Look, we get it. Sometimes you’re going to end up *gasp* going outside of London and travelling around the UK. And, inevitably, you’ll end up in a few watering holes along your journeys. Having already peered through the mists of time and beer goggles to tell you about the oldest pubs in London, we’re now setting our sights a little further afield, with Secret London’s guide to the oldest pubs in the UK.
Murky records and varying definitions mean there’s no true consensus on the crucial question: which is the oldest pub in the UK? However, all of the following pubs present a compelling case, with great stories to boot. So read on, and learn about the great watering holes of the country.
1. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham
Dates claimed from 1189
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem has made a bold gambit for the title of the UK’s oldest pub (or inn, rather), by splashing the honour prominently over the pub’s exterior. Despite that, there don’t appear to be any records to back the claim up. The pub is very much a part of the city, being built into the same rocks upon which Nottingham Castle stands, and the name indicates it was once perhaps a stop upon the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Inside, you can sit and drink in caves that have been carved out of the rock, and peer at curiosities. Among the strange sights are a cursed ship which kills anyone who cleans it, and a chair which is said to increase one’s chances of becoming pregnant. Standard pub ornaments, really…
2. The Royal Standard of England, Beaconsfield
Dates claimed from c.1086
We’re gonna throw our weight into the ring and say that we think this is the most likely to be the oldest pub in the UK. The truth is, of course, a little more complicated, with ghosts, kings, and highwaymen all playing a part (the full history is a riot, and can be found on the pub website).
The bare-bones of the story is this: the pub was listed as an alehouse called The Ship Inn and was documented as such in the Domesday Book in 1086. It’s home to the ghost of a 12-year-old Irish drummer boy from the Civil War. It saw Charles I hide in a priest hole in the roof. And it played host to Charles II entertaining his mistresses there, possibly in exchange for the new, royal-approved name of The Royal Standard of England. Oh, and it’s also made an appearance in Hot Fuzz (among a dazzling number of other films and TV shows). So, at the very least it’s got plenty of stories to tell!
3. The Old Ferry Boat Inn, St Ives
Dates claimed from 560
Confusingly, this is St Ives in Cambridgeshire, not the more famous one in Cornwall. That aside, The Old Ferry Boat Inn has a strong claim to be the oldest UK pub. alcohol has purportedly been served on this site since the year 560. The foundations of the pub date back to 1400ish, but it’s got a mention in the Domesday Book too. Like The Royal Standard, there’s a resident ghost: this one by the name of Juliet. She’s said to be the spirit of a woman who committed suicide after being jilted by her lover in 1050. The pub was then, rather unkindly, built atop her grave. Which is presumably why she’s still haunting it to this day.
4. The Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold
Dates claimed from 947
A beautiful bucolic spot like the Cotswolds needs a beautiful pub to match, and The Porch House provides just the right touch. As one of the oldest pubs in the UK, parts of the building have been carbon-dated as far back as the year 947, but it doesn’t appear to have been used as a pub until the 1700s. Upmarket pub grub, including highly-regarded Sunday roasts, are part of the charm these days, and you’re well-poised to strike out for the nearby gorgeous villages of Broadway and Bourton-on-the-Water after a restorative pint.
5. The Bingley Arms, Bardsey
Dates claimed from 953
A man named Samson Ellis was reportedly brewing beer on this spot in 953! Today’s pints tend to come from more modern breweries, but The Bingley Arms – found just north of Leeds – still boasts a rich history. Once known as The Priest’s Inn, it lay upon a well-trodden route from Kirkstall Abbey to York, and has two priest holes that may have hidden Catholics during the 16th century. As is the case with many of the UK’s oldest pubs is reportedly home to three ghosts, including a ghost dog that I’m sure is still a Very Good Boy.
6. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans
Dates claimed from 793
In the battle of the oldest pubs in the UK, this place has the Guinness Book of World Records on its side. That’s due to the grand claim that pub foundations were once part of the palace of Offa, king of the Mercians (of Offa’s Dyke fame), and reportedly built in 793. Since he’s not around to ask anymore, we rely on historical records, which indicate that the current building was constructed in the 11th century – what we do know is that the pub has had its name since at least 1872.
The pub was due to close in 2022, but the local community stepped in to ensure the historic drinking hole remained part of the community for years to come. Ye Old Fighting Cocks owes its unusual octagonal shape due to its previous life as a pigeon house and claims that Oliver Cromwell once spent the night there.
7. Ye Olde Man & Scythe, Bolton
Dates claimed from 1251
Their Twitter bio proudly boasts that the first pint was served here in the 11th century, and its name is mentioned in a charter from 1251. Their Instagram bio even goes so far as to lay claim to being the oldest cider house (though they place themselves as merely the fourth-oldest pub in the UK). However, what makes this place really fascinating is the ghost, said to be the spirit of James Stanley, Earl of Derby, who was executed outside the pub in 1651.
