Many who visit the England will undoubtedly come across a pub. These establishments are tantamount to British culture and identity, located in practically every town and city, and having roots dating back to the country’s earliest days. The very origins of ale goes back to the Bronze Age, and with the Roman age came their revolutionary straight roads of travel that saw establishments for refreshment and rest popping up. After the Romans were the Anglo-Saxons who formed Ale-Houses that acted as open space to purchase beer, congregate and rent rooms, a ‘public house’ as it would become known in Medieval times, or… the pub.
These establishments are iconic to imagining old England. An ale house is depicted as the opening scene in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and even today they serve as settings in big budget fantasies such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. This article will lay out some of the oldest pubs in England, offering a unique travelling route through England from London to Nottingham.
London & Buckinghamshire
The capital is filled with thousands upon thousands of pubs with all sorts of history or local significance. It would be too long a list to go through even the key ones, however, as this pilgrimage does start in the South we’ll present a few you might want to visit before going onto the oldest in the greater London area.
The Old Bell Tavern is located on 95 Fleet Street and is worth visiting if you’re in the centre. You might recognise the street name from the notorious true tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd, adapted in musicals and films including one by Tim Burton. The Old Bell goes back even further from the days of Sweeney, who murdered his victims just down the road during the Victorian Times. The pub was built 300 years ago in the 1600’s and was even rebuilt after the Great Fire of London. Today it’s still a popular spot with an extensive range of gin and whiskey.
Old Bell Tavern
Once you’ve seen the glitz, glamour and sites of the capital and had your fill it’s time to visit some of the truly old public houses. The Royal Standard of England is said to be amongst, possibly the, oldest pub in England. Located outside urban London in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, the place is said to have been established 900 years ago! The popular spot has kept up olden appearances with candle lit rooms, old wooden tables, pew seating, rafters, medieval style windows and much more. Its old design has made it a popular film location but It’s also known for its incredible food menu and range of ales. Being so proud of its history visitors can inquire and get further information of its long history.
The Royal Standard of England
Cambridge to Norwich
Both Cambridge and Norwich are unique historical areas of England, with culture and settlements dating back to England’s very beginnings. Coming from London the best way to reach Norwich is through the world-renowned university town, giving you a chance to visit yet another ancient public house.
The oldest pub in the town of Cambridge is The Eagle, established in 1667. Although certainly not the oldest this article will cover the pub has a rich and important history. At the back of its large beer garden are messages from RAF soldiers scribbled during World War II. It’s also known as Eagle’s DNA because in 1953 it was a popular lunch spot for the Cavendish Laboratory, and on the 28th February Francis Crick disrupted lunch to announce to the room that he and James Watson had “discovered the secret of life”- DNA.
Of course, Cambridge makes for a great stop over because of its significance and beauty alone. Visitors can rest by the River Cam, stroll the campuses, take in the Fitzwilliam Musuem and visit the botanical garden.
Just outside Cambridge in Holywell resting on the Great Ouse river is the pub Old Ferry Boat Inn. This establishment is one of the oldest pubs in England with a thatched roof and whitewashed walls, the common design of houses centuries ago. At the back of the pub is a marked gravestone said to be that of a girl who broke her heart and lost her life by the river, rumor has it her ghost still wanders the pub. But don’t be put off, it’s a beautiful establishment in a scenic location with great food and lovely staff. The Old Ferry Boat Inn still functions as a hotel, so that’s worth considering if you’re planning a few days around Cambridge.
The Great River Ouse
Norwich to Nottingham
After spending some time around Cambridge and had your fill of delicious ale, pub food and taken in the splendour to the Ouse then it’s time to head toward the east coast of England to Norwich. Once known as North Wic, a wic being an inland port, this city as it stands has existed as early as the 10th Century, however its first settlements can be traced back to Roman times. Norwich is the most complete medieval city in the UK with ancient structures and house including, Dragon Hall, the Guildhall and Strangers’ Hall.
The city too has a long history of brewing, once home to a number of large breweries famous to England such as Youngs and the Norwich Brewery. In fact, in the 1870s Norwich the highest number of pubs out any other city in England – over 780 beer-houses.
Although this might not be the case anymore there is still one pub that dates back all the way to the 13th century. The Adam & Eve pub was once a monastic brewhouse, with its patrons made mostly of workmen building the city’s now-famous cathedral. It’s today a very pretty establishment adorned with flowers and built with brick and flint in 17th century style. It’s situated by the river and making it the perfect place to drop in after a nice walk by the water or after a visit to Norwich Cathedral. It serves traditional pub food sourced locally and has a wide selection of quality ales; the owners are staff are also very friendly and welcoming.
Adam & Eve Pub
Moving on from Norwich it’s time to take a trip in-land again to Nottingham, a drive that will likely take around 3 hours. If you wan to break up the drive and make a day of it you could stop at The Wash National Nature Reserve, a stunning park situated on the coast and the biggest bay in England.
Once in Nottingham there’s a lot to see before it’s time to settle down in the pub. The city too is one of the oldest in England with its roots reaching as far back as Roman times. The city has a rich medieval identity with Nottingham Castle being a top attraction. Other spots to see are Wollaton Hall, an estate built in 1588 that now serves a beautiful natural history museum in the middle of the park, as well as Mortimer’s Hole under the castle itself, once used as a secret passageway centuries ago. Now it holds the Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard.
The oldest pub in Nottingham is too considered one of the oldest in England with claiming to go back all the way to 1189. That pub is called Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. The name comes as it is likely crusaders stopped by before their long departure to the war in the Holy Lands. It has an incredible interior as the building is built into the very cliff underneath Nottingham Castle, making the drinking spot look like a cave. Today it’s still ranked as one of the city’s best pubs with a vibrant atmosphere, fine ales and great food including a top-notch traditional roast on Sundays. If you’re brave enough inquire about their cellar tours and learn of the ghost that haunts the establishment.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn