Bass Charrington Ltd

Now The National Brewery Centre

Horninglow St, Burton upon Trent,
Staffordshire, DE14 1NG


+44 1283 532880

First Visited

(School Trip)

Founded by William Bass in 1777, in the town of Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire. Although monks had been brewing beer in this town since the 12th century, it was William Bass who laid the foundation for securing Burton’s status as the focal point of Britain’s brewing activities. By 1791 Michael Bass, William’s son, was actively engaged in his father’s business.

By the turn of the century the increased volume of brewing, now 2,000 barrels per year, compelled the family to expand the High Street brewery to twice its original size. In 1821 the company became one of the first brewers to export ale to India after discovering that it was a suitable product for warm climates. Thus was born the ‘East India Pale Ale,’ which many other brewers soon imitated.

Michael Thomas Bass, William’s grandson, assumed control of the brewery in 1827 when brewing capacity had reached nearly 10,000 barrels per year. By 1837 the company was known by the name of Bass, Ratcliffe & Gretton, after two fellow businessmen–John Gretton and Richard Ratcliffe–who had formed a partnership with Bass. The expansion of the railways greatly benefited the growing business; Burton ales, transported across the nation, became widely recognized as premier brands. With Bass’s output surpassing 140,000 barrels a year by 1853, a second brewery was needed. By 1860 volume had increased threefold; a third brewery was constructed.

By 1876 Bass was recognized; it was now Britain’s largest brewing company. Its bottled ale was so popular that the company was forced to become the first firm in England to make use of the Trade Marks Registration Act of 1875 to protect its red pyramid trademark. A few years prior to Michael Bass’s death in 1884, the business was organized as a private limited company. The old brewery on High Street was renovated, but now the Bass empire covered 145 acres of land, the largest ale and bitter beer brewery in the world.

In 1888, under the leadership of Michael Bass’s eldest son, Michael A. Bass, later Lord Burton, the company was incorporated as Bass, Ratcliffe & Gretton Ltd. with a share capital of £2.7 million. Output neared one million barrels a year; more than 2,500 men and boys were employed at the breweries.  In the same year that Lord Burton incorporated the company, Gretton’s son, John Gretton, Jr., joined the firm. After assuming control of the malting department in 1893, Gretton went on to join the board of directors. Gretton also served as a Conservative MP between 1895 and 1943. Among his many political causes, Gretton opposed the Licensing Bill of 1908 and trade restrictions on the brewing industry during World War I. Upon Lord Burton’s death in 1908, Gretton assumed the title of Bass’s chairman.

During the next decades Bass’s management, unlike that of many competitors, adhered to the free trade system whereby the company relied on small traders to bottle and stock its products. Increasingly, the more common practice for British brewers was to run their own ‘public houses’ as outlets to retail their beer. Bass did own a few public houses, but preferred to depend on the continuing national popularity of its brands to achieve expansion. As long as Bass remained in such high demand, the retailing could be left to the free trade customers. While competitors chose to invest money in the improvement of their public houses, Gretton ignored the trend and neglected his properties. Instead, his company spent the decade of the 1920s acquiring several other breweries. In 1926 Bass purchased control of Worthington & Company Ltd., a long-established competitor also located in Burton-on-Trent. The Worthington label, like that of Bass, enjoyed a national reputation. This acquisition, however, did not lead to the kind of merger common in today’s market; Worthington remained virtually an autonomous operation.

While Bass continued making acquisitions, including the purchase of a wine and spirit operation, further changes in the industry occurred that were at odds with Bass’s traditional approach. The small but growing firm of Mitchells & Butler not only set an industry example by improving its public house properties, but also led a trend in initiating a policy of direct brewery management. Formerly, most brewery-owned houses were run by tenants who were given a free hand to operate the business. Mitchells & Butler imposed new regulations on the tenant managers; it compelled them to sell more of the firm’s own beer rather than national brands such as Bass and Worthington. This policy ensured higher earnings and, therefore, a greater return on their investment. Such actions undercut Bass’s market position.

