featuring bench seating and tables and a small flight of steps leading up to a bar in the top corner. Beyond this is a small corridor wherein lie the toilets. The 'cellar' is a specially adapted cold room accessed from behind the bar. A flight of stairs leads to an upper level which features more extensive seating as well as board games and music. The interior is very bright and clean. The bar features 4 handpulls as well as a bank of 4 keg taps. The Needle & Pin was awarded CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year for 2018. The 4 hand pumps offer a choice of both local beers and those from further afield. At the time we visited, the following were available: North Riding Imperial Stout, Mill Hill A Man is not a Camel, Stancill Barnsley Bitter and Mill Hill In Capable Hands. Whilst I went for the In Capable Hands, Amy was drawn to a cherry and plum gose on keg from Polly's Brew Co. Having selected our beers, we went and took a table by the window. Amy's beer was delicious with all the fruitiness and subtle sourness you'd expect from the style. Personally, I was equally as enamoured with my choice. In Capable Hands is brewed by Mill Hill in nearby Enderby. It's a hazy, New England-style pale ale with big hop notes, underlying bitterness, and a very clean and refreshing finish, all at 4.7%. I love finding beers I love from breweries I'm not familiar with. The Needle & Pin is, in every sense, the epitome of everything that's right about a micropub. The only discernible issue was that the pub was devoid of background music during our visit. We'd arrived not long after they opened and were the only customers which made the long periods of silence slightly awkward but it's a small quibble in what is otherwise an excellent little place. 

It was time to venture on again. Our next location would see us venturing back into the town centre proper. Turning right down a side street, we emerged within sight of the Griffin where our day had begun. Approaching it, we this time turned left onto Market Street, which is effectively a traditional high street with shops and cafes along either side. Halfway along this, on the left as we were walking, is Cask Bah.

The second of the duo of micropubs scheduled for the day, the Cask Bah's emphasis is on beer, music and good times. This is very much reflected in the interior. Music memorabilia and lyrics from punk songs decorate the walls. Even the name of the pub pays homage to a song by the Clash. There are musical instruments throughout, portraits of music icons across the walls and the toilet is accessed through the front of an old red phone box. Real ale is available and is served via gravity from taps mounted on the back bar. The rock music aesthetic extends to the beers which are all provided by Nottingham Brewery but are rebadged, with permission, and renamed after music icons. Even the pump clips are customised vinyl records, a theme that continues throughout the venue. The decor and the vibe come as no surprise as soon as I realise that the landlord is Craig, former landlord of the Tap & Tumbler in Nottingham. During his time at the helm, the Tap also sold rebadged Nottingham Brewery beers and incorporated vinyl into their interior decoration. What of the beers? Well, there are 7 pumps here, 6 for beer and 1 for cider. As mentioned, each beer is renamed for a specific musical theme, but all are from Nottingham Brewery's range, meaning that there are a range of styles on offer. The beers, at least during our visit, are Rebel Reb'ale (Dreadnought), Pitcher This (EPA), Strummerville (Bullion), Lemmy Legend (Legend), Blockhead (Reel Ale) and Mellors Mild (Rock Mild) with the available cider being Lilley's Apple & Blackcurrant. It took a little while for my head to stop spinning so I could focus on the job in hand but I was eventually able to select the Rebel Reb'ale and Amy the Pitcher This. We sat in a booth, resplendent in its punk decor, and absorbed the atmosphere of the place. I have to say, it's very, very cool. Whilst I was making the requisite notes,  Craig came over we had a chat about the place and how things work with the beers and the dispense. We briefly chatted about his time at the Tap and he said that he'd recognised me from somewhere which would, in all likelihood, be from his previous place of employ. The beer was great. Nottingham Brewery don't get enough credit, in my humble opinion, for the quality of their ales. The Dreadnought is excellent! It's a 4.5% amber coloured bitter with full malt flavours and hoppy bitterness. I would absolutely recommend this place to anyone who enjoys beer, music and the good times that encapsulate both. I have no doubt that I'll be coming back. 

As painful as it was leaving Cask Bah, we were now eager to get to an old favourite from our last time in Loughborough. Continuing down Market Street and through the market place, we emerged on Leicester Road. Continuing down this, we reached Wood Gate, where we turned right and crossed over at the traffic lights. A short distance away is the Good Beer Guide 2022 listed Organ Grinder.

