Wednesday 16 February 2011

The Great English Pub

The Telegraph's Expat section (mostly for those who have emigrated from the UK not to the UK) has an excellent feature on the History of the English Pub, which I suggest you all take a look at. 

I know I talk a lot about beer and pubs and you probably think I'm an alchy, but honestly, pubs are a part of English culture.  If you're too lazy or busy or dont care enough to read the whole feature (eventhough it isnt that long and does have pictures), I'll give you a quick history lesson...

Ye Old Fighting Cocks
The first establishments that resembeled what we would now call pubs were made possible by people opening up their own homes to the drinking public. There are few pubs in England which claim to be the oldest, but the Ye Old Fighting Cocks in St Albans is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records and dates back to the 8th century.  

The term Public House came into use in the 17th century and in the 18th century, the populatiry of pubs grew exponentially, but it wasnt the beer pub-goers were after, it was gin. I can't begin to explain to you why anyone would enjoy a drink that tastes like licking a Christmas tree, but it was cheap and strong and the people liked it so much that the 1751 Gin Act was passed which restricted its sale.

The Gin Act was followed by the Beer Act in 1930 which was an attempt to turn people's preference from gin to beer which the authorities found to be a "more wholesome and temperate beverage".  Under this act, any householder was allowed to brew and sell their own beer if they made a one-off payment of two guineas (approximately £2.10).  In the year following the approval of the Beer Act, ober 30,000 new licenses were issued.  The establisments which opened as a result of this began to resemble more closely the pubs we know today, and according to written accounts of the time, mass drunkeness ensued.  One observer wrote in 1831: "Everbody is drunk. Those who are not singing are sprawling."  It wasnt until 1896 that the Wine and Beerhouse Act tightened regulations and pubs began to close.

However, people were still concerned there were too many pubs (what do they know?) and in 1904 further legislation was passed which lead to pubs being forcefully closed down. Ten percent of pubs were closed within a decade of the passage of this new act.  The First World War was a further blow to the pub industry after a feeling that drunkeness was innapropriate swept through the country. 

WWII Soldiers in a pub
Photo: Science and Society Photo Library
 Luckily for publicans, when the Second World War came around, the feeling was much different - pubs became a part of the community which needed holding together and women began to visit pubs (its about time!) which greatly improved business.  

Unfortunately after the Second World War, the number of pubs began to decline once more and even in modern times, according to CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), as many as 56 pubs close down every month.  If you have a pub in your area that's in trouble and you want to help, this site will tell you what you can do to save the great English pub.

Want to learn more about the history of English pubs?  Buy this book.  It's the inspritaion of the Telegraph's feature and will tell you all there is to know. 

1 comment:

  1. Long live the pub! Oh and I agree, Gin does taste like licking a christmas tree! Yuck