The British pub and why it matters

Who doesn’t enjoy time in a UK Pub? Well, hopefully you do & if you are not sure, let Icon Relocation offer our guide on what is the best (& worst) about the traditional UK public house.

Pub life has been part of the UK culture for longer than history can record. In practice we are no different to many other countries in regard to the love of your 'local' whether this is in the heart of the city or hidden in the countryside.

Importantly though, the pub is not just a place to go and have a drink, it is the epicentre of local social life and knowing your closest pub helps anyone become part of local life. The origin of the pub is in debate but most state it started about 2,000 years ago when the Romans arrived.

The Romans called their pubs 'taberne' and over time this was adapted to the word 'tavern' which we know today. Ale though is a very British drink and often as a result the pub is known as an Alehouse. It survived the invading Angles and Saxons, Jutes and Vikings. One Anglo-Saxon King, Edgar even attempted to restrict each village to one pub; that didn't work out well.

The difference between a pub and an inn was that the latter was a place where a room could be located and often used for travelling pilgrims and merchants. In the end, alehouses, inns and taverns all collectively became know as public houses and then simply as pubs. In 1577, it was estimated that there were 17,000 alehouses, 2,000 inns and 400 taverns in England & Wales alone. That means, taking into account the population of the time, that there was one pub for every 200 people. Now that's a potential drinking problem.

Spirits started to be introduced in a large way in the late 1600s when cheap options such as Brandy from France and Gin from Holland started turning up. Gin became such a problem in the UK that The Gin Act was introduced in 1736 & 1751 to reduce the amount consumed. Today, pubs are less common but still at the heart of local life. Get to know your pubs and your area. Enjoy....


The first thing many people notice is that the UK pub is not open as long as the bars in Europe and many places around the world.

The origin of this is down to the start of World War I and the saying goes that too many workers were down the pub when they should have been supporting the war effort. So in August 1914, all public houses came under the control of the military and naval authorities and were restricted to when they could open and close. These reduced hours stayed, with a few changes and have mostly remained the same to the present day.

Since 2005, there has been modifications. In many locations across the country, the pubs could choose their opening hours and therefore could stay open much later but this is not the case everywhere. Many still close typically around 22.00 but can stay open until 23.00, but it is very rare for them to open all night. Sorry about that.


No, it's not cold and at room temperature, its just right; trust me on this one.


Ale or Bitter?

English beers include bitter, mild, brown ale and old ale. Add in Irish stout and a vast range of cask beers, many of the best brewed locally to the pub, and you have some very good reasons why you don't need to drink cold lager.

That's the other comment, what most people around the world call beer is lager to us. If it's cold and has bubbles then that's not a real beer. That's lager.... So that's all cleared up then.


There is a long history regarding food and pubs and some of it is not overly good news. While it was like that in the past, today is a completely different story and one of outstanding options and overall very high quality.

However, we know that in the 1850s, pub-goers who wanted something to eat were given the option of items such as picked whelks, boiled green peas, fried fish, pies and sheep trotters. Many just wanted pubs to be a place to drink and campaigners wanted food to be rejected, but around the time of WWII, cooked food was more common including black pudding, pies and of course fish & chips.

A new invention was now available, namely the packet of crisps (or chips for our US friends). First put into packets in the USA, they became extremely popular in the UK with a wide range of companies, flavours and other items such as pork scratching (pork rinds) and nuts. The ploughmans had already been a firm favourite and had become formalised in the 1950s and whilst not a hot meal, was common in almost all pubs across the land. Hot food has been familiar in many pubs for ages but in the past few decades, the quality of the food has gone to a new level.

Many pubs are in fact more of a restaurant with a small bar, with most focusing on traditional, high quality UK food. To be fair, British food might not be seen as world famous, but it was always based around simple food, that's warming and tasty.

In practice, this means roasts, pies, sausages often referred to as 'Bangers', plus a wider range of fish & meat dishes. Some pubs are so good that they are known as gastropubs with a famous few reaching Michelin star status.

Popping into the local pub for a meal remains a strong option and there are plenty of websites in place to tell you which are the best for drink or food. There is no excuse to not enjoy good food whilst here in the UK, just do your research and everything you need is in one place.


Pub names are almost as appealing as the buildings themselves, with most being named after a person, a place or an event.

Any pub for example called the Cock Inn or Cock Pit would have been a venue for cock fighting. Sadly the same goes for The Bear, Dog & Duck and Bull & Dog as these all give a strong clue as to what happened in or close to the pub in question.


Why the names?

Often the predominant trade of the area would give the pub its name. For example, The Golden Fleece is a reflection of local wood trade.

The website states for example The Coopers’, Bricklayers’, Saddlers’ and Masons’ Arms are commonplace signs.

Legend has it that the Smiths Arms in Dorset was once a blacksmith’s forge where Charles II stopped to have his horse shod. Whilst he was waiting he demanded a beer but was told the smithy was unlicenced. Exercising his royal prerogative, he granted one and was duly served.

In the 18th Century, the population became more mobile and the need for coaching inns grew with predictable names such as Coach & Horses or Horse & Groom. Later the advent of steam gave every town its Railway Inn or Station Arms.

In the days of a largely illiterate population, pictorial signs were an essential way of advertising an inn or the type of entertainment on offer inside. Here is a story that confirms this.

in Stoney, Stratford, the London coach changed horses at the Bull and the Birmingham coach across the road at the Cock Inn. The passengers from the respective coaches would swap news whilst waiting for the change and it is from this that the phrase “cock and bull story” is said to have originated.

Plenty of cock and bull stories and local legends have found their way onto pub signs. Take, for example, the Drunken Duck at Barngates. The landlady one day found all of her ducks dead in the yard. Unaccustomed to waste, she plucked them ready for cooking. As she finished, the ducks began to revive and a search of the yard revealed a leaking beer barrel surrounded by webbed footprints. She was apparently so contrite that she knitted little jackets until their feathers grew back.

Pubs today

The days when pubs were just a place for men to have a drink after work has been lost in most places and we are the better for this overall. Do you have to visit the local pub to get to know your neighbours?

No of course not but it's a good way to get to know more people and the vast majority of pubs are family friendly.

Sadly the number of pubs in the UK are in decline as more and more people drink at home or only see pubs as places to eat rather than relax.

The current view that about 27 pubs a week are closing but this could also be the case of the number of pubs are falling into alignment with the current requirements and needs of a local pub. Whilst this is sad in some ways, it does mean that the best pubs survive and we have a better selection as a result.

Either way, take time to make your own mind up and hope that you have a long term, positive view about the UK Public House.

If you have any questions about living in the UK or your relocation requirements then give us at Icon Relocation a call and perhaps we can discuss it over a drink in the pub.