The Beer House Act of 1840 required public houses to close at midnight in towns and 11 p.m. in rural areas but also enabled local authorities to decide on shorter opening hours if desired.
Before the outbreak of the First World War, normal opening hours were 6 am to 11 pm, Monday to Saturday in towns and 6 am to 10 pm in country districts.
The First World War
The authorities were especially concerned about long opening hours during the First World War. Lloyd George suggested that ‘drink is doing us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together’. Many soldiers came to Aberystwyth during the War to be trained and they were able to purchase drinks throughout the day.
The Defence of the Real Act and the Temporary Restrictions Act enabled local authorities to reduce these opening hours. The Chief Constable of Cardiganshire recommended that alcohol could be purchased only between 10 am and 10 pm in Aberystwyth.
PUBLIC HOUSES HOURS.
A special meeting of justices took place on Wednesday for the purpose of receiving the recommendation of the Chief Constable [of Cardiganshire] with regard to the restriction of hours for the sale of intoxicating liquors. At present public houses in the borough [of Aberystwyth] close at eleven p.m., and in the rural area at ten p.m. … the Chief Constable recommended that all the public houses in the borough should open at ten a.m. and close at ten p.m., and in the rural districts at ten a.m. and close at nine p.m. The Chairman thought it well that the public should understand that the houses were not closed for the sale of food, but for intoxicating liquors only. They could get their breakfast before ten a.m. It was proposed that the recommendation of the Chief Constable be adopted. The Chief Constable explained that the order would come into force immediately it had been confirmed by the Secretary of State.
Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 16 April 1915
In February, 1916, the Government Control Board (which had powers over much of England and the whole of Wales), reduced opening hours in pubs and clubs to:
12-2.30 pm and 6-9 pm, or 6.30-9.30 pm on Mondays to Saturdays
12.30-2.30 pm and 6-9 pm on Sundays. (Pubs with a 7 day licence could serve bona fide travellers).
In March 1919, evening hours were extended: 6-9.30 pm and residents of a hotel of club could buy alcohol with a meal until 11 pm.
Two months later pubs could stay open until 10 pm.
In July, 1920 Sunday hours were extended in summer time 7–10pm, and soon these hours were applied to the whole year.
The Licencing Act of 1921 extended opening hours again: 11.30 am – 3 pm and 5.30-10 pm., Monday to Saturday and 12.30-2.30 pm. and 7-10 pm. on Sundays. These hours were in force until the next session of the local licencing committee who could amend them as long as they did not extend the total number of opening hours.
By the late 1980s pubs were allowed to sell alcohol at any time between 11am and 11pm.
The Licensing Act, 2003 which came into force in November 2005, enabled publicans to apply for licences for up to 24 hours a day.