A compelling history of the humble British pub


Pubs are an inherent part of British culture. You’ll find them everywhere, from major cities to small hamlets in the Lake District. In reality, you’re never really too far from a pub in Britain, as their popularity in our culture has made them commonplace. Once known as public houses, pubs have since branched out into gastronomic experiences, but some have kept their origins at the helm. Along with The Hog’s Head Inn, the ultimate Alnwick hotel we’ve put together a timeline of the humble British pub, exploring its journey across time.

A pint with the Ancient Romans and beyond

The origins of the great British pub are recorded as being anything but British — in fact, the pubs that we know and love started out as Italian wine bars as long as 2,000 years ago. An invading Roman army took a refreshment break from constructing the first Roman roads, bringing their namesake to towns and pubs which, in their original format, were wine shops known as ‘tabernae’. These were placed strategically to offer working soldiers a chance to quench their thirst.

The Romans soon caught on to the popularity of ale and it began flowing freely – much to the local’s delight – and the name of these spots was adapted to ‘tavern’. These original taverns saw every kind of invader, from Saxons to Jutes and Angles, and Scandinavian Vikings. These houses fed and watered their patrons and inns began to offer a good night’s rest for tiresome travelers, merchants and court officials. In his collection The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer immortalised this tradition, documenting a pilgrimage across the lands.

Inns were also used for military purposes and one of the oldest in the UK, ‘Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem’, was where King Richard I scouted for recruits to join him on his crusade to the Holy Lands. Following the reign of King Henry VIII, an act was passed which made it a requirement for innkeepers to hold a licence for their pubs. By 1577, estimates suggest that there were 17,000 alehouses, 2,000 inns and 400 taverns in England and Wales, which equaled around one pub per 200 people with the population of the period. Drinking ale was also a safer option than drinking water due to the brewing processes — imagine telling that to a modern-day health advocate!

A cultural institution

We’re all familiar with pubs and we have been for a long time, but in relation to British pubs specifically, they’ve turned into a real cultural institution over the years. Certain franchises have even moved with the times — you can now order a round of drinks directly to your table from a mobile app, making it harder than ever to give that last pint a miss! Saying ‘cheers’ in a pub seems quintessentially British, but the saying we exchange as we clink those pint glasses together has French origins. Every pub patron has come to fear that final ring of the bell which signals that the bar has stopped serving, and we’ve all mastered the art of getting that final swift round in.

Pubs have also made regular appearances in the world of television, from The Queen Vic in Eastenders to the Rovers Return in Coronation Street and The Nags Head in Only Fools and Horses — who can forget the iconic scene where Del Boy falls through the bar? Our pubs have shaped British culture in a truly unique way, where would we be without that Roman invasion all those years ago?

Ale-evolution and a new breeds of pub

Originally, British brewed ales were made without using hops, and the hopped alternatives were not introduced until the 14th and 15th centuries, which became known as beer. Times and trends have changed over the years though, and modern pubs can offer a drastically different kind of experience. Fridges behind the bar are now fully stocked with a vibrant array of craft beers, and the taps are home to a whole host of brewed innovations — you are now able to find ales which taste like doughnuts, who’d have thought?! The pub industry has certainly embraced modern attitudes, drawing in a new clientele with twists on the classic pub grub to accommodate for the popularity of dietary requirements such as veganism. Gastro pubs have become a category in themselves, and if you are looking for the finest Yorkshire pudding on a Sunday then you’ll be sure to find a tasty, home cooked dinner in a rustic, warm setting in your area.


Let’s raise a glass to the humble British pub!

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