Burton-upon-Trent.-But few of the thousands who now pass by, or whom business may cause to visit the flourishing and important town of Burton, ever pause to think of the famous old history which it possesses, or of the beauty of its situation and surroundings. It is generally associated with the idea of good ale -and of good ale only. For its production of the "barley bree" it is, indeed, famous; and richly does it deserve its honour. Of Burton it may be truly said, that it is ancient; it is holy; it is fair to look at; and its chief product is the delight of many lands. Fur its antiquity we need only quote the old chronicler, who tells us that "early in the Saxon period, probably before the limits of Mercia were settled, the Burton we are now treating of was a considerable place." The name of the place in Saxon is Byreton, "synonymous with Bureton, or Buryton, words used by the Saxons to denote places of Roman or British origin." For its holiness, has it not the possession of the bones of Saint Modwen? To this holy lady and the Virgin Mary its once famous abbey was dedicated. The whole story is given very briefly by Holinshed, and will amply repay quotation. It was in the reign of King Ethelwolfe, in the ninth century, that "one Modwen, a virgine in Ireland, was greatly renowned in the world, unto whome the forenamed King Ethelwolfe sent his sonne Alfred to be cured of a disease that was thought incurable; but by hir means he recovered health, and therefore, when hir monastrie was destroied in Ireland, Modwen came over into England, unto whom King Ethelwolfe gave land to build two abbies, and also delivered unto hir his sister Edith, to be professed a nun. Modwen hereupon built two monastries, one at Poulesworth, joining to the boundes of Arderne, wherein she placed the foresaid Edith with Osith and Athea; the other, whether it was a monastrie or cell, she founded in Strenshall or Trensall, where she hirselfe remained solitarie a certain time in praier and other vertuous exercises. And (as it is reported) she went thrice to Rome, and finallie died, being 130 yeeres of age. Hir bodie was first buried in an iland; compassed about with the river of Trent, called Andresey, taking that name of a church or chappell of Saint Andrew, which she had built in the same iland, and dwelled therein for the space of seven yeeres. Manie monastries she builded, both in England (as partlie above is mentioned), and also in Scotlande, as at Striveling, Edenbrough; and in Ireland at Celesttine, and elsewhere." We learn from Leland that this island was called in her honour Modwenstow. Camden gives us her epitaph, which in Latin runs thus-
"Ortum Modwennæ dat Hibernia, Scotia finem,
Anglia dat tumulum, dat Deus Astra poli.
Prima dedit vitam, sed mortem terra secunda,
Et terram terræ tertia term dedit.
Aufert Lanfortin quam term Conuallea præfert,
Felix Burtonium virginis ossa tenet."
Or in English prose: "Ireland gives Modwen birth, Scotland death, England a grave, and God salvation. The first gave life, the second death, the third gave dust to dust. Lunfortin takes whom Tyrconnel (terra Connallea) owns, happy Burton holds the virgin's bones."
The famous antiquary tells that the monastery at Burton was founded by Ulfric Spot, earl of Mercia, and was "once remarkable for the retreat of Modwena, or Mowenna, an Irishwoman. Of this monastery we have the following account in the book of Abingdon:- 'A servant of King Ethelred, named Ulfric Spot, built the abbey at Burton, and gave it all his personal estate, worth £700.' In this monastery Modwena, whose sanctity was renowned in those parts, was buried." The present parish church is built on the place where the old church stood, and remains of the old monastery still exist-the gardens with the old wall, two or three old arches, one or two portions which have been converted into modern dwelling houses; and on the river bank is a building which evidently formed a part of the old abbey. It is a pleasant walk to trace the remains of this once famous place, for few scenes can surpass that in which stands Burton Church. The noble Trent flowing in front, the rich green meadows beyond, and rising above the tree-crowned hill of Scalpley, with its beautiful wood and hall, while beyond is Waterloo Camp; a lovelier situation for a church can scarcely be conceived.
Of the old church, and a curious monument which was found there, Ertleswick, writing in or about 1590; gives us the following description:-"In that part of the church which I think then belonged to the parish (for it is now used as the parish church, but joins with the decayed abbey church, which seems to have been a very goodly one, for the ruins be very large), there lies a monument, which, whether it were ever in the same place it now lieth, or removed out of the part that is decayed, I stand in doubt, for it lieth close to the new wall that now divides the church from the ruins, and is so broke and defaced that one would think it had been removed. Which monument the common fame (of the unskilfull) reports to have been the tomb of the first founder, Wulfricus Spott, and that cannot in anywise be so, for being of alabaster it is fashioned both for armour, shield, and all other things, something like our new monuments; so Edward III.'s time is the oldest it can possibly be; and a man would rather by the shield (for it is square at both ends, and flourished with gold both above and beneath, as the Londoners set out shields in their pageants) think it were of Edward IV. or Henry VII.'s time; and yet I can by no means learn whose it should be and writing there is none. The shield is of gold, and a blue cross engrayled, charged with five mullets silver thereon. If it be indeed the founder's shield-as it may be, for I have seen the coat well and old in other places, both of the church and town-then did some of the abbots of late make this monument new in respect of some old one that was decayed, as it might be they did. For you know the monks were very carefull to set out gay things for their founders, to the end it might be thought they were not unmindfull of good men which were their benefactors. But surely I rather conjecture it was made for some benefactor of theirs, that had lived in later time than Wolfricus Spott." The present pleasant-looking church dates from 1720, and is surrounded by evidences of the existence of its predecessor.
