There were several sorts of places at which alcoholic drinks could be purchased. From 1828 these had to be licenced under one or other of the many Licencing Acts.
This page includes sections on:
Types of premises:
Beer houses, ale houses and beer shops
The fondly held impression that many villages in Victorian times developed around a village green bounded by a church, a pub and a blacksmith's shop might have been true in parts of England, but was rarely found in Wales. Although this site lists over 800 premises licenced to sell alcohol in the county (many un-named beer houses and off-licences are not yet included), it seems likely that there were never more than just over 300 at any one time (this maximum number was probably achieved by 1900) and there were many villages and small communities in Ceredigion which had no licenced pub. For example, in 1869, there were 14 parishes in Ceredigion without a pub (Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser, 25th September 1869). It seems likely that many people lived more than an hour's walk to a pub: most were much closer to a chapel, of which there were also about 300 in 1900, but with a more even distribution.
Very many Acts of Parliament during the 19th and early 20th centuries were proposed to control the sale of alcohol but not all of these were passed, partly for political reasons and because those with a vested interest, such as brewers, objected.
From 1552, a person wanting to sell alcoholic drinks had to apply for a licence from the Quarter or Petty Sessions. From 1617, those running inns, also had to be licenced. In 1828 a new Alehouses Act, followed by the Beerhouse Act of 1830, overhauled the system, creating looser regulations for those applying for a licence which resulted in a significant rise in the numbers of licensed premises selling alcohol. As a result, drinking in pubs became increasingly popular in the 19th century.
Alehouses were allowed to sell all alcoholic liquor after 1830; beerhouses could sell only beer.
The Beer house Act of 1830 was designed to increase competition between breweries, reduce the price of beer and thus reduce the consumption of stronger alcoholic drinks, such as gin. It enabled anyone to brew and sell beer on payment of a licence costing two guineas. Many new beer houses, public houses and breweries opened as a result but the licences were not recorded in detail.
This resulted in an apparent increase in drunkenness and the establishment of many Temperance movements. (The first known in Wales was in Holyhead in 1832.)
The Beer House Act of 1840
• required licensees to own and occupy the premises at which they sold beer.
• required public houses to close at midnight in towns and 11 p.m. in rural areas.
• enabled local authorities to decide on more restricted licensing hours
• allowed boroughs to becoming completely 'dry' i.e. ban the sale of all alcohol.
By the end of the 19th century, those objecting to the granting of licences could attend the meetings.
The 1904 Act
Licencing Committee of the County of Cardigan under the Licensing Act, 1872.
NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that a meeting of the Licensing Committee of Justices appointed for the County of Cardigan will be held at the Town Hall in the town of Lampeter in the said County on Thursday, the 19th day of October instant immediately after the termination of the Quarter Sessions, when all persons having any business thereat either as applying for or objecting to the confirmation of any new license are required to attend.
Dated the 3rd day of October, 1893. F. R. ROBERTS, Deputy Clerk of the Peace.
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 6th October 1893
A reduction in the number of public houses was brought about by the 1904 and subsequent Acts. About one-third of the pubs in Britain were closed between 1905 and the 1930s.
The First World War
During the First World War (1914-1918) a shortage of imported materials for brewing; a preference for growing food rather than ingredients for drinks; an increase in tax on alcohol and a reduction in opening hours led to a reduction in drunkenness.
Alcohol restrictions (Wales)
Early 21st century
The Licensing Act 2003 brought together all the earlier legislation, and included premises which sold alcohol not previously covered by legislation (such as official events in public buildings). This act came into force in November 2005.
Different types of licence
Evening Express 24/07/1905
Magistrates (at Quarter or Petty Sessions) and later, Local Authorities, granted licences. Most of the original licencing records do not survive, but they were sometimes reported, in full or in summary, in local newspapers.
Three sets of lists of licences for Cardiganshire do survive: those for
Aberaeron 1836-1850 (National Library of Walesmss 20887; 13867; 13868)
Ilar 1889-1924 (Ceredigion Archives, TPS/LLI/1/7)
Llandysul Ceredigion Archives,
An example of a newspaper report:
CARDIGAN ANNUAL LICENSING DAY
A Special Petty Sessions was held in the Town-hall, in this town, on Tuesday last, for the purpose of granting licenses to the keepers of beer-shops and publicans. A great many beer-shop licenses were granted.
The Welshman, 31st August 1849
It appears that very few original licence documents survive. One example is the beer, cider and perry licence, no 469, for the Feathers Public house, Aberystwyth, 1836. (Ceredigion Archives, ADX/524 and 443). Another is for Evan Richards of the Gilfach Arms and the Red Lion, both in Mydroilyn, Llanarth, for 1871 and 1872 (National Library of Wales , Evan Richards of Nanthenfoel, 8-9)
TYPES OF PREMISES
Although the various types of premises originally had specific definitions, many are now just referred to as public houses, or pubs. Some public houses were in premises converted for the sale and consumption of alcohol, while others were little more than a room in a cottage.
