Britain’s Oldest Trademark
Michael Thomas Bass II, the founder’s grandson, expanded the business, largely by exporting India pale ale to British colonists. Beer was ideal ballast for ships; and the cool ocean waters, along with generous amounts of alcohol and hops, kept the beer from spoiling en route. India pale ale was originally brewed for export only, but it became famous in Britain after local residents salvaged casks of it from a shipwrecked vessel and sold them in Liverpool.
Although Bass does not meet the style guidelines of India pale ale, “I.P.A.” appeared on the label until recently. Still on the label is the famous red triangle, which is Britain’s oldest registered trademark. To make sure the mark was first in line, brewery employees camped outside the registrar’s office the night before it opened.
Like many manufacturing operations of the time, Bass was self-contained, employing skilled tradesmen in more than 30 specialties, from carpenters to blacksmiths to chemists. The brewery even functioned as a bank. Employees were given tokens redeemable for free beer, and some circulated in the Burton area as an alternative currency.
By 19th-century standards, Bass was a progressive, albeit paternalistic, employer. One employee perk was a summer outing to the seashore. It was so big an event that the national newspapers covered it.
One of the museum’s highlights is “Virtual Burton 1881,” a small theater where a dozen animated characters from all walks of life lead visitors through the town, showing and telling how residents lived in those days. There is also an elaborate scale model of Burton as it looked in 1921, complete with model trains chugging down the city streets and tiny people going about their business.
Another must-see exhibit is a reproduction of an Edwardian pub. It features then-popular games like Devil Among the Tailors, shove ha’penny, and skittles. A gentleman is on hand to demonstrate proper technique. He will also tell you why that little girl is standing next to the bar: she refilled customers’ glasses so they would keep betting on games. The house took a percentage of the wagers, which more than offset the cost of the beer. Many museum staffers are retirees who worked for Bass or in one of Burton’s other industries. They are rich sources of the town’s oral history, and their presence gives the museum a warm human touch.
The final stop on the tour is the Burton Bar, where Bass Ale and a range of seasonal beers are available. The £5.50 price of admission includes a complimentary half pint. Or, if you prefer, a three half-pint sampler is available for £3.50.
Author’s note: For more information, visit the museum’s website, www.coorsvisitorcenter.co.uk. The museum is now part of the Coors Visitors Centre. In 2000, Bass was acquired by Belgium-based Interbrew, which later sold the Burton brewing operations to Coors in order to comply with a ruling by British antitrust authorities.