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History of the Pub, Tavern, Inn,
and BEER

One loaf or two?

Beer, drinking beer and getting shit faced goes back years. It is believed that brewing developed out of bread-baking thousands of years ago. Wet dough that had been left to rise started to ferment with wild yeasts in the air. The resultant liquid was pleasant to drink and more importantly got you rat faced.

Like bread, beer is high in essential vitamins. In a region where water was scarce and often brackish, beer became an essential part of the diet. Grain can be stored for long periods of time whereas fruit (from which Cider and Wine are made) cannot. This encouraged people to abandon their nomadic lifestyles and settle down to grow and harvest grain. Communities developed and became structured societies. Around 3000 BC, the Egyptians, Babylonians and Sumerians were brewing a type of beer, using barley and wheat.

Brewing beer became a major industry in the ancient world. Brewers were regarded as important members of society, and produced different types of beer, including pale and dark beers with a frothy heads, as well as a fine, clear drinks for the princes and priests. Brewers learned to malt their grains by mixing them in water, releasing all the natural sugars for fermentation. Honey and dates were added to counteract the sweetness of the malt.

Phoenicians exported barley and wheat from North Africa to northern Europe. Way before the arrival of Romans, British tribes and their Continental conterparts were sowing grain and making a type of beer. Cider was also being produced along with Mead (from honey). However, with the gradual reduction in geotemperatures brewing became the principal method of producing alcohol in Northern Europe.

The Roman Wine Bar

Roman soldiers, administrators and civil engineers however were probably those responsible for the development of the Old English Inn. Taverns sprang up offering wine and food to travellers, soldiers and construction workers on the early Roman Roads. An early proprietor identified his Inn by hanging a garland of vine leaves outside on a pole.
So the original pubs were in fact bloody Wine Bars full of Italians. It has to be your worst nightmare.

The First Sign

Some also advertised facilities for playing chess by painting a chequer board on their door post. This gave rise to probably the oldest Inn sign of all, The CHEQUERS.

Italian Wine Snobs

The Romans despised beer as an inferior drink to wine. When their empire collapsed, the country was left to the Saxons and Britons.

The Saxons were already a great ale drinking race, but lived in small settlements with only minor village to village interaction. However, as society gradually changed, and the Saxon kingdoms developed, so the need for better communications developed. Road junctions and river fords again became ideal sites for resting and drinking ale.

Missionary Position

In the C7th Ina (King of Wessex), established ale houses by law. Following the arrival of St. Augustine on his mission to re-establish Christianity, a stream of Christian missionaries and a programme of monastic building followed. Monasteries were obliged to offer hospitality to travellers and gradually separate buildings were built to provide food, drink and shelter. These days though did not last long. By 965 AD King Edgar decreed that the number of ale-houses were to be reduced to one per village!

Vikings, Saxons and Normans

Much of Europe was overrun by the Vikings and Norsemen who were very partial to their ale (ol) and imposed their manic drinking habits on every area they raped and pillaged.

Ale became the everyday drink of the British people. Even when the Normans invaded and brought back a wine and cider culture, the natives carried on supping their ale. It was drunk at every meal. A weak version was produced for children and mothers with babies.

The Norman conquest saw another surge in monastery building. Religious houses grew rich on confiscated land. The displacement of the Saxon aristocracy was so great that by the time of the compilation of Domesday Book (1086) only one per cent of the most important tenants-in-chief were Saxon. Ten Normans held a quarter of England's wealth.

The Monk and the Pilgrim

The monasteries still had a charitable responsibility to feed and shelter the traveller. As the Middle Ages wore on, saints' shrines became a lucrative source of income. Pilgrimage, was a way of acquiring virtue and the shrines attracted devout Christians from Continental Europe as well as Britain.

The Pub Sign

The abbeys and monasteries established Pilgrim Hospices, Inns were set up between the religious houses to cater for the pilgrim trade. Inns also became a feature in market towns and commercial centres. Merchants and traders congregated to haggle and do business, many of these were in the market square. At this time much of the population was still illiterate giving rise to the use of signs. Eventually, Richard II commanded that all Inns should have signs (end C14th).

Monastic Brewers

For hundreds of years, Monasteries dominated brewing and featured large brewhouses, making ales that were strong and brown. Malt was cured by heat from wood fires, which would have given their ales a smokey flavour. Hops still hadn't been introduced, but plants such as rosemary and bog myrtle were added to try and balance the sweetness of the malt.
O'Hanlons currently produce this type of ale as well as hopped beer.

View to a Killing

In 1446 the innkeepers and tavern owners of London were granted guild status, later to become The Inn-Holders. A further fifty years on Henry VII issued Justices the power to close down taverns without a license. These were the first ever licensing laws.

Micro Breweries

After Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, most ale was produced by tavern owners and ale-house keepers.

However the Dissolution in 1534 had dire consequences for the Inn's prosperity, despite having gained the major share of brewing. The loss of the pilgrims' trade was catastrophic.
Recovery came with the growth of central government. Royal messengers, officials and administrators all needed to travel on royal business and required the usual board and lodging. Their custom was welcomed.

By this time the typical Inn, had stabling, a kitchen, comfortable shared bedrooms, and a self contained brew house.

Commercial Brewers

Gradually commercial brewers began to challenge the domination of the pub brewers with beers that the buyer could take home.

Edward VI then declared that there were too many Inns, and once more numbers were heavily reduced by legislation. This sad period for Inn keepers brewers, alcoholics, and social drinkers was short lived.
The reign of Elizabeth I was to see wholesale change.

It don't travel well

For ages, brewers had been trying to make ale less sweet and to give it longevity. The answer was found in hops, which had been adapted for use in brewing in mainland Europe as early as the C8th. In the C15th, Flemish traders brought hops to Kent and this part of England has remained the major hop growing region of the UK to this day.

Beer was introduced into Exeter in the early C16th, it took about 100 years to reach Exeter. From then on, Beer Breweries grew rapidly at the expense of Ale Breweries. Brewing flourished during the reign of Elizabeth I, but the stuff was not always wholesome. In 1563, the City council threatened the breweries saying they would set up their own breweries if the current breweries did not brew a more wholesome drink.

For several centuries a fierce debate was conducted over the merits of unhopped ale and hopped beer. Henry VIII refused to allow his court brewer to use hops, while the town of Shrewsbury banned hops completely. Gradually however, the refreshing flavour and better keeping qualities of hopped beer saw the demise of unhopped ale. Although the term 'Ale' is still used today. All beer is now brewed with hops and is therefore beer rather than ale.
However recently, some of the smaller brewers have reverted to brewing real Real Ale.

At the turn of the C17th, James I, got involved. He obliged all Inns and victualling houses to provide lodgings to travellers upon request. Tavern keepers were forbidden from doing so, creating loads of problems for the Justices whose job it was to enforce the regulations. It was a hell of a task, for by the end of James' reign there are known to have been over thirteen thousand Inns and taverns serving a population of around five million.


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