Public houses and ale houses
Most of these were for the local population, and were restricted to selling beer and ale. They did not normally sell food until the 20th century, and often not until the late 20th century.
Until the big breweries had established a reliable distribution system, the beer was mostly brewed locally and sold from barrels using jugs to transfer the beer into drinking vessels.
Although pubs were essentially for local people, to socialise, some had other functions, for example, they were sometimes the place where local companies paid their workforce. In addition, pubs increased their roles in the local community in order to prevent the temperance lobby from closing them. However, under the 1843 Act, pubs could only provide entertainment if they had a theatre licence, and theatres were not allowed to sell alcohol.
The interior and exterior of pubs improved as a result of competition between increasing numbers of free pubs (which sold any brewers' beers) and of tied pubs which were owned by breweries who built new premises, or improved old ones to increase the sale of their own products. During the 20th century, 90% of pubs in Britain were tied to a brewery.
Beer Houses / Beer Shops
The 1830 Beer Act enabled anyone to apply for a licence to sell beer for a payment of 2 guineas. They are marked on Ordnance Survey maps as 'B.H.'. Most of these had no name, but they were listed in trade directories.
The few uses of the term ‘beer shops’ in various publications is generally derogatory, referring to beer shop men and beer shop politics. Beer shops were accused of being un-licenced, or sold beer out of hours, and didn’t use proper measures.
Taverns (Tafarn in Welsh)
Taverns were distinct from pubs in that they provided good food, wines and porter, and many provided lodging, but were not licenced to do so, as inns were.
These were found throughout Britain mostly on main roads (mostly Turnpike roads which also had milestones marking distances between the main towns).
In the past, they had to provide accommodation to travellers, but were not allowed to sell casual drinks and meals to those not staying the night.
Most inns were established to provide refreshment and accommodation for official and commercial travellers, and as a result, inns became the place where local people could meet traders and inn keepers could act as bankers.
They were soon to become crowded by those who toured Wales from the 1770s. Generally inns attracted the more affluent travellers including the nobility who, on their travels, often had nowhere else to stay.
Inns were normally 15-20 miles apart, allowing travellers with good transport to have breakfast at one, lunch at the next and supper at a third. Tourists who walked could get from one to the next comfortably in one day, although there was no guarantee that there would be an empty, clean bed for them at the end of a day's travel.
Inns were normally run by people who could speak English - the majority of people in Wales were monoglot Welsh speakers, and the majority of travellers and tourists couldn't speak Welsh.
As the Turnpike roads were improved, travelling became easier and more popular, creating a demand for additional inns, some of which were opened in new, sometimes isolated locations to reduce the distance from one inn to the next.
The quality of these inns varied enormously, but they generally improved from the beginning of the 19th century when large numbers of tourists provided a good, seasonal income, augmented at other times of the year by Judges and their retinues when visiting towns for the assizes; by travelling salesmen; by central and local government officials; by the gentry travelling to and from the towns where they socialised and did business; by successful farmers on market days and by bishops touring their dioceses.
Most of these inns in Wales were described, briefly, by some of the tourists; their comments are often coloured by the quality of the food and bedding provided on the day they were there, and probably by how tired, cold and wet they were when they arrived. Their reports on the history of the inns are not always reliable.
Where the cost of staying in inns has been recorded, it is often normal to find that the amount spent on alcoholic beverages was greater than for most other categories of expenditure and helped the landlord make a good profit. This is why Catherine Hutton and her mother were encouraged to leave the Talbot in Aberystwyth in 1787, for 'not drinking a sufficient quantity of wine' with their meals.
Some inns became known as hotels from the beginning of the 19th century, and some were built especially for tourists and those staying at resorts to improve their health. Many small hotels were built after the arrival of the railways to provide cheap accommodation for travellers.
Private clubs were allowed to provide alcoholic drinks for their members. They were subject to the law, but their licencing hours were often longer than public houses. For example, following the Act which prohibited the sale of Intoxicating Liquors in Wales on Sundays, which was passed in 1881, it was possible for members to buy drinks in clubs on Sundays.
Railway stations often had bars at which alcohol was sold specifically for travellers. The Sunday closure act of 1881 allowed anyone who had travelled more than three miles to purchase alcohol at a licenced premises on a Sunday. This apparently resulted in large numbers of people travelling from Aberystwyth to Borth for their Sunday drink, but for only three years, after which travellers had to prove that they were travelling for a reason other than the purchase of a drink.
One excellent result of the new licensing law is that several of the refreshment rooms on the Cambrian Railways have been closed. This is an almost unmixed good. The refreshments that ought to have been provided could not be obtained in a reasonable time, or at reasonable prices. At places like Borth and Aberystwyth the refreshments did not include what in these days should be included in that word. The increased cost of the licence has caused them to be shut up. When they are next opened, we hope it will be for the sale of tea, coffee, and other non-intoxicating drinks. Neither Borth nor Aberystwyth is in want of an additional beer-shop. The Cambrian Railways would do well if they converted the late refreshment room at Aberystwyth into the booking office, which is now very inconveniently situated.
