Cromford to Burton-on-Trent Great British Railway Journeys


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Cromford to Burton-on-Trent

Michael Portillo visits the oldest working factory in the world at Cromford and explores the country's first public park in Derby.


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In 1840, one man transformed travel in Britain.

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His name was George Bradshaw and his railway guides inspired the Victorians to take to the tracks.

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Stop by stop, he told them where to travel, what to see and where to stay.

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Now, 170 years later, I'm making four long journeys across the length and breadth of the country

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to see what remains of Bradshaw's Britain.

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Today I'm leaving the green peaks of Derbyshire

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for the county's industrial heartland,

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travelling to the very origins of the industrial revolution,

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to towns and cities that were transformed by manufacturing,

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many of them created by the railways.

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Along the way I'll be visiting the oldest working factory in the world...

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Made in England.

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-Does that make you proud?

-Yes. That's what we like to see.

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I'll be escaping from busy city life...

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We think it's Britain's first public park, laid out in 1840.

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And I'll be discovering why Burton's beer is said to be the best.

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Two weeks conditioning in the cask, a week in the pub...

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-And ten minutes to drink.

-You're a slow drinker!

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-Pivo Burtonski.

-Pivo Burtonski.

-Pivo Burtonski.

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All this week I'm travelling from Buxton,

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along one of the earliest railway routes in England.

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Each day I'll be stopping at towns and cities recommended in my Bradshaw's guide...

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..until I reach the end of the line in London.

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Having started from Matlock Bath, today I'll be covering the next 30 miles along the track via Derby

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and onwards to Burton-on-Trent.

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But my first stop is Cromford.

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Nowadays, the beautiful Grade II listed station is set in a rural idyll.

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-Good morning.

-Hi.

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Can you tell me anything about that beautiful house on the platform?

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It's the old station house that used to be the waiting room

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-for the railway station.

-And what is it now?

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It's a guest house now.

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It's a beautiful station.

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There are just two trains an hour.

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But in Bradshaw's day this was one of the Industrial Revolution's most important towns.

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This beautifully restored railway station at Cromford

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has a very important part in history.

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As Bradshaw says, "Here, Arkwright set up his first mill in 1771."

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Really never was so much important history crammed into such a small half sentence as that.

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Richard Arkwright built several mills at Cromford, in which he developed the modern factory system.

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It was a new way of working, that was soon copied all over Britain.

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The first was a water-powered cotton-spinning mill.

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And this is it,

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the first factory in the world.

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Because before this, people in the cotton industry

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had done their spinning and weaving in their own houses - the cottage industries.

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Now Arkwright brings it all together under one roof,

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powered by water,

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in a factory.

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Quite incredible to think that, 240 years ago, there were no factories.

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This is beginning of industrialisation, right here.

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In his new factories, Arkwright could process huge quantities of cloth very quickly.

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And the River Derwent provided a cheap power supply.

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The village of Cromford is not what I expected.

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It's much prettier.

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It doesn't seem like the place that would be the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

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But now I think about it, Arkwright established his mill here

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partly because he needed the water and partly because his family lived at the local castle, Willesley.

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I can see an example of water power still operating, a water mill at the far end of this stretch of water.

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Arkwright's factory is a now a museum.

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But nearby is the world's oldest factory still in use.

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It was set up in 1784 by Arkwright's finance director, Peter Nightingale,

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a relative of Florence Nightingale.

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His business partner was a Mr John Smedley.

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Good morning.

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Very historic room. Hello.

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-I'm Michael Portillo.

-Hello. Nice to meet you. Thanks for joining us.

-Great to see you.

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'Ian McClean is one of his descendants.

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'The Smedley family has been producing knitwear here for over two centuries.'

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This is incredibly historic.

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-What's the date outside?

-1784.

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-So, just 13 years after Arkwright.

-That's right.

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So Arkwright was the first mill to be built, then there were two others, and we were the fourth.

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Now the others are long since out of business,

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and that makes us the oldest manufacturing business in the world.

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Of course the factory's been added to so many times over the years that it makes it almost like a rabbit warren.

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-It's quite difficult to find your way around sometimes.

-Parliament is just the same.

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I was there 20 years and I think by the end of it I only knew about a tenth of it.

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This looks pretty ancient through here.

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I'll show you the original 1784 mill building,

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-which is a little bit hidden within the structure of the factory.

-1784, that is incredible, isn't it?

