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Pub Numbers in Norwich

(Paras. 1 to 8)

2. The Abhorrence :  3. The Imprecision
4. Small Beginnings :  5. Victoria & Albert
  6. High Water  :  7. Downhill
8. Chapman or Orwell?

1. : The Fascination

There has always been a considerable, even
healthy, interest in the sheer  total number  of
pubs : in Norwich, and no doubt elsewhere too.

However, by 'always' we probably mean only
since the early 20th C., when pubs were already
on the decline; and when - as a reaction? - the
subject of  pubs-research  was
coming into fashion.

The publication of  Walter Wicks'  book, in 1925,
is a pretty good marker for the "modern" interest
in such matters to commence flourishing.

As in my clear boyhood recollections,  Young
reminds us (quoting 1939 = my 5th year) that
the  'proud boast'  of the City was that it had -

    A pub for every day of the year, and
    A church for every Sunday.
Young goes on to point out that 365 is,
in historical terms, a  very modest  figure !.

2. : The Abhorrence

As early as 1681, Dean Prideaux of
Norwich Cathedral  was railing against the
over-abundance of pubs in the City.
As noted in para. 4 below, the number
would have been of the order of 250.

Yet he maintained :-
"The town swarms with alehouses - every other
house is almost one; and every one of them
they tell is alsoe a bawdy house."
  (my italics)

So he made a petition to the Mayor regarding
"putteing the alehouses down."
It took until 1904 for his wishes to  be granted
by central Government.

Young  points to the strong political influence of
the local brewers, and the Excise revenue, as
factors then blocking any restriction of trade.

3. : The Imprecision

There is not much difficulty in getting a vague,
general outline of the rise and fall in pub
numbers since records were first kept.

There are, however, great complications in
defining which premises actually qualify as
pubs;  and the lesser ranks of "beer-houses"
are often hard to trace in the published prints.

Described, by ourselves, as "essential reading"
is the Chapter on  definitions,  which examines
these inherent difficulties.

In earlier days (e.g. 17th Century) the term
'strong drink' was in use. Licences for such
would later be called "full licences" (i.e. incl.
spirits?), as distinct from beer-houses.

It is also important, where possible, to take
into account the facilities provided by the
allied profession of  Wine & Spirits Merchant,
some of whose firms were of considerable
size and influence.

4. : Small Beginnings

Norwich, like Topsy, grew from a small place;
so the pub numbers, in earlier centuries,
are inevitably modest.

But, relative to  population,  the provision
may well have been very generous : which is
- in any case - a much more sensible way
of looking at things.

A special Section highlights the
explosive nature of

  In 1651, strong-drink licences totalled
a mere 142.
In 1671,  excluding  beer-houses
(as we so often have to do), "ale-houses"
are believed to have totalled 243 or 244.

By 1702 this number had risen to 281
(= 107 inhabitants per pub).

In the period 1760 - 1763 there were
387 licences in force within the City proper,
plus 42 in "hamlets" beyond the  City Walls.

By 1811, immediately prior to the said
population 'explosion', the number had[1] dropped to 334;
but - by 1822 had recovered to 378
plus  some 30 to 40 beer-houses.


The reader will, therefore, have some difficulty
in determining the date when the City's  boast
first became a genuine one.

[1] Apparently.
    The 1811 Directory may have been
    less than thorough in its preparation??

5. : Victoria & Albert

The aforesaid  Trade Section  briefly outlines the
steady increase in 19th Century prosperity, as
reflected in growing pub numbers; while the
Licensing  Section describes the benign
legislative environment, in which they thrived.

Continued . . .

  5. (contd.)

From 1811, and - more particularly - from 1830
(just before Victoria) the  Trades Directories
closely track these changes; but they cannot be
relied upon to include OR exclude  beer-houses.

What is worse, they seldom agree on the extent
of the geographic area they should cover (i.e.
within the  City Walls,  the City Boundary, or the
entire "Greater Norwich" area).

The 1830 lists (surprisingly for 'Greater Norwich')
total 439; quite contrasting with a figure of 1070
for "victuallers", derived from the  Excise Returns.
Possibly wives were included in the latter figure.

The  Official 1845 List  totals 558 - excluding
beer-houses, but including merchants.

6. : High Water

By 1870 the figure had risen to 670; although
that quoted by Young - namely 780 - may either
have been inflated by beer-houses, or
- more likely - by the propaganda element
of the organisation [2] responsible
for data collection.

Licensing Act  in August 1872
had some detrimental effects.

Figures for 1873 were 596 (fully-licensed) pubs,
plus 42 beerhouses (= 638); thus providing a
pub for every 121 City inhabitants !.

W. Ratcliff's "Drink Map" of 1878 lists a total of
655 licensed houses; but the official licensing
figure (including 3 "refreshment houses")
was 634, with 38 of them being beerhouses.

In 1881 the figure of inhabitants per pub
had risen to 143.
The  Ordnance Survey  map of 1883
also shows pubs, often by name.

Given that the figure had dropped to 627
by 1886 [alleged 615 by 1885??] - but with 18
wine licences  in addition (for restaurants?) -
we may conclude that the peak was reached
sometime in the early-to-mid 1870s.

The peak for beerhouses, however,
seems to have been in 1887, with 48.

In August 1890 the figure for 'proper' pubs
(572) was 21 short of the 1878 figure.
But beerhouses and wine licences
remained virtually static.

A further "Drink Map" was produced in 1892,
showing 631 pubs in all; as against 618
(officially) in 1890, plus 20 wine licences.

Factors discussed under  trade  caused a slow
and steady decline of  City Centre pubs,  as
the Century concluded; although, in 1900, there
were still 441 pubs  within  the  City Walls.

In 1905 only beerhouses had declined slightly
(at 41) but the grand total was pretty steady at 614.

[2] The Norwich Gospel Temperance Union.

7. : Downhill

Around the turn of the Century (1904) legislators
moved  against  licensed pubs, in the broadest
sense, as described in the  Licensing Section.

Only partly for this reason, in 1911 the
inhabitants/pubs ratio had shot up to 245.
The 1914 - 18 War  then administered
something of a coup de grace.

A useful snapshot of pre-war pubs can be found
in the  1914 List (Jarrolds); where 485 pubs,
including  29 beerhouses, are detailed.
The 1921 figure for inhabitants per pub was 277.

Despite continuing enforced closures, the magic
pubs  figure of 365 (or more) remained inviolate
throughout the first half of the 20th Century.
It was not until 1966 that the Chief Constable
informed the Licensing Justices that only
355 licences were still operative.

However,  Young  admits that this figure gives
a rosy and false impression; as it includes all
off-licences, restaurants and (private??) clubs.

So we go back to the  early-1960's  to find the
end  of the  Golden Era  of pubs in this City.

The inhabitants/pubs ratio soon exceeded
the total number of the pubs themselves ! :
400 in 1961, and 556 in 1971.

This is a reflection of a brutal cull of pubs,
peaking in the decade from c. 1961. It can
hardly be a co-incidence that 1961 was the
takeover year for  Morgan's  brewery.

The organisation of this cull is described
in detail  elsewhere.

8. : Chapman or Orwell?

Ken Chapman's  survey  in 1984 avoided the
kinds of premises  Young  mentions, but did
include hotels and some licensed refreshment
facilities attached to other 'public service'
buildings.

It found a total of 233 eligible outlets;
with no less than 630 inhabitants per pub !!

Also see the  1991 Pub Guide,  which listed
215 pubs (but missed some!).


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