Ye Olde Man & Scythe’s long, and blood-stained, history doesn’t stop there, however, and there are a purported 25 spirits – at least! – haunting the place. And we’re not talking about their whiskey and gin selection…
8. The Skirrid Mountain Inn, Abergavenny
Dates claimed from 1110.
As the only Welsh spot on this list, we feel pretty secure bestowing the title of the oldest pub in Wales upon The Skirrid Mountain Inn. Congratulations! The pub gets its name from a nearby mountain, The Skirrid, and claims both to have inspired Shakespeare and been the rallying point for Owain Glyndŵr’s troops during his war against the English. A licensed inn has apparently stood on this spot since 1110, but the current building dates from the 17th century. The old oak beam above the bar is rumoured to have been used to hang those who participated in the Monmouth Rebellion against James II.
9. The George Inn, Norton St Philip
Dates claimed from 1397.
Strangely enough, our next pub also saw use as an execution site in the aftermath of the Monmouth Rebellion, with twelve people executed on the village common. As The George Inn has seemingly had a license to serve alcohol since 1397, perhaps the prospect of a nice frothy pint after a long day of executing proved too enticing to pass up… Nowadays, the historic charm, excellent food menu, and cosy rooms make it a firm favourite with locals.
10. The Clachan Inn, Drymen
Dates claimed from 1734
Onto a pair of pubs competing for the title of the oldest pub in Scotland now, and first up, it’s The Clachan Inn. Found just north of Glasgow, the pub was licensed in 1734, which makes it one of the longest-running licenses in the UK. The woman who got the pub its license, Mistress Gow, was said to be the sister of legendary outlaw Rob Roy, and this claim has been widely accepted as making The Clachan Inn the oldest in Scotland. Unless, of course, it’s actually the following entry…
11. The Sheep Heid Inn, Edinburgh
Dates claimed from 1360
Two key dates would give The Sheep Heid Inn the edge over The Clachan. 1360 is the year in which an inn reportedly opened on this spot, which would make this the oldest surviving public house in Scotland. The oldest record of the name “Sheep Heid Inn” comes in 1710, which you’ll note would still be old enough to supersede its competitor. Whatever the case, this one is a firm favourite with royals: Mary Queen of Scots was a known visitor, James I presented the landlord with a snuff box as a token of his appreciation, and in 2016, Elizabeth II dropped by for a visit. Perhaps they caught wind of the pub’s skittle alley?
12. The Highway Inn, Burford
Dates claimed from 1480
Another Cotswold beauty, the Burford Inn has been welcoming guests for over 500 years, and they’ve poured a lot of pints in that time. Settle in beside one of the pub’s roaring fireplaces and you can’t help but feel transported back in time. An onsite restaurant serves hearty British fare and comfortable rooms make it an enticing option for an overnight stay.
13. The Bell Inn, Nottingham
Dates claimed from 1437
Records show that The Bell Inn dates all the way back to 1437. But, not content with almost 600 years of history, the proprietors tell of a brewery on the site as far back as the 12th century. Until the 16th century, The Bell Inn was a friary guesthouse. However, when Henry VIII took a break from feasting and procreating to dissolve the monasteries, it became an alehouse for us heathens. More modern developments (not dictated by royal decree) have seen a gin bar installed upstairs, as another of the UK’s oldest pubs rolls with the times.
14. Adam & Eve, Norwich
Dates claimed from 1249
The first customers of the Adam & Eve alehouse were said to be workmen building nearby Norwich Cathedral. Indeed, records indicate that a tavern may have stood on this site since 1249. Back then it may have been a brewhouse operated by Benedictine monks. The pub may look beautiful from the outside, but it’s hidden a few macabre secrets in its time. In the 1970s, the remains of a monk were found during cellar excavations, and his ghost reportedly still haunts the pub today.
15. Ye Olde Salutation Inn, Nottingham
Dates claimed to 1240
There’s just something about Nottingham and the UK’s oldest pubs, isn’t there? Ye Olde Salutation Inn is the third city boozer laying claim to the mantle of the oldest pub in the country. And they’ve got a fairly strong claim, albeit under a variety of guises. The original name, ‘Angel Gabriel Saluting the Blessed Virgin Mary’, proved a bit of a mouthful. It then spent a brief spell as ‘The Soldier and Citizen under Cromwell’, before adopting the current name.
Caves beneath the building are thought to have been from a 9th-century Saxon farm, and whilst it’s definitely a pub for the history buffs, there’s another group you’ll often find frequenting it. The ‘Sal’ is actually one of Nottingham’s best live music venues, with a strong focus on metal and rock. Whatever would Cromwell say?
Also published on Medium.