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The history of the great British pub

Author: Phoebe Leyland
by Phoebe Leyland
Posted: Sep 10, 2019
roman army

A huge part of the British culture is the Great British Pub. Not just a place to come for a pint of the good stuff, but a thriving, atmospheric social epicenter of a town’s landscape, a place where dwellers leave their problems at the door and discuss the ups and downs of life with their fellow brew neighbours.

With the help of Seaton Lane Inn, a hotel near Sunderland, we look at a timeline of the inception of the pub and the chain of events that lead them to where they are today.

Invasion of the Roman army

Ale has been consumed by dwellers of the British Isles since the Bronze Age, however when the invading Roman army came uninvited to our shores they brought with them roads, towns and Roman public houses known as ‘tabernae’. These single roomed shops revolutionized roman economy and the popularity of this retail establishment encouraged a wide increase in the exchange of goods for money.

The business mindset of the Romans soon latched onto the nations favourite drink and begun selling it in their respected tabernae, which was soon coined "tavern". These went hand-in-hand with the new road infrastructure, as thousands of travelers sought refreshment as a pitstop, but also found use in the stabling and fodder for the travellers horses.

The hardened exterior and cherished status these taverns had accrued overtime equipped them with the necessary defence to withstand centuries of foreign invasions, constantly adapting to a revolutionized clientele, with even one Anglo-Saxon king, Edgar, attempting to limit the number of these alehouses to one per village, as well as introducing a drinking measure known as ‘the peg’, in an attempt to limit the amount of alcohol any one person can consume, hence "to take him down a peg".

The Anglo-Saxon era

The Anglo-Saxon period influenced domestic houses to double up as alehouses, allowing the rise of entrepreneurialism in towns and cities across the country. This was the first known instance of the "Inn", which is a drinking establishment that also provides lodging from travelers, partly why many Inns are located in villages and near main roads, today.

The introduction of coffee and tea added to the inventories of these alehouses although due to the extortionate prices of these due to importing efforts, only the rich could afford these, reducing them to luxury status for the masses. Following tea and coffee came brandy from France and Gin from Holland, the latter of which boomed and by the late 17th century, gin production was six times more than that of beer. The affordable pricing of gin naturally made it a popular choice for the poor, and, with this newfound luxury, they overindulged on many occasions which is now known as an event dubbed the "Gin Craze", where extreme drunkenness spilled onto the streets of Great Britain, mainly London, causing an intoxicated anarchy amongst citizens. Five Acts were placed, designed to control the consumption of the Dutch spirit.

Money and class played a big part in public houses in the 17th and 18th century. Just like a train has different carriages for classes, pubs had different rooms depending on your wealth, to continue the segregation of the classes even in relaxed atmospheres such as this.

The 19th and 20th Century

Before the industrialization of the UK, and although mining has been known to be a source of income for working classes for centuries, it was in the 19th century where it played a huge part of northern working men’s culture. The pub acted as a good meeting place for miners to congregate and let off steam after a strenuous, body-numbing shift underground. Often, they favored this over going straight home to their wives and children so that they weren’t stressed upon coming home. A safe haven to take off their work hats before unwinding in calmer, relaxed states.

George Orwell loved the Great British Pub so much he wrote an essay The Moon Under Water embodying the perfect one, which will conjure up a better image of what 19th century pubs would’ve looked like in the eyes of the middle class. He stated they should have; architecture and fittings that are uncompromisingly Victorian (rustic ceiling beams you see today), games such as darts played in the public bar, areas quiet enough to talk, barmaids that know the customer’s name, tobacco and cigarettes to sell, a snack counter, lunch options 6 days a week in the room upstairs, a creamy draught stout and a garden large enough not to be cramped. Whether or not pubs nowadays have these pointers in mind when they open a pub or not, it’s clear that Orwell wouldn’t have little choice when deciding where to drink in 2019!

In recent times, there has been a broader range of pubs that’ve went down their own route. Sports pubs, roadhouses, country pubs and micropubs, have all sprung up in the past few decades to cater to more audiences and allow people with different tastes to enjoy their locals in similar company. What will the future hold for the British pub?

About the Author

Phoebe Leylanis a copywriter, a content writer and web content optimiser, Ms. Leyland has built a strong foundation in writing as a graduate from the University of East Anglia, with an undergraduate BA hons in History and Politics and MA in Marketing

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Author: Phoebe Leyland

Phoebe Leyland

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United Kingdom

Member since: Apr 02, 2019
Published articles: 17

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