1. : The Need
This is no place to review the entire history of
English Licensing Laws. But a few "markers"
are needed to make sense of what has
happened 'on the ground' - over the last
couple of centuries, at any rate.
To begin with, Justices of the Peace had
exercised their powers over "pubs" since
at least 1552, in the reign of Edward VI.
We may readily suppose that rowdiness
- following heavy drinking - was uppermost in
the minds of the Authorities, as it still is today !!
On the other hand, there has always been a
limit to what a Licensee ('Landlord') can do to
control the behaviour of customers.
For other possible reasons, for the control
exercised by J.P.s, see auxiliary notes on
Alehouse Recognizances of the late 18th C.
2. : Licensing Relaxation
Clearly a "free-market" monarch, George IV
(1820 to 1830) began the relaxation of the laws;
then William IV swiftly completed the removal
of all control by the Justices in 1830.
This may well account for the large number of
"pubs" dedicated to him, in 7 short years !.
As a direct result, low-grade pubs (known as
"beerhouses") sprang up in large numbers.
By 1840 Queen Victoria had reacted :
restricting beer-houses to a maximum of £8
annual rateable value, which thinned them out.
Oddities of the Licensing system are
explored in a separate article.
Somewhat later in the century, apparently a
Government "u-turn" reinstated the general
oversight powers of the Licensing Justices.
Also hours had been restricted (locally)
as early as 1848 - see paragraph 4.
3. : Proliferation
Rateable values notwithstanding, the fact
remains that full-blown pubs and beerhouses
existed in very large numbers in the
mid- to late- 19th Century.
As Riddington Young
points out, many
'alehouses' (his composite term) were little more
than the downstairs room of a house where the
family lived at the brewery's expense.
He further mentions the fact, observable since
the earliest records
of 1760, that publicans
were seldom full-time "victuallers", and
usually had (at least) one other trade.
Indeed this other trade often found its way into
the name ('inn-sign') of the premises - e.g.
Young's snapshot of 1870 concludes that the
total number of 'alehouses' was no less than
780. This compares with a figure of 558
- for fully-fledged pubs only - in the
Also see notes on pub numbers.
4. : Pubs Hours
Once gaining a Licence, the landlord had -
historically - been allowed his own discretion
about opening hours; bearing in mind the threats
(from rowdiness etc.) to his continued existence,
under the terms of his licence.
But in September 1848 a local
ordinance closed the pubs at midnight!
In August 1872, a Licensing Act cut the hours to
17 per weekday : from 6.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m.
Also, under the Act, many
alcohol (off-licences, wine merchants etc.)
were not allowed to open on Sundays.
Likewise humble beerhouse licensees.
These moves may well have tended to reduce
the number of pubs; also relative to the new
'standards' for pubs - required by the 1872 Act.
But the more likely result was jugs of beer
being taken from the pubs at closing-time.
See Thompson, page 29.
Continued . . .
The same arguments have persisted until the
present day. The widespread availability of beer,
in cans and bottles, from shops and off-licences,
makes nonsense of any attempt to regulate
drinking per se.
The next curtailment, under the exigencies of
WWI, was via the Defence of the Realm Act
(Aug. 1914) By 1915 closing-time had been
brought forward to 9.30 p.m.
After WWII broke out, *typical opening hours :-
Midday to 2.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. to 10.00
Other days :
6.00 p.m. to 10.30
(N.B. - no 'daytime' hours !!)
(*Evidence from the Rainbow, King St. - 1940s).
Closing times have been restored, to those of
the late 19th C., only in quite recent decades;
but legislation, which came into force on
24th Nov. 2005, allows much more freedom.
5. : Redundancy
After 1872, and for the next three decades
and more, the Licensing Magistrates insisted
upon the surrender of licences of existing
pubs (often two or three at a time) before the
brewery was allowed to open a new house.
That arrangement, moreover, did not guarantee
the transfer(s); as the "trade-offs" were fought
with vigour on both sides, and refusals could
hold things up for some years.
Later, the continual spread of Edwardian housing
would probably cause the magistrates to cave-in :
e.g. at the Lacon Arms - see paragraph 7.
6. : Forced Closures
For all that had happened throughout
the 19th Century, it was -
'generally accepted that there were more
This was Parliament's view, so it gave Licensing
licensed premises than were really justified'.
Justices the power to put the "kybosh" on houses
they considered surplus to local requirements.
Fortunately, as the title of the
Compensation Act 1904 suggests, pubs
were not simply extinguished; but the
Compensation Authority would make the
final decision - then award compensation
to both landlord and brewery.
In Norwich, the first licence expired in
January 1906, and a total of 25 houses
was "referred" in the following 12 months.
In fact, no more were settled in 1906;
but 23 were in 1907, followed by 15 in 1908.
In all, some 139 pubs were closed under
the Act; the final "batches" being of six,
in late 1939, and three in January 1941.
After that, it was left to Adolf Hitler
to reduce the numbers!
The average 'closure' rate in the period
1909 - 1938 is almost exactly three per annum.
It is important to note that compensation
did not necessarily mean that the premises
were all closed; as some remained in business,
downgraded to mere "beer-houses".
They clearly believed in having their cake
and eating it !.
7. : Control Persists
A few well-documented cases (e.g.  Lacon Arms)
illustrate that the opening of new pubs was just
as difficult in the 1920s and 1930s as it had
ever been since the 1870s.
Nevertheless, very many pubs in the 'inner-'
City areas were abandoned in favour of new
pubs in the outskirts of the ever-expanding City.
It is just possible that the Norwich Magistrates
were particularly severe on Lacon's brewery,
now that it was based entirely in Gt. Yarmouth !