Gretton had become preoccupied with his nonbusiness activities. He was deeply involved in political life, a vocal advocate of conservative causes. Bass management was not entirely asleep, however. When awareness of hygiene and quality drew consumers to pasteurized and bottled products, Bass capitalized on the trend: it introduced its ‘Blue Triangle’ brand in 1934. Sales of this bottled version of the older ‘Red Triangle’ grew steadily.

After Gretton died in 1947, Arthur Manners, a longtime Bass executive, assumed the title of chairman. Like Gretton’s, his management style was conservative. Yet between the late 1940s and the late 1950s Bass’s net profits increased by 123 percent. Expansion took the form of share acquisitions in the equity of fellow brewers. Bass acquired holdings in William Hancock & Company and Wenlock Brewery Company.

Over the next few years, however, Bass’s failure to adopt a more modern business approach helped to create competition that previously did not exist. Because of the ‘tied house’ system, Bass beer lost popularity to more aggressively marketed national brands and regionally brewed pale ales. The company refused to update its pricing system or adjust to changing public tastes toward milder beers. Even Bass’s holdings in other companies were mismanaged; integration was nonexistent and redundant operations put a strain on profits. Although Bass operated an extensive trading network, controlled 17 subsidiaries across the United Kingdom, and still manufactured a venerated beer, a major change was in order.

When Arthur Manners retired as chairman in 1952, his position was filled by C.A. Ball, a 65-year-old executive who had started his career as Manners’s typist. Although Ball recognized the need to modernize by hiring professional managers, Bass’s decline had progressed too far. Ball died in 1959 and was succeeded by the nearly 70-year-old Sir James Grigg, a former cabinet minister under Churchill. Grigg’s first action as chairman was to find a suitable merger to help the company solve growing financial difficulties.

H. Alan Walker, the dynamic chief executive director of Mitchells & Butler, approached Grigg, and an agreement was soon completed. Walker had built Mitchells & Butler into one of the most efficient and financially successful breweries in the industry. By closing down unprofitable operations, by modernizing marketing and production, and by acquiring other breweries, he had significantly improved the company’s performance. Yet Walker’s company was not large enough to protect itself against any potential takeover bid; he was looking for a merger of his own choosing. Bass, Ratcliffe & Gretton merged with Mitchells & Butler in 1961.

At virtually the same time, another industry merger occurred that would play an important role in Bass’s future. In 1962 Charrington & Company Ltd., a London brewery with a history dating back to 1766, merged with United Breweries, the brewers of the national brands of Carling Lager and Jubilee Stout. Whereas Charrington functioned in many ways as a family concern, United was a new consortium of medium-sized brewers from various parts of the United Kingdom.

The formation of Charrington United Breweries created a well-balanced national company with strong ties to London and an established distribution network across the United Kingdom. Almost the exact same thing could be said of the Bass, Mitchells & Butler merger. With Walker assuming the title of chief executive and Grigg maintaining his position as chairman, the management began a program of rationalization to integrate and modernize the companies’ operations.

By the late 1960s, however, the management of both newly formed companies recognized the unfulfilled potential in their firms’ performance. Although Charrington United Breweries controlled a variety of regional brands, the company lacked a premium draft beer such as Bass or Worthington. Bass, Mitchells & Butler lacked a spirit and soft drinks business as successful as that of Charrington United Breweries’ Canada Dry subsidiary. Although the mergers improved the two companies’ national distribution networks, areas of weakness existed for both firms. In 1967 a new merger was arranged between Charrington United Breweries and Bass, Mitchells & Butler.

Bass Charrington Ltd. was an immediate success. The easy integration process was followed by years of effort to improve market position. This improvement slowed for a short time between 1973 and 1974 as a result of rising inflation and economic recession.

By 1975, however, company performance once again improved, and Bass Charrington began to garner the benefits from its investments and expansion.