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-Yes. That's right back at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

-Yeah.

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-The railways weren't here in 1784.

-No, that's right.

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-So the railways weren't fundamental to the development of this business.

-The canals came first, in 1776.

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And then the first railway came in 1831.

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To where?

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High Peak Junction at Cromford. I think it was integral to the growth of the business.

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The arrival of the railway in the 1830s transformed industry here.

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The High Peak line allowed local factories to transport goods all over the country.

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So this is history and this is modernity here, so if we look in the historic part...

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-Do you mean literally, you keep this as a museum?

-No, not at all.

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These are very much working machines which make the garments that we sell.

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What they do is they make individual pieces of the garments, so one machine will make the collar,

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another will make the front and another will make the back,

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and then another machine will make the rib that goes around the arm.

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And then very skilled hand workers will then link, by hand, those pieces of the garment together.

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It really does look as though we are looking from...

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Well, we are looking from one century to another.

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That's right. Absolutely.

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These machines through here are the very latest technology.

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When the newest machines were introduced in 2006,

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it became possible to make garments in one whole piece.

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These seamless clothes are meant to be exceptionally comfortable.

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I think what's important is that whenever a new technology comes along,

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we're one of the first people to use it.

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And you're not tempted to go off and do it all in China?

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Absolutely not. No, no. We see the value of manufacturing in England.

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The quality of the clothing is, in part, thanks to being washed in local spring water.

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It's unusually soft in this area and gives the cotton a silky feel.

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So here these are sweaters and tops and so on.

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-Yep.

-But you're also famous for long johns.

-That's right, yes.

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It's said that this is where long johns were invented...

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-Morning.

-Morning.

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How are you? Good morning.

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..named after Ian's ancestor, John Smedley.

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Is there a special feel to being in a family business?

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Yes, of course. It is not just my family, being the owners, but there are many generations of people

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who have worked in the factory for us.

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-Good morning.

-Hello there.

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Good morning. How are you all? Which one is Julie?

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-I am.

-Julie, hello. I'm Michael.

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-How do you do?

-Fine, thank you.

-Have you been long in the business?

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'Julie is one such employee whose family has made its living around this factory for four generations.'

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My grandma worked here.

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My sister worked here for a while.

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My daughter. My son, who does still actually work here, as well.

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-Are there any other ladies who also have family going back like yours?

-Yeah.

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I don't know about the grandparents but actually in this room alone, we have got a mother and a daughter.

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We've got three sisters. Then we've got another set of two sisters. That's just in this room, so...

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It is quite a family orientated business, definitely.

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And what is it that you're actually doing?

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My job is I actually put the back knit labels in,

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which is the "John Smedley - Made in England."

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-Made in England.

-Made in England.

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-Does that make you proud?

-Oh, yes. That's what we like to see.

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-Thank you.

-Bye.

-Bye.

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It's incredibly rare to find a business like this.

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Not only has the same family run the company for over 200 years,

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but the employees stay generation after generation.

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A family supported by one industry, decade after decade, is a way of life which has all but died out.

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Hi, gentlemen.

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I'm now leaving Cromford, and travelling another 15 miles down the railway line to Derby.

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Good afternoon. Tickets, please.

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Thank you very much.

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What time into Derby?

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14:22.

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-Thank you very much indeed.

-Thank you.

-Bye-bye.

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I don't know Derby very well, but I associate it with heavy industry,

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with aero engines and the manufacturer of rolling railway stock.

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But I am looking forward to it, because Bradshaw raves about the hotel where I'm going to stay.

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He normally only gives a hotel one line but here he says,

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"It is gratifying to be able to refer to an establishment like this,

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"which deservedly enjoys the highest reputation.

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"It possesses all the comforts of a home and there is no lack of the spirit necessary

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"to provide, to the fullest extent, everything which can recommend it to its patrons."

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Then you have to kind of wonder what was going on here, because it goes on to say,

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"It is conducted in the most able manner by Mrs Chatfield.

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"And it may claim to rank amongst the first hotels of England."

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Well I am afraid, Mrs Chatfield won't be there any more but I'm looking forward to it nonetheless.

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..Derby, please note our departure time is scheduled for 14:24.

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Bye. Thanks.

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There's Mrs Chatfield's hotel right there, which is

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not surprising, really, because it is a railway hotel.

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It is actually the second one ever built in Britain.

