Pubs are fertile ground for tall tales, with many claims to be the oldest pub in England. Here are the facts.
Several pubs claim to have been mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Spoiler alert: no pubs are mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Others claim Anglo-Saxon origins or links to the medieval Knights Templar. Where evidence is absent, the imagination often fills in the gaps.
Often, anywhere that claims to be ‘England’s oldest pub’ almost certainly isn’t.
What is the oldest pub in England?
The pub, as we think of today, emerged in the middle of the 19th century.
It incorporated elements of earlier types of buildings: the alehouse, the tavern and the inn. These had provided drink, food and shelter for centuries since the Middle Ages.
No medieval alehouses, and few taverns, survive in England. So if you want to find the oldest place where you can still buy a drink, you need to look at the great medieval inns.
First, however, here are the contenders for the oldest pub by modern definition.
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans, around 1600
Reputedly the ‘oldest public house in England’, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire, has the most substantial claim to be England’s oldest pub.
Unfortunately, however, its claim to be an 11th century structure on an 8th century site doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny.
Archaeological excavations suggest the present building dates from no earlier than about 1600. And while there may once have been a medieval brewhouse on the site, this is not the same as a pub.
The first recorded licensee appeared in 1822, so Oliver Cromwell, who died in 1658, likely didn’t stable his horse here either, another local legend.
Before 1872, the Fighting Cocks was known as the Fisherman, based on the idea that monks stored their fishing tackle in this waterside spot.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham, after 1680
In bold black letters, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claims to be from 1189 and ‘the oldest inn in England’.
However, records suggest there wasn’t an inn in the city until at least 1483, and even this is unlikely.
An inn appears to have been built on this site around 1680 when the first Duke of Newcastle was rebuilding the castle above.
By 1760 there was definitely an inn called the Pilgrim, and by 1799 someone had changed the name to imply a trip to the Holy Land.
The Bingley Arms, Bardsey, around 1738
The Bingley Arms near Leeds in West Yorkshire claims to be of Anglo-Saxon origins, previously known as the ‘Priest’s Inn’ and ‘officially’ the oldest pub in England. It’s not.
No records support the Bingley Arms being of 10th century origins. It’s more likely from the 18th century, consistent with a surviving 1738 datestone.
Bardsley church does have an Anglo-Saxon tower, and the town itself is mentioned in the Domesday Book.
But locals probably had to wait a little longer for somewhere to have a drink.
What is the oldest inn in England?
The inn was a house for accommodating travellers. It probably first appeared in the 12th or 13th centuries.
Inns were different to taverns, which sold wine and food to the well-off. They were also different to alehouses, which sold ale, and later beer, plus simple food, to the lower classes.
But inns have the best survival rate from medieval times, making them the true answer to ‘what is the oldest pub in England?’ Here are the best contenders.
The George Inn, Norton St Philip, Somerset, after 1345
The George Inn in Norton St Philip, Somerset, has the strongest claim to be England’s earliest surviving purpose-built inn.
This likely makes the George Inn the oldest site where you can still buy a drink today.
The inn appears to have been built in the 14th century (sometime after 1345) by the Carthusian monks of Hinton Charterhouse, to provide accommodation for merchants attending the monastery’s markets and fairs.
The earliest phase that can be tree ring dated suggests the use of timber felled between 1430 and 1432, although some of the stonework might be earlier.
It was modified and extended in the 1st half of the 15th century.
The New Inn, Gloucester, around 1440
The New Inn in Gloucester is the earliest surviving example of a ‘courtyard’ inn.
It was built between around 1430 and 1450 by Gloucester Abbey for pilgrims visiting the cathedral, under the supervision of 1 of its monks, John Twynnyng.
Tree ring dating suggests the use of timber felled in 1432, placing it very close to the materials used in the George Inn in Norton St Philip, Somerset. The building is referred to in a rental of 1455 as the New Inn.
There were once more than 20 bedchambers. Given that each could have held several beds, the New Inn could accommodate nearly 200 guests.
The Angel and Royal, Grantham, around 1450
The Angel and Royal in Grantham, Lincolnshire, is another of the few remaining English medieval inns dating to the mid-15th century.
Several Royals are claimed to have stayed here, including Richard III. However, Kings are more likely to have stayed with noblemen than in travelling inns.
The Angel and Royal also claims to stand on land once belonging to the Knights Templar.
The King’s Head, Aylesbury, around 1450
The King’s Head is one of the oldest inns in England, located in Aylesbury Market Square in Buckinghamshire.
The oldest part of the current structure of the building was built around 1450.
The George and Pilgrim’s, Glastonbury, around 1480
The George and Pilgrim’s Inn was built around 1480 to accommodate pilgrim visitors to Glastonbury Abbey.
The building became the George Hotel in the 19th century. The current name preserves both.
Have you enjoyed a drink in any of these pubs or inns? Do you disagree with any of our claims? Let us know in the comments below.
