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What is the Oldest Pub or Inn in England?

Pubs are fertile ground for tall tales, with many claims to the oldest pub in England. Here are the facts.

Pubs are fertile ground for tall tales, with many claims to be the oldest pub in England. Here are the facts.

The Grade I listed George Inn in Norton St Phillip, Somerset, might be the oldest place in England where you can still buy a drink. © Historic England Archive DP101579.

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.

This carving in St Lawrence’s Church in Ludlow, Shropshire, shows a medieval person serving alcohol, presumably an alehouse keeper. © Historic England Archive AA019330.

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.

A photograph of a 17th century, octagonal, timber framed public house.
The Grade II listed Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire. © Historic England Archive DP313178.

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.

A sign outside Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire. © Historic England Archive DP313186.

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 1189AD 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.

The Grade II listed Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham. © Historic England Archive DP046286.

An inn appears to have been built on this site around 1680 when the first Duke of Newcastle was rebuilding the castle above.

Inside Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham. © Historic England Archive DP046290.

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.

The Grade II listed Bingley Arms in Bardsey, West Yorkshire. © Historic England Archive DP371704.

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.

Inside the Bingley Arms in Bardsey, West Yorkshire, with the pub manager. © Historic England Archive DP371706.

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.

The early 17th century, Grade II listed King’s Arms Hotel in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, was once a coaching inn and house, later converted into a hotel. © Historic England Archive OP06575.

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.

The Oxford Arms on Warwick Lane in London in 1875. By then, they heyday of the coaching inn had long gone, and much of the building you see here was removed in the early 20th century. © Historic England Archive AL1827/002/01.

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 Grade I listed George Inn in Norton St Phillip, Somerset. © Historic England Archive DP101578.

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.

The Grade I listed New Inn in Gloucester, Gloucestershire. © Historic England Archive DP325585.

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.

The medieval courtyard at the New Inn, Gloucester. © Historic England Archive DP325587.

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.

The Grade I listed Angel and Royal in Grantham, Lincolnshire. © Historic England Archive DP393249.

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 Hotel in Grantham, Lincolnshire, in 1899. © Historic England Archive AA97/05709.

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 Grade II* listed King’s Head in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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 Grade I listed George and Pilgrims Hotel in Glastonbury, Somerset. © Historic England Archive DP348628.

The building became the George Hotel in the 19th century. The current name preserves both.

A painted hanging sign depicting King George outside the George and Pilgrims Hotel in Glastonbury, Somerset. © Historic England Archive DP348626.

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.

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26 comments on “What is the Oldest Pub or Inn in England?

  1. 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.”?

  2. The Old Bridge Inn at Ripponden doesn’t make any “oldest” claims, but reckons it “dates from 1307”.

  3. [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.

  4. Darryl Haddaway

    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

  5. 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

  6. Gary parker

    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.

  7. Stephen Kierczuk

    No mention of the 13thC Man and Scythe in Bolton Lancs? One of the 10th oldest pubs in England

  8. Neal Newbrook

    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 !

  9. I thought that the Bell Inn in Finedon, Northamptonshire was the oldest in terms of licensed premises.

  10. Nigel Taylor

    Stayed ar The George and Pilgrim a few years ago . Absolutely historic in every way . Stayed for one night and intend to visit again.

  11. James Wiles

    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 . !

  12. The Star in Hoddesdon claims to date back to 1450.

  13. Mr M Gillen

    The unicorn in Norton Stockton on tees

    Should be in the mix 720 years on same spot

  14. Nigel Mitchell

    Royal oak,in the shambles, Chesterfield

  15. Marion Bass

    The Scotch Piper Inn claims to be the oldest pub in Lancashire.Est 1320 AD

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. Virgins and castle Kenilworth 1563 AD

  19. Morgan Newman

    The fleece hotel Gloucester

  20. Howard Winn

    No mention of the Royal Standard of England in Forty Green near Beaconsfield

  21. To add to your article, The Royal Oak in Winchester claims to be the oldest bar in England.

  22. The old crown Digbeth in Birmingham 1368

  23. 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!

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