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It was so convenient for the passengers that they built a tunnel underneath

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so that the baggage could be taken directly to the hotel from the station.

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And I am in very distinguished company because Queen Victoria once stayed here.

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Opened in 1841, the Midland Hotel was one of the first railway hotels outside London

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and was reserved exclusively for first-class passengers.

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Thankfully today, you don't need an expensive ticket or blue blood to stay here.

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Hello.

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-Hello.

-I'm checking in, please. Michael Portillo.

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-Yes. Would you just like to sign there for me?

-Thank you very much.

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I am going to go off and see some of the sights

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so I'm not just going up to the room at the moment but you know that I'm here anyway.

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Only the railway companies could afford to build luxury hotels.

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As well as catering for exhausted travellers,

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they generated a lot of extra income,

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so railway hotels were soon springing up at the ends of lines.

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The railways brought wealth and investment to small rural towns like Derby,

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transforming them into industrial centres.

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In Derby, Bradshaw mentions the railway sheds but he also mentions an older industry,

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the silk mill, the first in England, built here in 1718.

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And it has the look of an Italian bell-tower.

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And there could be a reason for that.

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The English weren't very good at making silk until John Lombe stole the secret from northern Italy.

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And then an Italian worker, in revenge, murdered him in 1722.

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Lombe's newly-acquired spinning technology was soon copied throughout the region.

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By the 1860s, the Derby silk industry was booming.

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Bradshaw's guide says "There are about 25 silk mills at present."

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That was one mill for just over every 1,000 residents.

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The wealth they generated

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led to some extraordinary acts of civic generosity,

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including a new park for the city of Derby.

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And Bradshaw notes that in Derby, not far from the station,

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"is the new arboretum of 16 acres laid out in 1840 by Loudon

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"and given to the town by Joseph Strutt Esquire, a noble gift, estimated at £10,000,

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"with a couple of Elizabethan lodges and entry gratis on Wednesdays and Saturdays."

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A noble gift, indeed.

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Having made their fortune in textiles, the Strutt family wanted to give something back.

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At first, entry was free two days a week

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but, from 1882, there were no charges on any day.

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For the first time,

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the working classes could enjoy landscaped open spaces

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previously the realm of the nobility.

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It is a lovely park.

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It's got beautiful topography. He's shaped the land.

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He's put in terrific trees.

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He's decorated with urns,

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fountains, follies.

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Very Victorian and very, very lovely.

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-Is that a black walnut?

-It is a black walnut.

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-You must be Jonathan.

-You must be Michael.

-Hello. Very good to see you.

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Jonathan Oakes, a tree specialist, plays a key role in the continued restoration of the arboretum.

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This park is pretty historic.

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How important is it in history?

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Well, we think it is Britain's first public park, laid out in 1840 and given to the people of Derby in 1840.

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Laid out by Loudon. Who was he?

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Loudon was a prolific author and a gardener, a landscape architect.

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He wrote a book, Arboretum Botanicum, which explained all the trees and shrubs

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that were available in the world at that time.

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By way, why is it landscaped in the way that it is? That's unusual.

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The mounds are there to give a sense of privacy,

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so people on the other side of the mound don't necessarily know you're there.

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It makes the place look bigger and feel bigger.

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It really is strikingly unusual, isn't it?

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Today we're used to landscaped gardens but Loudon's design was revolutionary at the time.

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The winding paths, ornamental flower beds and isolated trees

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were designed to educate people about plant specimens.

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He even labelled them, an idea later copied by Kew.

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Was this meant to be a place of leisure or a place of education?

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Well, this is the interesting thing.

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The benefactor, Strutt, wanted a place where people could relax and enjoy themselves.

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But Loudon, the scientist, wanted a garden, a collection,

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somewhere that was scientific and educational,

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so, inevitably, there was some kind of a compromise between the two.

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Thank you so much and bye-bye.

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In an age when religion and a sense of duty were powerful influences,

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many entrepreneurs like the Strutts spent part of their massive new fortunes for the public good.

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During the second half of the 19th century,

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trusts, charities, foundations and volunteering programmes all sprang up.

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It was a golden age of philanthropy.

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Having shared a roof with Queen Victoria,

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I'm leaving Derby now and going to Burton,

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the home of brewing.

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And Bradshaw says, "The great seat of Sir John Barleycorn is on the Staffordshire side of the Trent.

