Magnus Quaife at Portland Basin Museum


Project Info


  • Magnus Quaife

Art Forms

  • Illustration


  • Portland Basin Museum
  • Arts&Heritage
  • Arts Council England Museum Resilience Fund

Project Outline

Thomas Bell Ale is part of the Meeting Point programme.

Portland Basin Museum worked with artist Magnus Quaife to uncover the old beer recipe Old Tom, a strong dark ale which was popular until Ashton under Lyne’s famous Gartside brewery closed down in the 1960s.

Magnus Quaife explains:

“I held workshops at the museum where members of the public shared their memories of Gartside’s. The stories and memories which people told me helped to inspire a zine which presents the story of Gartside’s.

Despite talking to many people who remember the brewery and its beers, mystery still surrounds the exact ingredients of Old Tom and one theory is that the recipe was hidden away by a former head brewer in the 1960s.”

Magnus unveiled the zine he produced at a special event in Portland Basin Museum’s recreated 1920s pub. Guests included local brewer Jon Hunt, of Millstone Brewery, who worked with the artist to brew a new, limited edition beer called Thomas Bell Ale, based on what is known of the recipe for Old Tom.

The name of Gartside’s Old Tom is reputedly either a reference to Captain Thomas Gartside, a relative of John Gartside senior who founded the brewery, or the head horse keeper Mr Thomas Bell who served the company from 1876 until his death in 1907.

The new brew is called Old Thomas Bell, named after the brewery’s head horse keeper. A limited number of the Thomas Bell Ale bottles are available, each of which are numbered. “The beer that is bottled for the museum launch will be numbered in the same manner as a limited edition print, therefore visitors have the choice of whether to open it and try it or to keep the artwork intact,” explained Magnus.


  • To raise profile within the locality and find new ways of engaging local community with their social history
  • Present collections in a surprising manner
  • To push boundaries and take a risk with new interpretation and presentation


Arts&Heritage is supporting the ten participating museums throughout the process, sharing knowledge of presenting contemporary art projects and commissions in non-traditional art spaces.

A networking event between the participating museums and 70 artists from across the UK took place at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and visits to artists’ studios were arranged. Museum teams also met with peers at other properties to learn how they successfully delivered contemporary art projects at their museums and heritage sites.

All museums developed their own Artist’s Brief. Following the networking event artists were invited to send in an expression of interest to museums that interested them.

Four artists were shortlisted by each museum to draw up a more detailed proposal and were paid £500 each.


  • 150 people attended the event with Marcus Quaife in October 2017
  • Some bottles created during the artwork were added to the museum’s pub display which over 23,540 have visited
  • Over 150 people took part in workshops at the museum

Magnus’ talk was fascinating, as was hearing the process of how the beer was made. A great event. event attendee

How wonderful to see the museum used for an event like this. event attendee

The Artist

Magnus Quaife’s practice considers the recirculation and re-imagination of images and forms in the art world and beyond. The emergence of myths as collective cultural and political memory are often the focus of this work. From media images of the global uprisings of 1968 to the mountains in Cezanne’s paintings and Spielberg’s films via pone masts pretending to be trees, Walter Benjamin’s grave, or Roland Barthes hobby paintings, these diverse subjects are connected by sense that nothing is quite what it seems.