2nd October 1556. Conning the Ale.

It was today in 1556 that John Shakespeare, glover, whittawer, farmer and sometime alderman, bought a house in Henley Street Stratford. In the same year he took up key civic positions which included weights and measures, tester in inns, bakers, butchers and ale-taster.(1)

Legislation regarding taverns goes back to the Saxon, King Aethelred II, who exacted penalties for breaches of the peace, and in 1102 Archbishop Anselm, to avoid insobriety among his flock decreed: ‘Let no priest go to drinking bouts, nor drink to pegs’.

In 1285 Statuta Civitatis of Edward I, banned taverns from being open after curfew in the Metropolis, something we could do with now!

With the growing population of London in the 14thc, (c 30-40,000) the number of [wine]taverns was over 300 and retail brew shops over 1300; temptation to dupe the public grew accordingly.

It was a situation Edward II recognised: ‘There are more taverners in the realm than were wont to be… and selling corrupt wines… and sold gallons at prices as they themselves would…with no punishment’.

Thus ale was now pegged to the price of corn and by 1330 beer shops were to be inspected by the ‘ale-conner’ at Easter and Michaelmas.

Advertising had also become a problem requiring Edward III’s stipulation that brewers’ poles be no longer than 7 feet over the highway.

Brewers needed identification for regulation in an age when ale was sold in any premises, thus Richard II’s 1393 Act compelled beer houses to display a sign so ‘tasters’ would know where to call.

Village pubs were first required to be named in 1751; ironically eleven years later London shops were banned from displaying pictorial signs.

The 1552 Alehouse Act required victuallers and ale-house keepers to be licensed by Justices, at a time when hopped-beer was supplanting ale.

By 1577 an observer of national customs, referred to ale as the drink of his ancestors as ‘thick, fulsome, sick man’s drink and popular no longer’.

In a bid to curb the excessive gin trade, an 1830 Act hoped to bring competition into beer outlets, hoping for price reductions.

Now a beer house, for the brewing and sale of beer and cider, could be opened without a license. Duty was abolished and 46,000 houses opened, six days a week, many called William IV, the monarch at the time.

The Beer Act 1854, in a time of Sabbatarianism, restricted Sunday opening, only to be repealed owing to widespread rioting. However it was acknowledged that some regulation was necessary as beer-houses had become unruly places, frequented with prostitutes: the result was greater control by Magistrates under The 1869 Wine and Beer House Act.

Later the big brewers-‘The Beerage’- starting influencing policy, keen to expand and control trade through their ‘tied-houses’.

Governments however, couldn’t ignore the social implications of increased male and female drunkenness, vice and disorder as the 19thc unfolded which necessitated increased legislation.

Some provisions of the 1830 Beer house Act were not finally repealed until November 1993. Now pubs are free to trade with unrestricted hours, though changing social habits and supermarket competition has seen the closure of many outlets. Cheers!

(1) John was later an afeeror or affurer in 1559 an official responsible for assessment of fines not covered by Statute. He was also High Bailiff of Stratford.


dover-kent./Pic of Canterbury Sign. 1991.

pinterest.com/Pic of Sign of William IV.

Google Images of Pics of Medieval Signs.

wikipedia.org/1830 Act.

teaching.shu.ac.uk. Literature of Public Houses.

History of English Public Houses. Monckton. H.A. Bodley.1969.


Tags: , , ,

About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: