Staff and volunteers at the heart of Burton’s brewing history will be celebrating brewing through the years as the towns National Brewery Museum gets ready to mark its 40 birthday.
The museum has gone through numerous changes over the past four decades but through the good and the bad times, the strength of brewing has prevailed and been championed by the many passionate volunteers and wardens who have given their all to provide people all over the country with the taste of good beer and the ultimate brewing experience.
Vanessa Winstone, collections officer at the museum and the National Brewery Centre said the museum does not stand still and in a bid to move with the times and preserve history, it will be showcasing a temporary exhibition looking back at the past four decades.
Mrs Winstone said: “"How time flies – it has been 40 glorious years since the first visitors were welcomed through the doors of the Bass Museum at an entry fee of 30 pence.
It is brilliant to be celebrating 40 years, the museum has come so far in that time. It has managed to get through the hard times and we have been well supported by volunteers, other breweries and so many organisations such as planning solutions and the national heritage trust in getting to where we are.
“Our visitor numbers are continuing to rise and we are hoping to welcome 20,000 guests this year. We are particularly popular with international visitors including people from Europe, Australia and America who come along all year round.”
As part of the birthday celebrations, staff and volunteers have been working hard to restore a Bass barley wagon and are creating two new displays, one of which will feature beer bottles from the 1960s and another which will show visitors the old white shield brewery as part of the visitor route at the centre.
Mrs Winstone said: “There will be explanations about how the Tower Brewery works. Some of the equipment goes back to the late 1800s and was used to produce museum beer until 2008 so it will be fantastic to see it on display.
“Some of our volunteers are also refurbishing the Bass barley wagon which we hope to unveil later this year. The works have been financed by the National Brewery Heritage Trust as part of the 40 year celebrations.”
David Edwards, General Manager of the National Brewery Centre on Horninglow Street, said the venue is “steeped in history and is a site for the locals and visitors alike.”
He said: “We always brew on site and give back to the community. We still have some employees from when it was the Bass Museum, which is testament to the company.
"We have stuff here that has come from all over the UK, people trust us as a site and recognise the value of our heritage.
"We are very honoured to be able to add to the brewery's history and prolong it."
"We never forget that we are custodians of the site and our concept is to revive and bring back heritage ales, to celebrate the historic value and the modern brewery."
Mr Edwards said the team live and breathe Burton's brewing history.
"The people in this town are part of the Bass family and I am glad that the brewery is still well loved."
To honour the milestone, volunteers from the past and present have been invited to celebrate with existing staff at an event on July 19.
During the afternoon guests will be asked to share your memories of the museum including “amusing anecdotes, exciting events and spooky stories."
Vanessa said: "Members of the National Brewery Heritage Trust, which was set up to support the collections, also hope to attend along with other VIPs.
“We hope to welcome and thank all the people that have made the museum as great as it is over the past 40 years and we encourage them to share their happy memories with us.”
The Museum’s history
The Bass Museum officially opened to the public on July 16, 1977. This date for the opening was chosen to commemorate two historical events – it was the bicentenary of Bass Brewery and it was also Queen Elizabeth's silver jubilee year.
As was common in Burton's brewing heydays, the town marked these events by doing what it does best – brewing beer. As a replacement to the legendary King's Ale which was brewed in 1902 to mark the visit of King Edward VII, Bass decided it was time for a new commemorative beer – Jubilee Ale.
On hand to start the mashing process for Jubilee Ale was Sir Alan Walker, the president of Bass Charrington at the time. With the mashing process over, Mr Walker then officially declared Bass Museum open. Mr Walker unveiled a commemorative plaque and told the assembled crowd that it "was a great compliment to have the country's only brewing museum in Burton".
When Bass was taken over by Belgian brewer Interbrew in 2000, its new owners reassured residents that the museum would remain an important feature of the town. Speaking in June 2000, Interbrew's chief executive Hugo Powell said the museum "was as impressive as hell".
He went on to say that there were many jewels in Interbrew's acquisition of Bass and the museum was just one of those jewels. Further change came when American brewer Coors acquired the Carling and Bass brands, and all of their holdings, including the museum, as part of a £1 billion deal in 2002.
By 2008, Coors claimed the museum was costing it more than £1 million a year to run and would close by the end of June. The Burton Mail launched a "Save our Heritage" campaign which spread like wildfire and gained support from many prominent people who had connections with the museum – including Princess Anne who officially opened the original museum in July 1978.
In the face of protests, the museum closed in August, 2008, despite calls for a stay of execution and the Mail's 20,000-name petition to Culture Secretary Margaret Hodge. The National Brewing Centre reopened its doors on May 1, 2010 under new operators.