Sun, Ebury street

London historical street directory and pub history

There is now an amazing, NEW, and complete, historical London street directory for 1832 and 1842 and more

Pub history in London, suburbs & the south - mainly 1800 to 1940

There are about 60 thousand pages on the London & UK historical sites of varying detail; and I have just removed the search engine as it is rubbish at finding the relevant detail, it sort of works; most of it historical and pre 1944. I am now building a very early London street directory in 1818, 1832 and 1842.

An important modern index of London pubs is Ewan's pubology site which is not only brilliant, but also a great index to this pub history site for London.

Most recent updates include the addition of many early London Trade directory listings of public houses, Taverns, Inns, beer houses, Hotels etc. Recent additions include the Holdens 1805 directory, the Pigots London 1833-1834 directory; and the complete 1843 London directory of all trades persons. It is important to use different directories, as some of these do not include parts of London as we would know it now. It is also important to note that there are suburbs and also suburban directories, which are quite different, and I list many of these. It is also difficult to find trades people before the first census of 1841, and these early directories are optimal in searching.

London is very interesting as it bore the brunt of the WWII bombings, as did many other places, but also went through a major road renaming process between 1936 and 1944 - and at many other periods prior to this. Many of the roads with similar names were simply renamed to distinct road names. The early street numbering was often rather random, as was the later addition of postcodes. If you travel into modern London, you will often recognise the place names on the modern London railway stations, but with little perspective of what the area was like before London councils cleared swathes of 'slum' housing, or as is more often the case, cleared whole communities for the London Docklands corporation, for example. If you do visit Docklands, do spend some time at the rather excellent London Docklands museum (Entrance is free, and it is also rather brilliant).

Pubs, like churches move slowly over a period of time, I use this to my advantage; as I do other buildings like hospitals. The public houses are listed by church parish as they would have existed before 1900 (this causes me a complete nightmare deciding which parish a building is in) - many of these parishes are also no longer in existence. In addition to this, I am adding modern pubs as they are opened, and also list the many thousands of pubs which are closing all of the time. The site is a little lacking in modern history, and does not always have post codes or a recognisable modern address.

Just to clarify one small point. The pub history site does not ONLY cover London. The site also has extensive coverage of Essex and Hertfordshire and many parts of the south east, from a historical point of view, as it does in specific towns such as Hastings, Portsmouth, Southampton, Birmingham, Nottingham, Lincoln etc etc. And also be aware that addresses are often historical, and up to 75 years out of date. Sorry, but this is a historical site, that's what I do!

There are many other areas & towns listed on this pub history site, including places such as Birmingham, Nottingham & Lincoln etc. The site is growing every day to encompass new towns and its pub history. The site is slowly moving north to add the whole of the UKs pub history.

Allegedly, a host of public house pictures of the 1940's were found in a skip. These were then scanned, and now appear on the National Brewery Heritage Trust site. These are pictures of the pubs, the current landlords by surname, and random other detail. the site is brilliant - thank you; and there are a lot of pictures, so spare a lot of time to view this site.

Many of the more astute licensed victuallers were involved in the Licensed Victuallers Association. This association was set up  to protect families in times of hardship, and aided families in the association who needed help. This is also an important source of licensee details.

Many modern pubs have changed names. Many pub chains have bought up older buildings and altered them into a pub. These modern pubs often used to include the name 'Old' in the name to indicate they were brand new pubs! Confused yet? The history of these pubs will often state they were here since Elizabethan times, but they omit to mention it was a pig farm at the time, or whatever.

Here are my research suggestions to get you started:

The pub / public house / boozer is where most of us spent our youth, and more. They are now expensive places to drink, and the local supermarket has replaced many (if not all) of the Off Licences. There is also a new breed of pubs, with a range of nice ales at affordable prices (I am quoting the likes of Wetherspoons); and this new brand replaces the old established and often run-down pubs of the past.

Let us start with a description of the current pub trade. Many pubs are closing, and being replaced by restaurants and pizza houses.  Other pubs are closing and being converted back into housing, generally flats. The current economic climate is forcing many of the tied public houses to close, whilst newer pubs are continuing to open ( at a lesser rate). The reference 'tied houses' refers to the fact that a pub has to purchase its beer and spirits from the chain which runs the establishment. This is a more expensive option than being able to purchase from the market place, and has forced many pubs to be uneconomical, thus closure. I am not clear as to how Wetherspoons pubs operate, but their prices tend to undercut many of the established lager pubs, and is generally a better experience.

A major trend over the last twenty years or so, has been the renaming of pubs from a centuries old name, to a modern trendy name. The pub history site tends to reflect on the original names. Another trend appears to be the purchase by a brewery of an 'old' building, with little pub interest; and then transforming the same building into a historical pub. I am never clear about the economics of such a transformation, but the costs of this can run into a million pounds for just one pub, and therefore it must make economical sense.

I am now going to move back to the 1970 - 1990 period. At this time, there were a number of new pubs replacing the older, and generally larger pub. The pub names were still relevant, e.g. the White Hart, Kings Head etc. This was a time when the Watneys and Truman pubs were being sucked into the empire of the Grand Metropolitan chain. Watneys (Red Barrel, which was appalling beer) and Trumans (slightly better beer) were purchased by the Grand Metropolitan chain. Apparently, Grand Metropolitan closed down the good breweries and sold even more appalling beer to the detriment of the brands.

The wiki states that Grand metropolitan bought the Truman, Hanbury & Buxton chain in 1972, and next Watney Manns; plus a host of other drinks related businesses including J & B Whiskey.  The problem was in 1989, Lord Young decided to cut the brewers monopoly, by reducing their size to 2,000 but in essence to sell off half of all pubs over the number of 2,000 by the year of 1992. The wiki covers most of this detail, and I will not repeat it here, but this is a list of about 500 Grand Met pubs in 1991 just prior to selling off to Charringtons - these are in London and also the South East (Hertfordshire, Kent & Essex).

You can research a Pub, or any home, by researching using a surname in the BT telephone directories. These are available as part of the Ancestry basic search. If you need more detail, their other packages offer additional searches, e.g. the electoral rolls. I am not selling their services, but these are available, at a cost.

Stepping back in time again, we step back about 30 years to the 1940s and the World War, when great swathes of London and the South East were harangued by the war time bombing, and masses of London was demolished by the V1 and V2 rockets.  About the same time, streets were being renamed to remove the repetition of road names. I list each and every pub and beer house in 1944, and this is a very useful guide in researching back further. This pub history site largely covers pubs and beer houses in 1944 and the two hundred years earlier - including their street name changes along the way.

One point I always make is NOT to exclude the beer retailers. many of these were, and continued to be off licences. Other beer retailers are now the well known pubs that we have known forever (apparently). The youngsters of today have no idea of the rich history which exists in our earlier pubs and beer houses, as they know little different. Their idea of the history of a pub is what is was last renamed a few years ago.

  • It is also important to not to discount hotels as pubs. Many areas, not quite so much in London, list a considerable number of Hotels. These are not listed in the publicans, or beer retailer sections, as they are Hotels. You often need to search a particular area in this case. As ever, a good example of this is Wincanton, in Somerset (one of many).

An important point

My next article on research of a pub will start to explain the differences between the different areas of London and the South East, and why some areas had lots of pubs, and some had none.

And Last updated on: Thursday, 06-Dec-2018 12:57:33 GMT