England’s Historic Pubs
Pull up a bar stool or make yourself comfortable in your favourite ‘snug’ and explore our work on understanding, protecting and showcasing England’s well-loved but vulnerable historic pubs. As well as us playing ‘mine host’, you can get involved in sharing your knowledge and photographs of listed pubs.
So is the “modern definition” of a pub is the following, “The public house was a 19th century development, distinctive from the earlier BEER HOUSE by its decorative treatment and fittings”?
If so, which is the oldest Beer House in England “A building licensed for the sale of beer.”?
The Old Bridge Inn at Ripponden doesn’t make any “oldest” claims, but reckons it “dates from 1307”.
[more to previous comment]
… although it doesn’t look anything like that old to me!
However, as the listing details on the Historic England website say “Public house, first recorded landlord John Hurstwood 1754” that would surely earn it a place in this list.
The old sun inn , retford , notts is one of the oldest buildings in the town and predates the great fire of retford mid 17th century , not sure of its exact age though or how long it has been an inn
The old sun inn , retford , notts predates the fire which destroyed much of the medieval town mid 17th century . I cant confirm exactly how old it is or how long it has been an inn but it must be a contender
Probably 16th century https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1302391?section=official-list-entry
Where does the “ye olde man & scythe” Bolton, feature in the history of pubs? Claims to have been established in 1251 and also be the location where the former Earl of Derby spent his last hours prior to his execution in 1651.
No mention of the 13thC Man and Scythe in Bolton Lancs? One of the 10th oldest pubs in England
Love these stories. Here’s one for consideration – the Dun Cow, Shrewsbury. Legend has it that it was built to serve workers building Shrewsbury Abbey, which dates from 1085 !
I thought that the Bell Inn in Finedon, Northamptonshire was the oldest in terms of licensed premises.
Stayed ar The George and Pilgrim a few years ago . Absolutely historic in every way . Stayed for one night and intend to visit again.
I live in Malmesbury, there are at least two older inn’s than the Kings Arms, the three cups was the pilgrims Inn during the construction of the Abbey, it has 3 foot thick stone walls , the old bell Hotel was an Inn with a 4 foot thick wall right next to the Abbey, the white lion was an Inn (no longer a pub) where the stone masons lived/lodged during construction of the Abbey, the Abbey has been built for over a thousand years . !
The Three Cups is 17th century https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1269446?section=official-list-entry
The Star in Hoddesdon claims to date back to 1450.
The unicorn in Norton Stockton on tees
Should be in the mix 720 years on same spot
Royal oak,in the shambles, Chesterfield
That pub is closed (for the benefit of the drinking public IMO) so not sure still in the running.
The Scotch Piper Inn claims to be the oldest pub in Lancashire.Est 1320 AD
One of those preposterous claims! Actually probably 16th century https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1343315?section=official-list-entry
The Red Lion Hotel, Salisbury claims to be Europe’s oldest purpose-built hotel; it celebrated its 800th birthday as a purpose-built hostelry in 2020.
The George Inn at Norton St Phillip is a cracking pub. It also has an enclosed inner, galleried, courtyard like the one you have depicted for the Oxford Arms above. It’s in a very beautiful area of countryside too, just south of Bath, so well worth a visit.
Virgins and castle Kenilworth 1563 AD
1470 the roebuck, warwick
The fleece hotel Gloucester
No mention of the Royal Standard of England in Forty Green near Beaconsfield
To add to your article, The Royal Oak in Winchester claims to be the oldest bar in England.
The old crown Digbeth in Birmingham 1368
There is a local tale about the George and Pilgrims in Glastonbury… people say that King Henry VIII stayed there at the Inn, in a room which overlooked Glastonbury Abbey, so he could personally witness the destruction of the Abbey during the dissolution of the monasteries (as at the time Glastonbury was one of the most powerful and influential in the country). No idea if there’s any actual evidence of him staying at the Inn, but its a good story!
There is a pub in Barnsley with a sign on the front claiming to be the oldest pub in England – The Mill of the Black Monks. The building dates from about 1150, but it obviously wasn’t a pub back then.
The Adam and Eve in Norwich had been a tavern since 1241.
Surely the Blackbird, at Ponteland, must be in contention. Some of the present building provided refreshment in the 13th century.
Personally, I don’t think the Romans used it as a pub/alehouse, even if roman stonework WAS found there, and the village was named by them.
I believe the Red Lion, Below Bar in Southampton may be 11th century and was also used as a court house for trials of treason against the King and it is reputed that hangings subsequently occurred there after the trials. The pub still exists today but is rather tired.
Could you check The Royal Oak in Winchester, please. They assert it’s pub from 1002. Is it true?
Hi Svetlana, if this is the right building, it appears to be from the 15th century: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1322135
The Old Crown, Deritend/Digbeth, Birmingham, 1368.
The Duke of Wellington in Southampton claims to date back to the 12th century.
How about the Mermaid Inn in Rye – was rebuilt in 1420 after being burned down (along with the rest of Rye) by raiders from Boulogne in the 14th century. The cellars are said to date from the 12th century