Book review — Tales of Old Inns

The cover of the 1951 edition of <em>Tales of Old Inns</em> by Richard Keverne
The cover of the 1951 edition of Tales of Old Inns by Richard Keverne

Richard Keverne’s guide to England’s historic inns was first published in 1939. Hammond Innes revised the book in 1947. In his introduction, Innes makes the rather poignant observation that a new edition was needed not only to help returning servicemen reacquaint themselves with the country they’d fought to defend, but also to edit out mention of pubs which were destroyed by bombing during the war.

There’s further poignancy in reading about pubs which have great histories; which, in 1951, were still charming; but which are now plasticky chain pubs selling microwaved food (The Ferry Boat Inn, Tottenham, for example).

For all this book has about it the whiff of conservatism (there are lots of wistful comments about the simplicity of life in the ‘old days’) the author is surprisingly sympathetic to the motives of generations of innkeepers who destroyed the historic interiors of their pubs for commercial reasons.

Of particular interest to beer geeks are the rare passages which actually touch on beer. The Bell at Orford Hill in Norfolk, for example, was apparently a pioneering outlet for porter in the 1750s:

Sam Barker [the landlord]… also appreciated the use of advertisement. He advertised the then comparitively new malt liquor, porter. “A truly British liquor,” he called it, of which he had “a large quantity always bottled and fit to drink.” He offered it at five shillings a dozen (thirteen bottles to the dozen) or three shillings if you returned the bottles.

Keverne also tells us that the Sun Hotel in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, was typical in having its own brewery in the 18th century:

You should not leave the Sun without wandering through its big gardens, and seeing how the old malt and brew houses, alas! no longer in use, reminders of the days when the inn brewed its own beer. Then you will realise how vast were the resources of the big coaching house.

On the whole, it’s just a long list of pubs connected by vague anecdotes, usually unsourced, about Regency dandies and pub landlords. It’s not much use as a travel guide unless you are particularly interested in pub architecture. Nonetheless, it does give a great sense of just how much of a part of Britain’s infrastructure pubs (but specifically inns) really were, and reading about one village pub after another is almost as relaxing as spending an afternoon in one.


You can get copies of this book from around 80p at We bought our copy in an Oxfam book shop.