A chance remark by my sister-in-law the other day made me wonder about the history of the English pub.

The Shakespeare, Bethnal Green
The Shakespeare, Bethnal Green

According to Historic UK (Historic-uk.com) they date back to Roman times.  In Rome, tabernae were shops that sold wine.  When the Romans invaded, they brought the tabernae  along with them, although ale being the local drink replaced the wine that would have traditionally been drunk in Italy.

As is the English way, the word tabernae became corrupted to the word tavern.  They were built beside the great Roman roads, which were the main transport hubs.  Back in those days, there weren’t many towns, England was mostly villages.

Pillars of Hercules, Greek Street, London W1
Pillars of Hercules, Greek Street, London W1

In case you, like me, ever wondered, taverns and alehouses (a far more English term) provided food and drink, inns also offered accommodation.  Apparently, Inns were also used as recruitment centres to accompany the king on his crusades.  It wasn’t until the fourteenth century that we started to use hops in brewing so making beer instead of ale.

Over time, inns, alehouses and taverns became public houses, and eventually pubs.  In 1552, an act of parliament required those who ran pubs to have a licence.  By 1577, there were over 19,000 pubs across England and Wales – around one pub to 200 people.  Some competition, then.

Brewing was the traditional way of purifying water in the northern hemisphere, making it a part of everyday life, even when tea and coffee were introduced into the country in the 1600s as it was only the wealthy who could afford to drink these

Around the first half of the eighteenth century, cheap gin came over from Holland, as well as other cheap spirits from elsewhere in Europe.  They rose in popularity, bringing their  own set of social problems – if you’ve ever watched any adaptations of Dickens’ novels, you’ll have some idea of this, but it was good for the pubs.


When stagecoaches hit the street, coaching inns were built on the main routes up and down the country, providing food and drink, stabling and changes of horses, an absolute necessity for the stagecoach companies.  It was the stagecoaches that started the first, second and third class system of travel that persisted on to the railways, and pubs set themselves up in a similar way – the public bar and saloon bar.

The Draper's Arms, Islington
The Draper’s Arms, Islington

So there we have it ladies and gentlemen, a brief history of the English pub.


© Susan Shirley 2016


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s