For a lot of people looking to book a holiday cottage, a quirky country pub nearby is an absolute must. Given the sheer number of watering holes scattered around the country, this isn’t usually too difficult. But it’s fair to say that some pubs are more equal than others. Like fine wines, it’s often the case that the best ones get better the longer they’ve been around. So with this in mind, here are ten of the oldest, most famous drinking establishments in England – all are well worth a visit once lockdown restrictions have been consigned to history.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire – c1189
A Grade II listed gem that nestles against a sandstone promontory occupied by Nottingham Castle. While there are no official records of when this ancient inn was established, the proprietors estimate the pub first opened around 1189 and served as a brew-house for the nearby castle – a claim supported by a network of medieval caves hewn into the nearby sandstone rock. Its name likely relates to the clientele that once passed through its doors: crusaders and pilgrims who’d stop for a tipple before continuing their journey to Jerusalem.
The Royal Standard of England, Beaconsfield, Bucks – c1086
This Buckinghamshire watering hole also lays claim to being the oldest pub in England. Set in a quiet lane close to the village of Forty Green, the Royal Standard of England looks rather unassuming from the outside. Step through its doors though and you’ll be presented with a crooked interior complete with beams, stained glass and medieval tiled floors over which presides a timber-framed vaulted ceiling. Replete with historical bric-a-brac including suits of armour and old tapestries, the Royal Standard’s delightfully eclectic layout comprises numerous nooks and crannies in which to enjoy a secluded pint. To top it all off, the Standard has its own resident ghost – a 12 year-old Civil War drummer boy.
The Old Ferry Boat Inn, St Ives, Cambridgeshire – c560
The Old Ferry Boat Inn lies on the banks of the River Great Ouse in the pretty village of Holywell. Thatched and partially timber-framed, this delightful old tavern is thought to date back to the sixth century although this isn’t supported by any official records. Suffice to say though, that it’s old. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the foundations were probably laid in the fourteen century. And there are plenty of reminders of the pub’s long history such as an enormous stone fireplace and low ceilings. These days the Old Ferry Boat Inn also serves as a B&B.
The Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire – c947
The Porch House is located in the attractive Cotswolds town of Stow-on-the-Wold and is believed to have opened its doors in the seventeenth century. However, sections of the building have actually been carbon-dated to the ninth century and indicate the existence of an earlier timber-framed structure. The stone house that now sits in its place is brimming with the kind of structural features one might expect from such an old establishment. Think exposed beams, vaulted ceilings, oak floors and exposed brickwork. Recent renovations have been very sympathetic and the Porch House remains a favourite among locals and visitors. As well as an excellent range of cask ales and gins, the pub is renowned for its Sunday roasts.
The Bingley Arms, Bardsey, Yorkshire – c953
Yet another pub heralded as the oldest in England by its proprietors – whether true or not, there’s no doubting the Bingley Arm’s historical status. By all accounts, the first beers were served in the middle of the ninth century from an on-site brewery managed by a gentleman named Samson Ellis. Situated in the village of Bardsey, Yorkshire, the pub used to be known as the Priests Inn and might have been used as a safe house for Catholic priests during the Dissolution of the Monasteries– a pair of priest holes set in its chimney lends plenty of weight to this theory. The beamed interior features an inglenook fireplace that houses an original seventeenth century Dutch oven. In the beer garden is a Yew Tree that’s actually older than the pub. Plenty of ghost sightings have been reported by visitors including a poltergeist pooch that’s said to roam the premises.
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans, Hertfordshire – c1756
It’s a good bet that any pub with ‘ye’ in its name is going to be advanced in years. And so it goes with Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in the cathedral city of St Albans – an eleventh Century drinking establishment that was originally known as the Round House before being renamed the Three Pigeons due to its use as a pigeon coop. Timber-framed and hexagonal in shape, this lovely old inn is built on a site that dates back to the Middle-Ages. And according to local legend, Oliver Cromwell stayed here during the Civil War. The low ceilinged interior includes an original bread oven and is graced by an assortment of contorted beamed partitions. A series of tunnels are said to lead from the cellar to the nearby St Alban’s cathedral.
Ye Olde Man & Scythe, Bolton, Greater Manchester – c1251
The beautiful, timber-framed public house, Ye Olde Man & Scythe is another ‘ye’ club member. And true to form it’s absolutely ancient. First mentioned in a thirteenth century market charter, the building has undergone numerous structural changes and renovations over the years. Sadly, all that remains of the original structure is the cellar and a collection of interior beams. The pub’s timber-framed façade was actually unveiled in the 20th century. Nonetheless, Ye Olde Man & Scythe is Grade II listed.
The George Inn, Norton St Philip, Somerset – c1397
The Grade I-listed George Inn can be found in the sleepy Somerset village of Norton St Philip – the site of a major battle during the Monmouth Rebellion. It was once used as a wool store for a local monastery before being granted a local license to sell alcohol around 1397. In contrast to Ye Olde Man & Scythe, the pub’s resplendent timber-framed frontage is genuinely historic and dates from the fifteenth century. The George eventually became a popular stagecoach stopping point in the seventeenth century and even hosted famed diarist Samuel Pepys who lodged there with his family. Extensive but sympathetic renovations were undertaken in the late 1990s that saw 70% of its 30,000 stone roof slates restored and reused. Inside, numerous original features remain including the flagstone floors, stone-mullioned windows and octagonal stone staircase.
The Highway Inn, Burford, Cotswolds – c1480
The Highway Inn is located in the idyllic Cotswolds village of Burford and was established in the late fifteenth century – safe to say then that plenty of patrons have passed through its doors over the past 500 years or so. Despite substantial renovations, the pub’s long history is evidenced by lots of character features including the original fireplaces, sloping floors and a medieval courtyard that’s now used for al fresco dining.
Adam and Eve, Norwich, Norfolk – c1249
Situated on the fringes of Norwich’s city-centre, the Adam Eve is more than 700 years old. It was originally a monk’s brew-house that served ale to workmen assisting in the construction of the nearby cathedral. The brick-and-flint building that stands on the site today is thought to date from the seventeenth century – this is probably when its distinctive gable roof was added. A Saxon well is set underneath the lower bar floor. And during work on the Norfolk pub’s cellar in the 1970s, the remains of a medieval monk were uncovered.