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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

History of the Great British Pub

“Britain’s gone booze mad!” the tabloids cry, but the sorry truth is that we’ve been stumbling out of bars for millennia
HEART OF SOCIETY The humble pub has evolved over the last 2,000 years to become a place where hands are warmed, games are played and friends are made

Humans were drinking alcohol before records began, and the inherent sociability of booze, especially relatively low-strength drinks such as beer, means we’ve always gathered communally to do it. From archaeological findings, we can deduce that the earliest fermented beverages were consumed as part of religious rites, intoxication bringing us closer to the deities of the day. But by 3000 BC at the latest, drink was a social as well as a religious experience.

BOOZE BRITAIN LEFT: Early alehouses would each brew their own distinctive tipple BELOW: The origins of the pub lie with Roman tabernae BOTTOM: These tankards date from the 14th century

So we’ve been gathering in communal spaces to drink alcohol since the dawn of civilisation. But is that the same thing as going to the pub? Today there are bars in most countries around the world. Most look superficially similar to the pub – there’s the long service counter, the focal point that gives the bar its generic name. Behind it stand servers, and behind them sits a vast array of bottles on display. Some people may choose to perch at the bar, but most will sit at tables away from it.

“ The taberna was the principal unit of Rome’s economy”

Physically, that’s as good a description of the British pub as it is of a New York dive joint or exclusive hotel bar in Monaco. But the pub is di erent – it’s so much more than just a drinking shop. In many places it’s the centre of the community, the hub of social and sporting activities, the venue for weddings and wakes, the focus of charitable fundraising, and the talking shop of hopes, fears and aspirations.

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The SAS in World War II, Athens vs Persia, Jack the Ripper and the tragedy of the forgotten queen in this month's issue