Beer history pubs

What is the oldest pub in England?

This is an interesting question with all kinds of philosophical implications: is a pub a building, or an entity?

When people ask this, we think they want to know about the oldest historic pub they can go for a drink in – not an old building that was converted to a pub in 1983, or a building that used to be a pub but is now a private home.

The other problem is the tendency of pubs to tell outright fibs about this kind of thing. It turns out that many such claims can be dismantled with a bit of work and you soon learn to ignore any information board that opens with it “It is reputed that…”

In their book Licensed to Sell, published in 2005 and revised in 2011, pub historians Geoff Brandwood, Andrew Davison and Michael Slaughter dedicate a chapter to the myth of ‘Ye Olde Englishe Pube’. They dismiss waspishly claims to great antiquity from several of the best-known contenders, which arguments we’ve drawn on below.

It’s a great book – do buy a copy.

Some contenders for oldest pub

(Ye Olde) Fighting Cocks, St Albans | Claim: 8th century | Brandwood et al are very snarky about this one: the building dates from the 17th century, the licence from the early 19th, and the claim to antiquity is a 20th century development.

Eagle & Child, Stow on the Wold | Claim: 10th century | Not recorded as a pub until the 18th century, the building is from c.1500.

Bingley Arms, Bardsey | Claim: 10th century | Brandwood et al confidently state that this is an 18th century building with no evidence to suggest an earlier founding.

(Ye Olde) Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham | Claim: 1189 | The famous cellars may have been used for brewing at around this date but the pub building dates to the late 17th century.

(Ye Olde) Man and Scythe, Bolton | Claim: 1251 | Supposedly mentioned by name in the town’s market charter of 1251, except… it isn’t, according to this 1892 history of Bolton. The present building is mostly from the 17th century.

The George Inn, Norton St Philip | Claim: 14th century | “Believed to be the earliest surviving, purpose-built inn, it was erected in the late 14th century… [and] refronted about 1475-1500.” – Brandwood et al.

So, the oldest pub is…

The George Inn seems to have a pretty convincing case, only strengthened by the fact that it isn’t called Ye Olde George Inn. If it’s good enough for Big Geoff B, it’s good enough for us.

If you know of other contenders, and can point to evidence to support the claim from a source other than a board inside the pub or a souvenir booklet, we’d be interested to hear more – comment below!

8 replies on “What is the oldest pub in England?”

As I have remarked multiple times elsewhere, the biggest laugh about the claim that the Fighting Cocks is the oldest pub in England is that it isn’t even the oldest pub in St Albans.

The Bingley Arms is considered by Wikipedia* to be probably the 4th oldest business in Europe:

Although the majority of the building is 18th century, there are remnants of a much older building that I’ve seen myself on visits there. It certainly doesn’t feel old, though.

* Yes, I know.

I’ve visited the George Inn many a time. What it has in antiquity it also has in great food and drink. Would love to go back soon

Reading this I immediately thought of the George and Pilgrim in Glastonbury, probably the oldest pub I’ve ever visited. I fished out my copy of Licensed to Sell, and the authors give a date of about 1480; so, not quite the oldest pub, but surely one of the least altered externally.

The Scotch Piper in Lydiate is about nine miles north of Liverpool and claims, not to be the oldest pub in the country, but the oldest in the old county of Lancashire (it’s now in Merseyside). The building supposedly dates from 1320, and with a thatched roof, it certainly looks the part.
It was originally called the Royal Oak, but according to local legend, the name Scotch Piper came about because a young piper in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highland army was left there during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-1746 to have his injuries tended, and he fell in love with the landlord’s daughter.
It’s worth having a look at the pictures on its website:

The Whyte Harte Inn at Bletchingley Surrey 1388 AD?
I thought it had a claim on the oldest put in England, and certainly the oldest pub in Surrey!?
Maybe it doesn’t count as I think it shut down just last year but do check this footage from the 1950’s , I love it when the landlord comes round with a basket of churchwarden clay pipes and as for the jugged hare they are serving up!

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