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 15th October 1880
These were normally shops licenced to sell alcoholic drinks for consumption off the premises. Only a few groceries and wine and spirit merchants had such licences in the 19th century, but during the 20th century, more and more shops applied to be off-licences. Initially some shops specialised in wines and spirits but gradually food shops sold a range of alcoholic produces, but were not allowed to do so at particular times of day, resulting in aisles having to be closed off when the rest of the shop was open.
So far, very few records of licenced premises have been found at or close to the many lead mines in the county. It is possible that they drank at illicit alehouses but these would only appear in official records if the orgainsers were prosecuted under various acts of Parliament.
By the mid-18th century, gin houses became very popular because gin was very cheap, so a very unpopular tax was put on gin but it was soon rescinded. There is no evidence that any gin houses existed in Ceredigion but from the mid-19th century members of local Temperance groups were still campaigning against it.
A small handbill printed sometime between 1820 and 1847 by Esther Williams, 6 Bridge Street, Aberystwyth, contains an appeal ‘To the Working Classes', by ‘A Friend to your true enjoyment',
The writer appealed for total abstinence on moral, physical and economic grounds. Two glasses of gin every day at 1½ d. a glass, would cost four pounds, eleven shillings, and three pence a year. The handbill then lists the price of various articles of clothes to illustrate how the money could be better spent.
Original in National Library of Wales . (David Jenkins, ‘Some Cardiganshire Broadsides’, Ceredigion, vol. 2, (1953), p. 92)
Home brewing accounted for about half of total consumption of beer at beginning of 19th century but by the beginning of the 20th century this had dropped to almost nothing.
Temporary (Occasional) Licences were granted for special events such as fairs, ploughing matches and auctions.
An example of a Temporary Licence survives:
Consent for an occasional licence
Beer and Spirits
on 21.11.1872 at Llanybyther fair
for Evan Richards, Red Lion, Mydroylyn
Duties payable each day
Licenced Victualler 2s 6d
Beer Retailer 1s
Wine retailer 1s
Tobacco dealer 4d
This was not signed by a magistrate, probably because his application arrived too late.
(National Library of Wales , Evan Richards of Nanthenfoel, 10)
An example of an Occasional Licence
Supt. John Lloyd said he wished to make an application to their Worships before they proceeded to grant licences. The application had reference to occasional licences at fairs. Last Saturday he attended Pontrhydfendigaid fair, where he noticed, a great deal of drunkenness, and in going round the fair he observed there were no fewer than seven owners of tents holding occasional licences. He really thought they were quite unnecessary. As it was in the discretion of the magistrates to grant those licences, he respectfully suggested that they would consider the advisability of with-holding them in the future. There were at the present time four licensed premises at Pontrhydfendigaid, and he considered that number to be quite sufficient to meet the requirements of persons attending the fairs. The practice of granting licences to occasional sellers of beer seemed to him to be unfair to the holders of annual licences. Major Phelp said that Mr Hughes brought the applicants to him, and said the licences were necessary. If, however, it were so decided, it should go forth to the public that the occasional licences would only be granted at the monthly petty sessions, when each case might be taken upon its merits. The Rev. O. Davies said the practice was no doubt a relic of an old custom, when the fair was held upon the hill, at Ffair Rhos. The magistrates then made a rule to grant occasional licences, for fairs, ploughing matches, and auctions, only at the monthly petty sessions.
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 1st September 1876
Coffee was introduced to Britain in 1650, Chocolate from 1657 and Tea from 1660. These immediately became popular drinks, but it was the Temperance campaigners who deliberately encouraged their consumption.
LLANDYSSUL. OPENING OF A COFFEE TAVERN
On Tuesday, March I8th, Llandyssul fair day, a tea and coffee tavern was opened at Llandyssul, in two hired rooms. The Misses Lloyd, of Waunifor, Miss Lloyd, of Gilfachwen, with Mrs Jones, of Gellifaharen, waited on the guests, who numbered 200; while Mr. David Lloyd, of Gilfachvren, the Rev. Edward Lloyd, of Waunifor, and Master Harry Hall assisted in bringing in visitors, to whom they showed the utmost courtesy. The two last mentioned ladies have undertaken to collect subscriptions until it is seen whether the new venture will prove self-supporting.
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 21st March 1879
Victoria Coffee Tavern, Cardigan, confectioner, was charged with having sold milk adulterated with twelve per cent water on November 10th. Fined £5 and costs.
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 10th December 1897
For further information on the history of pubs in Britain see
Peter Haydon, The English Pub: A History
(1994); republished as Beer and Britannia
(2001) and again as An Inebriated History of Britain
(2005 and 2006).
Clark, The English Alehouse 1200-1830
, (Longmans, 1983)
Geoff Brandwood, Andrew Davison and Michael Slaughter, Licenced to Sell, The History and Heritage of the Public House
(English Heritage, 2001)
Pub History Society