Early Heywood Pubs: The Curse of the Working Classes

Before the recent spate of pub closures, Heywoodites used to take some pride (rightly or wrongly) in the high number of pubs in the town. It is still a common boast that Heywood was in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most pubs per head of population. There are two things to say about this;

Firstly, it is an urban myth simply because the publishers have no record for ‘most pubs’.

Secondly, if Guinness did have such record, Heywood would have once had a decent chance of holding it, if the figures in this 2008 BBC article are anything to go by. An unscientific survey for a Radio 4 show asked the question ‘which town has the most pubs for its size?’ and resulted in least 25 places staking their claim. These included ‘Glasgow, Glastonbury, Bewdley, Bollington, Weymouth, Witney, Saffron Walden and St Albans’ Some of the top contenders were:
  • Manningtree, Essex: 5 pubs, 900 people (180 per pub) 
  • Otley, West Yorkshire: 21 pubs, 15,000 people (714 per pub) 
  • Brighton and Hove: 278 pubs, 250,000 people (899 per pub) 
  • Beeston, Nottinghamshire: 18 pubs, 21,000 people (1,166 per pub)
Until the 1990s there were at least 60 pubs in Heywood, and with a population near 28,000 that averages out to 466 people per pub. That would easily top the list above if we ignored the little village with five pubs. What this says about the people of Heywood, and whether it is something to be proud about, is open to debate. It is unclear why the town had so many pubs, but there was obviously a local drinking culture that supported them.

Inns, Taverns, Pubs and Beerhouses: What’s the Difference?
Looking at the history of pubs, it is necessary to distinguish between ‘inns’, ‘taverns’, ‘alehouses’ (more recently public houses or pubs), and ‘beerhouses’. These names are quite interchangeable today, but in pre-industrial England they referred to very specific establishments and were recognised in statute and common law.

The largest of these places were the inns, which were usually quite fashionable establishments licensed for accommodation and offering alcoholic drinks and good food to well-to-do travellers (as well as stabling and fodder for their horses). They were the equivalent of modern hotels. ‘Coaching inns’ also stabled teams of horses for stage and mail coaches. The popularity of coaching inns declined by the 1850s with the rise of the railways.

Early taverns did not usually offer accommodation, and were more a place where people gathered to drink and be served food (that was generally of a lesser quality than found in inns). Taverns traditionally served wine, which was much more expensive than ale so they tended to cater to richer patrons. They never accounted for more than 5% of licensed properties nationally, and their heyday was over by the end of the 18th century.

'Inn interior', Thomas Rowlandson, 1906.

Alehouses were much smaller premises and were more widespread. They were often just ordinary houses where the owner served home-brewed ale. During the 18th century, alehouses gradually became known as ‘public houses’. Traditionally, pubs did not offer food or accommodation although this started to change in the late 19th century. Public houses from around the middle of that century onwards usually had several rooms, each one serving a different purpose, such as the saloon, games room, dining room, public bar, snug, upstairs meetings rooms, etc.

Beerhouses came about after the introduction of the Beerhouse Act 1830. These were places in which a licensee who paid two guineas per annum (£2.10) could sell beer, often from their own home, as long as it was consumed on the premises. Many beerhouses also brewed their own beer onsite. During the 19th century there were dozens of beerhouses in Heywood, and some of them were later re-licensed as public houses (see list here:)

Link to a list of pubs in Heywood, Lancashire
A list of the many different beerhouses and pubs that have existed in Heywood over time.

As with other businesses of the time, licensed premises advertised their business with a sign hanging outside. In the 14th century, when most people were illiterate, inns and taverns would often display a pole above the door garlanded with foliage to signify an alehouse. From the 16th century many alehouses began using pictorial signs, a tradition that continues today.

The Rise of the Pub
The sale and consumption of alcohol was mostly unregulated until the Ale Houses Act 1551. Alehouses then came under the control of local Justices of the Peace, who controlled licenses and the numbers of licensed premises. Prospective ale sellers had to apply for a license at the local Quarter or Petty Sessions. They also had to declare that they would not keep a ‘disorderly house’ and would prohibit such games as football, bowls, dice and tennis. After 1617, inns were also required to be licensed.

During the 1690s, gin began to rival beer as the most popular drink in England after distillery laws were relaxed. The gin of the time was cheaper than beer and double the strength of the modern spirit. By 1735 there were around five million distilleries in England, and the population (which was only 10% of today’s) was consuming around 19,000,000 gallons of gin a year (ten times the current levels of consumption). In other words, Britons were consuming, on average, about 100 times the amount of spirit they drink nowadays, and it was twice the strength. This was the time of the ‘Gin Craze’, when the consumption of spirits was regarded as a primary cause of crime, and some felt the rampant drunkenness and lawlessness caused by gin would lead to the ruination of the working classes.

William Hogarth's 'Gin Lane' (1851) exaggerated the situation, but excessive gin consumption was a massive social problem in the 18th century.

