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History of Pubs/Bars in England

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Young Yoon
Term Paper, AP European History Class, July 2008

Table of Contents
I. Definitions
II. Mother of Public Houses - Inns and Alehouses
II.1 Inns
II.1.1 The Roman Road Network and the Emergence of Inns
II.1.2 Responsibilities of Inns and Taverns
II.1.3 Inn Signs
II.2 Alehouses
II.3 Different Drinking Establishments for Different Classes
III. Introduction of Beer from the Netherlands
IV. Spread of Gin and Gin Palaces
V. Beer Houses and the 1830 Beer Act
VI. Creation of the Saloon
VII. Wine and Beerhouse Act 1869
VIII. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            A pub is an abbreviation of "public house", which commonly refers to the establishment that serves alcoholic drinks to people in the premises. A bar is a type of pub, usually located within establishments such as hotels, restaurants, or universities, and is characterized by the specialized counter on which drinks are served. Public houses are most commonly found in English speaking countries, especially in the United Kingdom.
            This paper will focus on the pubs and bars from the middle ages to the nineteenth century in British society, in which pubs first appeared as a significant part of daily life and continue to play a unique role in the modern world.

II. Mother of Public Houses - Inns and Alehouses

II.1 Inns

II.1.1 The Roman Road Network and the Emergence of Inns
            Since the Bronze Age British people had been drinking ale, a type of beer brewed from malted barley, but not until the Romans and their road network arrived did the first inns begin to appear. In Britain, as in other provinces, the Romans constructed a comprehensive network of paved trunk roads (i.e. surfaced highways) during their nearly four centuries of occupation (43 - 410 A.D.) (1). With the paving of roads and thus easier traveling came the need for establishments for travelers to sleep and eat in. The earliest inns served the purpose of refreshing travelers and replaced the role of accommodation of travelers previously held by monasteries. The Hostellers of London were granted guild status in 1446 and in 1514 the guild became the Worshipful Company of Innholders (2)

II.1.2 Responsibilities of Inns and Taverns
            English common law early imposed social responsibilities for the well-being of travelers upon the inns and taverns, declaring them to be public houses which must receive all travelers in reasonable condition who were willing to pay the price for food, drink, and lodging. (3)
            During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a royal act required selected innkeepers to maintain stables and in some cases to act as unofficial postmasters. Some public houses even issued unofficial coins in the mid-1600s, which were guaranteed to be exchanged in realm's currency.

II.1.3 Inn Signs
            The Romans started the culture of inn and pub signs in England. The "Tabernae" would hang vine leaves outside their doors to show that they were selling wine, and British sufficed their signs with small evergreen bushes, to stand for wine, and long poles used for stirring ale, to stand for beer.
            By the 12th century naming pubs became popular throughout the nation, and with pub naming came pub signs, for the majority of people could not read or write. In 1393, King Richard II. passed an Act that required pubs and inns to have their own signs and thus identify them to the official Ale Taster.
            The signs often reflected British daily life. Before Henry the Eighth and his Reformation, the inn signs would have religious themes, such as "The Crossed Keys" as an emblem of St. Peter. After the Reformation, the signs changed their themes to such names as "The Rose and the Crown". A common name of pubs, the "Red Lion", was made popular in the time of James the I. and VI. of Scotland, 1603. The "White Lion" is connected to Edward IV. and the "White Boar" was an emblem of Richard III. II.2 Alehouses
            Ale was a common drink in England during the middle ages, but alehouses did not emerge as a solid institution until the sixteenth century. The impact of the Protestant Reformation played a major role in bringing the alehouse on the stage of major establishments. Before the Protestant Reformation, the parish church was the center of town life. It was in and around the church that people feasted and celebrated, held social activities, gathered to discuss social issues, and found accommodation; the alehouse was never a favorite communal establishment. However, under Henry VIII. and Edward VI., the dissolution of monasteries, guilds, and chantries led to the cessation of such activities, for austere Protestantism frowned upon celebrations and frivolity around the holy church. Thus the alehouse emerged as a significant institution of drinking, eating, and lodging. During the fifteenth century, ale selling became more sophisticated and centered around the brewing place, instead of the rudimentary trade previously done by women brewing in their household kitchens. Men replaced women as the ale sellers, and increasingly provided "drinking rooms", where they provided food as well as drink.
            Peter Clark, an expert on the history of British alehouses from the late middle ages to the nineteenth century, views them as a recreation center of the middle ages. Alehouses were places to relax from a hard day's work, to meet friends and talk, to relax with friends and lovers, and to even marry and divorce. During this period marriage laws were vague, and it was possible for any couple that declared their vows in front of a large crowd to get married ? and such ceremonies were likely to have happened in the rowdy atmosphere of alehouses. The destitute would find food and shelter at low prices and could defer payment until they could pay.
            In 1552, the crown sought to control the drunkenness and social disorder caused by the increased number of alehouses. Under the Alehouse Act of 1552, nobody was allowed to sell beer or ale without receiving a license from the local magistrate.

II.3 Different Drinking Establishments for Different Classes
            By the 1800s, the establishments were divided internally to segregate the various classes of customers. Public houses - inns or taverns - were considered socially superior to alehouses, beerhouses, and gin shops. (4)

III. Introduction of Beer from Netherlands
            In the early 15th century, the manufacture of beer was introduced from the Netherlands. Beer was made by adding hop, a kind of plant, to the traditional British ale.

