Pubs To The Left Of Them And Pubs To The Right

The quotations from Rev John Williams in the previous post seem to portray a Welsh equivalent of “Merrie England”. What led to “sin and impropriety” in his eyes were no doubt ingredients of a good night out to be savoured by many.

By the 1850s, hard drinking had taken on a darker aspect. Reminiscing in 1934, the 90 year old Edward Thomas recalled the endemic drunkenness in the Stepaside area in the 1850s. So bad was it that women could not walk out alone in the evening “for if they were not molested, insults would be heaped upon them from all sides”. Others supported this view.

What had changed in the intervening 50 years or so?

"Spread Eagle", Begelly (Picture courtesey of Gerry Brawn)

The combination of two factors explains the change. Firstly, the building of the harbour at Saundersfoot and the tramroad to Thomas Chapel in the early 1830s brought about a short boom in mining activity in the area. Population levels surged with the increase in Begelly and St Issells tracking the national trend rather than Pembrokeshire’s low-key growth. For the workers beer was the chosen drink as it was believed to be healthier for them. With the quality of local water supply so doubtful, there was some truth in this. More workers with more money represented a perfect opportunity for any seller.

The second factor was the Beer Act passed by Parliament in 1830. This relaxed the licensing laws by introducing a new class of retailer, the beer-shop owner. Unlike pub licensees, prospective owners did not need approval from magistrates to sell beer; rather they just paid a sum to the Excise for the privilege. The role of magistrates in controlling their communities had been paramount to local administration for 250 years and more. The magistrates sidelined, the floodgates opened: between 1830 and 1832, the number of people licensed for the sale of beer in West Wales leaped from 158 to 1226! In the face of so much competition, retailers had to fight for business with one key tactic being to sell strong beer cheaply.

Pits and Pubs in Begelly c. 1830-60 (Map: copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd) Click to enlarge

It will come as no surprise that various enterprising locals spotted the opportunity to turn a profit by establishing beer-shops** in the 1830s-1840s. The map of the mining part of Begelly parish illustrates what happened. Prior to the 1830 Beer Act, there had been just 2 pubs in the parish, the Spread Eagle and the Miners Arms, both on the Tenby turnpike. By the late 1840s the collieries at Thomas Chapel and Hackett had provided the stimulus for at least 4 new beer-shops all close to the pithead. These must have competed aggressively for the limited business of both the few locals and, more importantly, the 100 or so miners working in the Thomas Chapel area. With few alternative attractions, many no doubt preferred the companionship of their workmates and at least one too many beers.

This over-supply of beer seems as preposterous today as it was to some at the time. In 1854 James Mark Child of Begelly House, a local magistrate, complained that having beer-shops close to the collieries at Thomas Chapel (and Stepaside) was “highly demoralising” to the neighbourhood. But even in his official capacity he was powerless to shut them down en masse. Only local economic forces made the difference: apparently none of the beer-shops survived the closure of the last pit around Thomas Chapel in the late 1850s.


** The Swan might have been an alehouse, not a beer-shop.

Map used in second graphic: copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd. Maps available for purchase either as printed edition or by download.



Many and varied! Let me know if you have a specific question.

Narberth, Whitland and Clynderwen Weekly News

Pembrokeshire Herald


Drink and Sobriety in Victorian Wales c.1820 – c.1895, W R Lambert, University of Wales Press, 1983

Industrial Saundersfoot, Martin Connop Price, Gomer Press, 1982

The Pubs of Narberth, Saundersfoot and South-East Pembrokeshire, Keith Johnson, Logaston Press, 2004

The Perils of 19th Century Home-Brew

Two of the previous three posts have considered the number of pubs in the Saundersfoot area in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Continuing this theme, the next two posts look at the importance of drink to the local community, a topic introduced by Gerry Brawn in a comment about one of these posts. Next week’s will cover the effect of changes in licensing laws following the 1830 Beer Act. Today’s changes tack slightly to look at how our ancestors took advantage of lax policing to make a bit of money on the side by brewing and selling their own beer.

St Mary's church, Begelly (Copyright: Robert Edwards) Click to enlarge

A quote from the Rev. Richard Buckby, vicar of Begelly, provides a good introduction. In December 1846 he gave evidence to the assistant commissioner investigating the state of children’s education in Wales. While there is some hyperbole in what Buckby reportedly said, his comments about the effects of home brewing are supported by other witnesses.