The Gin Act 1751 was introduced to reduce consumption, and beer was promoted as the better drink. Another attempt to wean the English off spirits came with the passing of the Beerhouse Act in 1830. This liberalised regulations and increased competition in the brewing and selling of beer. Any householder who paid rates could apply for a license to brew and sell beer in a so-called ‘beerhouse’, usually in their own home (but not on Sundays). The beer was usually served in jugs or dispensed directly from tapped wooden barrels on a table. Beerhouse keepers were not allowed to sell spirits or fortified wines, and they would face heavy fines and closure if they did so. Profits could be high enough for the licensee to buy the neighbouring house and so turn every room in his beerhouse into drinking rooms. They often provided not only beer, but food, games and even lodging. Beerhouses were also known by the name 'small beer' or 'Tom and Jerry' shops.

Many beerhouse keepers did not brew their own beer but bought it from local breweries instead, although from the 1840s onwards the brewers began to invest in building their own pubs. Despite this, the low cost of the license and the large profits involved saw the number of beerhouses boom and by 1840 there were 46,000 nationwide. It seemed as though almost every street had at least one. Heap’s Bury Directory for 1850 listed 47 beerhouse keepers in the Heywood area. This was clearly a large number of licensed premises for a small town, but then workers were still going through the massive social upheavals of the Industrial Revolution. After a long day's labouring in harsh conditions, beerhouses would have provided a welcome social refuge, away from cramped homes filled with large numbers of children. Drinking houses were important meeting places for the working class. These were places to catch up with friends and share news, stories and songs. Music was a do-it-yourself pleasure in a time before Youtube, television, radios and gramophones, and even reading was out of the question for a largely illiterate population. The sheer number of beerhouses show that a lot of socialising (and drinking) with friends took place in them.

'Hark to Towler' in Heywood originally opened  as a beerhouse called 'Hark up to Towler'.

The writer Edwin Waugh described the scenes to be found inside Heywood pubs of the 1850s:
'...the tap-rooms are numerous, and well attended. There factory lads congregate nightly, clubbing their hard-earned pence for cheap ale, and whiling the night hours away in coarse ribaldry and dominoes, or in vigorous contention in the art of single step-dancing upon the ale-house hearth-stone. This single step-dancing is a favourite exercise with them; and their wooden clogs are often very neatly made for the purpose, lacing closely up to above the ankle, and gaudily ornamented with a multitude of bright brass lace holes. The quick, well-timed clatter upon the tap-room flags generally tells the whereabouts of such dancing haunts to a stranger as he goes along the streets; and, if he peeps into one of them, he may sometimes see a knot of factory lads clustered about the tap-room door inside, encouraging some favourite caperer with such exclamations as, ‘Deawn wi' th' fuut, Robin! Crack thi' rags, owd dog!’'
Waugh also wrote of the little illegal establishments on the fringes of Heywood which seemed to specialise in catering to alcoholics:
'There used to be many a ‘hush-shop,’ or house for the sale of unlicensed drink, about Heywood; and if the district was thrown into a riddle, they would turn up now and then yet; especially in the outskirts of the town, and up towards the hills. These are generally sly spots, where sly fuddlers, who like ale for its own sake, can steal in when things are quiet, and get a belly-full at something less than the licensed price, or carry off a bottle-full into the fields after the gloaming has come on. Of course ‘hush-shop’ tipplers could not often indulge in that noisy freedom of drunken speech, nor in those wild bursts of bacchanalian activity vulgarly known by the name of ‘hell's delight,’ of which licensed ale-houses are often the unavoidable scenes; and where the dangerous Lancashire ale-house game, called ‘Th' Bull o' th' Bank,’ has sometimes finished a night of drunken comedy with a touch of real tragedy. The most suitable customers for the ‘hush-shop,’ were quiet, silent, steady soakers, who cared for no other company than a full pitcher; and whose psalm of life consisted of scraps of old drinking-songs…'
As beer drinking emerged as a bigger social problem the government tightened licensing laws and an 1869 law placed them under the control of local justices and effectively prevented new beerhouses being opened. Nevertheless, those already in existence were allowed to continue and many did not close for decades.[iv] Some of Heywood’s early beerhouses developed into fully-fledged public houses, and these can be seen in the list linked here:

Link to a list of pubs in Heywood, Lancashire
A list of the many different beerhouses and pubs that have existed in Heywood over time.

Not everybody in the Victorian age took part in this mass consumption of alcohol, and Heywood had its fair share of temperance organisations such as the Rechabites, who were rather prolific in their written output. Abstaining from alcohol was something of a moral crusade in the 19th century, and journals such as 1865's Heywood Church of England Temperance Visitor were relatively common. Chemist William Beckett was the editor of the temperance-themed Heywood Working Man's Friend in 1866. The Heywood Branch of Rechabites split their organisation into 'Tents', and in 1886 they had 601 members of the Perseverance Tent (adult males), 96 members of the 'Ark of Safety' Female Tent and 552 members of the 'Hope of Heywood' Juvenile Tent.
It is obvious that the temperance movement was eventually a lost cause as the pubs of Heywood continued to be as busy as ever. Despite this, the Heywood Branch of the Rechabites were active until well into the 20th century, with their Hall based at Pine Street.

