The term ‘public house’, denoting premises licensed for the sale of alcohol, became current in the late 17th cent. and was increasingly applied to what had hitherto been known as inns and taverns. It became a standard term for a drinking-place in the early 19th cent., only for matters to be complicated by the Beer Act of 1830, which allowed so-called beerhouses to be set up on payment of a derisory annual fee to the Excise, opening the floodgates to a spectacular proliferation of decidedly down-market drinking-dens, most of them in the front rooms of terraced houses. Publicans, as such, were licensed by the magistrates, and were angry that these new competitors were exempted from this surveillance; but they could sell wines and spirits as well as beer, and in practice their bigger premises and more respectable image helped them to survive and flourish during an extended Victorian heyday. Pubs at this time offered transport, information about job opportunities, facilities for changing money, meeting-rooms for a variety of societies, and increasingly entertainment, as the informal singalong became more formalized as the ‘free and easy’ and in some cases grew into the music-hall
, with purpose-built premises attached to the pub, which might eventually take on a separate life of their own. Pubs also became centres for popular sport, offering refuges for pedestrianism when it was driven from the streets and for cock-fighting and dog-fighting when they became formally illegal. In the 1860s and 1870s publicans were among the most important patrons of emerging football teams, the same man being behind the foundation of both Everton and Liverpool. As licensing laws were tightened up from the late 1860s and early 1870s it became more difficult for pub provision to keep pace with urban expansion, and late Victorian and subsequent residential areas (even working-class ones) have fewer and larger pubs than older districts. More capital was expected of pub providers, and architectural display became more elaborate as a marker of respectability, while breweries took over increasing numbers of pubs as tied houses, and ‘landlords’ increasingly became tenants or even managers in all but name. Disreputable pubs in older areas were already being sacrificed in exchange for new licences before the First World War
, which saw even stricter regulation of licensing hours and introduced the afternoon ‘gap’ which has only recently been restored. During the inter-war years new ‘roadhouses’ in what came to be known as ‘bypass Tudor
’ appeared in favoured suburban locations, while simply furnished old-fashioned rural pubs, patronizingly idealized by the likes of G. K. Chesterton
, fell into decline. The most drastic changes in pub architecture and internal arrangements were left for the late 20th cent., with theme pubs, fake Victoriana, and a range of new entertainments, coupled with the restoration of women and children to the centre of pub life, the provision of better food, and the impact of restrictions on drink and driving. The remaking of the pub during the last quarter of the 20th cent. involved the most sudden and dramatic changes in the whole history of this venerable institution.
John K. Walton