Tracing the Footsteps to the Oldest Pubs in the UK

Pubs are an integral part of British culture, offering a cosy and convivial atmosphere where friends, families and strangers come together to share stories and enjoy pints and traditional food.

Although this cultural attachment to pubs is known, for ex-pats like us was still a surprise, as not many countries have it. On top of that, the United Kingdom is home to countless traditional pubs that have stood the test of time.

Visiting these oldest pubs in the UK is like stepping back in time and experiencing the rich heritage of British pub culture.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

Recognized by the Guinness World Records as the oldest pub in the UK, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks dates back to the 8th century. Nestled in the picturesque city of St Albans, this historic pub boasts timber beams, open fireplaces, and a delightful beer garden.

One of the reasons for this claim is that pub foundations were once part of the palace of Offa, king of the Mercians (of Offa’s Dyke fame) and reportedly built in 793. And an additional note is that Oliver Cromwell dined in the 1600s.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham

Situated in Nottingham, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claims to be England’s oldest inn. Built into the cliffs beneath Nottingham Castle, this pub has been serving thirsty patrons since the time of the Crusades, offering a fascinating glimpse into the city’s rich history.

It claims to have been established in 1189, although there is no documentation to verify this date. The building rests against Castle Rock, upon which Nottingham Castle is built, and is attached to several caves, carved out of the soft sandstone. These were reputedly originally used as brewhouse for the castle, dating from the medieval period.

It is owned by the pub chain Green King.

The Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold

Located in the charming Cotswold village of Stow-on-the-Wold, The Porch House is believed to be the oldest inn in England. With origins dating back to the 10th century, it exudes rustic charm, featuring low ceilings, exposed beams, and a cosy ambience.

It is embellished with twisting crooked staircases, roaring open fires, and low-slung ceilings that are beamed with ancient timber.

The Old Ferry Boat Inn, Holywell, Cambridgeshire

Situated on the banks of the River Great Ouse, The Old Ferry Boat Inn was reportedly established in 560 and claims to be the oldest pub/inn in England. No documentation was found yet to prove it.

The inn was originally a ferry crossing point, providing a vital link between Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire. The building itself features traditional thatched roofing and timber beams, evoking a sense of old-world charm and authenticity. Inside, you’ll find a cosy and welcoming atmosphere, with rustic decor and a roaring fireplace adding to the ambience.

It is also owned by Green King.

The Bingley Arms, Bardsey

Nestled in the idyllic village of Bardsey in West Yorkshire, The Bingley Arms proudly holds the title of the oldest pub in Britain that has continuously served alcohol. Its historic interior and traditional pub fare make it a must-visit for history buffs and pub enthusiasts alike.

It claims to be both the oldest surviving business and the oldest surviving pub in the United Kingdom. It is possibly the fourth oldest surviving business in Europe, with a history dating back to between AD 905 and AD 953, and says that it served as a safe house for persecuted Catholic priests, and also as a courthouse from around AD 1000 from which offenders were taken to the pillory across the road.

The beer garden is home to a yew tree that pre-dates the Bingley Arms.

The Royal Standard of England, Beaconsfield

Situated in the charming town of Beaconsfield, The Royal Standard of England claims to be England’s oldest free house. Its thatched roof, timber beams, and old-world charm transport visitors back in time, creating a memorable and authentic pub experience.

It claims to be more than 900 years old (from 1086) and has been known throughout the land for giving shelter and hospitality to the wayfarer. The age is due to the pub being listed as an alehouse called The Ship Inn and documented as such in the Domesday Book in 1086.

It allegedly saw Charles I hide in a priest hole in the roof. The full history can be found on their website.

The Skirrid Mountain Inn, Abergavenny

The only Welsh bar on the list, The Skirrid Mountain Inn claims to be the oldest in Wales. Work undertaken by the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust has concluded that the present building is of mainly mid-late 17th-century construction; however, an alternative theory states that an inn had stood on the site previously, due to it being situated upon a pilgrim trail that led to Llanthony Priory; although there is no evidence to verify this.

A popular, although equally unverified, legend is that the inn was used as a rallying point for local supporters of the Glyndŵr Rising against the rule of Henry IV, the uprising being led by Owain Glyndŵr.

