Pull up a bar-stool and get familiar with some of England’s oldest pubs. From the Knights Templar to John Lennon’s grandmother, here are seven fascinating histories behind some of our favourite Grade I listed pubs.
- Billet & Bear, Chester, Cheshire
The Bear & Billet was built in 1664 to replace a building destroyed in the Civil War. The building has some famous ancestors; originally the town house of the Earls of Shrewsbury, and the birthplace of Beatles’ legend John Lennon’s grandmother.
John Lennon’s grandmother, Annie Jane Millward, was born in 1873 and is said to have lived here until she was in her 20s. The building became an inn in the 18th century, although it continued to be owned by the Shrewsbury family until 1867.
2. The George Inn, Norton St Philip, Somerset
One of a number of establishments that claims to be Britain’s oldest tavern. The date given for its building is suggested as 1223, and a continuous licence is claimed from 1397. This would have been a licence allowed by the Prior, since the earliest Governmental licences for alehouses date from 1552. The date of 1223 pre-dates the building of the Priory, nine years later.
It may have been that, when the monks moved here to found the Priory, they first built on this spot to provide temporary living accommodation. Whatever the accuracy of the dates, it is certain that the monks built the present George Inn, and it served, during the life of the Priory, as its guest house.
3. Angel and Royal Hotel, Grantham, Lincolnshire
The Angel and Royal – reputedly the oldest inn in England – originally named The Angel, started as a hostel built by the Knights Templar in 1203 on Great North Road.
The hostelry was run by the Knights until their dissolution in 1312. The hostel started developing into a coaching inn over the years. In 1812 the Inn was sold by Lord Brownlow to Sir William Manners, along with his other property in Grantham.
A number of English royals are known to have stayed at The Angel, including King John, Queen Philippa, Richard III, Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, George IV and Edward VII.
4. The Old Bell and Steelyard Inn, Woodbridge, Suffolk
This pub dates from about 1540. Outside is the listed “steelyard” which gives the pub its name. This steelyard, an impressive 15th century weighbridge, has the unique record of having been taken down in 1897 and brought to London to form part of a London street at the Victoria Era Exhibition, and then returned to its old site. There is a model of it in the Science Museum at South Kensington, London.
5. Dick Whittington’s Tavern, Gloucester
The pub is named after the original owner’s famous nephew, Dick Whittington, who became Mayor of London four times. It is thought to be one of the most haunted spots in the city with several stories about ghosts residing in the pub.
Stories include a deceased regular customer who still likes to have his tipple at the bar and is responsible for bottles jumping off shelves and a victim of the plague who perished in the downstairs bar.
6. Black Castle, Brislington, Bristol
Built in 1745-55 as a folly in the form of a castle and designed by either William Halfpenny or James Bridges for the prominent local businessman William Reeve of Mount Pleasant.
The Castle is built from pre-cast black copper-slag blocks from Reeve’s foundry at Crew’s Hole. Designed in Gothic Revival style, the building is symmetrical in plan with crenellated circular towers at each corner that link two-storey blocks to form a square courtyard.
The writer Horace Wapole arrived in Brislington in 1766 on a journey to Bristol he was taken aback by the “large Gothic building, coal black and striped with white. I took it for the Devil’s Cathedral!”
7. The George Inn, Borough, London
Dating from the 16th century, the Grade I listed George Inn is the last remaining galleried inn in London. In 1676 the George was rebuilt after a serious fire that destroyed most of medieval Southwark.
A large part of the inn was pulled down by the Great Eastern Railway Company (who used part of the building as offices) in 1874, but it still retains part of its gallery. The famous inn was visited by Charles Dickens and mentioned in Little Dorrit.
Visited any of the pubs mentioned here? Share your knowledge and help us enrich the list.
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