History of the Branch…
The Branch was formed in 1975 as a spin-off from Derby Branch. A ‘meeting to test support’ was arranged in the January of that year (precise date not known), by Max Stewart, then Chairman of Derby Branch, at the Old Punch Bowl (now the Appleby), Green Street, Burton. Clearly there was indeed sufficient support, so the Inaugural General Meeting was subsequently held at the Leopard Inn, Lichfield Street, on Wednesday 5th March 1975, when Stan Ashton was elected Chairman.
Chairman: Mike Gibson Branch Contact: Nik Antona
Vice Chairman: David Walton Press & Publicity: Nik Antona
Treasurer: David Walton Membership: Dani Hardcastle
Deputy Treasurer: Eliot Hollier Pub Preservation: Vacant
Minutes Secretary: Martin Lawes Clubs Officer: Les Stretton
Public Affairs: Nik Antona Social Secretary: May Arthur
Cider/Perry Rep: Dani Hardcastle Website: Stewart Gibson
Pubs Officer: Mike Gibson Festival Chairman: Dickie Allen
Social Media: Euan Antona Deputy Vice Chair: Vacant
Young Members: Nik Antona
Previous Branch Chairs…
1975-1982 Stan Ashton, 1982-1984 Martin Flowers, 1984-1985 Keith Harrison, 1985-1992 Pete Rogers, 1992-1997 Chris Fletcher, 1997-2000 John Hoddy, 2000-2012 May Arthur, 2012-2013 Dave Mason, 2013-2014 David Walton, 2014-present Mike Gibson
The Branch area agreed at its formation covered East Staffordshire up to the A515 to the west, and to the south it included Barton-under-Needwood, but not Yoxall and Alrewas (both coming under Lichfield Branch). The Branch part of South Derbyshire included Newton Solney, Hartshorne, Smisby, and the all towns/villages to the south of these, but not Repton and Ticknall (both retained by Derby Branch).
Unfortunately, due to a dwindling membership, Lichfield Branch was merged with Tamworth Branch in late 2002, but some of its outlying areas were transferred to those neighbouring branches better located geographically to serve their pubs and CAMRA members. As a consequence, the Branch area in East Staffordshire was extended to include villages such as Alrewas, Kings Bromley and Yoxall to the south, and Abbots Bromley, Colton and Lea Heath to the west.
With its area straddling the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border, the Branch finds itself associated with both CAMRA East Midlands Region (Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland) and CAMRA West Midlands Region (Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands, Worcestershire) and contributes to the activities of each.
The Branch holds monthly business meetings (excluding August) at which news and views are exchanged, and the Branch’s various activities and campaigning issues are discussed and actions decided. The Annual General Meeting is held in April.
These meetings are held at pubs (and occasionally clubs) at various locations within the Branch area. Alternate meetings are held in Burton town, and the remainder divided equally between East Staffordshire villages and South Derbyshire.
The Branch organises a range of activities, such as evening pub socials, day trips to pubs in other parts of the country, brewery visits, ‘bike ‘n’ beer’ cycle rides, and occasional pub games evenings. These are generally advertised in the ‘What’s On’ section of the CAMRA newspaper What’s Brewing.
Since 1985, the Branch has also entered a team in the Burton Bridge Brewery Skittles League, but has not yet managed to win it! Mid-table obscurity is the norm.
September 1980 saw the 1st Burton Beer Festival at Burton Town Hall, organised in collaboration with the Burton & District Licensed Victuallers Association. This successful event set the scene for further annual beer festivals which continue to the present day (although the LVA were never again invited to become involved due to their minimal contribution).
In April 1984, the Branch ran its one and only beer festival outside Burton : “SwadFest 84”, in the Market Hall, Swadlincote. While this event was regarded as a campaigning success, it lost money, and the ‘experiment’ has never been repeated.
Due to the general popularity of CAMRA beer festivals and their increasing benefit as campaigning and fundraising events, in February 1996 the Branch introduced a Burton Winter Beer Festival at Burton Town Hall , albeit on a slightly smaller scale than the September one. This also became an annual event in January/February, although for various reasons it has been moved to March from 2008 onwards and has become the Burton Spring Beer Festival.
It is worth noting that, despite its relatively small size, the Burton Winter Beer Festival incorporated CAMRA’s National Winter Ales Festival in 2003 and 2004, reflecting its convivial atmosphere and the widely admired interior of Burton Town Hall .
Since its formation, the Branch has submitted nominations every year for CAMRA’s annual Good Beer Guide . Based on members’ beer quality reports throughout the previous calendar year, a short list is agreed at the January Branch meeting. Following formal surveys, the final submissions are decided at a special meeting held in late February.
The Branch has only ever published two local real ale guides, in 1985 and in 1994, both limited to the town of Burton and its suburbs. (Three other attempts in the late 1970s, early 1980s, and around 1990, foundered due to, respectively: the loss of survey information by the prime organiser; funding issues and a perceived enthusiasm for county guides; and an impending national pub exchange following a Monopolies & Mergers Commission report. A subsequent attempt in the late 1990s was eventually abandoned due to the work commitments of the editor/organiser.)
The Branch has, however, contributed to a Derbyshire county beer guide, Derbyshire Ale , which was first published in 1982, with a second edition following in 1990. Unfortunately, the publication of a third edition was eventually shelved in 2005 after certain other branches in the county were unable to fulfil their commitments.
To date, there appears to have been no serious and sustained attempt to produce a Staffordshire county beer guide.
In July 1979, in collaboration with the Burton Trader, a local free weekly newspaper, the Branch launched a Pub-of-the-Month initiative. This involved a feature in the Burton Trader (written by a Branch member), accompanied by a photograph, and with a certificate presented to the pub at a Branch social. The Branch and the pub benefited from the publicity, and the exercise continued until mid-1982 when the newspaper lost interest. (Sadly, the Burton Trader folded in July 2009.)
A Branch newsletter primarily intended for members, Burton Waters , was inaugurated in late 1989. This was published on an irregular basis for many years, subject to the work commitments of editors and the flow of contributions from members, but was essentially superseded in early 2001 by the Burton Real Ale Times . The latter was more of a magazine and aimed at a wider audience, being distributed free-of-charge in many local pubs. Regrettably, lack of support, in terms of articles and production assistance, led to its demise in mid-2002.
A Branch website was first introduced in early 1996, but clearly it has been subject to considerable development since that time.
Pub Information & Surveys…
The Branch operates a rolling survey programme covering all 200+ pubs in its area in order to maintain reasonably up-to-date data on all such premises. This enables the local real ale scene to be continually monitored and provides information for national CAMRA surveys and statistics.
Since its formation, CAMRA membership in the Branch area has risen steadily from around 50 in the late 1970s to over 400 now. Unfortunately, this increase has not been reflected in attendances at Branch meetings which, on average, have barely doubled, nor in the number of significantly active members who contribute to the organisation of the Branch and, most critically, of the Burton Beer Festivals.
The branch needs more active members, particularly young ones (under 30), in order to sustain, and indeed develop, its mission to encourage and promote the availability and enjoyment of a wide range of quality real ales in East Staffordshire and South Derbyshire.