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History of the Pub, Tavern, Inn,
and BEER (part 2)

The Posting Houses

Official travel often involved very long distances. Certain innkeepers were therefore paid a salary to provide fresh horses for the use of Royal Couriers whenever required. This Royal Warrant was sought after for it brought not only a salary, but extra custom. Consequently, standards of accommodation and service were greatly improved.

It wasn't long before mail and packets were being picked up and dropped at these posting houses on a regular basis and certain Inns became large and very efficiently run.

John Palmer started the first mail coach service from London to Bristol halving the time it normally took to do the journey. Toll gates (see later) were opened prior to the coaches' arrival, these coaches also carried passengers.

William Pitt and Palmer eventually forced a reluctant Post Office to use the Mail Coach bringing about a communications revolution in 1794 and the Royal Mail Coach became the Dog's Bollocks in transportation. This revolution only took place because of the introduction of a better road system and the turnpike trusts.

The first mail route was from London to Bath and Bristol on August 2, 1784 and was so succesful that routes were established to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool during the summer of 1785. Before October, several other cities had been added to the list including Exeter, the termini, The New London Inn and the Half Moon Inn.

Coaching Houses

The C18th which saw the Inn's heyday. It was during this period that the great coach services flourished having evolved towards the end of the Civil War. Routes opened up to London from many major towns such Plymouth and Exeter.

The Industrial Revolution required a decent transport infrastructure. In 1663, Parliament passed the Turnpike Act, originally confined to three counties to gauge it's effectiveness. Magistrates were allowed to charge for road usage and the money raised was spent on proper road maintenance.

Private companies, Turnpike Trusts were established from 1706. The public was given the opportunity to invest. Profits were split between road maintenance and the shareholders. People had to pay a toll to use the roads and Toll gates were established.

Many of the toll gates created by the enforcement of the Turnpike Act can still be seen around Exeter, such as in Exwick and along Topsham Road by the Countess Wear Roundabout. The Red Cow Inn also acted as a toll house.

Before these trusts, people had been used to using what passed for roads for free. Tolls were at first very un-popular and many gates were destroyed. Eventually the penalty imposed for this was "Death". Toll avoidance at first was prolific, but eventually spikes (or pikes) were put on the gates, hence the term "turnpike trusts".

Two men are generally credited with improving Britain's roads, Thomas Telford and John McAdam. MCAdam's name is preserved in the black stuff we lay today.

Better roads brought better coaches and the introduction of timetables. With stabling for teams of horses and the necessary facilities for the travelling public, coaching Inns were of major importance to English life.

The stables were usually found in an enclosed cobbled yard with a high arch allowing entrance for the coaches turning off the main road. The Inns themselves were extended, often taking over neighbouring houses with the possible addition of another storey. These Inns prospered until once again progress threatened their survival.

The Admiral Vernon Inn in Alphington is a perfect example of one of these Coaching Inns together with courtyard, arch and barns. The Ostlers room (the man who looked after the horses) was located in the arch above the entrance to the backyard. Click Here.

Carriers and Couriers

Again because of better road systems, carrier services and Couriers began to increase and operate from previously established inns. Thus the roads and courtyards of these inns became a little like a bus station. A fee would be paid to the inn and also the inn would benefit from increased patronage. Weekly and daily services were established with some of the later services timed to coincide with rail departures.

Exeter's major Carrier pubs in 1852 were The White Hart, Dolphin, Black Lion(s), Oatsheaf, Elepant and The Bull. There were others however but these were less important.

Ford & Co. had their own warehouse in South Street and operated from there, Pickfords operated out of The Mermaid and as such provided a worldwide courier service.

Carriers, Slater 1852

The Industrial Revolution saw the first the inland waterways, then the railways required new stop off places and new points of arrival / departure. The relatively slow and uncomfortable coaching routes died out and were replaced by this faster means of transport.


At the beginning of the C18th a new style of beer appeared in London that was to have a major impact throughout the world. It's earliest form was a blend of three beers, pale, brown and "stale" (a beer matured for up to a year in oak vessels acquiring a lactic flavour from wild yeasts). Stale and pale beer had been brewed by country brewers who sold them for blending to London publicans. Rather than pay high country prices, the publicans developed their own beer called "entire-butt" which attempted to reproduce the taste of the blended beer from one cask. Gradually blended beer was displaced by the "entire-butt" style beer, which became popular with London's street-market workers. It became known as "porter". The strongest version was known as "stout". Demand for porter became so enormous that large commercial breweries were built to produce it.

Samuel Whitbread brewed Porter at his Chiswell Street brewery and used all the new technologies of the industrial revolution to perfect his beers. Porter and stout at first were brown beers. Early in the C19th a machine was invented for roasting grain, allowing brewers to use dark malts for colour and flavour. As a result stout, became jet black with a tinge of red, topped with an attractive head of white foam.

In Dublin a brewer named Arthur Guinness switched to porter and stout production in the late C18th and quickly rose to fame. His beers were different from the English style. His recipe used roasted barley instead roasted malt. The barley gave the beer a very distinctive bitter character.

Porters and Stouts from England and Ireland were exported all over the world. The brown beers of Burton-upon-Trent were also popular in the export markets. But when the Napoleonic Wars closed the Baltic ports to Britain, brewers had to look for new sales outlets.

Gin, not a tonic

When William of Orange and his English wife Mary became co-rulers of England after the "Glorious Revolution", he tried to discourage imports of brandy from the Catholic wine-making countries by setting high taxes for these products.

