British pubs, or public houses, can be traced all the way back to Roman taverns. After the departure of the Romans, there came the Anglo-Saxon alehouses based in domestic dwelling. The ‘alewife’ would put a green bush up on a pole to let people know her brew was ready for drinking. These alehouses rapidly developed into popular meeting places for the community so in 965 King Edgar decreed there should be no more than one alehouse per village. In 1393, Richard II made it legal for pubs to have to display a sign outdoors to make them easily identifiable to passers-by. Then in the 19th century came the development of tied houses [when a pub is linked to a particular brewer].
The pub is different from the inn, in that the latter was located along a highway or in the country [above] and provided stabling and fodder for horses, accommodation for travellers, and [if on a mail route] fresh horses for the mail coaches. Inns tended to be larger and grander than pubs. Many pub names date from times when customers were often illiterate and could only recognise pictorial signs. Pub names have a variety of origins, from objects used as simple identification marks to the coats of arms of kings or local aristocrats and landowners. Other names come from historic events, livery companies, and occupations or craftsmen’s guilds. Traditional English ale was made solely from fermented malt. The adding of hops to produce beer was introduced from the Netherlands in the early 15th century. Alehouses would each brew their own distinctive ale, but independent breweries began to appear in the late 17th century. By the end of the century, almost all beer was brewed by commercial breweries.
The GenGuide has records of publicans and brewers, and a long list of useful websites and archives related to pubs and inns. The George Inn [above], in Southwark, London, was established in medieval times and is the only surviving example of a galleried coaching inn. The Campaign for Real Ale [CAMRA] website has a ‘What Pub?’ search facility allowing you to search by town or postcode. If you know the place of birth for a relative or a later presence in the records such as place of marriage, the CAMRA website might be the best place to start. Most pubs have their own websites including local history and the date they started trading. My own local dates from the 15th century, it became a public house in the 18th century when it was bought from its private owner. Read this useful article by the Pub History Society about tracing people who worked in pubs.
Once the name of your relative’s pub is confirmed, you can then search local records, either in the Country Records Office or The National Archives. Landlords with a ‘full’ license had to renew annually. Court reports and local newspapers can also yield information about public houses, particularly breaches of licensing regulations [drinking after hours] and people misbehaving after too much alcohol. Advertisements in local newspapers may also yield information and images. Many of the JD Wetherspoon pubs are located in restored historic pubs, many featured at the company’s website.
This post is inspired by an article in the July 2017 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine. More details here.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Did your ancestor work in a pub? #familyhistory https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3cM via SandraDanby