Beer history

The Lost Runcorn Mega Brewery

Screenshot from A Round of Bass

The collection of documentaries about pubs from the British Film Institute we’ve been eagerly awaiting for some time has finally arrived, and our copy turned up this week. (We bought it with our own money, for the record.)

Quite apart from the aching nostalgia for an age before we born provoked by the faded films, there are lots of nuggets which demand further research.

For example, there’s the Runcorn mega brewery mentioned in A Round of Bass (dir. Geoffrey Reeve, 1972). We’ve been to Runcorn several times and never noticed any sign of the ‘most modern beer producing plant in Europe’. A quick Google turned up this academic paper (PDF) by David W Gutzke which summarises the story as follows:

Built by Bass Charrington, Britain’s pre-eminent brewery in the 1960s and 1970s, Runcorn was conceived as becoming western Europe’s largest brewery. Even before it opened in 1974, however, Runcorn was struck with paralysing labour disruptions, technological problems, and managerial miscalculations that would plague its history until its closure until 1991. What gave Runcorn broader significance was its role in reflecting the pervasive, but misplaced, assumptions about a new corporate culture, new technologies, the emergence of national brands, and advertising as a vehicle for replacing local consumer tastes with national markets.

The paper is an interesting beer-focused companion piece to Andy Beckett’s When the Lights Went Out and answers the riddle of why we didn’t spot any sign of a monstrously huge brewery on our trips to Cheshire:

Soon the entire brewery plant was dismantled and sold, with some of it shipped to Romania; Bass even disposed of the empty brewing site. Nothing remained to remind the company of a scheme so grandiose but so calamitous that its true nature was expunged from Bass’s official histories.

6 replies on “The Lost Runcorn Mega Brewery”

Ah yes, as a native of Runcorn I remember this well. It was alleged that Bass had chosen Runcorn as the location for their new brewery because of the proximity of the massive ICI plants, with which they shared many technologies 😉

A number of these “megakeggeries” have bitten the dust, including Reading and Luton, although both Magor and Samlesbury are still operational, plus the Royal Brewery in Manchester.

The location of the runcorn brewery was chosen due it’s close proximity to the M56/M62/M6 as were the other breweries mentiond ie Magor Samlesbury. Also, the cost of petrol then compaired to now was a big influence on building National breweries, it was relativley cheap to transport beer accross the country.

There was no connection with ICI ( I was working at ICI prior to joing the brewing staff at Bass).

The size of the brewery was based on beer consumption figures based on the continual rise in beer consumption during the 50’s and 60’s.

Of course the Royal Brewery in Manchester, while appearing to be some mid-seventies beer factory has a rather more illustrious history. At its core is the Red Tower Lager Brewery which dates back to 1875.

I was a visitor many times at Bass Runcorn. The site was chosen because of the confluence of motorway access. The planning process did not factor in the largely Liverpudlion workforce. Runcorn was an overspill town created for Liverpool. One example, the production vessels were built outside the buildings to save on business rates. If there was a fault the tradesmen wouldn’t work outside if it rained. The Industrial relations killed the site and saw off many good Head Brewers.

I spotted the Royal Brewery on the way to the airport last time in Manchester. Not a red tower in sight.

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