Transacting business is something that goes back centuries, if not millennia, to the first time humans began to trade with one other. In Britain, the oldest businesses stretch back to before the Norman Conquest and represent some of the island’s oldest professions. While some are still owned by the original families that formed them, others have made the transition to corporate entities owned by shareholders. While you may have heard of these businesses, others are so small you’d never suspect that they are amongst the oldest in the United Kingdom.
The Bingley Arms – 905 A.D.
The Bingley Arms in Bardsey, Yorkshire, claims to be both the oldest business and the oldest pub in the United Kingdom. Evidence in the pub suggests that it has been around since the year 905, which is 45 years before the nearby All Hallows Church. Well before it was The Bingley Arms, the pub was called The Priests Inn and was a popular stop for clergymen between Kirkstall Abbey and the Abbey at St. Mary’s. The pub was also a popular place to hold court, and during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, priest holes were added to hide the holy men from King Henry VII’s forces. The pub was renamed when it was purchased by Lord Bingley in 1780.
Otterton Water Mill – 1068
The River Otter became a popular Saxon settlement in pre-recorded British history and the oldest document that mentions the Otterton Mill is the Domesday Book in 1068. William the Conqueror granted the Otterton estate to the Monks of St. Michel and later King Henry V gave it to the nuns of Syon Abbey. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it was sold to Richard Duke, who kept it in the family for 200 years before it passed to a series of owners. The building stopped being used for milling in 1959 but was restored by Desna Greenhow in 1977, who still operates it today as a mill, bakery, and shop.
The Old Bell – 1135
Another inn, The Old Bell in Hurley was opened as a coaching inn in 1135, and much like The Bingley Arms, it began as a guest house for those visiting the Benedictine Priory. There is actually a secret passage built into the pub that connects it with the priory. The inn has also seen its share of famous guests over its history including Boris Karloff, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and more. It has passed to a number of owners over its history, but The Old Bell still lives by St. Benedictine’s belief that “true hospitality be provided to travelers and strangers.”
Aberdeen Harbour Board – 1136
The oldest functioning harbor in Britain, the Aberdeen Harbour Board was founded by the Scottish King David I in 1136. While others may not have such formal recognition, the Guinness Book of World records actually recognizes Aberdeen Habour as the oldest continually operating business in the UK. The harbor has had a long and interesting history, including attacks by both Vikings and pirates. Over its 900+ year operation, Aberdeen Harbour has been expanded as necessary, and the last attack on it came from the Luftwaffe during World War II. Today it remains a busy port for Scotland.
Halydean Corporation – 1138
Halydean is the oldest dairy corporation in the United Kingdom, founded by the Crown in 1138, but owned by the Catholic Church. It’s from the Church that the corporation got its name, which was originally “Holy Dean,” with the agricultural and grazing lands becoming known as “The Barony and Lordship of Halydean.” Halydean is in some incredible company as many of the oldest corporations working in tea, sake, and metalworking were also formed around the same time. Parliament divested itself of the company in 2004, and it reincorporated as an American firm in 2014.