Burton upon Trent: looking back 40 years

PUBLISHED: 00:16 27 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:58 20 February 2013

Burton upon Trent: looking back 40 years

Burton upon Trent: looking back 40 years

In 1972 Derbyshire Life & Countryside put together an 18-page feature on 'Burton, the Riverside Borough'. This was at a time of massive change for the town...

In 1972 Derbyshire Life & Countryside put together an 18-page feature on Burton, the Riverside Borough. This was at a time of massive change for the town. As the article stated: Burton is unique in that the changing face of the brewing industry has provided, in its vast central areas of disused railway sidings and superseded plant, an opportunity for co-ordinated development by the local authority almost without parallel.

An opportunity comparable with that of towns subjected to heavy military or air attack.

The other factor is the realisation of the tremendous potential of the Trent, that wide, slow-flowing river, as a public amenity. A new shopping centre and precinct had recently opened with parking for 3,000 cars and without the ever-present distractions and danger of motor traffic and the chief planning officer of the County Borough described Burtons development over the previous ten years as a remarkable transformation. Our article concluded: The introduction of pedestrianisation, the incorporation of wide grassed areas, of trees both existing and introduced and, above all the exploitation of the wide sweep of the stately Trent to which the Borough owes its name and very existence is destined to make Burton one of the most attractive industrial towns of the Midlands.

Forty years on students at Burton and South Derbyshire College Holly-Jo Whitehall, Korin Birch, Viv Lucas, Sami Gunn and Daniel Durose re-visited the same sites as part of their studies to find out what had changed in 2012...

Richard Stone is chairman of Burton"Civic Society, an extra mural lecturer and writer. His latest book Buildings in Derbyshire: A Guide is published by Amberley.

Ive lived in or near Burton for most of my 63 years. In common with many market towns it acts as a focal centre for the surrounding area, a place where people meet, shop, eat, drink and look for entertainment; small enough to have a sense of intimacy, large enough to offer choice and variety. I particularly like its unpretentiousness.

Burton is full of interesting buildings, most the legacy of a rich industrial heritage and patronage by the brewing families who made their fortunes here. Arguably Horninglow Street with its elegant Georgian town houses is the most impressive and rewarding view. These properties still respect burgage plots first laid out at the end of the 12th century. Some have medieval timbers hidden behind later faades. The wonderfully Baroque Magistrates Court building with its lead dome, classical columns and decorative stonework (Niklaus Pevsner thought it looked like a variety theatre!) of 1909/10 speaks volumes about the surge of confidence and civic pride experienced when Burton became a County Borough.

A less obvious gem is the former Ellis Building (built for Henry Ellis, tailor and outfitter in 1908) on the corner of the Market Place at 176 High Street. Look above street level and it is a virtuoso riot of decorative detail with fancy gables, an octagonal cupola and wonderfully sinuous exaggerated keyblocks. This would have been a prime site in the medieval town and was probably occupied by a timber-framed house called The Garrets. In the 17th century this was home to the Finney family. According to a local rhyme Mrs Finney, a lady with a reputation for being sharp-tongued, was being carried to her last resting place in the parish church when the bearers of her coffin bumped into the ornately carved corner post supporting the buildings jettied upper storeys. The shock of the impact woke poor Mrs Finney who it turned out had merely been in some sort of coma. The rhyme goes:

The post as Finneys legend saith,
Awoke a scolding wife from death;
And honest Finney ceased to grieve
Oh shun he said as born along
With solemn dirge and funeral song,
Oh shun that cruel stump
That gave my dear so hard a bump.

The Garrets was demolished in the 19th century. The corner post in question, known locally as Finneys Post, is now an exhibit in the Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A perfect day in Burton would be taking in the sights and sounds of the weekly market in the shadow of St Modwens, the parish church, before crossing the Washlands via the Ferry Bridge and strolling along the riverside to return across Burton Bridge for a cup of coffee and slice of cake in town.

The townscape constantly changes. I think that is ultimately a good thing. Towns have to grow and evolve, and Burton retains a good balance of old and new.

If I could make one change, Id like to see the riverside more fully exploited. It has been an undervalued attraction. There are signs the potential of this valuable resource is now being recognised by local planners and so I am hopeful. We may even be able to revive the annual River Festivals that once attracted thousands of spectators.

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