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"Bass, Allsopp and Worthington are the chief ale kings here

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"and acres covered with barrels and casks may be seen.

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"Vast quantities of pale ale are exported to tropical climates

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"and drunk by thirsty souls at home as a tonic."

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So there is something to look forward to.

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Platform 1b.

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On time.

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The last leg of my journey today takes me, from Derby, another 11 miles south to Burton.

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Tickets and passes from Derby station to your destination.

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I'm in town, come right on down.

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You're in good form today!

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-Tous les jours, monsieur, tous les jours!

-Merci, monsieur.

-Merci bien.

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The railway lines were critical to the growth of industry

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but water was also instrumental in the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

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Used to power mills and factories, it also helped put Burton on the industrial map.

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The full name for Burton, of course, is Burton-on-Trent.

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And the water of the Trent was very important also to Bradshaw.

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And he notes that the brewers, contrary to common usage, used hard water, not soft water.

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So I shall be intrigued to find out about that.

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"Burton on Trent. A Gateway to The National Forest."

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As soon as you come out of Burton station you can tell that this town

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is dedicated to a single industry, to beer.

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In place of the cask and barrels that was referred to in Bradshaw,

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these enormous steel vats of beer, stretching to the horizon.

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Here, the brewing industry is still big business.

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I'm meeting Jeff Mumford here, who apparently knows everything about beer in Burton.

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I don't know what he looks like but he says I'll know him when I see him.

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HE LAUGHS

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Mr Mumford, I assume.

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Mr Portillo, I presume.

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Jeff co-owns Burton Bridge Breweries, the largest independent brewer in town.

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-Can we go and see your brewery?

-You certainly can.

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-In this thing?

-Yep.

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Before the railways, there were only ten breweries in Burton.

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But the number tripled after the station was built.

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-No seatbelts!

-No.

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25 ale trains left Burton every day, with breweries even building

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their own tracks to connect with the railway companies.

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Has this always been a brewery?

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It was part of a brewery, not totally a brewery.

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Part of Joseph Nunnelly's brewery.

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-This was actually a small maltings, built in 1823.

-There we are, 1823.

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-Yes.

-And the MH stands for...?

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-Malt house.

-Good morning.

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Michael. This is Bruce, the brewer of the partnership.

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Michael Portillo. Lovely stench.

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No, I think aroma sounds so much better than stench, if you don't mind.

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So what you're actually smelling is the aroma from the hops, which makes the beer bitter.

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The aroma will go up and improve the general aroma of Burton-on-Trent, and we put some hops in later,

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at the end of the process, to get the aroma of the hop in the beer.

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How much beer will this thing make?

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This thing will make 3,500 pints, which, in terms of Burton's production, is pretty small, because

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of every gallon of beer drunk in Britain, one pint of that is brewed in Burton.

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-One eighth of all the beer drunk in Britain is brewed in Burton?

-That is correct, yes.

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And ours is a small proportion of that at the moment but it's growing all the time.

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How long does all that process take?

0:23:140:23:16

It takes a day to convert the malt and hops into beer for the fermenting vessel,

0:23:160:23:22

a week in the fermenting vessel, two weeks conditioning in the cask, a week in the pub...

0:23:220:23:28

-And ten minutes to drink.

-You're a slow drinker!

0:23:280:23:30

Today Burton produces less of the country's beer

0:23:320:23:36

than it did in Victorian times, when it brewed a quarter of the pints sold in Britain.

0:23:360:23:42

For once, the English climate was helpful - for beer at least -

0:23:420:23:45

being neither too hot nor too cold, but just right to allow fermentation throughout the winter.

0:23:450:23:52

By 1890, there were over 30 breweries here, all exploiting a special local ingredient.

0:23:520:23:58

Now, in my Bradshaw's Guide, he says that, contrary to what is normal,

0:23:580:24:05

here in Burton you use hard water in the beer. Is that true?

0:24:050:24:09

Oh, yeah. That is the unique characteristic of Burton water.

0:24:090:24:13

It gives better hop utilisation,

0:24:130:24:16

crisper, clearer flavours, and lighter-coloured beers.

0:24:160:24:22

But only suitable for brewing ales.

0:24:220:24:24

Down the road where they produce lagers, they take all the salts out of the water

0:24:240:24:29

and brew lagers with very soft, Pilsen-style water.

0:24:290:24:32

Burton beer was so popular during the 19th century that it was in demand all over the world.

