"It is feared that the Licensing Bill, now before the country, if passed into law, will be the death-blow, not only to Burton — which is essentially dependent on the brewing industry — but to a great army of skilled and unskilled labourers employed in its allied trades, such as the agricultural interest in barley and hop-growing, coopering, coppersmiths, brewers' engineers, collieries, also printers, bottlers, glass-workers, and a host of others engaged in the building and furnishing trades, etc., employing certainly over 250,000 hands, throughout England and Wales.You'll note the prominence given to religious groups and clergymen. These had often been - and still were in some regions - at the forefront of those attacking the brewing trade. The Liberal party, you will remember, were responsible for the legislation in the first place.
Such a prospect has, without exaggeration, shaken Burton to its very foundations, as the mass meeting recently held in the Town Hall only too eloquently gave evidence. There its most influential men, Liberal, Conservative, Anglican, Nonconformist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian alike condemned the Government proposals in no measured terms.
The Mayor, Councillor Tresise, stated that the Government had been led into this mistake by a section of the community which decried everything connected with the beer trade. Lord Burton stigmatised the Bill as one of flagrant national dishonesty; it was called a Temperance Bill, but there was no temperance in it. He doubted if there would be one drunken man the less. The trade of Burton would dwindle away, and its future was one of the most gloomy description. The Vicar of Burton, the Rev. H. B. Freeman, said it seemed to him that the Bill attacked property, and little else; it affected all who had invested money in a legitimate trade ; it would not further the cause of temperance, for, according to Jr. Westcott's truism, "Legislation never worked moral reformation." Colonel Ratcliff, M.P. for Burton, said it was a matter of life and death to the town ; the Bill was unjust, and the time limit was no substitute for compensation. Mr. S. Briggs, J.P., as representing the allied trades, said he could speak with a great amount of knowledge of the serious dislocation of business throughout England which had already taken place on account of the Government proposals. All the other speakers unanimously supported the views of the gentlemen whose speeches we have quoted.
No firms of manufacturing industries have been more liberal in their donations to charitable objects in the town and country generally than the great brewers of Burton-on-Trent; and those who know best say, without the slightest hesitation, that, if the Bill should ever pass, the same donations would soon be required for the benefit of themselves, and that, though the impending blow would strike Burton very heavily, other towns throughout England and Wales would feel it in varying degrees of intensity, as there is not one of any pretensions without its brewery. The "black list" would be a long one, and would include not only the Metropolis, but Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby, Leicester, Newcastle and Bristol, Hull, Southampton and Wrexham, Leeds and other numerous towns in Yorkshire, Chester and Cardiff, Lancashire, Stoke and the Potteries districts, and many more. If anything could show the one-sidedness of the measure, it is the fact that not a town in either Scotland or Ireland would be affected by a single clause.
With so many towns involved, the question holds the nucleus of a national calamity, but to Burton-on-Trent the outlook is that of despair and hopeless ruin ; and we have it on the word of the highest local authority that literally — not figuratively — the grass will be growing in deserted streets and on abandoned railway lines, where at the present time the cheerful evidences of commercial activity are daily to be seen."
The Graphic, March 21st 1908, page 411.
It's a bit ironic saying the Licensing Bill was unfair because it didn't affect Scotland or Ireland. Scotland would get lumbered with a 1913 Act that introduced local veto polls and the prospect of pubs losing their licences with no compensation. Legislation even more draconian than the 1908 Licensing Bill.
Sadly, there are parts of Burton today that fit the description of grass growing in the street. Though the town remains a centre of British brewing. Compared to other centres, London and Edinburgh, for example, it's fared relatively well.