The epitaphs in the well-filled churchyard are for the most part of the ordinary kind, in which bad grammar disputes it with bad taste, and it is difficult to say which wins. Here is one worthy of remembrance; it is inscribed on the tomb of a bell-ringer, whose comrades erected the stone to his memory, and runs thus:-
"Here lies the old ringer beneath this cold clay,
Who rung many peals both for serious and gay;
Through Grandsires and Trebles with case he could range,
Till Death called the bob and brought round his last change."
From another stone we copied a fine example of what an epitaph should be-simple, modest, and pathetic. It consists of two lines only:-
"This humble stone shall bear one humble line
Here lies a sinner saved by grace divine."
The visitor will not be in a hurry to leave Burton churchyard. A seat under one of its magnificent trees, and a long gaze up and down and across the river, will be a treat which the least enthusiastic lover of the picturesque should not miss. Prior to 1865 visitors generally left this "lovely habitation of the dead" to hasten to the famous bridge. This splendid old structure consisted of thirty-six arches, was 515 yards in length, and was believed by the best authorities to be some eight hundred years old. "It is," said Shaw, "as handsome and well-built a bridge as most in England of the same antiquity, being made of good ashlar stone, from the quarry below the mill, about a mile down the Derbyshire side of the river. A part from its being such a picturesque object together with the adjacent beautiful scenery, the ancient bridge had a considerable historical interest, having been the scene of a battle which was fought upon it in 1322, when Edward II. obtained a signal victory over the earl of Lancaster. This venerable relic of old England remained till 1864, and is now replaced by one which, if not so interesting to the antiquarian, is at least safer and more convenient for the traveller. The Midland Railway Company also completed a bridge of forty-one arches across the river in 1865.
In Leland's time Burton was celebrated for its alabaster works; but these have all now passed away. Her glory, her pride, and her wealth is her beer. Bass and Allsopp and their compeers are her rulers. Over acres and acres of her soil are spread their breweries, with their enormous vats, mashing tubs, cooperages, and pyramids of barrels. Long lines of railway trucks are being unloaded of their "empties," and filled with the full barrels, whose contents are destined to quench the thirst of dry souls all over the world. This would have been the place for old Bishop Still. Here he need not have sung,
"Let back and side go bare, go bare,
Both hand and foot go cold;
But belly, God send thee good ale enough,
Whether it be new or old:"
for he could have got his bellyful of good ale without letting his back and side go bare. Such a place would have been a paradise to old drunken Barnaby, who would have sung its glories in his bibulous and doggrel Latin. What humour has not Burton lost through not being famous for ale in the good old times. Verily she has fallen on degenerate and evil days. In this "nineteenth century of ours," with its teetotal societies and its Rechabites, we dare not sing a stave in praise of her "barley wine." We can only admire in silence, and content ourselves with saying that we tasted of the "evil thing," and found it very good. It appears that the chief cause of the superior quality of Burton ale is the peculiar properties of the water used in brewing. Dr. Darwin thus attempts to account for it!- But, says the naturalist, "I cannot leave this account of calcareous or hard waters without adding that I suppose, from the great affinity between calcareous earth and saccharine acid may be explained a circumstance, the theory of which has never been understood, and therefore, the fact has generally been doubted; and that is, that hard waters make stronger beer than soft ones. I appeal to the brewers of Burton for the fact, who have the soft water of the Trent running on one side of their brewhouses; and yet prefer universally the hard or calcareous water supplied by their pumps. I suppose there may be some saccharine acid in the malt (which is not all of it equally perfectly made into sugar by the vegetable digestive power of the germinating barley), which by it attracting the calcareous earth of hard waters may produce a kind of mineral sugar; which, like the true sugar, may be convertible into spirit." Whether this be the cause or not the effect is certain; and once again we have to pronounce that Burton ale is good- very good.
Burton is a township, a town, a parish, a sub-district, and a district. The township is included in the town, and has 9450 inhabitunts, 1885 houses, and real property valued at £37,396. It includes the townships of Burton-upon-Trent, Burton-Extra, and part of Horninglow. The parish contains all the town, and the townships of Horninglow, Stretton, Branstone, and Winshall. It comprises 7730 acres, 23,764 inhabitants, 4751 houses, and real property valued at £62,045. The marquis of Anglesey is lord of the manor. The parochial living, St. Modwen, is worth £125; Holy Trinity, the church of which was built in 1824, is of the value of £300; both are vicarages in the gift of the marquis of Anglesey. Christ Church, Moor Street, is a vicarage in the gift of the vicar of St. Modwen, of the annual value of £300. A new church, St. Paul's, was erected in 1872-73, the cost of which was entirely defrayed by M. T. Bass, Esq., M.P. Of other places of worship the principal are the Roman Catholic chapel of St. Modwen, the Independent chapel, the Wesleyan chapel, completed in 1872, and those of the Wesleyan Reformers, General and Particular Baptists, Primitive Methodists (three), and United Presbyterians. There is a free grammar and numerous other schools; public baths and wash-houses, which were opened in 1873; and a general infirmary, erected in 1869. The Literary Society and the Mechanics' Institute have each reading rooms and libraries of 4000 to 5000 volumes. Some of the brewery and malting establishments (which together employ more than 5000 persons) are on a colossal scale; those of Messrs. Allsopp and Bass occupying respectively an area of fifty and forty acres.
By a charter obtained from Henry VIII. the inhabitants of Burton are exempted from serving the office of sheriff, and from being summoned as jurors at the assizes and sessions for the county. Of the once famous abbey, erected in the eleventh century by the earl of Mercia, not a trace now remains.
Burton-Extra is a township of Burton; it contains 7025 inhabitants, 1377 houses, and real property valued at £6491.