In 1996 Bass reached an agreement to acquire 50 percent of Carlsberg-Tetley for £200 million. The intention was to merge the rival brewer into Bass Brewers (the company’s beer subsidiary), with Bass PLC owning 80 percent of the resultant business and Carlsberg A/S owning 20 percent. Bass Brewers would have become the number one brewery firm in the United Kingdom, with a 37 percent market share, but the deal was blocked for antitrust reasons in mid-1997 by the country’s secretary of trade and industry. Bass suffered a further blow to its expansion efforts in October 1997 when it was outbid for William Hill, a chain of betting shops, by the Nomura Securities Co., Ltd. Meanwhile, in April 1997 Bass reduced its presence in the mid-market hotel sector by selling 60 company-managed Holiday Inns in the United States and Canada to Bristol Hotel Company for US$391 million and a minority stake in Bristol that initially stood at 36 percent. In October of that same year, Bass launched its fourth hotel brand, Staybridge Suites, a new entry into the growing extended-stay niche.

While continuing to seek out acquisition targets, Bass from December 1997 to August 1998 disposed of a host of businesses, raising £1.3 billion in the process. These included all of the company’s gambling-related operations: the Coral chain of betting shops, the Gala bingo chain, and the subsidiaries that focused on manufacturing electronic entertainment and gaming machines. Also sold off were the firm’s leased pub business and more than 300 smaller managed pubs. Following the divestments, Bass created a new pub and restaurant division called Bass Leisure Retail.

As its cash horde was growing through the portfolio pruning, Bass finally completed, in March 1998, a long-awaited major acquisition. That month the company bought the Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts chain from the Saison Group of Japan for £1.8 billion (US$2.9 billion), besting Marriott International, Inc. in an intense bidding war. The addition of Inter-Continental’s 117 upscale hotels provided Bass with a bolstered presence in the high end of the hotel market, particularly in Latin America and Europe–where it had a weak position compared with its core U.S. market. Inter-Continental became part of the newly named Bass Hotels & Resorts division.

In mid-1999 Bass Hotels launched a two-year, £900 million (US$1.4 billion) expansion program as the first step in a five-year plan to quadruple the size of its upscale Inter-Continental and Crowne Plaza brands. Expansion in the North American market was particularly targeted for these brands. At the same time, the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express chains were to be expanded in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and China. Further growth of the lodging unit came in January 2000 through the purchase of Southern Pacific Hotels Corporation, operator of 59 hotels in the Asia-Pacific region, for about £128 million.

By early 2000 Bass operated the world’s second largest hotel group, with nearly 3,000 properties and 480,000 rooms. The hospitality businesses, which included both Bass Hotels & Resorts and Bass Leisure Retail, were driving growth at the company, particularly compared with the continuing doldrums of the brewing operation. With the additional impetus of an ongoing consolidation drive in the world beer industry, Bass made the historic decision to sell Bass Brewers, reaching an agreement with Interbrew S.A. of Belgium in June 2000 on a £2.3 billion (US$3.5 billion) deal. Provided that the deal passed antitrust muster, Bass would be able to use the proceeds to further expand its lodging empire, including a planned entrance into the timeshare market. The fragmented hotel industry was ripe for global consolidation. The company also hoped that its stock would rise in value with the jettisoning of the now albatross-like brewing operations. Later in 2000, Bass also placed up for sale its pub operations, with Japan’s Nomura understood to be a likely buyer. It was speculated that Bass might eventually sell off all of Bass Leisure Retail, transforming itself into a pure hotel company. In any event, it was clear that in his 13 years at the helm of Bass, Prosser had thoroughly transformed the company. In October 2000 Prosser stepped down as chief executive but remained chairman; Tim Clarke, who had headed Bass Leisure Retail, stepped up to the chief executive slot.

Text Source: Reference for Business

Beers Tried

Photo Gallery

Some of the Bass (Charrington) Pubs (My Old Haunts)

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