Ale has been drunk in the British Isles since the Bronze Age, but it was the Romans who first brought their “tabernae” to the country. These inns were established as a stopping point on the Roman Roads where travellers could purchase beer and other refreshments.
The Anglo Saxons then established ale houses from domestic dwellings. They were often run by women who would put a green bush on top of a pole when the ale was ready to be consumed. They soon became meeting places for the locals to gossip and chat socially. They became so popular that in 965 King Edgar decreed that there should be only one ale house per village. He even introduced the measure known as a peg and it was at this time that there became a difference between ale house and Inns, with the latter offering accommodation.
The taverns were often the social centre of every village. It appeared the favourite recreation of every villager was drinking and there were many quarrels as people tended to drink too much. By 1577 it was estimated that there were 17,000 alehouses, 2000 inns and 400 taverns through-out England and Wales which is a very high number considering the low population back then. Many of the inns are mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which is a collection of 24 stories. These include The George Inn and The Tabard which were located side by side in Southwark, London.
Chaucer actually started its journey from the Tabard in 1388, but it had actually been established earlier in 1307. It was popular as it stood on the major route-way from London Bridge to Dover and Canterbury. As well as its location making it popular, the borough of Southwark did not have the same rules on prostitution and animal baiting that neighbouring Surrey and the City of London had. The Tabard had to be rebuilt after the fire of 1677, but eventually was demolished in in 1873 as the railways took away much of its revenue from stage coach travel that had previously been so popular. Its close neighbour The George Inn still remains today and is a listed building. It is the last remaining galleried inn and suffered the same problems as the Tabard. It was also rebuilt in 1677 and only just survived the loss of customers taken away by the railways. With the Second World War destroying London’s other galleried inns The George is now a major tourist destination for those who wish to visit a London Inn with such a rich history.
There are many pubs that claim to be the oldest pub in England. Ye Olde Man and Scythe in Bolton is mentioned in a charter dating back to 1251. It was rebuilt in 1636 and is now a grade II listed building with some of the beams dating all the way back to 1636. The pub has played a major role in local history with the Earl of Derby being executed outside the pub in 1651 for his part in the Bolton Massacre. The chair that the Earl of Derby sat on before having his head removed is on display inside the pub.
Many inns and taverns have survived for long periods of time and have played a major part in the country’s history. Some remain today and give great character to the areas that they are located in.