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

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