The 'Star', in the background here on the corner of Bamford Road and Market Place, was one of the oldest pubs in Heywood and could date back three centuries. It had been closed and demolished by 1968. This photo is of the 1952 Whit Walk.

New 20th-century pubs were few and far between in Heywood. The population stagnated with the decline of the cotton industry, although the construction of the Darnhill estate in the 1960s saw pubs such as the Criterion and the Highlander open. By then, most of the pubs in Heywood were dated from the 19th century or earlier, but changes in drinking and socialising habits and the smoking ban of 2007 have seen over 20 pubs close in the town in recent years, and no doubt there will be more to come in the future. This is sad for Heywoodites with fond memories of happy times in those establishments, but as we have seen with closures of schools, workplaces, churches and other local places, history is all about change.

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Anonymous said…
There also used to be a "Red Lion" in a small dark side street (south side) of Market Street or Bridge Street. I only know it as a building, which was still there in the 1980s and possibly 1990s, but I never saw it open (I lived in Heywood from 1957 to 1980). It didn't look very appealing.
Thanks for the website - very well done. When I lived in Heywood I was rather amazed at how many pubs there were, but I never thought that so many would close in such a short space of time. I learned from the Lost Pubs Project that four pubs close in England every week. Most if not all of those in Heywood that closed in recent years were urban pubs - the rural ones still seem to be going strong.

All the best
Robert (robertwbooker@aol.com)
Anonymous said…
Great website, I was born in Claybank St, Back o the moss in 1965, the house has gone now, no.188 and is just an open space. My mam worked at The White Lion ( opposite the petrol station ) during the late 1960's and early 70's before we moved to Rochdale. I recall there was a pub on Magdala St, where I went to school, my dad sat me at the bar and I remember watching one of those wooden birds that used to sit on a beer glass and tip into it as though drinking water!, I may have got the st wrong but I am pretty sure it was very close to Hopwood County Primary - could it have been the black bull?.
Chris Dawson said…
Thanks anon. Yes that probably was the Black Bull. Funny things that stay in your mind.
Anonymous said…
Cheers Chris!, I think I should have said "black swan" - I have a feeling that it's still there, last time I went in was 2004, had loads of atmosphere!. Such a shame so many pubs in Heywood have gone, bumped into the once-owners of The Brick House whilst on holiday in Italy 1997, it fell into disrepair and I believe it's now a taxi rank! - the pub across the road is now a vets I think... my sister had her wedding reception in the freemasons in 1975 upstairs, I think that place has been closed for donkeys years now... all good memories you're right. All the best, Chris Whitaker - ex Claybank/Links Rd/Prospect St.
Anonymous said…
Some extra info on The Yew Tree Inn Heywood for your pubs data.

In the census return of 1901 my great grandfather John Greenwood was publican and brewer of The Yew Tree Inn then located 88 Peel Lane, Heywood where he lived with his family. He had died before 1911 and my father tells me that my great grandmother Leah tried to carry on at the Inn with help from my grandfather William who was only 14 at the time. However, they couldn't really manage it and by 1911 they'd moved to John Street. I don't know how large the inn was but the family had 7 children, I suspect it was one of the 'front-room' pubs but I don't know any more.

I've checked the 1891 index and John and Leah lived in Bridge Street where he was a soap maker, but at 88 Peel Lane, the same house where John had The Yew Tree Inn in 1901, there was a Matthew Esherwood, brewer, aged 70 and his wife with a servant described as a barman and also a boarder. It wasn't listed as an inn then but the census returns didn't have to say that – they only had to give the address. I suspect John was carrying on the business of brewer which Matthew Esherwood ran previously, this too could have been The Yew Tree Inn.

It's always worth checking census returns for pub names – they're not always in there, but sometimes given as extra information.

Another entry I found was on the Heywood Roll of Honour – In 1915 a Frank Greenhalgh died, son of Livsey and Betty Greenhalgh of the Yew Tree Inn 93 Peel Lane, so by this time it had moved up and across the road (if the odd and even numbers are located on opposite sides of the road).

Beryl Lott (nee Greenwood)

Unknown said…
The Black Bull was i=on Rochdale Rd East, just across from the White Lion and around the corner from the Enginner's Arms on Aspinall St, all of these were regular haunts of mone in the 70's and 80's

Colin Brown
mick whittle said…
In 1915 a Frank Greenhalgh died, son of Livsey and Betty Greenhalgh of the Yew Tree Inn 93 Peel Lane, so by this time it had moved up and across the road (if the odd and even numbers are located on opposite sides of the road).

Beryl Lott (nee Greenwood)

Frank Greenhalgh is buried in Lancashire Landing cemetery Gallipoli, he died on Christmas day 1915 age 17, I have seen and photographed his headstone there, it is in a lovely place overlooking the Agean sea. - M Whittle