“Weddings are times of great rioting and debauchery…They brew as much ale as they can, and sell it, without a licence, to their friends, who are expected to give more than the market price. This is one way in which they can raise money to begin the world with… All these customs are merely varieties of ‘biddings’. The whole system works unmixed mischief.”

This was not a new problem for the local vicars. In 1799 one of Buckby’s predecessors, Rev. John Williams sought advice from the Bishop of St David’s on how to quell similar problems in Begelly and the surrounding parishes. Williams split the problem in two, which together had an “invariable Tendency to much Sin & Impiety”.

His first issue was that bidding weddings were held

“on Saturday whereby Drunkenness & Revelling is kept up all Saturday night & generally the whole of the Sabbath day ensuing…I know not whether it be possible to prevent the Parties’ Marrying on what Day they please…but having them on Saturday & keeping them on the Sabbath is peculiar to this Part of Wales.”

Williams’ complaint was different to Buckby’s.  He seemed to have no problem with the traditions and revelry associated with local weddings, just that they were held over the weekend, with celebrations continuing through Sunday. But it is difficult to believe this was a serious problem that required the bishop’s help: of the 10 weddings held at Williams’ church in 1798-9, just three were on Saturday.

Williams’ second concern was with

“Making what in this Country is called Ales: i.e. Some poor persons brewing occasionally without a License. The Time appointed for selling the Ale is Saturday Night & Sunday. At these meetings there is a great deal of Drunkenness & Revelling…I have reproved & exhorted the People in Publick & in private on the Subject and I believe they are not kept as often as they used to be, yet they are far from being suppressed & are kept concealed from me. According to a late Act of Parliament I am informed that the Magistrate is authorised to suppress all unlicensed Brewings; in Consequence of which I applied to a Magistrate in the Neighbourhood, who would not interfere unless a regular Information was brought before him, which I could not do as I never go to those.”

What was Williams’ issue with this? It is not clear if he was concerned about the breach of the law or that that locals were too drunk on Sunday to attend his church.

Taken together these two problems do suggest a traditional use of alcohol in people’s lives that continued over the next 50 years to Buckby’s time.

Within fifteen years of Buckby’s comments in 1846, the tradition of selling unlicensed beer was coming to an end. The help that Williams sought from the local authorities was finally at hand in the 1850s with the formation of an independent county constabulary replacing the often ineffectual parish constables. As Gerry Brawn points out in his comment, there are several references in local newspapers to magistrates fining those selling beer without a licence. Two examples from December 1859 will suffice. George Brace of Rock Farm, Begelly, was fined 10s for selling beer at his daughter’s wedding. Similarly Josiah Bowen, a collier of Woodside, St Issells, was fined the same amount, his son marrying just a few days earlier. This was about a week’s wages for him.


Apologies for this post being somewhat longer than my stated aim to write to a maximum of 500 words or so. I wanted to quote Williams at length as it is rare to get such insight about life in the area around 1800.


National Library of Wales, St David’s Clergy Presentments, 1799

National Library of Wales, The Blue Books of 1847. Buckby’s comment is on pp 421-2. I am planning to post an analysis of Buckby’s comment in full in due course.

Pembrokeshire Herald

Image of Begelly church: copyright Robert Edwards and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

A Serious Economic Hiatus in 1810?

Only 5 weeks on from starting this blog and I am going to break one of my “rules” that I will only publish one post a week. Here’s the second today.

I wanted to explain a teasing comment I made in the last paragraph of the previous post about the possible decline in mining activity in St Issells parish around 1810. The parish baptism register provides the evidence for this. Unusually for pre-1813 registers, it records fathers’ occupations for nearly all baptisms between 1798 and 1812 inclusive.

Click to enlarge

This chart compares baptisms for collier fathers against those with all other occupations for the years 1798 to 1820. The general trend suggests an equal split between colliers and other occupations over this period. There are two obvious exceptions to this rule: for 1809 and 1811 no collier baptisms were recorded. Moreover in 1810, there was only a handful. Closer analysis of the register shows that there were no collier baptisms between November 1808 and February 1812 apart from the 5 in 1810; 4 of these were in the last 2 months of that year. Fathers previously shown to have “collier” as their occupation were now “labourers”.

