A History of Pubs in Britain

britannia-wine-dine-breakThere is nothing more quintessentially British than the good old traditional pub. We often take these institutions for granted but sadly they are beginning to close at an alarming rate. But just how long have they been around and how have they changed in the many years since the first tavern opened its doors?

Although ale itself has been in existence for thousands of years, the forerunners of the English pubs began to emerge in Roman times. With many roads constructed, taverns were built as a resting point for weary travellers and to provide them with ale to fortify them for the journey ahead.

From here, the evolution of public houses seems to go hand in hand with the increase in travel. In times gone by, the pub was more than just a place to go for a drink and many hostelries were required to provide accommodation and stabling for the traveller.

As a result, the pubs in mediaeval times were a curious mix of local villagers and townsfolk together with visitors from all over the country. In turn they began to develop something of a bawdy reputation with and this is an image that pubs still struggle to shake off to this day.

Although pubs are synonymous with ale, the next big development in their history came in the 18th century when gin was introduced to the UK. Gin shops began to sprout up across Britain and in an attempt to fight off this threat to their trade, alehouses too began to increase.

Eventually of course, gin shops decreased and pubs themselves stocked the spirit. This lead to the term ‘Gin Palaces’ which gave the already beleaguered alehouse an even more derogatory name that was linked with heightened levels of bawdiness. Sketches by the likes of Dickens and Hogarth only served to enhance the image of the debauched pub.

As a result of all this, the Beer Act of 1830 was introduced in an attempt to reduce public drunkenness and amongst other things, opening hours were cut and many of the laws contained within the act carry on to the present day.

When you come into the 21st century, it’s fair to say that some pubs have changed very little. The traditional village inn is still at the heart of the community, and the design both inside and out may not have changed at all for over a hundred years.

Elsewhere, large chain pubs are cropping up in towns all over Britain, with vast modern buildings and shiny decor that is not to everyone’s taste, but at least they are working to keep the British pub alive. As custom drops and rent and wholesale prices increase, this great British tradition is facing its biggest crisis ever. Pubs are closing at a rate that is simply unsustainable, and many villages have already lost the building that was once the heart of their community. However, this means that there are many pubs for sale at the moment which provide great investment opportunities. There is so much history here that it would be a terrible shame to lose them and the only way to arrest the slide is to keep using the Great British Pub.

Rachel is a freelance blogger on a variety of hospitality-related topics, including restaurants, hotels and pubs for sale.

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