0:24:340:24:40

And this was the stuff that, according to Bradshaw, was shipped out to India? This sort of beer?

0:24:400:24:45

-Yes, very much so.

-And why? Why was Burton able to do that?

0:24:450:24:48

The purity of the water made the beer very sterile and just ideal for travelling a long distance.

0:24:480:24:55

-It must have taken a long time in those days to get to India.

-It took about six months.

0:24:550:25:00

And you're still making a kind of India Pale Ale, even though it's not going to India.

0:25:010:25:05

Yeah, the closest we get is it sits there for six months.

0:25:050:25:08

Oh, I see, so...

0:25:080:25:10

-like a voyage?

-Yes, short of putting it on a pontoon in the Trent, that is the closest we can get to it.

0:25:100:25:15

Of course, it was the railways that enabled Burton brewers to send their beer around the globe,

0:25:150:25:21

and Burton had plenty of them.

0:25:210:25:24

Oh, it was the biggest private rail network in the country.

0:25:240:25:28

It was said that no one could rob a bank in Burton because they would

0:25:280:25:32

never get through all the crossing gates, the level crossings, in time.

0:25:320:25:36

-Traffic jams everywhere?

-Well, there were.

0:25:360:25:39

I came in '64 and said I'd never come back to this place but I've lived here for 28 years now!

0:25:390:25:44

I think that is enough talking about it.

0:25:440:25:46

-Can we actually sample some, please?

-I think that's a good idea. Come this way.

-All right. Thank you.

0:25:460:25:50

-The finished article. Cheers!

-Cheers.

0:25:550:25:59

But there is a more appropriate toast, that was used in the courts of Russia, with Burton beer.

0:25:590:26:04

A lot of the beer went out to the Baltic and to Russia and it was

0:26:040:26:07

very popular in the Russian courts, and that toast was "Pivo Burtonski."

0:26:070:26:13

-Pivo Burtonski!

-Pivo Burtonski.

0:26:130:26:16

Although the beer industry is still going strong, there's been a cost.

0:26:210:26:26

The natural resources around Burton were squeezed like a sponge.

0:26:260:26:31

Coal to heat the brewing liquor, wood for the millions of barrels in which it was stored.

0:26:310:26:37

Centuries of intense brewing have scarred the surrounding landscape.

0:26:370:26:43

But that's being remedied.

0:26:430:26:45

Burton is in the middle of an area being planted with millions of trees as part of the new National Forest.

0:26:450:26:51

Set up in 1990, eventually it will cover 200 square miles.

0:26:510:26:57

As I've travelled through the Midlands, I've noticed how much the landscape bears the signs

0:27:020:27:08

of the massive changes between Bradshaw's time and today.

0:27:080:27:11

But I've been struck by how many people and businesses

0:27:110:27:16

can trace their roots directly back to Victorian times.

0:27:160:27:20

When Bradshaw was writing, the East Midlands was at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

0:27:200:27:26

And now, as you pass through the region,

0:27:260:27:28

you're aware of the decline of mining and some de-industrialisation.

0:27:280:27:32

But here in Burton, at least, brewing is an example

0:27:320:27:36

of one British industry that's still very much in business.

0:27:360:27:39

Next time I'll be heading to the centre of the leather-making world.

0:27:500:27:54

Walsall had a very distinctive stink, did it?

0:27:540:27:59

You can say it had a tinge.

0:27:590:28:00

It had its own aroma!

0:28:000:28:03

I'll be travelling to Birmingham's Balti Triangle.

0:28:030:28:08

Pakistan is like my motherland and I call England my adopted mother.

0:28:080:28:11

I'll try and make this quite elegant.

0:28:110:28:13

Very good, sir. Very good for the first try.

0:28:150:28:18

And I'll be visiting Bourneville, which some say is the happiest place in Britain.

0:28:180:28:23

Very pleasant.

0:28:230:28:24

Very nice.

0:28:240:28:26

I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

0:28:260:28:28

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:350:28:38

Michael Portillo takes to the tracks with a copy of George Bradshaw's Victorian Railway Guidebook. In a series of four epic journeys, he travels the length and breadth of the country to see how the railways changed us and what of Bradshaw's Britain remains.

His journey takes him from Buxton along one of the first railway routes south to the capital, London. This time, Michael visits the oldest working factory in the world at Cromford, explores the country's first public park in Derby and finds out why Burton's beer is said to be the best.