The history of pubs and public houses

The history of pubs can be traced back to Roman taverns, through the Anglo-Saxon alehouse to the development of the tied house system in the 19th century. In 1393, King Richard II of England introduced legislation that pubs had to display a sign outdoors to make them easily visible for passing ale tasters, who would assess the quality of ale sold.

A pub, or public house, is an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic drinks, which traditionally include beer (such as ale) and cider. It is a social drinking establishment and a prominent part of British culture. In many places, especially in villages, a pub is the focal point of the community. In his 17th-century diary, Samuel Pepys described the pub as “the heart of England”.

The Old Ferry Boat Inn in Holywell, Cambridgeshire still opens its doors every day and claims that it is England’s oldest inn/pub. Folklore says that the inn has been serving beer and alcohol on its premises since 560, which would make it the oldest pub in England. So perhaps this is where the history of pubs started.

The history of pubs - The Old Ferry Boat Inn in Holywell, Cambridgeshire
The Old Ferry Boat Inn in Holywell, Cambridgeshire. Source:

Most pubs focus on offering beers, ales and similar drinks. Also, pubs often sell wines, spirits, and soft drinks, meals and snacks. The owner, tenant or manager (licensee) is known as the pub landlord or landlady, or publican.

Referred to as their “local” by regulars, pubs are typically chosen for their proximity to home or work, the availability of a particular beer or ale or a good selection, good food, a social atmosphere, the presence of friends and acquaintances, and the availability of recreational activities such as a darts team, a skittles team, and a pool or snooker table.

Learn about the history of The Retreat.

More information.