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If the 1890's had been great years for the brewing trade, the start of the new century saw the climate suddenly change. First, through extra taxation to pay for the Boer War. Secondly, through increasing calls from temperance groups for legislation to dramatically reduce the number of pubs.

An umbrella group of brewing and licensed trade interests called the National Trade Defence Association led opposition to the 1908 Licensing Bill. The Bill, which sought to reduce the number of licensed premises by about a third of the pubs in England and Wales, was the work of Asquith's Liberal government and the temperance movement, with whom the Liberal party had strong links. It was eventually rejected by the House of Lords. One of the defeats that prompted the reform of the House of Lords in 1911, when its power to veto legislation passed by the House of Commons was effectively removed.

But it wasn't just the House of Lords that opposed the Bill. The National Trade Defence Association organised mass rallies to protest against the Bill, including one in Hyde Park on September 27th 1908 that attracted a quarter of a million people. The article below is part of a report of a similar demonstration in Burton. A town with much to lose, had the Bill become law.

"Burton and the Licensing Bill

ALTHOUGH the history ot brewing, as the trade of Burton-on-Trent, is of comparatively modern date, that of the making of ale is undoubtedly coeval with the Abbey and Saxon times, for conventual beer in the twelfth century was a common article of consumption, and the staple industry of the town subsequently suffered from the withdrawal of the monastic patronage. Readers of "Ivanhoe" may recollect the passage in praise of Burton ale before the time of Richard I. In Elizabethan times Mary Queen of Scots, it is said, was kept informed of the progress of the Babbington Plot by the Burton brewer who supplied ale to Tutbury Castle during her imprisonment there.

But for the brewing industry, Burton would have always remained the sleepy, old-fashioned town that it was in the Middle Ages, and it is only during the last 150 years that it has developed its world-wide reputation as the seat of the brewing industry. It is a popular idea to suppose that the excellence of the Trent water is responsible for the distinctive character of the Burton files ; but, as a fact, river water never enters into the composition of the beers. The actual water is obtained from a series of wells, impregnated with gypsum from the hills in the surrounding district, and to this is due the unequalled flavour of Burton ales.

The most interesting event in the history of the town in modern times was the visit of H.M. the King to Lord Burton at his seat at Rangemore on the 22nd February, 1902, when his Majesty inspected Bass and Co.'s Brewery and pulled over the levers which started a special mash of 400 barrels of extra strong ale, which for fifty years or more will be known as the "King's Ale."

It is impossible to allude to Burton without associating the name of "Bass" with it; their predominating influence in the prosperity of the town is greater probably than that of the L. and N. W. Railway in relation to Crewe. The whole trade of Burton, with its sixteen breweries, gives employment to over 12,000 men, of whom Bass and Co. employ one-third, the remainder being represented by Allsopp and Sons, Ltd. ; Worthington and Co., Ltd.; Ind, Coope and Co., Ltd.; Marston, Thompson, and Evershed, Ltd.; Salt and Co., Ltd. ; Burton Brewery Co., Ltd. ; Jas. Eadie, Ltd.; Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton, Ltd. ; Charrington and Co., Ltd.; Peter Walker and Co., Ltd.; Walker and Sons, Ltd. ; Cooper and Co., Ltd. ; Robinson and Co., Ltd.; Everard and Co., Ltd.; North Eastern Breweries, Ltd. But Lord Burton's firm (Bass and Co., Ltd.) covers so large an area (750 acres) with its network of breweries, that the town of 52,000 inhabitants is practically surrounded by it; and this only dates back to the year 1777, when Mr. William Bass, then a carrier, and, curiously enough, founder of the firm of "Pickford," opened a small brewery in Burton, which, after trading some twenty years, turned out 2,000 barrels per annum. The yearly output now reaches the colossal total of 1,500,000 barrels. To supply the malt there are thirty-three malthouses, capable of converting 230,000 quarters of barley into malt every season, and a steam cooperage turning out 1,000 new casks per week. They own seventeen miles of railways on their premises, eleven locomotives, 120 trucks for private use, and the coal consumption of the firm is some 90,000 tons per annum. These figures are hard to realise. When it is remembered that this firm of Bass alone contributes £607,669 annually to the Revenue, or nearly £2,000 for every working day ; uses 400,000 quarters of barley, and 45,000 cwts. of hops a year, pays £300,000 a year for freight, and issues to the customers who handle their bottling pale ale 1,000,000 labels a day, some idea of the enormous Interests involved in the whole brewery trade may be gathered, seeing that these figures of Bass's represent about one-third of the total figures of the town."
The Graphic, March 21st 1908, page 410.
It's very handy that they've listed all Burton's breweries. Here they are again:

Allsopp and Sons, Ltd.
Worthington and Co., Ltd.
Ind, Coope and Co., Ltd.;
Marston, Thompson, and Evershed, Ltd.
Salt and Co., Ltd.
Burton Brewery Co., Ltd.
Jas. Eadie, Ltd.
Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton, Ltd.
Charrington and Co., Ltd.
Peter Walker and Co., Ltd.
Walker and Sons, Ltd.
Cooper and Co., Ltd.
Robinson and Co., Ltd.
Everard and Co., Ltd.
North Eastern Breweries, Ltd.

Note that there are three London or South Eastern breweries in that list: Charrington, Truman and Ind Coope. Plus the Peter Walker from Lancashire and Everard of Leicester.

The 1.5 million barrels that Bass brewed made it the second largest brewery in the UK, only Guinness being larger. And still one of the largest breweries in the world. Though the real glory years lay back in the 19th century. Hang on. There's loads I can work out from those numbers for barrels produced and hops and malt used. Assuming a yield of 85 brewer's pounds per quarter, I get the average OG to be 1063º.

barrels 1,500,000
qtrs malt 400,000
lbs hops 5,040,000
lbs hops/quarter 12.6
lbs hops/barrel 3.36
average OG 1063.01

The average hopping rate is more than 3 lbs per barrel. I just happen to know that in 1905 the average hopping rate for the UK as a whole was 1.76 lbs per barrel (Source: Brewers Almanack 1928, page 111). So Bass used almost twice as many hops per barrel as the average. Though it's worth remembering that as they specialised in Pale Ales, they would naturally use more hops than a typical brewery, where Mild Ales were the biggest sellers.

With 12,000 of the town's 52,000 population directly employed in breweries, virtually every family must have had someone directly employed by brewing. No wonder every one - really everyone - in town was so concerned about the Licensing Bill. As we'll soon find out.