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Britain's Five Oldest Pubs

Trying to prove which is Britain’s oldest pub is a little difficult – many have been in operation for hundreds of years as hostelries or breweries but have only been recognised as ‘pubs’ in modern times. Every county boasts a selection of remote and creaking taverns, many claiming to be ‘Britain’s Oldest Inn’. Unfortunately the self-bestowed authority that this brings is notoriously hard to prove, but there are several pubs of indisputable vintage.

1) Old Ferryboat, Holywell


One such pub is the whitewashed, thatched Old Ferryboat in Holywell, Cambridgeshire, which stands by the banks of the Great Ouse and lays claim to a foundation date of 560. This is improbable, as the events of the year 560 are poorly recorded due to the collapse of the Roman Empire and the gradual evolution of Anglo-Saxon England. Although there was probably a structure on this site, a more reliable date for the pub’s foundation is put at around 1100.

At this time England was under the rule of King Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, who faced opposition in the Cambridgeshire fens from Saxon resistance fighter called Hereward the Wake. The Old Ferryboat was rebuilt around 1400AD, and this is the most reliable indication of the age of the current structure, which is still venerable by any estimate.

2) Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans


An equally ancient pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire, is a free-standing timber structure that originally served as the pigeon house of a nearby monastery. It is octagonal in shape with low ceilings. The pigeon house is recorded as an inn as far back as 1539, when Henry VIII was on the throne of England, and was busily plundering Catholic monasteries for gold. The monastery is long gone, but Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’ foundations pre-date the medieval inn. The theory is that the pigeon house was built over the cellars of an older structure to provide cool conditions for storing ale.

3) Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham


The most famous of England’s oldest pubs is Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which is built into the sandstone rock beneath Nottingham Castle. The caves within the rock have certainly been used for brewing beer since the construction of the castle, around 1189 AD. This also happened to be the year in which volunteers for the Third Crusade set off for the Middle East, conveniently providing the pub with its name. The modern pub was constructed in the 17th century and takes the form of a modern wood and brick structure extending back into the caves, where a rather macabre memento is to be found – a model ship, covered in swathes of dust. The landlord says that the ship is cursed, as the last three people to attempt to clean it have all met with mysterious deaths. Looking at the festering dust on the ship, this seems less unlikely than it sounds.

4) The Skirrid Mountain Inn, Abergavenny


The Welsh contender for the oldest pub in Britain is the Skirrid Mountain Inn in Abergavenny, which was certainly in existence from around 1100 AD, and chronicles record its involvement in the Welsh revolt of 1415. The Skirrid Inn spent much of its long existence as a coaching inn on the road from Hereford to Abergavenny, and also provided the Western Assizes with their Monmouthshire court. Although the inn lays claim to 180 hangings none of these can be documented. While the owners have hung a sinister noose from the stairwell in order to reinforce the legend, the Skirrid Inn is more notable for its granite construction, typical of the Brecon Beacons, and its fine ales.

5) Clachan Inn, Drymen


Scotland’s oldest pub is the Clachan Inn, in Drymen, Lanarkshire, just north of Glasgow. Lying on the West Highland Way, this is a convenient point to break a journey to Loch Lomond. The inn was registered as a licensed pub in 1734, and distilled its own whisky. Originally fitted with a turf and thatch roof, the first licensee of the Clachan was Mistress Gow, a sister of the famous Rob Roy McGregor. Now fitted with a slate roof, the building is now waterproof and a cosy place to rest from long walks.

For pub enthusiasts these five pubs can be a great place to visit, with some making special visits just to drink a pint in them. They can also be a great a source of inspiration for landlords or those looking to buy a pub. Although modern pub owners will be grateful they don’t have to deal with the structural problems that come with such an old building, they may well be jealous of the amount of customers such pubs manage to bring in.

Written by Michael Palmer, a blogger in the hospitality industry.

Image of the Old Ferryboat from Google

Image of Ye Olde Fighting Cocks by Dissonancefalling

Image of Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem by sisaphus

Image of the Skirrid by John Wesley Barker

Image of the Clachan Inn by zsenya 

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