The great British pub is not just a place to drink beer, wine, cider or spirits. It is also a unique social centre, very often the focus of community life in villages, towns and cities throughout the length and breadth of the country.


But did you know that the great British pub is actually Italian?


Well, to be more accurate what we now have as pubs are a direct descendant of what the invading Romans brought to these shores some 2000 years ago along with their roads, legions, spas and garrisons - the tabernae. In short wine shops that kept the marching Roman army in liquid refreshment.


These tabernae or taverns as they became to be known grew and diversified into alehouses with ale being the preferred tipple of the native Britons.


Inns appeared in England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and were apparently fairly common, especially in towns, by the fifteenth century. The earliest buildings still standing today, such as New Inn, Gloucester, or King's Head, Aylesbury, date from this time.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, these inns also served military purposes; one of the oldest dating from 1189 AD is Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham, and is said to have acted as a recruitment centre for volunteers to accompany Richard The Lionheart) on his crusade to the Holy Lands.

The term "public house" was used for the first time in the 17th century, giving birth to our great national institution

It is believed that what really spurred the growth of these public houses particularly in the early 1700’s was gin. The social problems caused by the ‘Gin Era’ of 1720 – 1750 are recorded in Hogarth’s famous work, Gin Lane and it didn’t take long before legislation was required. The Gin Acts of 1736 and 1751 reduced gin consumption to a quarter of its previous level and returned some semblance of order back to the pubs. Well for a while at least.


In fact, what happened was an early attempt at improving public health with politicians encouraging drinkers to favour beer which was seen as more wholesome healthy alternative. The Beer Act of 1830 stands out here as a significant piece of legislation as it allowed homeowners to brew and sell their own beer – in effect setting up their own pubs – for a single payment of two guineas.

The result was the opening of up to 30,000 new "beerhouses", which were much closer in appearance to the modern pub.

In terms of politicians' aim of reducing public drunkenness, the Beer Act was a disaster. One observer, writing in 1831, said: "Everybody is drunk. Those who are not singing are sprawling."


Still they tried.


In the way that ancient tabernae providing fuel stops for the Roman soldier, the advent of stagecoach, and later rail travel, saw another new development in the history of pubs. Coaching inns began to be established on strategic routes across the country providing food, drink and accommodation.


Over the course of the 19th century serving bars became popular in pubs, while the invention of beer engines meant beer could be pumped out through pipes from barrels kept below ground, meaning beer could be served more quickly.


Another trend saw publicans become tenants as breweries gradually took over pubs which formerly served their own home-made beer.


However, the  number of pubs in Britain continued to decline and in 1904 a new law enabled authorities to forcibly shut down drinking establishments in exchange for compensation. This resulted in ten percent of the country’s pubs been shut within a decade.


Higher prices of alcohol and a drive towards sobriety, publicly endorsed by King George V, saw profits slide while further legislations restricted opening times even further.


In contrast, the Second World War was something of a renaissance for the pub, which was seen as crucial in fostering community spirit and was boosted by rising numbers of landladies as opposed to landlords.


Since the 1950s, the number of pubs has been in steady decline with people increasingly using different types of premises such as wine bars.

With up to five pubs closing every day in England and one in six people claiming they no longer drink alcohol, it seems unlikely the slide will soon come to an end.


However, all is not doom and gloom with the increasingly popularity of craft brewery pubs, gin bars and real ale becoming popular with a younger demographic we are confident the great British pub will survive albeit in different guises.



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