Pub History

History of the pub

Alcohol has been drunk and served throughout the British Isles in one form or another since the Bronze Age. However, the origins of what we now recognise as the pub started to appear during the Roman colonisation of Britain, as places where travellers could rest and refresh themselves sprang up along new road networks.

These Roman taverns remained even after the Romans left Britain. During the Middle Ages, the pub sign came into existence. The earliest versions saw green bushes set upon poles to indicate the sale of beer – something that stemmed from the earlier Roman tradition of vines being displayed to advertise wine. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, more abstract names were common, as evidenced by Chaucer’s description of the Tabard Inn in Southwark. The ‘Hostellers of London’ were granted guild status in 1446, proving these medieval inns and hostelries were necessary to keep offering rest and refreshment to travellers.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these establishments primarily sold beer and ale. However, that all changed in the first half of the eighteenth century when the so-called ‘Gin Craze’ took hold. The production of gin had increased to six times that of beer and was popular amongst the poorer classes. The 1751 Gin Act forced gin makers to sell only to licensed premises and put drinking establishments under the control of local magistrates.

During the 19th Century, the Wine and Beerhouse Act was introduced to restrict the hours Public Houses could sell alcohol. This was further compounded by the Defence of the Realm Act 1914, which set the 11pm limit on the sale of alcohol throughout the twentieth century. The Licensing Act 2003 repealed the previous licensing laws for England and Wales, taking responsibility away from magistrates and placing it in the hands of local licensing boards.

Further Reading