Pubs, Alehouses, Beers and Breweries of Central England

If I counted every penny I have ever spent on drinking beer in my lifetime, I may have spent enough to buy Buckingham Palace!
This quote may be true so in this series on pubs, I plan on giving you a guided tour of the best places to take a quick tipple based on my personal experiences, starting with some of my favorite pubs, taverns, inns and alehouse in the Central England area, which I used to frequent from 1980 to 2002.
History of Birmingham Breweries
Birmingham used to be the beer capital of the United Kingdom before all the major breweries amalgamated and moved to Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire some 25 miles north of Birmingham. Ansells, Bass, Banks’s, Davenports, Mitchells and Butlers and Whitbread all ruled the roost when it came to brewing beer from 1960 till the mid and late 1980s before being bought out to become a part of the Allied Breweries consortium.
Some of the classic brews from the past were: Brew XI, Ansells Mild, M and B Springfield Bitter, M and B Mild and Davenports Original.

The Queens Arms pub in Birmingham, once owned by Mitchells and Butlers brewery © Tagishsimon on Wikipedia under Creative Commons License

Ansells Brewery Ltd (Ansells) was located in Aston, Birmingham, which today is the home of the HP sauce company. The brewery was founded by Joseph Ansell in 1858. In June 1901 it became a registered company called Ansells Brewery Ltd. Ansells grew by acquiring several other smaller local breweries. In 1981, Ansells merged with Taylor Walker and Co and Ind, Coope & Co to form Allied Breweries.
Davenport’s Brewery, was known to be the first brewery to operate in Birmingham and was located in the Hockley area of the city. The biggest change to the company came when John Davenport began the beer at home delivery service in 1904. During the war years the home delivery business suffered, due to the rationing of brewing materials and fuel for transport, but after the war Davenports made full use of television for advertising and the business prospered once again. Davenports amalgamated with Allied Breweries in 1989.
Banks & Co was formed in 1890 and in 1943 they acquired 200 pubs making them the largest owners in central England.  Banks & Co remained in business until being bought out by Marston’s in 2007.
Bass Brewery, was founded in 1777 by William Bass and the main brand was Bass Pale Ale, once the highest selling beer in the UK.  In 2000, Bass were brought out by Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Budweiser and introduced Coors lager to the UK for the first time in 2005. Unfortunately, the sales of Bass products are on the decline in the US and is currently brewed in Baldwinsville, New York.
Mitchells and Butlers was formed in 1898 but merged with Bass in 1961. Their most famous beer was Brew XI (using Roman numerals, and so pronounced Brew Eleven), advertised with the slogan “for the men of the Midlands”. In October 2006, they began selling off their pubs with the last being sold in November 2010.
Alehouses began to become more popular than pubs following the sale of all the local breweries throughout the mid-late 1980’s. Alehouses make and sell their own beer/ales while pubs serve beer made by major beer making companies and often under contract from one certain supplier. It wasn’t until the arrival of the J.D. Wetherspoon pub chain in 1998 that pubs or public houses, given their correct names, came back into fashion.

A glass of real ale © Atelier Joly on Wikipedia under the Creative Commons License

Traditional English ale was made solely from fermented malt. The practice of adding hops to produce beer was introduced from the Netherlands in the early 15th century. Alehouses would each brew their own distinctive ale, but independent breweries began to appear in the late 17th century. By the end of the century almost all beer was brewed by commercial breweries. The history of alehouses can be traced back to Roman taverns, through the Anglo-Saxon alehouse to the development of the modern alehouse system in the 19th century.
Today over 46,000 alehouses are open for business all around the UK. Marston’s operates over 2,000 pubs alone in the UK, and is the world’s largest brewer of cask ale. In 1834 John Marston established J. Marston and Son. Today the company operates around 2,150 pubs and bars situated across England and Wales, comprising around 1,650 tenanted or leased pubs and around 500 managed pubs – of which 45 are hotels. The most popular of their ales are: Tetley’s bitter, Marston’s Pedigree and EPA, Wychwood Hobgoblin and Jennings Cumberland Ale.
J.D. Wetherspoon, the King Of British Pubs
Founded in 1998 by Tim Martin, the company today owns over 900 outlets. Wetherspoon pubs have opened in converted cinemas, theatres, Opera Houses, banks, swimming pools, churches and many other buildings with had previous uses. Many Wetherspoon properties are listed buildings. There are Wetherspoon bars in the passenger terminals of larger UK airports, which include Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester airports, as well as trains stations such as London’s Victoria station and Euston station.
Wetherspoon also owns and runs a chain of hotels known as Wetherspoon Hotels in the UK.  As of April 2013, there are 28 hotels in total, with 21 in England, four in Wales and three in Scotland. The J. D. Wetherspoon name comes from one of Martin’s teachers in New Zealand who could not control his class and told Tim that he would never succeed in business.

Timothy Randall Martin, the founder and chairman of Wetherspoon, was born on 28 April 1955, in Northern Ireland. He was educated at eleven different schools in Northern Ireland and New Zealand including Campbell College in Belfast. He studied law at the University of Nottingham. In 2005, he was voted the fifth most influential person in the UK pub industry of all time. There are 70 Wetherspoon pubs located in Central England alone including one at Birmingham International Airport.
So if you are thinking about travelling to the UK and are in need of a little R and R, may I suggest that you print off a map of all the pubs from the J.D. Weatherspoon’s website, you will be guaranteed a warm welcome at any of these establishments. I can assure you, that you will find one close to your location. With cheap prices and good value for money, you won’t go wrong here.

The Flying Standard in Coventry, a Wetherspoon pub © Ian S and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Pubs have been an integral part of British culture since Roman times. The lives and dramas, intrigues and mysteries of the people who visited them form the rich tapestry of any local pub.
So whether you are a lager, bitter, mild or cider drinker, the UK has lots of choices to keep you happy. Whether you prefer bottled beer or straight from the barrel, you can’t go wrong in whichever part of the British Isles you may find yourself.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham claims to be the oldest pub in England © Jussuf on Wikipedia and free to public domain

If anyone as any memories of breweries, beers or pubs please feel free to post your comments and I will gladly reply.  Thanks for reading!
Trevor Morris is a British expat living in Wisconsin. Born in Birmingham, he enjoys sharing what he admires about his hometown and is a huge Aston Villa fan. He is well travelled to many locations across England & Wales and happy to share his personal experiences with anyone who cares to read. Married with two daughters, his hobbies include travel, sports & family time. He is currently studying Criminal Justice at Marian University, Wisconsin.

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