Pub history and pub wiki

Pub History in the UK - all counties in England - including London, Essex, Manchester, Lancashire, Nothumberland.

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

The demise of the UK pub local - a potted history in reverse.

The pub / public house / boozer is where most of us spent our youth, and more. They are now expensive places to drink, and the local supermarket has replaced many (if not all) of the Off Licences. There is also a new breed of pubs, with a range of nice ales at affordable prices (I am quoting the likes of Wetherspoons); and this new brand replaces the old established and often run-down pubs of the past. I am not selling either as a preference, this is a pure article on pub history as I see it from the last ten years of research into the matter - my thesis, for what it is worth.

Let us start in 2013 and a round up of the current pub trade. Many pubs are closing, and being replaced by restaurants and pizza houses.  Other pubs are closing and being converted back into housing, generally flats. The current economic climate is forcing many of the tied public houses to close, whilst newer pubs are continuing to open ( at a lesser rate). The reference 'tied houses' refers to the fact that a pub has to purchase its beer and spirits from the chain which runs the establishment. This is a more expensive option than being able to purchase from the market place, and has forced many pubs to be uneconomical, thus closure. I am not clear as to how Wetherspoons pubs operate, but their prices tend to undercut many of the established lager pubs, and is generally a better experience.

A major trend over the last twenty years or so, has been the renaming of pubs from a centuries old name, to a modern trendy name. The pub history site tends to reflect on the original names. Another trend appears to be the purchase by a brewery of an 'old' building, with little pub interest; and then transforming the same building into a historical pub. I am never clear about the economics of such a transformation, but the costs of this can run into a million pounds for just one pub, and therefore it must make economical sense.

I am now going to move back to the 1970 - 1990 period. At this time, there were a number of new pubs replacing the older, and generally larger pub. The pub names were still relevant, e.g. the White Hart, Kings Head etc. This was a time when the Watneys and Truman pubs were being sucked into the empire of the Grand Metropolitan chain. Watneys (Red Barrel, which was appalling beer) and Trumans (slightly better beer) were purchased by the Grand Metropolitan chain. Apparently, Grand Metropolitan closed down the good breweries and sold even more appalling beer to the detriment of the brands.

The wiki states that Grand metropolitan bought the Truman, Hanbury & Buxton chain in 1972, and next Watney Manns; plus a host of other drinks related businesses including J & B Whiskey.  The problem was in 1989, Lord Young decided to cut the brewers monopoly, by reducing their size to 2,000 but in essence to sell off half of all pubs over the number of 2,000 by the year of 1992. The wiki covers most of this detail, and I will not repeat it here, but this is a list of about 500 Grand Met pubs in 1991 just prior to selling off to Charringtons - these are in London and also the South East (Hertfordshire, Kent & Essex).

You can research a Pub, or any home, by researching using a surname in the BT telephone directories. These are available as part of the Ancestry basic search. If you need more detail, their other packages offer additional searches, e.g. the electoral rolls. I am not selling their services, but these are available, at a cost.

Stepping back in time again, we step back about 30 years to the 1940s and the World War, when great swathes of London and the South East were harangued by the war time bombing, and masses of London was demolished by the V1 and V2 rockets.  About the same time, streets were being renamed to remove the repetition of road names. I list each and every pub and beer house in 1944, and this is a very useful guide in researching back further. This pub history site largely covers pubs and beer houses in 1944 and the two hundred years earlier - including their street name changes along the way.

One point I always make is NOT to exclude the beer retailers. many of these were, and continued to be off licences. Other beer retailers are now the well known pubs that we have known forever (apparently). The youngsters of today have no idea of the rich history which exists in our earlier pubs and beer houses, as they know little different. Their idea of the history of a pub is what is was last renamed a few years ago.

  • It is also important to not to discount hotels as pubs. Many areas, not quite so much in London, list a considerable number of Hotels. These are not listed in the publicans, or beer retailer sections, as they are Hotels. You often need to search a particular area in this case. As ever, a good example of this is Wincanton, in Somerset (one of many).

An important point

My next article on research of a pub will start to explain the differences between the different areas of London and the South East, and why some areas had lots of pubs, and some had none.

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 - 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.