The Dangers of the Early Modern Alehouse

Alehouses were common in early modern England. A 1577 census of England recorded the existence of 14,202 alehouses, alongside hundreds of inns and taverns. Alehouses were similar to modern pubs, primarily offering ale (unsurprisingly) as an alcoholic refreshment and offering a place for the common person to relax. Jennifer Bishop claims that the period 1550–1700 saw a ‘golden age’ for English alehouses and their popularity grew to such an extent that religious officials saw them as a threat to religious obedience. Thomas Young, a Scottish minister, wrote in 1617 that the average parishioner would ‘goe ten times to an Ale-house, before they goe once to a Church’ and although drunkenness had long been something against which the authorities — religious and civic — had railed, ale-houses seemed to make the problem systemic. One broadside ballad from the late 17th century features a dialogue between a man (Henry) and his wife (Elizabeth), who complains that ‘Thou hast in the Alehouse wasted in vain’, echoing the popular view that alehouses encouraged infidelity and destructive behaviour. In reality, however, the early modern alehouse was a place for socialising, unwinding, and murdering. Oh, didn’t I mention the murder?

A depiction of an early modern alehouse
John Pearson, Bishop of Chester (1673–1686)
A woodcut depicting a seventeenth-century alehouse

Interested in History. Specifically, Tudor History and the Middle Ages in England.

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