The Drinking Man’s History of West Haddon.

Part-time pubs.

Even after the idea of drinking on the premises was accepted in rural areas, ale- houses were still part-time affairs . A brewer or alewife would have a pole, called an alestake outside the house and when the brew was ready for drinking a bush was tied to the alestake to let the local aletaster know that it was ready to be assessed. Although people brewed ale and beer for their own consumption, any that was offered for sale had to be up to a certain standard. If it were too weak, or if the seller failed to serve it in proper standard measures, he or she could be brought before the local manor court, accused of breaking the Assize of Ale. (This was an old statute, dating back to the time of the Magna Carta in 1215).

Between brews, the Ale-house keeper might concentrate on cultivating a bit of land, or getting income from another trade – often tailoring or shoemaking. Many people in the village before the upheaval of Enclosure, earned a living in this kind of patchwork way, the men working as day labourers perhaps when the larger farmers needed extra hands, raising a few livestock In backyards and on the rough grazing of the Heath, or taking advantage of the cottagers’ common rights to graze a cow and cut brushwood for firing, whilst their wives helped in the fields, or took in wool for spinning.

There wasn’t a lot of spare money around, but after a hard day in the fields or working at the loom or on the last, an increasingly popular way of spending it was a sociable evening in the ale-house. For some it was pure pleasure, for others a way of blotting out problems they had no way of overcoming, while for an increasingly literate number of artisans, the skilled craftspeople of the village, it was a chance to club together to buy the latest radical news-sheet to read and discuss amongst themselves. As brewing became more profitable it came to be dominated by men.

In the eighteenth century the beer on offer began to be supplemented by cheap imported spirits, notably gin. Drunkenness increased and began to be as a serious problem by the authorities. Wesley and the non-conformist Christian missionaries began to woo the working men out of their alehouses and into the new chapels. The Temperance movement began.