Pub history and pub wiki

Pub History.

The pub history site now covers all of Essex, London, Kent, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Middlesex, Suffolk, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire. Wiltshire, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset  and parts of Lincoln and Leicester.

The pub history site now covers all of the UK, well bits of it. This is the reason I run this site -  a tribute to Ian Pubby Hunter

Researching the history of a pub.

My first article touched on modern day pub history. Most of my records stop around 1938, as this is the period where most records are available. The latest trade directories for many areas are invaluable in naming a pub, particularly the beer houses. A beer house is exactly what it states it is, a house that sells beer. No spirits, no wine, just beer. Many of the very early beer houses were actually businesses such as a blacksmiths, and to many of these businesses, the revenue from selling beer was in addition to their normal trade revenues.

In more modern times, many of these beer houses became the modern pub as we know it today, with a far wider range of drinks; others closed or remained as an off-licence. The problems researchers often have is that beer houses are rarely named, but they do have a sign outside the door advertising that they are available for a drink.

There are a number of census which often describe the sign outside the house, the better of these are the 1891 and the 1911 census. Some census, e.g. the 1901 is less likely to bother describing a building, just referring to it as a  beer retailer. The level of detail is down to an individual enumerator, but this rule is fairly standard.

Trade Directories

As mentioned previously, some of the later trade directories, e.g. from about 1937, are also very useful sources, as they start for the first time ever to name these beer houses as pubs. The trade directories are generally created by Kellys advertising (originally the Post Office directories), although many other companies also provide similar books. Remember that these directories are rarely accurate as far as date in concerned, and often a year or more out of date.

There are numerous creators of the Trade Directories (Post Office, Kellys, Holdens, Brabner, Pigots etc). There is also a number of good sources as to where to find them. The cheapest place is to find them in the local library, or local record office. These will be in book form, or sometimes on a microfiche film, which is similar to a photographic negative. There are a number of online sources - e.g. the historical directories site at Leicester University is pretty amazing.

You can also purchase a number of these on a CD for home viewing on your PC, and also a subscription to a site such as is also extremely useful, although there is a charge for this. Please note that the Leicester site has different directories to the pay-to-view sites, and also that many of the CD available are also available on the Ancestry site! Another place to search is google books - do an advanced search. These tend to only be the very early directories, but still very useful. And lastly, there are a mass of directory details relevant to pubs at or or - these are all free to view.

There are two specific styles of directory listing available, either by trade (e.g. beer retailers, publicans and hotels re. the sections you should be most interested in); or street directories by town and village.

Then the confusion begins, and I will use Canning Town as an example. It begins as part of Essex, and can be found in Essex directories. By 1938 it is listed as part of London. In between about 1896 and 1919 it is a London suburban directory. Many of the London suburbs, originally in Essex, Surrey, or Kent etc follow a similar trend, and are generally difficult to find, especially when they are a beer retailer listed by name rather than pub name or street address - get the idea?

Another good example is Deptford, in Kent or London? Well, all the census list the entries for St Nicholas or St Paul, in Deptford, Kent. All the trade directory entries are in London directories!

Researching a Person

I spend quite a lot of time researching a specific individual. If I am searching for a specific name, or just working through a census for a specific area, there is often some lack of clarity as to where a person lives, or I may also be looking for a specific birth or marriage.

Sometimes, the free sites are far better at providing this detail. If I am looking for a marriage or birth, the freebmd site far surpasses any other sites that exist. It is superb.

If in a census, you are unclear about the place of birth, the Genuki sites are amazing. I regularly type genuki + county name into google, to list the names of towns and parishes in a particular area. Genuki is brilliant for this, and this is a regular activity. The GENUKI sites are quite difficult to find items, use my tip above, as they are brilliant sources of information.



Another very good source of a pubs name is obviously photographs, but these are not always easy to find. I have a number, probably many hundreds, of images of public houses and street scenes which are unused. These are often difficult to place unless you know a particular area. In the occasions when the pub is still in existence, a rare occurrence these days, the best chance of recognising a picture is either searching google images, or even better, google maps (and street view).

Petty Sessions Victuallers records.

Many of the record offices hold the victuallers records from the petty sessions for their specific local area. The petty sessions are the court records which each usually cover about a ten year period in a hand-written bound volume, and name the licensee or beer retailer, plus the actual name of an establishment. The downside to these court records are the fact you need to visit a record office to view them, as they are rarely online, and this presumes they actually still exist. I have seen the original records in both the Essex Record Office, and the LMA (London Metropolitan Archive) - they are amazing and factual records of dates of licensing, details of minor misdemeanours, and also give a name to the beer retailers premises.

Additional excellent sites worth searching.

Many publicans became bankrupt. I am sure you will find many cases in question where a publican either 'tries' the pub trade for a year or two, or in other instances just makes too larger an investment and ends up bankrupt, and there are obviously those whom are on the darker side of publican life, i.e the crooks. There is an excellent site which lists the bankrupts in society, and these are listed in the London Gazette. The London Gazette also lists a whole lot more interesting detail, particularly relating to military records.
Another good place to look for pub names and publicans etc is obviously at the Old Bailey online.. I say this is is obviously a good place to search, as many crimes were perpetrated in and around the London pubs, and I am not denigrating the publicans themselves! I am sure there was the odd dodgy publican, but this is London history.
There are an amazing number of sites which now list all of the modern pubs. Many are good, others are just 'scraper sites' which copy information from the better resources. Amongst the best sites are mine, Ewans pubology site, beer in the evening, and the Lost pubs project. Let me know if I am missing any good sites.

Another great site is the access to archives which allows you to search anything, but is particularly well tuned for early pubs and the fire insurance records.

Local forums and chat sites

There are an amazing number of blogs, chat sites, forums which relate to an area or areas. One of my favourite sites is ; it covers every county in the UK.

Date of a building.

It is often able to note the date of a building from the stonework, i.e. there is often a year emblazoned into the upper stonework of a building. I have seen many examples of this. The year is not guaranteed until comparing with a picture of the building some years previously. I state this, as I am aware that many of the breweries are quite clever in 're-designing' an old building. There are many cases currently where a pub is described as being probably from the middle ages (for example), when it may just be an original building from that time, and has only been a pub for the last few years. Do not trust the age of an 'alleged historic' pub until you have found it listed in my mainly Victorian list of pubs and beer retailers as actually operational. I believe I now have enough listed evidence of all the pubs in operation between at least 1856 and 1944 on the pubshistory site. More detail is added every day.

Wills & document sales.

Sale of the freehold of the Wheatsheaf, Duke Street, Chelmsford - in July 1849

Sale of the freehold of the Wheatsheaf, Duke Street, Chelmsford - in July 1849

Kindly provided by Colleen

A great source for any research is if you can find a relevant will for a person, "I leave my estate to my wife, and sons, daughters etc...". The other official documents are the sale of items, either the relevant building, or its contents.

Again,  there are a number of wills available, and Ancestry appears to be quite good at listing these, but this is part of their premium service, i.e. it costs more than the basic service that they offer.