It is sometimes said of towns in Victorian Britain, that every other building sold alcohol. For example, when a student arrived in Aberystwyth in the 1950s, he was told that there were 38 pubs and 38 chapels and a chapel could always be seen from a pub; this was quite untrue: there were never more than 19 chapels in the town but there might have been more pubs.
In theory a list of all licenced premises could be compiled from a detailed study of the Licencing committee records, but most of these have not survived.
In Ceredigion, the most complete list appears to be the Return of public houses in each Petty Sessional Division of the county of Cardigan, 1905 which lists 306 premises including 14 off-licences premises, such as shops. This was almost certainly prepared in preparation to reduce (or suppress) the number of public houses in the county, under the 1904 act. (see 1905 list)
Licenced premises (public houses, inn, hotels, beer houses) were listed in Trade directories, but these lists were probably very incomplete and inconsistent – they did not include every licenced premises, especially beer houses, but they did include vendors of wines and spirits, and maltsters and sometimes they included only, or mainly, those in towns, not those in the villages. The following figures, especially those for 1845 and 1891, show how incomplete some of the directories probably were.
|1835 ||200 (about)|
|1845 ||103 (Trade Directory)|
|1850s ||175 (Trade Directories)|
|1868 ||256 (Slater’s Directory)|
|1875 ||277 Worrall's directory|
|1891 ||137 (Trade Directory)|
|1905 ||294 (Return of public houses in each Petty Sessional Division of the county of Cardigan. This is the most reliable list of pubs, inns and beer houses.)|
|1909 ||285 (Chief Constable’s returns for the quarter, Cambrian News, 22 October 1909)|
|1920 ||224 (Trade Directory)|
|2016 ||144 Pubs Galore|
Comparison of Pigot's Directory for pubs in Aberaeron 1844 and the official list of licenced pubs in Aberaeron in the Petty Sessions lists for the same year show that there is little difference: both had 12 entries. Pigot included the Black Lion in Alban Square which might have been in the process of closing that year but it excluded the Cambrian which appears to have been continuously licenced for the whole of the 1840s.
The Aberaeron Petty Session lists for 1836-1850 which covered several parishes around Aberaeron, are complete except for 1840. These show that the numbers of licenced premises varied considerably during the 1830s (between 48 in 1836 and 28 in 1839), but after the area under the responsibility of the Aberaeron Justices was considerably increased in 1841, the number of licenced premises hovered around 55 during the whole of the 1840s. During this decade a few pubs closed and a few opened or re-opened. Only one new application, (the New Inn at Llanfihangel Ystrad) was refused on the ground that there were sufficient pubs in the area.
It is difficult to fully analyse the earlier Aberaeron Petty session records because they include parts of parishes. After 1841, the areas covered by the Justices were more rational.
A comparative analysis of Slater’s directory of 1868 and Worrall’s for 1875 shows that the number of pubs was not simply increasing. Of the 248 pubs listed in 1868, about 100 were not included in the 1875 list, implying that they had closed, had been re-named or had not been included in the list for some reason. 130 (over a third) of the pubs on the 1875 list were not on the 1868 list, implying that they were new. This suggests that there was a big turnover in pub licences. However, there was some continuity: 92 of the pubs in the 1875 list had the same licensees as in 1868, and of the remainder which appeared in both lists, many in 1875 had licensees of the same family or first name as in 1868, suggesting that licences has been transferred to a relative, or that a female licensee had married, or re-married. These differences clearly show that the trade directory lists were revised, and not simply copied from earlier directories.