Previously a coaching inn known as the Pack Horse, the pub was bought by Blue Monkey in 2012 and underwent a thorough top-to-bottom renovation which uncovered lots of original features. The main bar is slightly to the right of the entrance, serving a bar space with wooden furniture and repurposed barrels as seating. A corridor runs alongside this which leads to an outside space, to the rear of which a beer garden, with picnic table seating, can be found. Directly behind the bar, the lounge bar area has been converted from the old stable block. The stables themselves have been repurposed into booths for drinking with the dividers being left in place to reflect the pub's original incarnation. Opposite this, is a tiny enclosed seating area with a single table and a handful of chairs. This is a situated in a separate room called the Ostler's House, which is filled with firewood and old photos and still retains the original stove and sink. An ostler was someone who would look after horses for visitors of coaching inns. Keeping these features and allowing the public to utilise them is certainly a nice touch. It's always good when pubs give a nod to their history. This being a Blue Monkey pub, it should come as no surprise that their beers are prominent. 8 hand pumps sit on the bar and 7 of these were in use, with the vast majority from the Blue Monkey range, specifically Jungle VIP, Chocolate Guerrilla, Guerrilla, Primate, BG Sips and Infinity IPA and another pump reserved for a guest beer, in this case Goffs Jester. It would be rude not have one of Blue Monkey's excellent beers and so we both went for the Jungle VIP (4.4%) a delicious golden ale. It's fruity, easy drinking and very refreshing. We sat in the Ostler's House whilst we sunk our beers. I didn't remember all the unique details of this place before and I'm very glad that we made the effort of a return visit. It also reminded me that I really need to revisit the sister venue in Nottingham at some point in future. That's for another time though!

By now, we finally had an ETA for Amy's sister Laura and an agreed upon destination. With two pubs left, it looked as if we would have company for the last leg of the trip. Leaving the Organ Grinder, we headed slightly back on ourselves, and made our way over to Church Gate, where we arrived at almost exactly the same time as Laura. A few minutes later we were joined by Laura's partner Yasmin as we congregated outside our penultimate stop: The Three Nuns.

This Everards pub takes its name from an unfortunate spelling error. During its naming, the original name, the Three Tuns, was misspelled as Three Nuns and the name stuck. Colloquially known as the 'Nuns' it boasts an open plan interior arranged around a central bar with traditional wooden furniture and banquette seating and a beer garden to the rear. The bar holds two banks of hand pumps, 6 on the front bar and 5 on the back bar, usually with beers doubled up across both sections. The decor is traditional with breweriana, local photographs, whitewashed walls, wooden beams and horse brasses. Everards beers take centre stage here. Only one of the 11 pumps wasn't in use and the others were all doubled up, featuring 5 different beers from the Everards range: 4 x 4, Sunchaser, Old Original, Beacon Hill and Tiger. It had been a very long time since I'd had an Everards beer, let alone in an Everards pub! Amy and I both went for the Tiger whilst our guests went for lager and vodka and lemonade respectively. We sat on a table just inside the door, enjoying our drinks and generally catching up. The Tiger, as you'd expect, was in cracking form. Copper in colour with aromas of malt and toffee, it's a very well balanced drink with a delicate spiciness from Fuggles and Goldings hops. I'd forgotten how good a beer it actually is. 

We had one final venue planned before our day would draw to a close and, luckily enough, it happened to be just next door. So, with Laura and Yasmin in tow, we made our way to the White Hart.

Now a freehouse, the White Hart reopened in 2013 following an extensive refurbishment and is now part of the Benjamin Pimlico Pub Company. There is a secluded patio and beer garden to the rear, with the interior radiating a cosy, relaxing ambience. The lighting is low and subtle, creating a comfortable atmosphere with wooden tables and chairs arranged across the floor with a bar to one side. Candles occupy the majority of tables to further enhance the mood lighting. The pub is Good Beer Guide 2022 and was CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year for 2017. The pub operates a 21 and over policy for individuals but young children under 5 are still welcome as part of a family group. The White Hart has built up an excellent local reputation for good beer and features live music on occasional Friday and Saturday evenings. 6 handpulls occupy the bar with a mix between local and not so local beers. At the time of our visit, the choices were Timothy Taylor Landlord, Shiny Disco Balls, Arbor Mosaic and 3 beers from Charnwood, in the shape of Blue Fox, Vixen and Salvation. I immediately went for the Blue Fox, Amy went for a pint of Beavertown Neck Oil and our guests repeated their previous drink choices. We took a table a short distance from the bar and remarked on the general feel of the pub. Amy and Laura had been here in the past but not for many years and discussed how much it had changed, evidently for the better. I enjoyed my beer here too. Charnwood are a family-run Loughborough brewery and it's rare to see their beers outside of the town so it was nice to be drinking it where it was meant to be drunk. Blue Fox (4.2%) is a refreshing golden beer brewed with Mosaic hops that give it a tropical fruit and blueberry aroma and finish. It was ace!

And with that, our time was up. Our glasses were empty and our bus was nearly due so we bid farewell to Laura and Yasmin and headed the short distance to Baxter Gate to embark on the return journey. The day had been a successful one. I hadn't been entirely sure what to expect from our Loughborough revisit but it had delivered. It's clear that, whilst the town does certainly have its share of 'locals' pubs, the new additions to it's drinking scene are perfectly placed to attract visitors from further afield. It definitely feels that the choice of both pubs and beers in Loughborough has changed for the better in the last few years, and it's nice to see things moving in an upward direction as opposed to the alternative. The more that the beer scene in this part of Leicestershire trends towards the positive, the more inclined I'll be to schedule in a return trip. It had certainly been a worthwhile day and we'd both thoroughly enjoyed it. After all, if you don't end a pub trip by falling asleep on the sofa at 8.30 during an episode of Ghost Adventures, have you even been on a pub trip?