Pubs and Beerhouses – What's the difference?

Beerhouses were introduced with the 1830 Beer Act

Peter Hill (with thanks to Peter Kay)

The Pub Trail Index – click here

Pubs and Beerhouses – What’s the difference? Well, we have taken the word ‘pub’ to mean any establishment which sold alcoholic beverages regardless of whether they were an inn, a hotel, a beerhouse or any other place which required a full licence from 1830 to sell all types of beer, wine and spirits.

A beerhouse, on the other hand, under the 1830 Beer Act was only licensed to sell beer, and not wine or spirits.

Indeed, the word pub probably only came into common usage in the mid-1800s; it was recorded in the first volume of the OED Dictionary of Slang produced in 1859.  Up until then it was normal to refer to ‘publick houses’ which was a generic term covering all types of places where one could eat or drink including inns, taverns, and ale-houses.

Inns, popular since the 14th century, were places where travellers could get a bed and board for a few nights. There were one or two of those in Wivenhoe, such as the Flag Inn and the Anchor Inn.   Taverns were generally places where you could be served with a drink but not get a bed for the night.

Hotels began to be introduced in Victorian times. Wivenhoe saw the building of two big hotels (comparatively!) with The Park Hotel and The Grosvenor Hotel opening around the same time in 1863 or so; The Falcon Inn became The Falcon Hotel in the late 1800s.

In 17th century England, spirit drinking was popular and especially the drinking of French brandy.  Locally, people such as Philip Sainty had a considerable reputation for smuggling contraband to avoid the excise duty that was imposed on all sorts of items including spirits.

In the 1690s, the Government took measures to discourage the drinking of French brandy as an act against the French, and encourage the drinking of gin instead. The subsequent levels of gin-drinking became at times disastrously high during the next 140 years until beer was eventually seen as a healthy alternative to gin. The Beer Act of 1830 removed all duty on beer and people were encouraged to run what were then called beerhouses for a licence fee which was much cheaper than for a full licence.   This distinction between beer-only beerhouses and fully licensed pubs selling beer, wine and spirits remained until 1960. A lot of Wivenhoe’s drinking establishments in the 1800s were beerhouses rather than fully licensed premises.

Peter Hill, Chairman, Wivenhoe History Group
September 2020

(Note: These notes have largely been compiled with reference to Peter Kay’s excellent book Wivenhoe Pubs, sadly no longer in print but it is reproduced on this website with his permission. See here for a pdf copy of the book.

The Pub Trail Index – click here

This page was added on 17/09/2020.

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