1. : Born Free
As discussed under Breweries, all pubs were -
at one time - free houses, for the simple reason
that the landlords were - with their other hats on -
their own brewers !
Specialist "common brewers", utilising 'economies of
scale' and improved transport, gained the commercial
limelight by promising relief for landlords (who were
doing at least two jobs).
Some publicans saw nothing but advantages in
giving-up their "home-brewing"; and, in their
heyday, could buy wholesale products from
at least two breweries.
So they could give their customers far more choice
and, probably, more consistent quality.
It has taken between 150 and 200 years to get back
to this happy situation, in today's better-managed
2. : Tying-up
Fairly early-on, the new generation of
Common Brewers also decided that concentrating
on one job was a good idea; and that Sales (if not
Marketing) functions were a wasteful luxury.
Their answer was to find landlords who would agree
to buy from just one supplier. So attractive was this
notion (to the brewers) that they would offer financial
inducements, to get extra landlords to "tie" their pubs
to the brewery.
With enough money from their profitable businesses,
they could even purchase the freeholds or leaseholds
This made escape (other than physical), for any
disillusioned landlords, almost impossible.
Customers, at the time, were never too fazed by all
these commercial machinations. With dozens of pubs
within staggering distance, they could always get
their preferred tipple(s) elsewhere.
3. : The Stranglehold
Bolstered by the perfectly adequate levels of
competition between pubs, the process of "tying"
houses continued apace during the 19th Century.
Mergers in the brewing industry increased profits,
and hence greater financial "clout" in the property
markets, and pressures on Licensed Victuallers.
A vicious circle, in fact, developed : because the
smaller breweries, having fewer and fewer free
outlets for their products, were squeezed out.
One by one they succumbed to takeovers,
yielding any of their own tied "estate".
The situation which had developed by 1845
is clearly illustrated by the 1845 List.
Even when the Norwich industry had further contracted
to the Big Four, there was still some degree of choice
for the PBC (customer) - who had to "lump it or leg it".
See the 1914 List for a later "snapshot"
of the tied-house situation.
By 1980 that minimal choice had been virtually
extinguished by the Watney Evil Empire.
4. : The Heretics
A few - very few - stalwarts remained unconvinced
that 100% tied houses was a good idea.
Although they did no brewing, they persisted in
the view that they should be able to ask any
brewer to supply them, as free retailers.
Another possibility, once mergers in Norwich had
reached a high level, was to persuade a brewer in
(say) Ipswich to copy Lacon's excellent example
of "infiltration" from Great Yarmouth.
Sadly, such efforts were seldom made to get bulk
supplies of draught beer; although there had always
been many dealers in bottled goods (usually called
Wine Merchants); who would procure them from
London, Burton, or even further afield.
The Wild Man, the Pigeons and the Boar's Head were
some exceptions which 'proved the rule'; although
the first two were largely tied to Tollemache, later
Tolly Cobbold of Ipswich.
5. : The Fight-back
As mentioned in Freedom of Choice, the way back
from the du-opoly situation of the late 1980's was
- in theory - almost impossible; unless one of the
national brewing concerns would somehow volunteer
to release its grip on tied properties.
Incredibly the retreat did happen : not by any grand
gesture of repentance by the 'nationals', nor by an
overnight collapse of the system. It took sustained
customer-pressure, over several years, in the form of
a partial boycott of the products of the mainly
As well as ignoring popular preferences for Real Ale
over their disliked offerings, they had overlooked
other factors, including :-
- Growth of shops selling kits for Home Brewing;
- The beers available in Supermarkets and
off-licences, in cans as well as bottles
(indeed larger containers!)
- Above all, the determination of consumers to
resist the dictats of the Big Breweries.
6. : The Revival
In other remarks about new ventures, we have noted
the disproportionate significance of the founding of a
few, new local breweries from the year 1981; and the
older firms outside Norfolk still surviving at that time.
However, it must surely be acknowledged that their
subsequent successes, and the amazing speed of the
retail changes, had been principally founded on the
bruising defeat of the Nationals by -
The way became open; but only when tied pub, after
tied pub, became unviable and had to close; allowing
the Authorities to issue licences to other firms and individuals.
Happily, most of the new licences were awarded to
landlords of FREE houses : the best guarantee of a
swiftly-expanding market for the newest brewers.
Unsurprisingly, the Suffolk invasion - overdue and
welcome as it was - was more inclined to take
the tied-house route.
It was, nevertheless, a fine sight to see the insignia of a
Watney's or a Courage's house torn down and replaced
by those of Southwold Jack or the Greene King.
7. : Chained, not Tied
In all forms of business the phrase
"pace of change" is commonly heard.
To prove the point, in the retail pub sector, and hard
on the heels of the re-birth of the free-house, came the
It is not an altogether new idea, or we would never have
Asda, Tesco etc. selling biscuits or soap to the millions.
In such a chain, the pubs are every bit as fully-owned
and tied to the principal firm (quite likely a national one)
as in the old Tied Estates; but the beers come from a
third party - hopefully, several parties - i.e. just like a free house !.
Except that each of these "free" houses may be almost
identical to the others in the chain - in terms of products,
prices and (perhaps) appearance, both inside and out.
8. : "PubCos"
Companies - as opposed to breweries - controlling pubs
on a widespread basis, can take several other forms;
and are rather beyond the scope of this article.
Adrian Hennessy's website has a
useful list, with
a local slant; albeit not updated since May 2007.
Also see (e.g.) notes on Punch Taverns.
In the early days, however, companies such as
Inntrepreneur were specially formed to act as
vultures or undertakers for the ailing brewery 'nationals'.
Where a 'national' was so wounded as to want to
leave the area completely, the new company acquired
the pubs en bloc and thus at a favourable price.
Acting mainly as property companies, they then seemed
to leave the choice of beers very much to their tenants.
From the viewpoint of the customer, this result, also,
may be as good as any free-house. Such a case, if still
extant, is usually marked as a de facto Free House.
On the other hand, many pubs would have been
converted/demolished, in favour of other uses.
Conversely, Tap and Spile, now strangely
in this City, are/were a chain majoring in controlling
the choice, flow and (low) pricing of the beers, with
beneficial links to many independent brewers throughout the U.K.
Finally, there is the Wetherspoon's chain.
I am sure that they would have us believe that
"The Future is Wetherspoon's".
9. : The Future
Until quite recently, their expansion rate
certainly seemed to be exponential . . . .
But see the abandonment of the City Gate.
In case anybody has yet to visit any of
I should point-out that
they operate a combination of :-
The latter means that they tend to snub the major
- "Tap & Spile"-type beer procurement and pricing;
- A property-acquisition policy
opposite to those mentioned above.
brewers, and decline to take any of the truly
redundant pubs off their hands. Instead they convert
almost any other kind of building imaginable
(e.g. chapel, cinema) into a public-house.
The future also seems likely to be full of trendy
night-club-style Cocktail Bars; often loosely based
on "Theme Pubs".
Hopefully it will be many years before we have to
endure another cycle of brewery mergers and pub closures.
Long live the Free House !