The Sheep Heid Inn, Edinburgh

The Sheep Heid Inn is the only Scottish pub on the list. The claims state that 1360 is the year when an inn reportedly opened on this premises. The oldest record of its name is from 1710.

A few royals are said to have been here: Mary Queen of Scots, James I and Elizabeth II (in 2016).

Adam & Eve, Norwich

There are some records stating that a tavern may have stood on this place since 1249 and that it could have been a brewhouse operated by Benedictine monks.

Workmen building the nearby Norwich Cathedral are said to be the pub’s first recorded customers as they were housed there and were paid with bread and ale.

The pub seen today is a 17th-century building constructed from brick and flint with later additions such as Dutch gables. A Saxon well is located beneath the lower bar floor.

Ye Olde Man & Scythe, Bolton

The earliest recorded mention of its name is in a charter from 1251, making it one of the ten oldest public houses in Britain and the oldest in Bolton. The present form of the name, prefixed with “Ye Olde”, is a pseudo archaism derived from the Man and Scythe Inn; it derives from the crest of the Pilkington family, which consists of a reaper using a scythe, alluding to a traditional about one of the early members of the family.

It is not known exactly when Ye Olde Man & Scythe was originally built, but a charter of 1251 permitting the market mentions it by name. It has been rebuilt at least once (1636 according to the datestone inside), and only the vaulted cellar remains of the original structure, though some internal beams remain from 1636. The frontage of the building is an early 20th-century remodelling. It is a Grade II listed building.

In 1651 the Earl of Derby was executed outside the Man & Scythe – owned at the time by his family – for his part in the Bolton Massacre. Outside is a cross on the site with a plaque that relates the story of Bolton through the ages. The pub contains a chair that the Earl of Derby supposedly sat on before being taken outside to be beheaded; its inscription reads “15th October 1651 In this chair James 7th Earl of Derby sat at the Man and Scythe Inn, Churchgate, Bolton immediately prior to his execution”.

The Olde Bell, Hurley

Nestled in the picturesque village of Hurley in Berkshire, The Olde Bell is a historic coaching inn that dates back to the 12th century. It is claimed to be the oldest hotel in the UK, and one of the oldest hotels in the world.

The Olde Bell was founded in 1135 as the hostelry of Hurley Priory, making it one of the oldest hotels in the world. The coaching inn expanded in the 12th century to include a tithe barn and dovecote.

The hotel is said to contain a secret tunnel leading to the village priory which was used by John Lovelace, who was involved in the Glorious Revolution to overthrow King James II in the 17th century. The hotel was also used as a meeting point for Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II.[4] 

Due to its proximity to Pinewood Studios, the inn has seen a number of movie-star guests, including Mae West, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

The George Inn, London

The George Inn seems to be the oldest pub in London. It is not nearly as old as the others on the list, but it holds the title of being the oldest in the capital, a title that seems to be in dispute constantly (check this article in you are interested in the contenders).

It was established in the medieval period on Borough High Street in Southwark and it is currently owned and leased by the National Trust. The pub was formerly known as the George and Dragon, named after the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. It is possible that it was used for Elizabethan theatrical productions (Inn-yard theatre), as other galleried inns were.

A pub has existed on the site since medieval times. But in 1677, it was rebuilt after a serious fire destroyed most of Southwark. The medieval pub was situated next door to an inn where Chaucer set The Canterbury Tales. Later, the Great Northern Railway used the George as a depot and pulled down two of its fronts to build warehousing. Now just the south face remains.

Charles Dickens visited The George and referred to it in both Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend.

The Prospect of Whitby, London

The Prospect of Whitby, in Wapping, is an old-time classic pub in London and always comes up in any discussions regarding old pubs. It lays claim to being the site of the oldest riverside tavern, dating from around 1520.

Most of the present pub was built around 1800 but parts of it – certainly including its stone floor – may date from as early as 1520.

The tavern was formerly known as The Pelican and later as the Devil’s Tavern, on account of its dubious reputation. All that remains from the building’s earliest period is the 400-year-old stone floor, and the pub features eighteenth-century panelling and a nineteenth-century facade. Following a fire in the early 19th century, the tavern was rebuilt and renamed The Prospect of Whitby, after a Tyne collier that used to berth next to the pub.

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