THE ENGLISH PUB
The last twenty years of the twentieth century were not kind to the good
old English pub.
If you have ever visited England then the chances are, unless you
were considerably under the age of eighteen at the time, you will
have visited a pub. Hopefully both the beer and welcome you received
were warm and it was an enjoyable experience you long to repeat.
While sitting and enjoying your pint did you stop to consider the
history of these now world famous drinking establishments, somehow
I rather doubt it. Well, in time for your next visit and something
you can impress anyone who hasnt read this with, a little
history lesson for a Sunday morning.
Although the inhabitants of the British Isles are known to have been drinking
a beer like liquid since the Bronze Age it was not until the arrival of
the Romans that the first Taverns began to appear. Originally meant to
provide food and refreshment for Roman soldiers they were built all over
England. When the Romans finally withdrew from Britain they left behind
the beginnings of the modern pub. In 965 King Edgar the then ruler of
England decreed that there should be one Ale House per village. By this
time the use of signs was also well established helping the largely illiterate
population to identify drinking establishments around the country.
If you have ever wondered where the measure of a pint comes from it dates
back to 1215 when a measure for ale was standardised in the Magna Carter.
The word Inn is derived from the Saxon meaning room. At one time each
establishment was named according to what services it was legally allowed
to provide. An ale house could only serve ale, a tavern was the urban
equivalent to a country Inn both providing rooms for travellers in addition
to being able to serve food and ale. The difference between these three
establishments has become blurred with the passage of time; Inns and taverns
have evolved into hotels the ale house into what is the modern pub.
By 1625 there were over thirteen thousand Inns and Taverns around the
country for a population of just five million. As the number grew so did
the number of breweries and by 1800 there were twenty four thousand. This
number has of course fallen quite considerably and today there are just
three large breweries together with three hundred independent regional
ones all operating in a highly competitive market. In order to ensure
market share for their beers breweries also own their own pubs, a prime
example of this is the Firkin brand. Anyone who has visited
England recently may well have had a pint or two in something called the
Frog and Firkin to name but one of the pubs to carry the name
of its owner.
The most common name for a pub today is The Red Lion of which
at the last count there were 603. The name originates from the time of
James VI of Scotland when he ascended the English throne in 1603. He ordered
that the heraldic red lion of Scotland be displayed on all buildings of
importance including taverns. A way for Innkeepers to show their loyalty
it is perhaps no surprise that so many pubs bear names such as The
Kings Arms Royal Oak or Queens Head. In
fact pub signs commemorate many important events and people throughout
British history for example The Duke of Wellington The
Shakespeare Inn and The Battler of Britain to name but
a few. Still more pubs are named after sports or sporting heroes, The
Cricketers Arms The Henry Cooper are just two examples.
Sadly the last twenty
years of the twentieth century were not kind to the good old English
pub. Many have been knocked down while still others have been closed
and converted into private homes. Perhaps the saddest and most regrettable
of all changes has been the introduction of the so called theme
pub. Often forming part of a chain these pubs have had their traditional
interiors ripped out to be replaced with false walls and plastic beamed
ceilings. Devoid of character, charm or atmosphere they should be avoided
at all cost by the visitor. Thankfully many charming pubs of great character
and historical interest do remain quietly plying their trade supplying
the great British public and visitors alike with a traditional pint.
© Ian Bowie 2002
If you are planning a trip and would like some suggestions of likely
pubs of interest that also serve decent beer let me know Ill be
happy to help. To serve as an example of how deeply entwined in English
culture the pub is I would like to leave you with this quote by Hilaire
When you have lost your inns drown your empty selves, for you
will have lost the last of England.
More by Ian Bowie
THE TIME IN THE WORLD
what needs doing doesnt actually need doing right now
but simply soon or in the near future'.
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