What is the explanation for this hiatus? There are two possible answers. The more obvious is that there was a change in the person recording the details in the register. It wasn’t the rector, Thomas Dalton; he remained in post throughout this period. However, rather than living in the parsonage close to the church, Dalton lived at Crunwear 6 miles away and employed a curate for local work. Maybe a new curate or parish clerk was responsible and simply preferred to use the term “labourer” instead of “collier”. In an area pock-marked with the detritus of mining activity, it is difficult to believe that a new curate would not have called a collier a collier!

An alternative explanation is the cessation of mining activity in the local pits for much of this period. Colliery accounts do survive for Moreton in the parish for 1810 and also for pits in Begelly so activity did not cease altogether. But, as the previous post shows, there were only 3 pubs in the parish at this time, compared with 7 around 1820 when there appears to have been more money around. This provides supporting evidence for my argument that the local industry was in trouble.

There’s a further point to add: on several later occasions during the 1800s local landowners paid colliers to repair roads during downturns in the local economy. In 1810 Lord Milford, owner of many of the pits in the local area, paid £15 to repair roads around Kingsmoor. Is this just a co-incidence or a necessary step to keep the locals from destitution and over-burdening the Poor Rate?

While neither explanation is water-tight, the second is my preferred option. Maybe a comparison with contemporary mining activity on both a regional and national basis will throw more light on what could just be a local problem. If I am right, I find it difficult to imagine the severe problems a 3 year stoppage would have wrought on the local community.

Comments are most welcome as always.

Going For A Drink: Local Pubs (Part Two)

Following on from the previous post, the second source for late 18th century pub history is the annual list of alehouse recognisances held in the Pembrokeshire Quarter Sessions records. From 1753 until 1828** each pub licensee had to have at least 1 surety willing to enter into a recognisance of £10 who would support the licensee in case of breach of licence. The list*** shows the parish (and sometimes more precise address details) where the pub was situated, the name of the licensee and the same details for the sureties. The name on the pub sign is rarely recorded.

The previous post concluded that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the more economically vibrant an area, the more pubs it was likely to have. This is clear from the alehouse recognisances for the then mining parishes of Loveston and Reynalton, just to the west of Begelly. Today these places have a rural air about them but around 1800 they were scenes of mining activity. During this period, the last reference I have to mining at Loveston was 1804 which corresponds with the last pub licence being granted for 1805. Similarly the last reference to Reynalton’s pits being operational was 1818, although struggling at the time, with the last licence granted for 1815.

Milford Arms pub

Milford Arms, Saundersfoot in 1794 - "Mr William Ormond's House" (Copyright: National Library of Wales). Click to enlarge.

For some, running a pub in the locality was clearly an opportunistic business. When pits were working with a sizeable workforce, pubs opened. When the pits closed, the pubs followed suit.

Much of the mining history of St Issells at this time is shrouded in mystery due to the poor survival rate of primary sources. Can the alehouse recognisances be used to provide pointers to the growth or otherwise of mining in the parish? The difficulty with this is that, in such a large parish as St Issells, the recognisances do not provide sufficiently precise location details to track where pubs were. However, by combining the recognisance data with other sources such as Land Tax and estate records, it is possible to make good guesses about locations.

The answer to the above question is that the presence of a pub in a particular spot can be used as indicative, though not conclusive, evidence of mining activity. In 1784, 5 pubs were licensed: 2 for Saundersfoot (probably the Wogans Arms and Milford Arms), 1 at Stepaside, 1 close to where Sardis church is today and possibly 1 at Tregallet farm in the north of the parish. The first 3 make sense with Stepaside in the heart of a mining area and the beaches at Saundersfoot being a meeting point for both carters and mariners. The other 2 make less sense and may indicate mining activity which is now lost from view.

Between 1800 and 1810 the number of licences granted each year was just 3, all of which were at Saundersfoot. This suggests that there was little mining activity in much of the parish, something supported by evidence in the parish baptism register for 1809 to 1811 in particular. Towards the end of our period however, the number of licences jumped to 7 in 1819; 1 on the turnpike road at what became the Fountain Head, 2 probably on the Ridgeway and 4 at Saundersfoot. Extant mineral leases for this period signed during the previous 5 years or so support this pattern.