IV. The Spread of Gin and Gin Palaces
            Gin was introduced to England in the 18th century, by the Dutch after the Glorious Revolution in 1688. It created the Gin Craze in 1740, for the government policies of allowing unlicensed gin production and heavily imposing duties on imported alcohols lowered the gin prices. Thousands of gin-shops sprang up in London and spread across the country, while beerhouses and alehouses also increased to lash back against this movement. Such increase in drinking led to general degradation of the working class. William Hogarth warned the public of the unpleasant consequences of alcoholism in his engravings "Beer Street" and "Gin Lane". In 1751 the second Gin Act was passed to limit gin selling only to licensed retailers, and also to place gin-shops under control of local magistrates.
            By the early 1800s Gin Palaces mushroomed in major cities of Britain, and caused serious health and moral problems in England. These drinking lairs gave birth to innumerous crimes and the deathly epidemic of alcoholism.

V Beer Houses and the 1830 Beer Act
            In response to the Gin Craze, the government passed the Beer Act of 1830, which allowed a new set of premises called the Beer Houses to sell alcohol. Anyone could brew and sell cider or beer in his household after paying a certain rate, but only cider or beer. Selling any other alcohol other than beer by these Beerhouses was forbidden, because beer was viewed as a healthy alternative to the evil gin, even by the evangelical church.
            Beerhouses were so profitable and so popular that their number multiplied by more than one hundred during eight years of the Act and far outnumbered the total of pre-established taverns, inns, public houses and hotels. Their growth finally ceased in 1869 by licensing laws and control of the magistrate, but the Beerhouses that had already been established continued to prosper until the end of the 19th century. The majority of these beer houses applied to become full public houses, gaining the right to sell any kinds of alcohol.

VI Creation of the Saloon
            By the end of the 18th century, the saloon was introduced to the pub. It was a kind of a luxury room; people could enjoy other entertainment as well as drinking for a higher price or an admission fee. The Balls Pond Road in Islington was named after the establishment run by Mr. Ball who had a duck pond behind the pub, so that drinkers could shoot a few ducks after paying a certain fee. A card room or a billiards room was also popular.
            A most famous London saloon was the Grecian Saloon in The Eagle, City Road, which is still famous these days because of an English nursery rhyme: "Up and down the City Road / In and out The Eagle / That's the way the money goes / Pop goes the weasel.". The implication being that, having frequented the Eagle public house, the customer spent all his money, and thus needed to 'pawn' his 'weasel' to get some more. The exact definition of the 'weasel' is unclear but the two most likely definitions are: that a weasel is a flat iron used for finishing clothing; or that 'weasel' is cockney rhyming slang for a coat (weasel and stoat). (5)
            By the 20th century, the saloon was differentiated from the public bar by several qualities. A saloon was for the middle-class - carpets on the floor, cushions on the seats, and a penny or two on the prices (6) while the public bar remained for the working class with bare boards, sometimes with sawdust to absorb the spitting and spillages, hard bench seats, and cheap beer. (7)
            In the 1960s and 1970s, however, class division was blurred and many public houses abolished the partition walls between saloons and public bars.

VII Wine and Beerhouse Act 1869
            The Wine and Beerhouse Act of 1869 re-established control over drunkenness in society by requiring retailers to receive licenses from justices to sell beer and liquor both inside and outside the premises. Gaming, drunkenness, prostitution, and other forms of undesirable behavior were controlled by further clauses, and the granting, transferring, and renewing of licenses were refined to special Licensing Sessions courts, and to a limited "respectable" few such as ex-policemen or ex-servicemen. Licenses generally restricted the opening and closing hours, and required provision of food and lavatories.

VIII Conclusion
            The British pub started out as a small building of accommodation where travelers found food and shelter, and developed into a communal establishment where locals made relationships as well as getting drunk. With the change of function came various legislations restricting the drunken behavior of people, and drinks served in public houses changed from ale to gin and beer to all sorts of alcoholic beverages. The modern British pub still serves the role of popular social meeting places, where people eat, drink, meet friends and simply relax, like any regular caf? or small restaurant. Contrary to a dim, noisy room filled with fighting drunkards and smoking card players, the popular Hollywood version of the "pub", the real public house in British history is actually a place for more than just drinking ? it was a local entertainment center, that provided a change of scenery to tired travelers and workers, and a warm shelter for the poor.


(1)      Article : "Roman roads in Britain", from Wikipedia
(2)      Article : "Public House", from Wikipedia
(3)      Article : "Public House", from Encyclopedia Britannica, online edition
(4)      ibid.
(5)      Pub Memorabilia Mon, 30th Jun 2008
(6)      RateBeer ˇ°Time Gentlemen Please!ˇ± April 7 2004
(7)      ibid.


Note : websites quoted below were visited at the end of June 2008.
1.      Article : "Public House", from Wikipedia, 29 June 2008,
2.      Heather Thomas, "What contribution was made by the alehouse to the life of early modern towns ?", from,
3.      Article: "Inn and Pub Signs of Britain", from,
4.      Article: "public house", from Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008 Online.. 29 Jun. 2008 .
5.      Article: "See you down the Pub !", from Local History Magazine, 1998,
6.      Mandy Barrow, ˇ°Public Houses (Pubs)ˇ±, from,
7.      License Victuallers Records,

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