As a replacement he promoted the production of grain spirits by abolishing taxes and licensing fees for the manufacture of such local products as Gin. As we know, Prohibition never works, but un-regulated production of alcohol has its problems too. By the 1720s it was estimated that a quarter of the households in London were used for the production or sale of Gin.

Mass drunkeness had become a serious problem. Attempts by the government to prohibit Gin production, such as the Gin Act of 1736, resulted in mass illicit distilling and the marketing of "medicinal" spirits with fancy names, such as "Cuckold’s Comfort" and "My Lady’s Eye Water". Much of this drunkeness was actually on the street rather than within the inn, pub or home, this was not good for the brewers and inns.

A combination of government controls, the growth of high-quality commercial Gin distillers, the increasing popularity of imported rum, and a general feeling of public exhaustion gradually brought this mass hysteria under control, although the problems caused by the combination of cheap Gin and extreme poverty extended well into the 19th century.

The Beer House Act (1830)

One of these controls was the Beer House Act. For 2 guineas you could get a license to open a beer house every day except Sunday. Only beer and cider could be sold. This had the effect of removing a certain amount of drunkeness from the streets into the beerhouses where a slightly less strong concoction could be consumed. The act also allowed existing pubs and inns to brew beer.

The benefits were enormous and many businesses and households began to have dual incomes as well as providing local suppliers with new markets. By 1838 46,000 beer houses had opened, many of these went on to become pubs and inns.

Beer Houses, White 1850

In Exeter

White (1850) lists 29 BeerHouses but there were probably many more, of these 29, two at least went on to become pubs, the Ropemakers Arms and the Mount Pleasant Inn.

However, as there still is today, there was still a problem with drunkeness, Exeter Pubs were allowed to open all day prior to 1872. A new licensing act brought in during this year provoked serious riots during August.

White's directory of 1850 shows that there were 148 hotels, Inns and taverns serving a population of 40,000. In fact there were probably many more than this as well as Beer-Houses. There were at least 40 hostelries within 200 yards of the City Centre and no aspirin in sight.

In 1873, 110 people were prosecuted for drunkeness, rising to 161 by 1900, however by 1913 the figures looked alot better with no serious crime being committed as a direct result of drunkeness. The chief constable of the time was obviously blind, stupid or pissed.

India Pale Ale

There was a big demand for beer from British troops and civilians based overseas, but they wanted light, refreshing ales. With the Calcium Sulphate rich spring waters of Burton, such famous names as Bass and Worthington developed a new type of beer. Pale malt could now be kilned with the use of coke and the result was a light-coloured beer that was heavily hopped to enable it to withstand long journeys by sea.
The beer was called India Pale Ale or IPA.

When a shipment was lost to the Irish Sea and later sold in Liverpool, the beer's fame spread all over Britain. Pale ale soon competed with mild ale and porter in popularity.

The Railways

Station termini encouraged new taverns to be built, grand hotels were filled. Out of the way coaching Inns fell on hard times. However, the wheel of progress turned full circle with the introduction of the motor car. This era ushered in yet another period of prosperity for the Inn, in town, country, market place or village.

The Twentieth Century

The changes of the C20th have had a profound effect upon our Inn's. Two world wars, television, advertising etc.. The traditional public house faces huge threats today. Heavy duties imposed British beers which allows cheap imports to flood in from the Continent damaging the livelihood of British landlords. Large breweries or leisure companies own 'tied' houses forcing the smaller brewers and pubs out of business. Profit beacame king, and unfortunately this meant wholesale change in many cases.


Porter and stout went into sharp decline during WW1, when the Government refused to allow brewers to use dark malts because they needed extra energy during kilning. Brewers had learned to add salts to their water. Bitter beers were the result, the 20th century version of IPA, surged in popularity.

In the 1950s and 1960s, mergers and takeovers created a handful of giant brewers which concentrated on creating national brands. They developed filtered, pasteurised and carbonated beers known as "keg beer", followed by poor imitations of European lager.

A Design for Life

The greatest current danger though lies in the "themed pub", in the name of which a traditional establishment is thoroughly gutted, to be reborn as a cafe bar, irish bar, ship, or sports cafe.

A number of pub chains have attempted to recreate the past with dire consequences. More often than not, genuine history and architecture are replaced by tasteless interior design such as at the Ship Inn in Martin's Lane.

For further information on the history of pub names and signs, use the link.


Drinkers requirements have changed over the past 10 or so years. Traditional beers that mature in the cask or within a bottle have become fashionable. The Campaign for Real Ale has been making noises for 30 odd years, finally the brewers are listening. Qualilty beers from Britain and lagers from the continent with rich flavours are now available at both pub and supermarket.

Brewers all like making good beers, however this perceived shift in public interest in 'better' beers has allowed them to produce better beers. Porters, stouts and wheat beers that are brewed using centuries old brewing methods are now definately in vogue.

For further information on Exeter's old breweries, follow the link. For links to more recent local breweries, go to the main site index and select "local breweries". Smoking Ban

The banning of smoking in public places has seriously affected pub trade, with numbers down in some areas by about 25 per cent. This ill thought out act brought in during July 2007 combined with the effects of the "credit crunch" of 2008 will see many pubs shut-down.
Combined with these effects many tennants have had to endure substantial rises in rents paid to national pub chains that have recently aquired property for their rental value rather than running the inn properly, most notably, Enterprise Inns.

Stuart Callon Copyright ©2004

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