** Lists of alehouse recognisances are held in the Pembrokeshire Quarter Sessions records from about 1780 until 1821 – for Narberth Hundred (which covers our area) the start date is 1784.

*** The following is a list of licensees’ surnames by parish for this period. If you want to check the full details (forename, more precise location details where available and period for which recognisances were taken out) for any of these then do let me know.

Begelly & East Williamston: Allen, Gunter, Jenkins, Lloyd, Morris, Protheroe and Roberts

Loveston: Hitchings and Thomas

Reynalton: Hodge, James and Llewhellin

St Issells: Absalom, Allen, Beynon, Brinn, Butterfield, Davies, Evans, Griffiths, Henton, James, Lawrence, Lewis, Lloyd, Ormond, Parcell, Prickett and Thomas


Pembrokeshire Record Office: Quarter Sessions files, 1784-1821.

National Library of Wales: Plan of Saundersfoot 1794 (cat ref Picton Castle Maps and Plans 18); reproduced with permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/The National Library of Wales

Going For A Drink: Local Pubs (Part One)

In 2004 Keith Johnson published the second in his series of books about the public houses of Pembrokeshire. It covers the Narberth and Saundersfoot area, a bold attempt to tell the history of most if not all the pubs in the area. What could have been just a boring list is quite the opposite and worth reading.

Maybe due to the nature of available sources, Johnson has generally limited his scope to the 19th and 20th centuries. There are however two collections of source material that record details of pubs in the mid-late 18th and early 19th centuries. What do these tell us?

The first is the billeting return commissioned by the War Office in 1756. This provides a list of all inns and alehouses capable of accommodating men and horses. The second set is the ale-house recognisances held in the Quarter Sessions rolls from about 1784 to the early 1820s. Used by Johnson in a sensible but limited way, this will be covered in my next post.

Before looking at the first set, it is important to understand the terminology of the time. Historians make much of the distinction between an inn and an ale-house. While unfortunately it is not clear from these records which was which, in reality it doesn’t matter. Jennings has recently written:

“Although inns, ale-houses, taverns and houses specialising in selling spirits were…distinct establishments, it should be noted that over the course of the eighteenth century the term public house came to be used for all types of drinking place.”

For brevity as much as the lack of precision in the sources I have used the term public house (shortened to pub) throughout these posts.

Back to the 1756 survey: the return for Saundersfoot area lists three establishments, each with one bed and stabling for two horses. Only the barest of details are recorded for each pub so I have used other sources in an attempt to be more precise about the locations:

Location Licensee Probable precise location
Saundersfoot Elizabeth Harts Wogans Arms (based on Hean Castle estate records)
Wooden Griffith Beynon Holborn farm (poll books and Knethell estate map)
Begelly Martha Rees Begelly Bottom (probate documents and Picton Castle estate records)

The location of each pub has economic rationale behind it. Although Saundersfoot was just a hamlet in the 1750s, its beach was a shipping point for coal from pits in the immediate hinterland. The other 2 were both on the road linking Narberth and Tenby.

Map of the area c. 1818 showing the location of the 3 pubs listed in the War Office Billeting Return (Map: copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd) Click to enlarge

Undoubtedly there were more pubs in the area in 1756. The next posting will show that, for example, there were 8 locally in 1784 so the 3 listed above are probably just the establishments with suitable accommodation for billeting purposes, the others being simple “locals”.

An interesting point is that there were 9 inns recorded in the area along the Cleddau river, several miles to the west of our area. This supports Connop Price’s contention that Jeffreyston, Cresswell Quay and other stops on the river formed the busier epicentre for coalmining well into the 18th century, resulting in higher levels of economic activity.


TNA, Inns and Ale-houses: Return of Accommodation for Men and Horses, 1756 (cat ref WO 30/49); I have transcribed the available returns for Pembrokeshire, part of Carmarthenshire and 10 inns in Ceredigion. Click GENUKI for the transcription.

The Pubs of Narberth, Saundersfoot and South-East Pembrokeshire, Keith Johnson, Logaston Press, 2004

“Liquor licensing and the local historian: inns and alehouses 1753-1828”, Paul Jennings, The Local Historian, 2010, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp 136-150

Pembrokeshire the Forgotten Coalfield, Martin Connop Price, Landmark Publishing Ltd, 2004

Map used in graphic: copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd. Maps available for purchase either as printed edition or by download