The pub, or public house as it is officially known, is an everyday institution in the UK It’s a place go and unwind after a long day of work, to watch a football match, and for a night with the lads or girls. When someone says, “You want to go down to the pub?” they already have one in mind, a local place where, as the saying goes “everyone knows your name.”
The pub culture in Britain began with the introduction of roads by the Romans, necessitating the creation of inns or weary travelers. Many of the oldest pubs in Britain started as inns, and in some cases, still provide lodging. What follows are some of the oldest working pubs in the United Kingdom. The distinction of being the oldest pub is hotly contested among a few of these pubs, and the unavailability of historical documents to prove it keeps the debate going.
1. The Old Ferry Boat (St. Ives, Cambridgeshire) – Reported Date: 560 A.D.
The Old Ferry Boat is a great example of one of the pubs that started as an inn and still operates as such today. Though no documents apparently exist of when the Inn actually began, one record stated that liquor was served there as early as 560 A.D. and the foundations are reportedly another century older. Visitors to St. Ives can book one of the Inn’s seven rooms and can mix with locals and other travelers in the bar and restaurant.
2. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks (St. Albans, Hertfordshire) – Reported Date: 793 A.D.
The current Guinness Book of World Record holder, the building dates back to the 11th century, but the site goes back three-hundred more years with the foundations dated around 793 A.D. Tunnels under the original location of the pub lead to St. Albans Cathedral (at the time St. Albans Abbey) and connected to the beer cellars where the monks stored the ale they brewed. When the Abbey dissolved in 1539, the pub moved to an old pigeon house. It was known as The Round House until the name was changed to reflect the popular sport of cockfighting in the 18th century.
3. The Eagle & Child (Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire) – Reported Date: 947 A.D.
Not to be confused with the Oxford pub frequented by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, this pub saw its start as The Eagle & Child Inn in the middle of the 10th century and is one of the inns still in operation. Though the hotel is now known as The Royalist Hotel, the pub is located on the first floor. Much like Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, Eagle & Child also played host to blood sports such as cockfighting and also bear-baiting, in which various animals (and sometimes people) were put into a pit to fight the bear. Stow-on-the-Wold also lays claim to being the site of the final battle of the English Civil War.
4. The Skirrid Mountain Inn (Abergavenny, Wales) – Reported Date: 1110 A.D.
The first recorded mention of the Skirrid dates back to 1110 A.D. in which two men were tried and hanged in the pub for crimes of robbery and sheep stealing. Some pubs like Skirrid didn’t just serve as inns and alehouses, but also as courts of law and places of execution. Reportedly as many as 180 criminals were tried and executed prior to the end of Cromwell’s government. Historically, rebel Owain Glyndwr rallied his troops on the cobblestones in front of the pub before leading raids against English-supporting villages and waging war on King Henry IV. With this bloody history, several spirits are said to haunt the premises and it has been featured on several paranormal television programmes.
5. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (Nottingham) – Reported Date: 1189 A.D.
Known to locals as “The Trip”, this pub reportedly started as an inn and place of rest for crusaders on their way to the Holy Land (“trip” being the old word for a resting place). Part of the pub comprises a series of sandstone caves, including the rear rooms and the keg storeroom. Like the Skirrid, ghosts are said to haunt the pub and one of the bars features a model of a galleon said to be cursed. As the legend goes, anyone who has ever cleaned the ship has met with a mysterious death. There is also an antique chair that supposedly will make a woman more likely to get pregnant if she sits in it.