A Brief History of British Pubs

By SME Insurance

Posted 19/01/18

History of pubs

With 21 public houses closing down each week in the UK [1], it’s important that we take steps to preserve this thoroughly British institution. To highlight their importance in our history this “Tryanuary” we have taken a look at some of the key events that have taken place in British pubs.

The Icon of the 1960s

“The Cavern Club” was opened in 1957 and quickly became central to Liverpool’s rock and roll music scene. Although the club is most often credited as launching the Beatles’ career, many other popular musicians have graced the stage over the years [2]. Unfortunately the original Cavern Club was demolished in 1973, but was rebuilt close to the site with sympathy to its original style in 1984 and remains an emblem of the 1960s, continuing to attract bands and music patrons through its doors to this day [3]. 

The Oldest Pub in the UK

“Ye Olde Fighting Cocks” in St Albans is officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as England’s oldest pub, with its foundations dating back to 793. However, this is often disputed, with multiple establishments across the UK claiming to deserve the accolade [4]. Whichever deserves the title, it’s fascinating to see just how many old pubs we have in the UK!

An Important Scientific Discovery

“The Eagle” in Cambridge is home to one of the most important declarations in scientific history. It was in this pub on 28 February 1953 that Francis Crick and James Watson announced their discovery of the “secret of life” - the DNA double helix. The pub is also full of memories of the Second World War, and the ceiling covered in graffiti left behind by RAF pilots [5].   

The Scene of the Crime

The “Blind Beggar” in Whitechapel is best known for its connection to the infamous Kray Brothers, who were notorious gangsters in London during the 1950s and 1960s. On 9 March 1966 Ronnie Kray shot rival gang member George Cornell dead at the Blind Beggar in front of many witnesses. Despite the number of eyewitnesses it was years before the police could convince anyone to testify against him and send him to trial, such was the community’s fear of the Krays [6].

The Monopoly Property

The Angel, Islington has the interesting claim to fame of being the only pub featured on the British Monopoly board. It’s the third cheapest property you can buy, removing any doubt that the game was made before Islington was gentrified in the 1980s. The pub has been referenced in public culture for over 250 years, from a William Hogarth painting in 1747, to a mention in Oliver Twist and most recently a song by Frank Turner [7].

The Pub Where Trainspotting was Written

The “Port o’ Leith” is famously the spot in which Irvine Welsh completed the first draft of his book “Trainspotting”. Although most of the film version was filmed in Glasgow to save money, the bar can be described as the “spiritual home” of the story. It may not have appeared in Trainspotting, but it finally made it onto the cinema screen in 2013 when it featured in the musical Sunshine on Leith [8] [9].

The Pub Where Trainspotting was Filmed

The “Kelbourne Saint Tavern” in Glasgow was host to one of the most iconic scenes of the first Trainspotting film, where Robert Carlyle’s character, Begbie, throws a pint glass over the pub’s balcony. The owners were paid £700 for the pub to be taken over by a film crew for the day and regulars were encouraged to stick around during filming for £20 each and a free bar tab [10]. 

[1] https://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Article/2016/07/14/Pub-closures-drop-dramatically-to-21-a-week

[2] http://metro.co.uk/2007/01/16/the-history-of-the-cavern-club-561917/

[3] https://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/music/731023/Cavern-Club-Beatles-Cilla-Black-Spike-Milligan-Inside-Story-Liverpool

[4] https://www.yeoldefightingcocks.co.uk/history

[5] https://www.atlasobscura.com/lists/the-best-british-pubs-to-get-drunk-on-history

[6] http://www.eastlondonhistory.co.uk/the-blind-beggar-pub/

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Angel,_Islington 

[8] http://www.wow247.co.uk/2016/06/07/leith-locations-for-trainspotting-fans/

[9] https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/fears-for-port-o-leith-as-pub-put-on-market-1-3939320

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jan/28/t2-trainspotting-film-haunts-begbie-spud-glasgow-20-years-glasgow-edinburgh

 If your looking for insurance, find out more about our specialist pub insurance.

Posted 19/01/18

Author: SME Insurance

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